Imagine being a young 17-year-old boy who has everything going for him, a senior prefect, full colours, a good athlete, then imagine having all that taken away from you in a split second. It was a nightmare holiday from the very first day after I had reached the boarding gate at the airport to find my passport was two months expired. This meant I had to travel up to Liverpool the next day to get a new passport and pay for an extra flight, a good £200 well spent.
It was on the fifth day of our holiday, I was with some incredible friends, when we were on the beach enjoying the weather, when I did something that I had done already that holiday and for most of my life when I have been by the beach, but this time my life was about to change. All I did was run off the beach and dived into the sea when the damage was done. I remember banging my head on the seabed, I clearly misjudged my dive, and opening my eyes naturally expecting to be out of the water standing up but this was not the case.
I opened my eyes to find I was face down floating in the sea with my arms hanging lifeless in front of me not being able to move anything from my neck down. Never in my life have I been so scared of anything until that moment when I was surrounded by the silence of the sea piercing my ears utterly helpless thinking this was it what am I meant to do to save myself, at that point I have never sworn so many times to myself panicking for my life. I just managed to turn my head hoping someone was there, and I was lucky enough that a friend was there who asked me whether I was okay to try replied no I was not.
I was then dragged through the water to the beach where I was incredibly lucky as there were two ex-rugby coaches who had had basic training and were able to help me, and to these men I’m incredibly grateful for what they did as without them my condition could have been much more severe, and they were there to keep me calm and tell me things would be okay, but I could not keep calm.I remember looking up and seeing my friends around me thinking what a great holiday I had ruined.
I do not know how long I was lying on the beach for when the ambulance arrived, but I was put in the ambulance and taken to a spot where I was to be airlifted to a hospital in Lisbon, and at this point I was panicking more and more as I was by myself with no friends or family with me in a foreign country. But even so I had an amazing paramedic in the helicopter with me who took amazing care of me all the way to the hospital. Once I had arrived at the hospital I was rushed to the x-ray department where a few x-rays were taken off my neck, and very soon after the doctor had seen the x-rays, numbing cream was applied to either side of my head and before the cream had had time to work the doctor screwed a screw into either side of my skull. This was for a clamp that had a pulley system attached to it that they were going to hang weights off, this was because the x-rays had shown that I had severely dislocated my neck, I had nearly popped the fourth vertebrae down completely out of alignment and the weights were meant to be there to stretch my neck and get the vertebrae to slide back into place. But there was a problem, as before my accident I was quite a muscular young man and I had too much muscle in my neck and back that the doctor hung as much weight as he could off the clamp of three days until after this time my vitals (heart rate and oxygen percentage in my blood) were dropping rapidly. For the second time I was taken to x-ray where they found after three days of traction that my neck had not moved, not even a millimetre. The day before this happened my parents had flown out to come and see me and be by my side of the duration of my time there spending almost 24 hours a day for 2 1/2 weeks at my bedside, and this I will always be incredibly thankful for having such incredible parents.
As a result of this I was rushed to the operating theatre where they went through the front of my neck to try and align the vertebrae but this first attempt was unsuccessful. I remember waking up after the operation in a different state to what I was before, I had two big tubes going into my mouth and down my throat, this was a ventilator that was breathing for me as my lungs will not able to do so. I also had a rather large tube going into my nose and down into my stomach through which I was fed with a special liquid supplement. When I looked up I saw that I had as a few bags of liquid hanging around me which were full of antibiotics as during my time in the Portuguese hospital I had contracted pneumonia and MRSA. A mixture of the illnesses and sheer panic of my situation meant that I nearly never slept as the pain and fear were all too much and it was at this time that I had many dark thoughts running through my head but when I look back at it I regret ever thinking that way.
My panicking brought along another drawback, as normally with spinal patients panicking raises the heart rate, but with me the complete opposite happened as my heart dropped off completely until no heartbeat registered and this happened seven times to me. I remember moments before my heart dropped completely, when nurses running to my bedside to try and stop this happening, I had one that punched me in my throat but she apologised once I came out off the blackout. As a consequence of my heart failure I had a pacemaker put into my body to try and make sure my heart would not drop again.
As my first surgery did not work properly I was booked in for a second operation a week later. I can still picture the lights on the ceiling as I was led to the operating theatre, and what everything looked like. My second surgery lasted seven hours, where they went through the front again and through the back of my neck to screw and wire the vertebrae back into alignment, and again I’m so thankful for the job of surgeons did on my neck as I was told by other doctors they had done an amazing job. It was another week until I was airlifted back to England.
My time in Portugal is in memory that will stick with me for the rest of my life, as was a time when I was told my spinal cord had been totally severed and my condition would not improve from then, but I can look back now and see that that was one of the things that drove me on through everything. It was also the most emotional time of my life and I would not have been able to get through it if I did not have my parents there by my side or without a couple of cards sent to me by the families of the boys who were with me on holiday, I can still picture the cards by my bedside and exactly how I felt when reading them, it brought me to tears how these families had already been there supporting me and it still makes me emotional thinking about it one year on.