Portrait: Andrew

At the end of the day, I survived all this which is incredible and I am so happy I can still hug my wife and daughters and make them happy because their happiness is the most important to me.  

Where Andrew’s story begins 

On New Year's Eve 2021, I drove to a COVID-19 test centre in Mullingar from Galway. I remember after the swab, I stopped driving as I felt achy like I had the flu. My bones ached, I felt hot and cold and had a headache. I texted my wife to tell her I needed to pull in to stretch myself out and continued my drive home. 

When I got home, I texted my wife again to tell her I was going to isolate in the spare room and get some sleep. This is where everything went black for me. When my wife and daughters came home, I was on the couch sitting upright but dozing. My wife was waking me to go upstairs to isolate as the kids wanted to come into the sitting room. I eventually got up and went upstairs but came back down a few minutes later very confused and I was telling the kids to get ready for school. My wife sent me back up but was worried as to why I was so confused. She called our GP relating her concerns. He advised her to bring me to A&E as he thought I might be septic with COVID-19 and that it was causing confusion.  

It took some time to get me out to the car as I was so confused. Because I was covid positive, my wife couldn't come into A&E with me, so we had to wait outside while a room was prepared. While we were waiting, my confusion was getting worse and I was talking nonsensical rubbish. They couldn't figure out what was wrong, and I started vomiting.  

After a few phone calls to my wife asking her questions, they decided to do a head CT scan in case I had fallen and hit my head while I was on my own. That's when they discovered a bleed on my brain. 

Managing a brain bleed and COVID-19 

I was genuinely very lucky that there was a bed available in the ICU. I was brought to theatre to be put into a coma and prepped for transport to Dublin. I was brought to ICU where I remained in a coma for eight days. As well as having a bleed on my brain, my lungs were badly affected by COVID-19 and my blood pressure was extremely high. 

After about 24 hours, I was rushed to theatre to have an external drain inserted to reduce some of the fluid from my brain and relieve pressure. My right eye had also stopped working. In the many scans during my stay in hospital, an incidental aneurysm was found. However, this was not found to be the cause of the hemorrhage. 

Waking up to a new reality 

I woke up in hospital in February. I have fleeting flashes of pulling tubes from my mouth when in Hospital and being in the Garda station in my town, but everything is just black. My first real memory is signing Valentines cards for my daughters. Another flashing memory is of me leaving my house and falling outside only to be helped to the Garda station and giving them my old address in Dublin where I haven't lived for eight years.  

I missed my wife's and my eldest daughter’s birthdays, something that may not mean much to others, but those days mean the world to me. I missed the new year with my wife as I was sedated and put into the back of an ambulance. I was lucky that my coma only lasted a week, but I remember nothing from New Year's Eve until February. 

Current challenges

My biggest struggle now is my mental health. I am lucky that I am back to work in the job I love and got back to driving 7 months after the brain injury. However, I struggle with what I put my family through and how worried they were. My neurosurgeon telling me how close I was to a pine box doesn't help either.  The last episode of Derry Girls where Claire's dad passes away from an Aneurysm hits me like Mike Tyson.  

I struggle as I feel as though I have let my family down by this happening or that I don't do enough, even though my amazing wife assures me that I am the only one keeping the house going as I clean up after the kids. I do all the washing, drying, cleaning and food prep. I do the general things I used to do, but I just feel like I have let them down by this having happened to me. I have struggled with being on my own at times or when it’s just me and the kids as the neurosurgeon found an incidental aneurysm which has since been deemed as not a worry. But I worry. I worry as I have to live knowing I have it and what if something happens when I am alone or if it’s just me and the girls. What happens then, what do they do or what can I do to help them?  

I struggle being in hospital as I fear that it’s all happening again, and I will end up left there for months on end again. It’s almost like a version of PTSD. Even after my angio, before I was given the all clear, I was told it might be the following day when I would go home which panicked me. I just cannot face being left in hospital again.  

For me, it has been my mental health that has suffered the most from all this and I fear it will bring my family down as well! I just want to go back to the old me, the one who made silly dad jokes and always tried to look at the happier side of things rather than feeling in a pit of despair. I miss that version of me so badly, he was a great guy. This new fear-riddled and anxious version just makes me sad.  

What helped me move forward 

I would constantly listen to music to help me through negative thoughts as I really struggle with my mental health and self-worth in the aftermath of the haemorrhage. The anxiety of what could happen to me if I was alone or just with my daughters and something happens with the other aneurysm is real. There was one thing that my wife said to me when I regained some cognition and realised what had happened to me. I woke up and realised that my wedding ring was missing and panicked and called her really upset at the thought I had lost it.  

My wife came up and put it back on my finger and said two things to me that I have always felt for her also, "When I said in sickness and in health, I meant that" and "No matter what happens we are together forever and always". Seeing my wife and daughters everyday keeps me going. Knowing that I will be around for every major life event is massive to me in keeping me going and it helps me get better.  

At the end of the day, I survived all this which is incredible and I am so happy I can still hug my wife and daughters and make them happy because their happiness is the most important to me.  

Brain injury doesn’t just happen to the brain, but the whole person. Andrew’s inspiring story echoes how many brain injury survivors struggle with the new version of themselves after their injury.  

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