Julia picked up my book With a Little Help From my Friends, which I was in the process of re-writing and when she discovered my daughter, Marie, had a learning disability, she told me her daughter, Catherine, was also disabled - and from then on we discovered we had much in common.
Julia is one of the most extraordinary people I have ever met. As her story unfolded the hairs stood up on the back of my neck and when you read her story you will no doubt understand why.
|Catherine on the right just before accident|
That day I bent down to where she lay in the road and was about to take her in my arms when I was restrained by some of the parents at the scene. A woman I didn't recognise looked at me pitifully and said it was best not to touch her. I tried to fight them off but my arms were being held so firmly that I couldn't move them. I dropped my head in despair and sobbed as I looked at the body of my baby lying helpless and injured on the road.
When we arrived at the hospital, a medical team had been standing by to meet us. Gentle hands transferred Catherine onto a trolley and my little girl was quickly rushed into an examination room.
Soon a doctor came into the room and gave us his diagnosis. He said that Catherine had suffered multiple and appalling injuries. Her condition was very serious and they would have to operate straight away.
M. You had other children you had to think about too, didn't you?
The pain was so unbearable. I felt as if my heart was bleeding. My husband and I stayed up all night. We couldn't go to bed; sleep was impossible.
The next day I was in a trance as I got the children ready for school. As soon as they left I got the bus down to the hospital. It was a longest thirty minutes.
After our tears subsided, although there was many more to come, Catherine’s father and I had to decide what we were going to do. There was no way we could leave Catherine on her own in a coma; one of us would have to be there talk to her and let her know we were right beside her. However, we had three other children at home who needed us and they were suffering as well. We were a unit of six and one was missing so we were incomplete. We decided that I would be with Catherine in the daytime and be home for my children coming home from school and her father would call in to see her on his way home from work. That way one of us would be there if the worst came to the worst.
I left the church and took the short walk to the hospital, hoping against all hope that a miracle had occurred. I thought I would walk into the ward and my husband, Tony, would be standing there with a big smile on his face and he'd say, "Catherine's awake! She's awake - and asking for you". Then Catherine would look at me and say, "Hiya Mum, when can I come home?" I hurried on into the building and towards the ward. I couldn't wait to see her. When she comes home, I thought, I'll take her to the cake shop and buy her the biggest custard tart she has ever seen, because that was her favourite. But of course I'd let my imagination run away with me. When I reached my daughter's bed she was lying in the same position on her back with her eyes tightly closed.
The hospital gave us a parent's room, which consisted of basic essentials, two single beds and facilities to make a cup of tea but we really didn’t bother with it because we were both too anxious to relax.
M. You must have been emotionally and financially drained.
|Coming out of her coma after 6 months|
The doctor walked briskly into the ward, eager to see his little patient. He stood at the foot of her bed then he smiled and said, “Hello Catherine, how are you? It’s lovely to see you!” She stared at him blankly. He examined her and said “She’s in a comatose condition at the moment. The best things to do are talk to her and keep talking to her as you’ve been doing all this time. I’ll arrange for a specialist to come and do an assessment".
When we went home and told the kids the news they were so excited asking when their baby sister could home. I told them what the doctor told us, that before she could come home she would have to be seen by a specialist and that wouldn't be until after Christmas.
On Christmas Day Christine, Tony Jr, Julianne, her father and I all sat around Catherine's bed. As each of us spoke to her she just looked at us with no signs of recognition; she just lay there propped up with pillows.
The New Year began and there was no great improvement in Catherine's condition. She still had to have a feed tube inserted through her nose because she was unable to swallow. I hated it and told the ward sister so but she smiled and said that I need to learn how to insert it before Catherine came home. That made me nervous, and then she assured me a district nurse would call four times a week to give me help and support, which made me feel better.
M. How did Catherine's assessment go?
We got to the hospital early and waited anxiously for his arrival. He walked into the ward and approached Catherine’s bed, acknowledging my husband and I with a nod of the head. Then he pursed his lips together and stood for a while at the bottom of our daughter's bed looking at her, and then, at last, he proceeded to examine her.
My husband stared at the doctor and I could see his fists clenched. I put my hand on his arm to restrain him and said quietly. “We’re not going to take any notice of him. Just wait till we get her back home, we’ll get her better; just wait and see” Then the specialist picked up his brief case from the chair, nodded to us and walked away.
|Catherine recovering at home|
- Patterning – manipulation of limbs and head in a rhythmic fashion
- Creeping – forward bodily movement with the abdomen in contact with the floor
- Crawling – forward bodily movement with the abdomen raised from the floor
- Receptive stimulation – visual, tactile and auditory stimulation
- Expressive activities – e.g. picking up objects
- Masking – breathing into a rebreathing mask to increase the amount of carbon dioxide inhaled, which is believed to increase cerebral blood flow
- Brachiation – swinging from a bar or vertical ladder
- Gravity/Antigravity activities – rolling, somersaulting and hanging upside down.
Catherine made really good progress. She could taste her food- her mouth had been paralyzed because she had had suffered a stroke just after the accident -she could suck through a straw and with a little help could blow her birthday candles out.
We did the therapy from 1981 to 1985 because by then Catherine was turning into a young woman and lost all interest in the programme so we brought it to an end.
We got on with our lives and over the years Catherine brought us so much joy. I had my bad days, of course. The sadness would wash over me like a waive, especially when all the family were together. I’d look at my grown up children and grandchildren and Catherine beside them and think of all she's missed out on. Having said that I've made sure she's lived as full a life as possible.
In 2001, Professor Tarn from Liverpool University presented Catherine with an achievement award. She had been nominated for the award by Person Shaped Support Agency (PSS), in Liverpool, who were the supporting agency at the time. Bill and I were so proud of her as she walked to the professor herself and accepted her award from him. Her father would have been proud of her too.
M. That was a big step for all of you.
This past June it will be forty one years since my daughter had the accident.
I ring and speak to her every morning and every evening. I just couldn’t start the day without knowing she was alright. She listens and speaks to me in her own way, with meaningful sounds and encouragement from her support worker. And she comes home for lunch twice a week, so she is still very much part of the family.
One thing that I do know is that everything the trustees do, they do it for the love of the Lord.
M. Come on now, Julia, don't forget to tell us about your other achievements too!
Well, in the year 2000 at the grand old age of sixty, I enrolled at Liverpool Community College. Over the two years that I was there, I took English, English literature, and Creative writing and I managed to get three GCSEs.
M. Finally, do you think you have come to terms with what happened on that awful day back in 1972?
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