Confounding the medics
October 24, 2013
Henry Fraser was on Saracens' books at the age of 17, he looked to have a bright future in the game like his brother Will. And then July 18, 2009, came around, the date Henry's life changed forever. Here is part two of his story with the first instalment here.
Henry Fraser and family enjoy a day out at the Olympics © Henry Fraser
My move from ITU to the acute ward was huge and one of greatest significance. It had been delayed and delayed through my illnesses. It felt like a place where I could start making some progress. My time on the acute ward would prove to be my most emotional and pivotal time after my accident. It was at this point I was told I would most likely be in hospital for 18 months. This at least gave me a time frame, but also something to beat.
The move did bring one immediate ray of hope, the fact I finally had a window I could look out of and see the sun again. It had been five weeks since I had seen outside, if felt like I was close to getting out. Although in reality I was only at the start.
With being in a bigger room, and a more relaxed frame of mind, I was able to accept more visitors. Until this point we had tried to keep things a bit quiet as I wasn't quite ready to be surrounded by people. But once I was ready, the influx of support was unreal. I will never forget it. It meant friends could visit more regularly, my teachers would travel for miles also to come and be by my bedside.
My feeding tube was taken out early on in my time on the acute ward but I was only allowed to start with puréed food. So I was given a menu and I picked salmon with mash potato and apple crumble for pudding. Word of warning, never pick hospital puréed salmon. It barely got past my lips before I spat it out. From then on Mum would cook jacket potatoes, beans and bacon, puréed of course.
Once my feeding tube was out we started to set out goals to achieve. Next was the ventilator. Then it was to get to the rehab ward, followed by getting out. It was time to work hard.
As my illnesses were better, I was finally able to get on with some chest physio and work towards getting off the ventilator and getting rid of my tracheostomy. I started to ween off the ventilator with my oxygen tank, and was increasing my time off it every day.
In the last part of my story I wrote about the first of the three days that I cried and will always stick with me. The day I was first put in a wheelchair was the worst of the three, but probably my most pivotal. My physio got me in the chair with my oxygen tank attached to my tracheostomy. As I had not sat up properly in so long all the blood would rush to my legs making me extremely dizzy and hard to stay awake. Mum had a go at driving and it ended being like a game of bumper cars, with the walls.
It was great to be up and around and see parts of the hospital I had heard spoken about but not seen. That was until we went outside and were about to go through the entrance when I saw myself in the glass doors. What I saw was not me. It was a razor thin young man that looked lost in his bulky wheelchair. There was a tube in his throat that helped him breathe and he could not move a thing. I had to take a double look to make sure it was me. I had lost nearly four stone in weight.
After my mum's friends had left, my mum and I headed back to my room. It was at this point that everything hit me. I just broke down. The reality of how the rest of my life would be had been shown to me in that reflection. I was just crying into my mum's comforting shoulder, just wanting to be able to hug her. When my dad took my mum to her car that night the day's events hit me once more. I broke again, with uncontrollable tears saying over and over 'Why me? Why me?'. I was still going when my dad returned and it was on my dad's comforting shoulder that I cried this time, just wanting to hug him.
It was a day I needed and a chance for me to let go of what was a lot of built up emotions. But when I lay awake that evening, I thought to myself: 'There is no point being sad or angry, I have no one to blame for what has happened. I may as well just get on with it.' For me, that day gave me what I needed to really push on.
Being able to get around I was able to see others in a similar situation to me. I had been told I would need a head controlled electric chair for the rest of my life. However once I saw someone pushing himself around, I knew it was for me. Personally, going into the electric chair for me was giving up when I knew I could do more. It did not go down well with the hospital, but deep down I knew I could do it and I knew what I wanted. It would be an ongoing fight.
Opening Saracens' new ground © Henry Fraser
One great day was when my parents, brothers and I had a Sunday roast in the hospital cafe. My whole family learnt what to do with my ventilator so we could leave the ward without assistance. Mum had cooked a full on roast, my favourite. It was at that point it felt like nothing had changed, and with my family around I would never have anything to worry about. They all wanted to do whatever it took for me to get out. I guess being around them gave me the strength to push on achieve whatever I could.
Using their strength my next challenge was to get rid of my ventilator. The weaning had gone well and I was really pushing myself during my physio. If you had seen how the physio worked me you would think it was some kind of torture or he was beating me up as I was an easy target. But I loved it, I would have done anything to get my tracheostomy out. Eventually I did, in a total of eight weeks, record timing for someone with my level of injury. It felt wonderful to finally achieve something.
The reason I could achieve what I did was because of a huge team effort. My family still had their visiting routine from the moment I woke until the moment I went to sleep. Not just from my family but from our friends also. Throughout this time the support myself and my family had was unreal. Mum would be by my side all day so had no time to cook proper meals for the whole family. So many of her friends would take it upon themselves to cook meals and leave them on our doorstep. When I got to solid foods it meant that it saved my mum time to cook. My mum's mum would cook giant pans of food for my friends to eat when they came up. We had to do something for my friends as many of them would travel from south east London. It was a small way we could show our appreciation for what they were doing.
I consider myself very lucky.
It was very different for me living my life as part of a team. I had been in teams for years playing sport, but outside of that I was quite a quiet solitary person. So to accept that I would need to rely on a team the rest of my life was hard. But I had to accept my limitations and get on with it.
Very soon after, I had made it downstairs. The final step towards getting out of there.
But before I moved downstairs, I had one final decision to make. I had to choose between going onto one of the adult rehab wards or the paediatric ward, children's ward.
The children's ward was decorated in a very childish way that turned me off the ward quite a lot, especially when I was on the brink of becoming an adult.But it only had six beds, so very calm and quiet. I could finally get some unmediated sleep. The ward had its own private physiotherapy equipment, which meant I could exercise more regularly, almost whenever I wanted. The two adult wards were noisy and leaning towards depressing. I chose the paediatric ward.
I was finally in a place where thoughts of getting out and going home were becoming a reality.
The Fraser brothers © Henry Fraser
Once downstairs I had a meeting with my new consultant, nurse, physio, mum and two others. The meeting was about my discharge date. My physio and consultant were very positive and of course we pushed to bring the date as close as possible. Everyone seemed to be on the same wave length. The date was decided, February 10, 2010.
With the discharge date taken care of I could focus on my one main goal at that point, being able to push my chair. Believe me, it wasn't until a few days before I left that everyone in hospital got on board, it was crazy how much convincing it took. I saw the person pushing himself, it inspired me and I think it's the way we think about getting on with life that made us friends. He gave us the number to his incredible physio, someone to who I owe a huge amount.
Normal protocol says someone with zero arm and leg movement should be in a head controlled electric chair, but I had to prove them wrong.
The whole point of the rehab ward was to get the wheels in motion towards leaving. They would allow you home for a day one weekend then build up to a whole week or more until you eventually left. After slow progress with convincing the physios, the moment I organised a day home we got the private physio over. The first thing she asked me was what I wanted to do, push myself in my chair. She immediately said we will work towards that.
Every time I came home I would get the physio round. Each session was two hours long of brutal repetitions sometimes going into the hundreds, but finishing with assisted pushing in my wheelchair. It was physically shattering but mentally great. I knew that it's what I needed. I always enjoyed pushing myself physically, and this was exactly the same thing.
My short stints at home were wonderful. The moment I got home my brothers would lift me out of the chair and lie me down on the sofa. Thank goodness I have three brothers! My whole family learnt how to do the basics of the care I need so that I could come home and we could enjoy time together. This was most noticeable during the ten days I got home for Christmas.
After Christmas I was home every weekend and loving it. It was only a matter of time before I would be home for good.
My last day was full of contrasting emotions. Of course the overriding emotion was joy. The joy of finally going home for good. Fear also played a part. I would be away from the safety of the hospital environment where there is everything you could possibly need, medically. At home you all have to learn a new way of life out in the real world. You find out you constantly have to learn and adapt to life. At least it keeps things interesting.
I needed to show everyone there, prove to them, that it could be done. I achieved that goal. The best way to show them it could be done was to push myself out of the hospital. So the day I left that's exactly what I did, it was the best message I could send. That was until I reached a small slope and my lack of arm control meant I rolled straight in the middle of the car park.
It wasn't until the car ride home that the wave of emotions I had been feeling all day hit me hard. I was sitting in the car when I just started to cry. I still cannot put my finger on exactly what it was that set me off. It was relief more than anything, maybe a much needed release. I was finally going home.
There was always one constant throughout my time in hospital. The support never died down. I would not have been able to do what I did without everyone around me. It has been a huge team effort. Everyone in my family, my friends and everyone that has supported me and my family, I will always be grateful.
A team is people you can always depend on.
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