Ten seconds, ten years ago was all it took for Sheila Austin’s life to change forever. Sheila, now 69, was with family and husband John in Spain on a day she can recall in an instant. December 1, 2006, there were tiled steps but they were unmarked. John fell.
John lay with a broken skull and shattered facial bones in a pool of blood. Sheila stroked John’s head as they waited for the ambulance. The hospital confirmed John had cerebral bleeding, he regained consciousness but his injuries had affected his brain.
“He knew who I was, he recognised our daughter Jo but he’d lost 30 years of memory. He had no recollection of the fall, no idea he was in Spain or even why he was in Spain.”
Her world shattered beyond recognition, Sheila sat by John’s bedside for 15 days before he could be flown home to their home in Colchester.
John was a retired MD from the City. “We had a great life,” says Sheila. “Now we had a new life. John knew people, he knew the home but when he went out of the door he had no idea where he was. There was also a huge memory gap for small, everyday things.”
Sheila didn’t leave John for five months as he adapted to his new life. But she felt alone. She rang Headway in Colchester and a Community Support worker visited, who talked through the trials of Sheila’s changed world, offering support and advice to answer some of the many questions and fears she had. There was hope after all.
“From the very first moment Headway were my sanity,” says Sheila. “Most importantly they made me feel I wasn’t alone. They had a carers’ course and I went along to it one day a week for six weeks. I knew nothing about brain injury or its effects. Meeting other carers – it was the first time you could be totally honest about YOUR feelings. We were all in the same boat in different ways.
Sheila has been part of the Headway carers group for 10 years now. They met once a month at Headway House. John’s memory has slowly returned too. The couple play golf and go on holidays with friends. John, 75, drives again.
“You can’t give up. It does get better. We get information and facts from Headway and that is so comforting – particularly when you are looking for little handholds in the first days and weeks after a brain injury and you are struggling to adjust.
“Headway is made up of wonderful people, hard-working with real care. Headway has turned me whole again really. The carers group has empowered me. They have made me realise I am not the only one going through this. With Headway’s support we have come through. And I hope we have come through it with a smile.”