A little while ago, I asked my Mum to write a blog about the events of August 6th from her perspective. It is only since looking back at the first hours/weeks of my accident that I have come to realise how wrapped up in ‘self-preservation mode’ I truly had been at the time. I had felt an overwhelming sense of guilt for what I was putting people through, but I didn’t stop to think what this must have really been like for my loved ones. As I read through this blog for the first time, I felt that same sense of guilt return, but I also felt an immeasurable sense of pride in my Mum for being as strong as she was. Thank you for writing this Mum, I love you.
Julie Edwards (Mum)
I have found this blog extremely difficult to write. It has been so hard to record my thoughts and feelings about the events of Saturday 6th August 2016, a date that changed my life, as well as Darren’s, in an instant. When I answered the phone it was my daughter Eve at the other end. I knew from her tone that she was upset and on reflection it must have been so hard for her to break the terrible news to me. I can’t recall exactly how she told me but the three words that I heard so clearly were “Darren”, “Accident” and “Hospital”. After ending the call I struggled to piece together exactly what had been said. For some reason I thought Darren had been involved in a car accident and taken to the Royal Shrewsbury Hospital.
Very shortly afterwards Dr Ed from A&E at the Royal Stoke University Hospital rang and informed me that Darren had been involved in a climbing accident and had been brought to the hospital by helicopter. He told me Darren had received a “significant” injury but stressed that it was not life threatening. He asked me to take my time in travelling to the hospital safely and he would speak to me in more depth once I arrived. He let me speak briefly to Darren and I do remember saying “what have you been up to”?
Once Eve had arrived home, we set off on the 35 mile journey to the hospital, along with Darren and Eve’s dad and my mum. It was late evening by then and driving in darkness along the winding country roads seemed endless. We were unfamiliar with the Newcastle-under-Lyme area and its huge hospital site and spent what seemed an age trying to find the car park nearest to A&E. For the first time in my life I abandoned the car without getting a ticket as I felt so frustrated and agitated making sense of the ‘Pay and Display’ machine with instructions to pay for however long we were plannng to be there: 1 hour, 2 hours, 24 hours – who knew?
When I finally saw Darren in a cubicle in A&E my first and overwhelming sense was one of relief. “Hello Mum”, “I’m so sorry” he said. At that stage I still didn’t know the full extent of his injuries but all that mattered was that he was ALIVE, he was conscious, he was speaking to me normally and squeezing my hand. He was still “My Darren”. Nothing else mattered in that moment.
It was only when Dr Ed spoke to us in the Relatives Room that the seriousness of his injuries became apparent. I asked if Darren would be able to walk again? “Unlikely” came the answer. I was almost functioning on ‘auto pilot’ by then; I felt numb and kept thinking it was all just a bad dream. Any minute I would wake up and all would be well. It was so hard for me to process what was happening and deal with the emotions of those around me too. I knew I had to ‘dig deep’ to remain strong for Darren’s sake and that of my daughter Eve. Going to pieces would help neither of them. A mother’s instinct to protect her children at all cost I guess. Over and over I just remember feeling so incredibly thankful that Darren hadn’t died, particularly after hearing the full horror of what had happened from his best friend Matt, who had been rock climbing with him that day. Ellie, Darren’s girlfriend, and Matt’s family were also at the hospital and were so very supportive to us.
Darren was eventually transferred to the Critical Care Unit and we were told spinal surgery would take place early the next day. We drove home exhausted and in silence at around 4am Sunday morning. It was approximately 12 hours before I would see Darren again, post-surgery.
Hanging around in the waiting room that Sunday was almost unbearable and I finally gave way to tiredness and tears. Wendy, the lovely receptionist in Critical Care, noticed my distress and kindly opened up a small and more private Relatives Room with comfy sofas. She brought some pillows, a welcome cup of tea and told me to try and get some rest; she would let us know when Darren was back from surgery and able to have visitors. Subsequently, Wendy also arranged for a free car parking permit and organised for me to stay close by for three nights in hospital accommodation reserved for relatives of those in Critical Care. This accommodation was a real ‘God send’ as it saved the long drive back and forth. Eve was able to come and stay with me for two of those nights and we were a great comfort for each other.
There are two memories of Darren’s week in Critical Care that will always stay with me. Firstly, when the staff wheeled his bed , plus attached monitors, out of the emergency exit into the fresh air at his request. It was so uplifting to see the smile on his face and colour return to his cheeks as he felt the cool fresh air on his body and he was able to look up at the sky again. Secondly, when a member of staff from the Spinal Injuries Ward spoke to me quietly while I sat beside a sleeping Darren. She reassured me that, although serious, his level of injury was such that he would be able to lead a totally independent life and he would be able to father children in the future.
When Darren transferred to the Robert Jones and Agnes Hunt Orthopaedic Hospital in Oswestry, so began a real rollercoaster of emotions. The six weeks of total bed rest was the hardest time to keep him in good spirits; I felt frightened that it might drive him to despair. The wonderful staff on Wrekin Ward were happy to regularly wheel him into a shady spot in the courtyard just outside his room; the Summer weather was kind and he was able to get outside most days. I hated having to say goodbye each time I left for home, knowing his low points were at night time when visitors had gone. Thankfully staff had the wisdom to put Darren in a room with another young man called Tim, who was good company for him and like minded with a positive mental attitude. They both shared a similar bond and Darren had made a friend who knew exactly how he was feeling.
As I write, it is now four months down the line and Darren is almost ready for discharge from hospital and the many challenges that will lie ahead. The other day I watched a baby crawling around in a restaurant. It took me back to when Darren had been that age and I had willed him to take his first tentative steps, as an anxious first time parent thinking “how will he ever manage it”? He figured it out then and I believe he will do so again. I will still be there to catch him if needed.
The human body is a wonderful machine which we largely take for granted until something happens that changes our perspective. I watched the 2016 Paralympics in a whole new light. The people who competed had overcome their disabilities to represent their country in a worldwide sporting event. Their stories were so fascinating and inspirational. My son’s life has taken a different path from the one I had envisioned for him but he has shown so much courage and determination throughout his ordeal. I am so incredibly proud to be his Mum.
Finally, as we go forward into the future together, I give thanks to God for keeping Darren safe from death that day by putting Matt close enough to save him from falling any further and for remaining calm when it mattered. God has also given me the strength to bear all that has happened since and truly blessed me and my family with the love, support and friendship of so many wonderful people along the way.