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James - his Story

James talks to Rachel from Headways Surrey about his brain injury suddenly changed his life completely...

How did you sustain your brain injury?

James answered: In December 2019 I was at work (I work for a large food retailer, so it was a busy time of year) and I had a headache on the Friday and it carried on all weekend. I was quite poorly being sick, but with no relief.

I thought I just had a normal bug, but on the Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday I was still ill with a pounding headache. I presumed it was just a migraine, but I had never had a migraine before. Now people report that my speech was slightly slurred.

I came home early from work on the Thursday, had a hot shower, and I collapsed. I woke up in a pool of blood, and I told my wife I needed help. We went to hospital and I couldn't even sit up straight on the way there, and the doctors realised there was something more seriously wrong with me.

I was transferred to St Georges Tooting, where I had surgery overnight. I regained consciousness a few days later.

How did you feel when you regained consciousness and realised what had happened?

James answered: I was shocked. I am a generally fit person so didn't think anything like this would happen to me. People kept saying to me that I was lucky to be alive, which was quite sobering. I was also trying to work out what had happened and why I was in hospital. It was a scary time.

Tell me about your progress and recovery?

James answered: I moved from ICU to HDU and then onto the ward, and had to tackle various medical issues along the way. I met with the physio and they wanted me to try and walk. I said that's fine no problem at all. Then I tried to stand up, but I couldn't work out how to do it. That is when reality kicked it. I got shown pictures of what I had been like, and that is when the realisation started.

I was finally transferred back to Frimley, but then I had another incident and that's when I realised how weak I had got.

When did you hear about Headway Surrey?

James answered: They told me and my wife about Headway Surrey when I was in ICU, but nothing was registering with me at the time. When I finally got home I was in a state of despair, I was trying to come to terms with what had happened to me, and it was at that point
that my wife told me to look at the Headway Surrey web page. I got in touch with Headway Surrey and had a great chat with Chloe (Services Coordinator).

From that point onwards I felt that I could ask questions and make progress. I joined Headway Surrey in lockdown by the power of Zoom!

How did your recovery progress once home?

The care team I had coming to my home were great helping me with my physical recovery, but the psychological recovery was much harder. Headway Surrey was my lifeline. When I had a question about something that I was worried about or confused by, they were able to help me. The other clients I was in the group with also gave me support and clarity when I needed it.

What have you learnt through attending the Headway Surrey sessions?

James answered: I check in with the group every week, and it reminds me that I am allowed to feel the way that I do, and that I need to be kind to myself. I am a very determined person and I have learnt that the determination that is helping me to recover, is also one of the drivers that is not healthy for me as well. Having a chat at the Wednesday Coffee Mornings helps me so much.

What other Headway Surrey services have you used?

James answered: I have had counselling sessions with Kat at Headway Surrey and one to one sessions with Jo (Rehabilitation Coordinator), and these have helped me which coping strategies, acceptance of what has happened, and my psychological struggles. The sessions with Jo also included my wife, and helped me to learn about needing to stop, rest and not push myself too hard.

Tell us about your return to work?

I returned to work six months after my brain injury. I had a phased return to work and my boss has been brilliant supporting me. I get tired and I still struggle with things physically. I am managing my work in a different way from before, and I am doing fine. I am now working full time.
What practical advice did Headway Surrey help you to put in place?

My memory is terrible now so I rely on my calendar on my phone. Jo advised me too use a traffic light colour coding system to show how tiring my day will be so that I can build in rest times. This is the key to helping me manage my fatigue. Kat also advised me to get a book for my children to help to explain to them about brain injury. Having my family around me and them understanding how I am feeling really helps. Headway Surrey were able to understand who I am as a person, and then tailor the support and advice to suit me and my lifestyle.

What does your wife say about Headway Surrey?

My wife would say that Headway Surrey gave me the permission to open up, come to terms what had happened to me, and have mechanisms to help me in my recovery. Being able to join the sessions, helped to bring clarity to the situation for her too.

What would you say to someone who is newly discharged from hospital and is considering coming to Headway Surrey for help?

Don't be scared. Reach out. Even though my family were great with me after the injury, I still felt alone, and so having someone to talk to at Headway Surrey was a huge relief and took a lot of pressure off me. Be open to having conversations about yourself if you can. The more you talk about it, the more it helps. 

Final thoughts...

Until I had my brain injury I had no idea how many people out there have brain injuries, and the effect that a brain injury has. When I got back to work I wanted to explain to people how common an acquired brain injury is, and to raise awareness about it.

My disability is hidden as I look fine and just as I did before. The only time people would notice is if they seem me try and go up stairs. 

"Headway Surrey enabled me to speak to like-minded people, and get help and support in a safe
environment. Without Headway Surrey I would not be so far forward in my recovery."

"Coming to terms with what had happened to me was my biggest challenge, and I could not have
done that without the support of Headway Surrey."
"This is a vital charity that needs support."

Interviewer: Rachel Higgins

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