In Sickness and in Health: Fireworks can be an ordeal for a recovering brain

Earlier this year, Rebecca’s husband, Nick, was hit by a car and seriously injured. Here, in one of a series of columns, she writes about the  aftermath of his accident

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The Independent Online

Some months ago, before she bought her first laptop (AND STARTED SENDING ME EMAILS COMPOSED ENTIRELY IN CAPITALS), my mum asked me to look up something. She wanted to find out about a CD of firework sounds, designed to be played to dogs in the run up to Bonfire Night in a bid to get them used to the whizzes and bangs that were to come. Having clocked how much they cost, we decided that when she next came to stay, I’d play her dog, Daisy, some clips of fireworks for free on Youtube. We forgot, and spent the time walking Daisy and drinking wine.

I need to resurrect the firework-acclimatisation programme pronto, if this past week is anything to go by. When I visited Nick for the first time in three days, he greeted me with the words that always make my soul soar – “I love you.” It all fell to earth pretty quickly after that. Two occupational therapists were trying to convince him that he ought to wear a splint on his immobile right hand. “No.” Just for a little while? “No.” Later? “No.” I weighed in and received the same response. They asked if Nick would like them to go. “Yes. Go away.” He looked at me. “You too.” Really? “Yes.”

We trooped out. I gave him 20 minutes grace before going back in. “Please go away.” Shall I just sit here quietly? “No. Go away.” Do you want me to come back tomorrow? “Yes. But go away now.” Fair enough. I am always reminding the people who look after Nick to ask him his opinion on things and to take what he says seriously, however shouty and annoying, because he’s often right (that sore throat he complained about turned out to be an infection; the painkillers he distrusted made him sluggish beyond recognition). Now, even though it hurt like hell, I had to practise what I preached and leave him alone with his demons.

One of his team found me signing out of the visitors’ book wearing my best attempt at a brave face. The previous night, she explained, had been a bad one for Nick. It was Diwali, the Hindu festival of lights, and the skies around the hospital had been filled with explosions. Ah. Things began to make sense.

Since he came round after months of semi-consciousness, Nick has been hypersensitive to noise. Nurses chatting in the corridor are making, to him, an outrageous cacophony. Other patients’ shouting sets Nick to bellowing at them to be quiet. The radio is too much for him to bear. No wonder he was exhausted and in a foul frame of mind.

The bad news is, things are only going to get worse in the run up to 5 November. So off I’m going to the hospital with firework footage on an iPad and the hope that Nick will want to see me for long enough for me to show him that, insofar as the bangs and crashes go, there’s nothing to be frightened of.

Twitter: @rebeccaj

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