When a Police Officer knocks on your door at 4am, telling you that you need to drive 200 miles immediately to see your husband in hospital, with no more information, the worst thoughts inevitably strike. In the early hours of 6 November last year, when sports journalist Gary was assaulted, his wife Gemma’s life was assaulted too. London’s Air Ambulance talks to her about her turbulent journey through every second of her husband’s recovery, and the advice she would offer to others in similar positions.
“The last time I saw Gaz it was just a regular morning” said Gemma. “The next thing you know, my dad is driving me from Manchester to London, a saucepan in my lap, being sick with fear. The only information I had was through Twitter: ‘35 year old man fighting for his life’. I knew it must be Gaz. You go to bed and life is normal and suddenly your worst nightmare becomes a reality.”
Gary was in London covering a rugby match when he was assaulted in Bethnal Green, suffering a severe head injury. As it was night time, London’s Air Ambulance attended to Gary by rapid response car and together with the London Ambulance Service, anaesthetised him on scene.
Gary was in a coma for a month, spending his time between The Royal London Hospital in Whitechapel and Papworth hospital in Cambridgeshire for further specialist treatment. “I remember asking the nurse if Gaz was going to die, to which she replied ‘I can’t answer that.’ I stayed with Gaz the whole time. During the initial stages it was particularly tough, but this is what helped to get me through it:
ROUTINE – Every day I arrived to the hospital at the same time, had a break the same time, and left at the same time. Daily structure helped me stay above water.
SUPPORT – It sounds cliché but I could not have managed without my family and friends. For wives like me who may not have this, I promise you, you are not alone. There is so much support out there, you just need the confidence and courage to find it. Take leaflets from the hospital, chat to people in the waiting room, join support groups. Trust me, it’s there.
SPACE – When I left Gaz’s bedside each day my head was filled with noise from the ward and all of the machines, so I would go to the hospital’s chapel for ten minutes of peace and quiet. It was time purely for myself.
TRUST– I put all of my faith into the doctors and nurses in a time when I didn’t know what was going on. It is impossible to have all of the answers but I knew they were doing the very best they could and I had so much respect for that.
PATIENCE – Progress was slow but it inched forwards. I remember one doctor saying to me ‘don’t think about where you are on a daily basis but think about the progress from the week before’ which really resonated with me. I remember the day I started to feel hope was when I asked Gaz to blink if he could hear me, and he did. Through patience, this was huge for me.
NORMALITY – Even when Gaz was asleep I would put on his favourite music, play the rugby and just have normal conversations with the staff. Normality helped the recovery process and not just for him but for me. He even remembers some of this too.
Gary was transferred to Salford Royal Hospital on 10 December, finally arriving back home on 4 February. Having to learn to walk again, he is still going through physio and occupational therapy, but through the help of continuously channelling the list above, Gemma has over time seen significant progress.
“This has been the worst thing that happened to us but also the best as it has given us a new found respect for life. Recently Gaz walked to the shop alone and when he suggested it I thought ‘no way’ – but he did it. What happened to Gaz has taught us to push ourselves and each other. It is the small things that add up to the big things.”
Gary and Gemma celebrate every single success together. “Things are definitely not plain sailing but when times get turbulent we just remind each other of how far we have come. To us, every achievement is huge. Gaz – you are brilliant.”
IF YOU OR A LOVED ONE HAS BEEN TREATED BY LONDON'S AIR AMBULANCE AND WOULD LIKE TO GET IN TOUCH PLEASE EMAIL F.CHEGE@LONDONSAIRAMBULANCE.CO.UK