Portrait: James

December 1st, 2023, began like any other. Friday, the start of the weekend looming, a list of small, easy jobs were lined up for the day when I was struck by the most breath-taking pain consuming my entire head.

I was ahead of time and looking forward to catching up with a friend, as well as doing my final job for the day. As I was packing away my tools at the penultimate job, I was struck by the most breath-taking pain consuming my entire head. It went from zero to one hundred in an instant. My knees gave a little and I grabbed the worktop in front of me to steady myself.

Thinking it was some sort of severe migraine, I drove myself home, took some painkillers, and lay on the sofa to wait for the pain to subside. Five hours later and with no reduction in pain, I went to bed and turned-on the TV.


A trip to one hospital—and another

Remembering the only migraine I had to date, the darkness was too bright, so I felt something else was going on, as the glow of the TV made no difference to the intensity of the pain. A call to 111 later, and I was sent to A&E. My dad drove me. I was dealt with quickly, and no more than 40 minutes after arriving, I had a CT scan that confirmed the doctor's suspicion of ‘...a bleed on your brain, Mr Hall’.

Those words were still ringing in my ears as I was sent for a CTA scan to further confirm the diagnosis. With hindsight, that's when the slight dissociative feeling started. I write this 12 weeks, 3 days, and 45 minutes after the bleed, with that slight dissociation still haunting me. It’s almost as if I'm stuck in an echo of the shock.

Three nights’ residency in the Royal Surrey took place while St George's reviewed my case, followed by 24 hours at my dad's, until a call from St George's confirmed I needed to be admitted in for more observation. A second shock, considering I was told to expect results from St George's in ‘4-5 days’, not that I would possibly be called in for more observation. The panic set in: it was awful. I was convinced of worse to come. A calm settled in when I was eventually shown to my bed, where I'd stay for the remainder of the week under observation.


Feeling grateful—and frustrated

I'm immensely grateful to the staff at both hospitals. The statistics make for terrifying reading. I won the lottery.

Sitting here thinking about how close I came to being in that 33% is quite strange. Those numbers are firmly ingrained and will never leave me. They come to me most frequently at night, when I can't quiet the anxiety that has worsened since the bleed. The jolting awakes with a sudden intake of breath, just as I drift off to sleep, happens often. The thoughts of my mortality, my family's, my friend's. These are all new companions for my anxiety.

Fatigue is sporadic and incredibly frustrating. Just as I feel I've turned a corner, I wake from an aching tiredness I can't quite find the words to describe. It brings with it a weight, a sadness that's difficult to shift when it all feels so isolating. The slight dissociation is arguably the most frustrating of the symptoms.


Family is my support system

My family and friends are my ongoing support network. I've stayed with my dad since, and he's been looking after me very well. It must be difficult for care givers, as unless they’ve already experienced a brain injury for themselves, it’s very hard to relate to.

I'm aware I can't hide my frustration some days. I'm more snappy than usual, which must be hard for those around me who might feel they’re treading on eggshells. I know it has been particularly hard on my parents, seeing their son in so much pain, and nothing they can do to alleviate it. Their unconditional love and support is everything I could ever wish for.


Advice for my fellow survivors

If I could offer any advice for survivors, it’s to try to be patient. The recovery takes as long as it takes, and that comes with its own difficulties, but there's no rush. Be kind to yourself. Every passing minute is a victory. Every second is a step away from that awful moment. Sending my love and best wishes to all the survivors and caregivers out there—love, light and peace.


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