It had been a lovely sunny May day. We had dropped my excited 13-year-old daughter Gabrielle and her friend at Manchester Arena to enjoy their first concert without parents. A Christmas present from me. To watch Ariana Grande.
I had enjoyed a delicious Mexican meal with the love of my life, Elaine. We were in the process of buying a new house and looking forward to the next chapter of our lives together. We were so happy we’d found each other later in life. We were already planning to travel the world when we retire.
We slowly made our way to the arena. There was no rush. We were just killing time.
We were waiting in the foyer. I got Gabrielle a t-shirt. Some people had started to leave early. I could hear the concert coming to an end. A wave of people started coming out.
That’s when the bomb went off.
I don’t remember much. I have a hazy memory of everything turning red. A feeling of being thrown through the air. I didn’t know what had happened. It was dream-like. Reality had ended. This doesn’t make sense.
I have a vague memory of trying to stand up. To make my way to Elaine. But it was impossible. I stared up at the ceiling. An emergency announcement repeating over and over. Smoke billowing on the ceiling. I felt completely alone.
My next memories are of being in hospital.
Severe burns on my head and throat. A tracheostomy helping me breath. The hearing in my right ear gone. My right leg shattered. My left hand shattered. My right hand severely lacerated. Fractured knuckles. Shrapnel embedded into my groin, pelvis and back.
The pain was overwhelming. It was all a blur. I didn’t understand why I was there. I had no sense of time. I couldn’t move. I couldn’t escape. I was drifting in and out of consciousness.
I had already been there for four weeks. I’d been in an induced coma for 12 days. I’d had countless operations to save my life. I was on a lot of medication. The drugs made me confused. I would have nightmares. Hallucinate.
I don’t remember being told Elaine had been killed. That still hurts me. She died instantly. Injuries to her chest. One minute she was standing next to me, and then gone. Thankfully my daughter and her friend made it home safely.
It felt like I was seeing my family for the first time even though they had been by my side for weeks. They had processed my injuries weeks before I could. They had grieved. They had cried. They had time to accept what my future may look like.
I was playing catch up.
I found it so hard to show my feelings. I didn’t have time to grieve. At first, I was fighting to stay alive. Then I began the weeks and months of recovery that follow.
Elaine’s funeral was delayed so I could attend. I was in a wheelchair, accompanied by a nurse so they could administer morphine. When the love of your life dies, you should have that outpouring of grief. For me, I was high on drugs. I missed out on that grieving process. I’m still seeking support to this day.
I spent nearly nine months in hospital.
First on a trauma rehab ward at Manchester Royal Infirmary, then Whiston Hospital closer to my family and friends in Liverpool, and then a specialist trauma rehab ward in St Helen’s, where I stayed until February the following year.
I had to learn everything again. How to eat. How to chew my food. How to move. How to sit up. How to walk.
It was a battle. I didn’t know it at the time, but my prognosis was grim. They didn’t think I would walk again. They thought I would lose my leg. I may still lose my leg in the future.
Nothing prepares you for the long recovery journey.
When I was on the ward, I would see other patients receive physio. I couldn’t wait for the day when the physio team would visit me. When it finally happened, it seemed like a big milestone.
It took eight physiotherapists to help me sit up, stand up and then sit back down again. That was it.
I remember thinking I’ll never walk again. The severity of my injuries suddenly dawned on me. That was when I was at my lowest. I thought my life was over. Without Elaine, what was the point?
The thought of my kids kept me going. I was determined to do everything I could. I did what I was told. I tried to be the ‘model’ patient and exceed any expectations. And I did.
When you are in hospital for that length of time you become institutionalized. Every day is the same. I had to produce my own timetable to do exercises. I kept myself busy. I differentiated between the week and weekends by choosing different meals. Keeping the ones I preferred for the weekend as a ‘treat’.
Leaving hospital was scary.
I was terrified of leaving the security of 24-hour care. The world around me had changed. I had changed. Physically, and emotionally. I couldn’t go back to my house and live on my own. I had to live with my elderly parents. It was awful for them.
I felt the world was happening outside my window, but I wasn’t living it. Although I’m fortunate to have wonderful family and friends around me, I still felt alone. Abandoned. Processing my life-changing injuries on my own.
I wish I had found Day One sooner.
It took me more than five years to discover Day One. I wish I had known about the charity earlier. To have had someone with me on this journey. I believe that if I had, the journey I’ve been on and continue to travel wouldn’t have felt so lonely and overwhelming.
I have benefited massively from speaking to a Peer Support Volunteer. To speak to someone who has been there. Who understands the physical battle, but also the impact on your mental health. I can talk about things that I couldn’t to my family and friends.
I would have benefited from this years ago. One of the hardest things I found was lack of continuity between hospital and home. You have to find things out on your own. I was amazed that something like Day One didn’t exist in every hospital as standard.
I would have benefitted massively to have someone from Day One by my side in hospital – someone who would then have been there for me when I returned home. I worked all my life and had no idea about benefits. I would have benefitted massively to receive practical advice from Day One.
Now I’ve found Day One, I’m passionate about ensuring other people don’t have to go through what I did on their own. It means a lot for me to give back and I hope to volunteer in the future.
It’s really hard at times. But I know Elaine would want me to live the best possible life and that’s what I want for everyone else too.
Getting back on the saddle after my farming accident
Day One made sure Sophie had what she needed most. Her mum.
Day One helped me come to terms with losing my leg