Andy Nicholson, 46, from Lincoln, set off to Leipzig in East Germany to work as a builder. By the time he returned home eight months later, his life had changed forever.
“On a cold December morning, I walked into the house we were working on and fell 20-feet headfirst down an unguarded stairwell," Andy recalled. "I landed on my head, on bare concrete.”
“My skull smashed against the hard ground and a large chunk immediately wedged itself onto my brain. I was rushed to Leipzig hospital already in a coma. My family was telephoned and told, with some urgency, ‘Get as many members of your family here as we don’t expect him to make it through the night.”
Andy was in a coma for three weeks, but fortunately his skull healed without the need for surgery and he slowly began to show signs of improvement. He said when he did finally wake from his coma he was in a haze of confusion.
He said: “I had no idea where I was, or indeed who I was. My family and friends flew over to Germany in shifts to be by my side, but in the early days I didn’t recognise faces and the reason for the confusion was alien to me. I spent a further six weeks in hospital in Germany while the extent of my brain damage materialised. In that time memories flickered to life and those faces again became familiar to me.”
"I was falling apart"
“My future was so uncertain in the weeks and months that followed my return to Britain," said Andy.
"I was falling apart. My confusion, my lack of awareness and my total lack of self-confidence were threatening to overtake my life. The accident left me partially sighted, it effected my coordination and created weakness down my entire left side. I also have migraines frequently and I developed epilepsy – now partially under control - as a result of the damage. The list goes on.
“Ironically, as my health vanished, so did the vast majority of my friends. My girlfriend made her excuses and walked away, with others following in her wake.
"Headway saved my life"
“But things started to turn around when I met Jo Fereday, the former Chair of Headway Lincolnshire. She was sitting in on a list of hospital assessments of which I was one of the appointments. We talked at length that day and at greater length over the coming weeks.
“Jo was instrumental in my managing to find my feet once more and become the man I am today. In short, Jo and Headway saved my life. Jo is still a good friend to this very day and I value her help more than she could ever know.”
Twenty years on Andy is now happily married and has two children, Joshua and Hollie.
“My family are my world and make the events of twenty years ago seem worth all of the trauma. Without that event, I wouldn’t be me and I wouldn’t have them.”
Recently Andy has begun to make small videos to raise awareness around brain injuries and talk about some of the effects he still has to live with.
He said: “I made the first film 'Some People' early this summer. My initial motivation was the quite phenomenal lack of knowledge, stigma even, associated with the kind of hidden disabilities a large proportion of the brain injured community endure daily.
"After going through one of the infamous ATOS medicals myself and being told I was 100% fit for work and that I was entitled to nothing, I felt the time was right to address the reality of my life.
“I may look OK to those who view me, but I’m really not. It is ok to share these experiences and to talk about them. To anyone suffering similarly, I would say, speak up; never be ashamed, fight to be heard.
This is our fight, together. I believe that more information must be shared, and first hand stories must be heard in order to raise awareness of such conditions.
You can keep up-to-date with Andy's writing and videos on his Facebook page, Notes From The Brain Damaged Baron.
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