INSIGHTS FROM FAMILY AND FRIENDS

Dad's Insight

A phone call at Easter 2012 changed my and my son’s life forever. Paul had been assaulted, punched so hard that he hit the floor with such force that his brain moved forward into his skull, causing a bleed on the brain and front lobe damage. I remember crying all the way to the hospital not knowing what I would face when I got there.

When I got on to the ward, a nurse took me to Paul. It was a sight no parent wants to see – my son was lying on a hospital bed asleep with tubes and wires all over him. When he woke up he was so confused he didn’t know where he was. He had hallucinations and double vision.

A few days later the hospitals rang and said I needed to go in because Paul had suffered an epileptic fit. I felt sick and ran from the car park up the stairs to ward 4 in a world record time. Paul was just lying there, saying things which made no sense. He looked pale and exhausted. Suddenly he made this horrible sound as he had another fit. I grabbed him and held onto him as tight as I could. It was horrible I thought, this is it, my son’s dying. I was shouting and crying, the sounds Paul made will stay with me for the rest of my life, when the fit had finished he just laid on the bed, staring at me. Then he fell asleep.

On a visit to see Paul at HRI out of the blue a nurse came over and asked Paul if he wanted to sit up in a chair. We looked at each other and typically Paul said “I’ll try.” We helped him up and there he was sat up in chair. I took a photo, silly as it seems now, but it was such a relief to see him sat up.

Eventually Paul was discharged from HRI and went home. All of us were ecstatic that he could go home but at the same time very apprehensive. Would he be ok at home? Would he be frightened and confused? Does he even know that it was his home? When Paul was leaving the hospital, he was in a relationship with Gemma. It was a relief to know that he would not be on his own.

For the rest of that first year, Paul hardly left his house. He had speech problems and putting a sentence together was difficult. He developed a stutter and usually sat, confused, staring at the walls. Every time I saw him it broke my heart.  I always woke up in bed thinking about Paul, sometimes sobbing and other times angrily thinking about revenge; wanting to kill the person that did this to my son. I don’t think that I handled the next few months very well as a parent and perhaps I didn’t go to Paul’s house as often as I could have. His mum and my other son Mark were going around and helping out all the time to support Gemma. I just backed off a bit, not knowing what I could do or where I would fit in to help out. It was a massive learning curve for me and I do regret it. I now know that in those months of Paul’s rehabilitation, I could have done more to help. But wouldn’t every parent feel that they could or should have done more? I’m not sure.

Paul refused to let this injury beat him and started going to the gym. He found comfort there as he didn’t have to think too much about anything and, with help from a personal trainer, it wasn’t long before he started to regain his confidence. He was going to the gym 3 or 4 times a week, getting fitter and stronger. I’m sure going to the gym saved his sanity.

Soon Paul started thinking about others in a similar position to himself. He wanted to do a fund raising event to say thank you to ward 4/40 for all the care they gave him. With the help from friends and family, he decided to organise a fun run. On the first anniversary of his injury, Paul along with about 70 friends and family, ran 10k. It was a fantastic achievement and filled me with so much pride to see him not only have a big role in the organisation but to run and then get onstage afterwards and say thank you to all everyone. He raised £17,000 for HRI ward 4/40 that day.

Paul continued to struggle at work but at this point was determined to carry on. Paul hated that he did not have the capacity to be a foreman anymore and that he had to have help from others all the time. He was frightened about not working for financial reasons. It was terrible to see him so tormented.

Paul’s next fundraiser for Life For A Kid brought in £4,000. However he was massively struggling in everyday life. Just going shopping was tough. He lost his driving licence. In spite of all these difficulties Paul still continued to think about ways to help others with brain injuries, even though he was now suffering with depression himself. The sense of pride and admiration that I have for my son is immense but at the same time I was worried sick that it was all getting too much for him to come to terms with. Paul’s relationship with Gemma ended which was a really sad time for us all, although they do remain friends. In September 2014, Paul made the decision to leave work which was a real blessing. He didn’t have to struggle anymore and could concentrate on getting better in terms of resting his brain, giving it every chance to repair itself and to reshape his life with less stress.

Paul has not wasted his time sitting around feeling sorry for himself. He has devoted all of his time to helping others. He has raised awareness about the lack of aftercare given to people with brain injuries. Now that he had time on his hands, he could plan events at his own pace. He would go into HRI and talk to patients, reassuring them and their families that there was hope and people with brain injuries can still have a good quality of life.

It never fails to amaze me that he doesn’t let his brain injury stop him from carving out a new life. He now focuses his energy on raising money and supporting others. I wasn’t the only one who recognised his efforts and desire because he was asked to join the golden hearts committee at HRI; a fantastic award for him and one he richly deserves and takes pride in.

Paul continues to work as hard as possible for others. He organised a calendar for 2015, he did a twenty six week challenge, ending with a marathon on the 3rd anniversary of his injury. Best of all he has started up a charity. He shows so much enthusiasm. It’s incredible to think how much he has done with such adversity. I’m sure he will continue to work as hard as his brain allows him to in order to make the charity a huge success.

For me as Paul’s dad, watching him go through so much pain, frustration, depression and adversity was unbearable. Probably the worst part about Paul’s brain injury was that it made him lose the emotional feelings we all take for granted; the ability to feel love, happiness, sadness, etc. But hopefully as the months go by, he will start to get some of these feelings back. Whatever happens in Paul’s life in the future, his family and I will always be there. We will stand by his side in every battle he might encounter.

A view from a proud dad. X

Mum's Insight

My son Paul. Where do I begin? Watching Paul struggle at the beginning of his injury was so difficult. As a mother, you obviously want to protect your children. I often watched Paul pace up and down and stare into space for what seemed like hours at a time. He would look around blankly with no emotion. It was heart breaking. I would often look at Paul and think: where has my loving son gone?

Although he was stood in front of me, everything about Paul had changed. His independence had been taken away. He couldn’t be left alone as he was incapable of thinking for himself. He needed so much love and support from his family and friends. I must say I can’t thank Paul’s friends enough!

Whenever I saw Paul, I would put my arms around him and wouldn’t want to let go. I wanted to protect Paul and keep him safe. It was so difficult to remain calm and patient but that’s what I needed to do. We soon learnt that this was going to be a long hard journey for all of us. The amount of devastation and pain which a brain injury brings to the patient, their family and friends is immeasurable. It’s so tough!

My emotions around Paul were concealed. I cried no end whenever I left Paul’s house. I would give him a cuddle as I left, but looking back at my vulnerable son was terrible. It was so hard to leave him. In the beginning when Paul was in hospital he was placed in ICU. He had been admitted there because he had started having seizures. I was sick to the stomach at the thought of losing Paul. I feel deeply blessed that I did not lose my son. It was heart breaking and no one can imagine that pain unless you are a mother in similar circumstances. When Paul came out of hospital, he found it hard to accept the changes within himself. He was a broken man and his confidence was so low. He struggled with daily life and got frustrated at how his life had changed and his loss of independence. He was tormented by not being able to remember memories, and it still haunts him now. He was so lost and we just had to wait to see how he would recover.

Around 6 months into recovery he told me that he was going to join a gym. At the time I thought it was madness. Given that he struggled with everyday tasks, how would he manage at the gym? He was so determined to go. He wanted to get out of the house and start getting his independence back. He then wanted to go back to work. Again I thought it was too early. He was determined despite his weaknesses. He was going. Then came another bombshell. He was going to run a half marathon on the anniversary of the attack. I really started to worry at this point because here was my son who was still so confused in general, struggling with so many things whilst trying to get back into normal life. I always thought he pushed things to early.

Although he was starting to learn new strategies to help him cope with day to day living I thought it was too soon to be taking on so much. It was particularly hard watching him trying to organise the half marathon event because it was a massive struggle for him. I had so many sleepless nights worrying about Paul. Life was taking so much out of him. He was often fatigued and easily exhausted. Paul’s vision, focus, determination, strength and achievements have amazed me. I think the gym played a massive part in Paul’s recovery. He was right to defy others and join. Although he wasn’t well he got by and it gave him a focus.

He found it hard to keep up but he kept at it. His half marathon fundraiser was also an amazing success. The support from friends and family was incredible. I was so proud of him that day. He had achieved so much in that first year but there was still a long way to go to get back to where he was before the attack. I think Paul was starting to realise and become more aware of his damage. His understanding had been limited but over this summer it started getting better. Although it was slow, you could definitely see small progress.

Paul then wanted to organise another event for the second anniversary of his brain injury. It was organised to perfection and was a huge success. I am so proud of what Paul has achieved, despite being faced with so much pain and anguish. He had come so far but was still really struggling in other areas. He wasn’t able to drive which made life harder for him. His relationship with Gemma had broken down. I suppose it must have been hard to be in love with a man one day, only to watch him change completely the next. That’s what basically happened. Although Gemma was very supportive at the start, things between them became too difficult and unfortunately they split up. Paul was also finding work really tough. I remember reading an article from the Hull Daily Mail. Paul had described himself as going from the strongest to the weakest link. I couldn’t stop crying. The thought of how he’s struggled for so long and how difficult it must have been for him trying so hard to be a good electrician again. In the end it was in vain as Paul was advised to leave his job. I can’t emphasise enough how hard it was to watch Paul give up his career. He had been an electrician since leaving school. I was worried for his future. How will he cope? What sort of living will he have?

Why do I worry?

Paul is really positive that things will get better. He has put all in his energy into supporting others affected by brain injury. It has and continues to be difficult for Paul but I am so proud of the person he has become. He’s truly amazing and an inspiration to others. I love him with all my heart.

Well done Paul – Love you X

Ricardo's Insight

I just want to give everybody an idea of how Paul was before the attack that left him with brain damage. I would also like to look into the journey he has been through to try and give you an idea of how it impacted not only on his life, but also the lives of his family and friends. So this is a little insight from a friend’s point of view to show how difficult it was to see Paul (AKA Frank) going through such a life threatening attack and the impact it had on his life.

Before the attack, Paul was a very sociable person. He loved to go out, meet new people and was always one to initiate conversation. He was very confident at approaching friends and making new ones. He was naturally always up beat when talking to people. He was a born leader not only in his personal environment, but at work too. All of this would soon change for Paul. It would make a massive impact on his life. This is my personal insight on how I saw Paul in 2012, his first year of recovery.

I remember when Paul was attacked like it was yesterday. It was an Easter weekend and I was on a night out in Manchester with some friends. At around 1am in the morning I received a message from one of Paul’s friends, saying that he’d been attacked and was in hospital. After hearing this, I went back to Hull. Then I heard that Paul was in HDU and had had a brain haemorrhage which was putting pressure on his brain. It was very upsetting. I knew how serious it was. At this stage, I felt a mixture of emotions. I was angry at the attacker, and also sympathetic towards Paul’s family. I also felt angry because Paul didn’t deserve this. Nobody deserves this.

After a few months, Paul had shown signs of recovery and was released from hospital. At this point life was still moving on and I felt like other people thought that Paul had recovered. This perception soon changed when Paul was strong enough to start having visits from friends, including myself. It was clear that Paul had changed both mentally and physically.

Paul had lost so much weight and looked weak and confused. He seemed worried when you spoke to him and was barely able to maintain a small conversation. Paul would break away and pace around the room with frustration. I could tell he was frustrated and was struggling with the outcome of his injury. As a friend, I felt helpless. Paul was also suffering from memory loss. This did not help our conversations because he couldn’t remember anything. It was so upsetting to see a once confident, independent and caring guy look so lost and confused at what was happening to him. Words cannot express what Paul was going through in those stages. He was lost. He needed lots of support from both family and friends.

Paul remained very secluded and it took a number of months for him to leave the house. He eventually came round to my house. We had a lovely evening but it wasn’t the same. Paul lacked concentration and had also developed a speech impediment. He would find it hard to talk to people without stuttering. He explained to me that he knew what he wanted to say but it was not coming out. This only frustrated Paul more and became a massive challenge to his early stages of recovery.

As time went on, Paul began to learn how to overcome his speech impediment. He taught himself to take his time with speech. He learned to control his thoughts and cognitive behaviours. His speech became stronger and clearer. For me it was so good to see improvement and I was so happy that his speech was coming back, but this was just one of many things that he had to overcome.

Then he decided to focus on his physical health and started training at home. This was the first stage of Paul becoming physically stronger. It was great to see him focused and watch him achieve his first goal, to be in the national magazine, Men’s Health. This was so great to see but it was only a fraction of things to come.

Whilst all this was going on, Paul was looking physically well, but he was still undergoing mental recovery, which was still very fragile. He was receiving counselling and finding it hard to work in an environment where he was once a leader. Every time I spoke with him, he was clearly upset about this. That was the biggest thing in his life which he needed to overcome… to become mentally strong.

But despite this, he carried on staying focused on his physical health and built up his body to a strong state by eating and living well. Exercise helped give Paul something to concentrate on, which was and was great to see. He then told me that he was planning to do a half marathon to raise money for the neurology ward 4/40 HRI, for all the lovely staff who helped him. It was a big task to take on during the first year of his recovery, but he was determined to show anybody who was going through anything similar that, if you stay focused and keep driving forward, you can recover and get your life back. It was great that a lot of his friends and families got together on the anniversary of his attack and did something positive. Paul chose this date specifically so that when he looked back on that date, he would not remember it negatively but with a positive memory instead.

While this was a massive task, it was a big step in helping Paul accept his brain injury and stay positive. Not only did Paul conquer this challenge but he raised £17,000 for Hull Royal Infirmary. Paul got so much out of this as did all our friends and family. Everyone pulled together and made the year of the attack a thing of the past. It was amazing to be a part of it and to see Paul developing and staying strong. Despite his mental battle, he was determined to move on. This is only an insight into his first year of recovery. Paul has achieved many more things throughout his recovery and still is now. Paul’s positivity and determination has touched so many people’s lives and still continues to.

Martin's Insight

I’ve been a good friend of Paul’s for the last 10 years and I was out with him on the night of the unprovoked attack which resulted in his brain injury.

We had entered the pub and made our way straight to the toilets. As I left first, there was a fight in the bar, so I went back in to warn Paul. Then the attacker came in and hit the first person he saw which unfortunately was Paul. Paul was knocked unconscious and fell over, hitting his head hard on the tiled floor. He was breathing very heavily. It sounded like snoring, so I made sure his airway remained open as his brother rang the ambulance. At the time, I didn’t imagine it would be such a serious injury.

Paul was admitted to hospital, and regained consciousness, but he had suffered a brain haemorrhage and his condition deteriorated dramatically. He went into a coma. It was a very worrying time. At some points, we didn’t know if he’d pull through at all, or how much of the Paul we knew would be left. The first time I spoke to Paul after he came out of hospital was upsetting for me because he had a very bad stammer and could hardly talk. It was a few weeks after he got out of hospital until I met up with him. I was shocked to see the change in him; he seemed very vacant, slow, and confused. He was still struggling with his speech. From always being the life and soul of the party and always being really chatty and upbeat, this was massive change.

In the beginning he’d lost a lot of confidence and was anxious to leave the house or go out alone. So, as often as possible, I’d offer to take him out, give him a lift to shops, or visit and help him with the gardening etc.

Gradually in the first year, with his strong determination not let the injury ruin his life, he made improvements and got into healthy eating and fitness which gave him a focus. Even with his brain injury, memory loss and confusion, he decided to organise a half marathon charity run to raise money for the ward which ultimately saved his life.

This inspired over thirty runners, including myself, to get fit and take part. Organising the run would’ve been a major challenge for most people, let alone a man with a brain injury.

Paul had been unable to work but was slowly allowed to return. Not in the capacity of electrical foreman as before, but undertaking simple tasks. This was frustrating and hard for him to come to terms with. This coupled with trying to live with a slower brain led to Paul becoming depressed and the neuro-doctors prescribing him anti-depressants to help.

Determined to not get stuck on anti-depressants, Paul continued to set himself big goals in the second year, like getting himself in Men’s Health magazine, doing a coast to coast bike ride and organising a second charity run, all the time making slow improvements in his memory, computational speed and confidence.

In this last year, since Paul had to leave his job on the doctor’s advice, I’ve seen the biggest improvements in Paul’s confidence and ability. Although he is still a bit slow, his old personality is really shining through again, and he is achieving some amazing goals and planning some big charity event to keep raising money for the brain injury ward at Hull Royal Infirmary.

The saying “sometimes you have to break a life to make a life ” could not be more true of Paul. He’s battled though his injury, learning to live with his new brain capabilities and in the process has inspired everyone he knows with his positivity and determination to not let his injury ruin his life. The future is looking very bright for my mate ‘Frank…’

I’m honoured to call you a friend xx

Sean's Insight

Here is my insight into the last three years of Paul’s recovery.

I was shocked after receiving the news that Paul had been attacked in a bar whilst innocently standing in the toilet at the urinal. I called and texted his brother but did not hear anything back until the next day, when his brother informed me about what had happened and how serious it was. I either couldn’t take it in or wouldn’t take it in. All I could think was that it would be ok. His  family were taking turns to stay overnight, which wasn’t a good sign. All in all, Paul was in hospital for four weeks, of which the first two weeks were touch and go as the salt levels in his body were really low which was causing him to fit. After the first two weeks, he started to show improvements. After a couple more weeks he was discharged.

I was eager to see him so when he came home but when I first saw him I couldn’t help notice how different he looked compared to the last time I saw him, before the attack. It was hard for me to hide my reaction. He looked like a fragile old man. He had lost what seemed like two stone in weight. All in all he seemed fragile and a little timid, but was to be expected to be honest. I had to slow down my speaking because his face looked like he was trying to figure out what I was saying or at least understand what I was saying. Anyway, that was the first time I noticed that, other than his physical appearance, he wasn’t the same.

Throughout Paul’s first year, sometimes he seemed ok. Others days he didn’t seem good at all, but as I always spent time with him, I could see when he was confused and was putting a brave face on things to the outside world. He could come across as ok, if you saw him in the street or briefly chatted with pleasantries. I saw a lot of people who said “oh Paul seems ok now doesn’t he?” In reality he really wasn’t. Around six weeks after the incident, he started to acquire a stammer. This lasted for roughly two to three months, but, with the help from a speech therapist, he got rid of it.

I would say that the first six months for Paul were a blur. He wasn’t able to do much at all and he got tired really quickly due to his brain injury. He needed to rest a lot and sleep and sometimes just stared into space, giving his brain a rest from answering questions or searching for memories which were so hard to locate.

Sometime after six months, there was a birthday party at our good friend Riccardo’s house. There were maybe thirty people attending, and there was music playing. Paul came, but straight away I could see his reaction to everyone talking at once, people with high pitched voices and people talking at the same time over each other. It was too much for him. He couldn’t process everything that was going on around him and looked agitated. I suppose it’s hard for somebody without a brain injury, never mind with one to hold a conversation with multiple people and loud music. So Paul asked if he could go lay down in a spare bedroom for a little while. This was Paul learning to cope with his brain injury.

Two things that have always been with Paul before, during and after his brain injury are his ability to smile and laugh at 99% of things and his determination to do something once he has set his mind to it. Nothing more so than when he was reading a Men’s Health magazine and became determined that he would be in the magazine himself one day. I think in part it was a big challenge. As he had lost nearly two stone and was fragile, he wanted something to focus on as he was house bound. He had started with three press ups, three sit ups and three squats. As he got better, he joined a gym and his fitness journey began. It was a big step for Paul as he wasn’t well. He was just a shell when he started going to gym. He hired a personal trainer, who showed him how to do everything, as he wasn’t sure what to do. His persistence and determination paid off. Slowly he began to build his body back up and surpass anything that he’d  physically before. His goal of been in Men’s Health was achieved. This was done all after a year of going to the gym with a brain injury! This was a major thing for Paul, as it would be for any man. Not only was he in the number one fitness magazine in the UK, but the fact that he was in it even though he was recovering from a brain injury, makes it even more impressive!

It gave Paul a confidence boost. The world would be his oyster and anything he set his mind to he would achieve, no matter how big or small. After this came his idea to run a half marathon to raise money for the ward that helped him in his early recovery. Paul wanted to give something back and this seemed a perfect way to raise money while doing something fitness orientated. I noticed that during Paul’s recovery, the more he started to get his senses and memory back, the more he liked to keep himself busy. After eight months, it was good to see Paul go back to work, all be it, part time. He started to work again at Humber electrical. I knew he was a million miles from how he was, but he would try his best. He struggled with fatigue and needed to take extra breaks. Again, this was Paul learning to cope with his brain injury.

Paul had told me that his brain specialist thought he should slow down. This was to help him understand what had happened to him. He wasn’t allowing himself  time to grieve or reflect in a way  on what he had lost, or on the changes he’d needed to make in his new life. Instead, as a way of coping, he had filled his time and pushed forward, not really stopping to relax or think about what had happened. But that was part of Paul’s character. He never liked to stop or pity himself. He preferred to just get on with it. He’s been like that ever since I’ve known him. He did tell me that he did feel like he needed to cry but couldn’t.

As time went on, Paul started to get depressed about his situation and what had happened to him. He struggled with various daily things. He couldn’t just go pickup his two children by car anymore. He had to go to collect them on bus. He had to go shopping on the bus. All the normal things in life were more difficult for Paul and he had to adapt. Also there was his situation at work. He went from being the site foreman, in charge for twenty plus men on some sites, to needing his brother to help him when he was at work. All this was building up on Paul and his outlook. Although he always tried to put a brave face on it, if you looked closely, you could see he was struggling with a lot of things. He tried his best to hide his depression from 99% of people. But, as we are best mates, he would confide in me a little more.

Two years on and I hadn’t noticed much change in Paul over the last six months, like I mentioned, other than he was a little more depressed.  However, the good thing was that he was talking about it rather than bottling it up. Paul seemed to be getting through his recovery but during the second year summer I noticed some massive changes in him. He was becoming more short-tempered and snappy, especially when he was tired. He would be a lot blunter about things and often didn’t think about how it sounded or came across. It was a way in which Paul had never really acted before. When I noticed it, I remembered Paul telling me earlier in his recovery that people recovering from brain injuries can become short-tempered and angry. I was aware that this was Paul’s brain getting better with more awareness, although it was still hard not to argue back at him. I was kind of pleased that he was getting more argumentative in a non-selfish way because I thought the positive was that he was starting to have his own opinions on things, rather than just letting other people choose for him because he couldn’t. I knew I needed to give him a little space if he was tired or hungry, as he could get snappy, although it was still hard to bite my tongue at times.

September 2014 was a sad time for Paul as he had to stop working as an electrician. He had worked at the same company since leaving school. It knocked his self-confidence. He was really upset but understood the reason why he had to do it was that ultimately his health was more important. As Paul had more time to himself to let his brain recover, he seemed more relaxed and upbeat. He started a Facebook page to help and give inspiration to other people going through similar things. He wanted to give them confidence that they could become even stronger than they’d been before by going through recovery. It’s been a three year journey for Paul, his family and friends, with a lot of lows and changes but also with some amazing highs, which is testament to Paul.

His progress and successes were due to his positive attitude throughout his recovery. He never settled and felt sorry for himself, but instead did what some people think is the impossible for somebody recovering from a brain injury.