Written by her dad, John
In June 2001 I was looking forward to celebrating my birthday with my wife and daughter Sophie, who was then aged 4. After nipping for a swim after work, I arrived home and a neighbour came rushing out to say that Sophie had been taken to the local hospital after trapping and cutting off part of her finger in the door.
My heart sank, but I rushed to the hospital. From the outset I could see that Sophie would need surgery to reattach part of her finger. She was quickly moved to Mount Vernon Hospital’s plastic surgery unit.
It was a nerve-wracking time for both my wife and I but we were reassured by the fact that the accident could have been much worse and the plastic surgeon was cautiously optimistic about the chances of a successful operation. Sophie was taken to the operating theatre. Hours passed and I became increasingly worried. The doctor arrived and explained that Sophie had had a bad reaction to the anaesthetic and had aspirated during surgery. As a result some consumed food and gastric juices had entered Sophie’s trachea and lungs. We were told that Sophie would need to be transferred to the children’s intensive care unit at St Mary’s Hospital.
Nothing can prepare you for the news that your child is so ill that they need to be transferred to a critical care unit. At 1am in morning having had no sleep, Sophie’s simple accident had turned into a nightmare for us all.
We arrived at St Mary’s Hospital in a state of shock, disorientation and worry. However, from the moment we arrived we were struck by the professionalism and expertise of the team at St Mary’s. The team greeted us, explained what would be happening, and continued to give us regular updates throughout Sophie’s stay. Sophie had to undergo some gruelling physiotherapy to dislodge the food and gastric juices that had become stuck. It was tough but the team were amazing – I really can’t describe the sense we had as family of truly being in the care of an expert team – it was so reassuring. Sophie’s physiotherapy went really well and within 46 hours she was discharged.
I will never forget that day or night and the time we spent on the PICU, and how such a simple accident turned into potentially our worst nightmare and could have happened to anyone. As a parent, you try to keep it together for your child and family through everything, you want to be strong, but the pressure of knowing your child may die is so overwhelming. You’re in complete shock and just have to take one step at a time.
It was only years later that I truly grasped the huge impact Sophie’s time on PICU had upon me. I realised that I had not dealt with the trauma and stress of that experience, and it was really affecting my life and health. I realised that I had to do something to address and process what had happened on the unit and decided to take part in the COSMIC Walk.
It was one of the best decisions I ever made. Not only is it a great family day out, there is also a huge a sense of community, of shared experience, of understanding – you get to meet and talk to people who have been through a similar experience, who understand what that means, and to meet all the COSMIC supporters. Many of the staff from the unit attend and is led by Dr Parviz Habibi. I also decided I needed to go back to the unit to really face my fears, so I arranged to pop in that day. It truly was difficult, but having done that and attended the COSMIC walk I felt like a weight had been lifted. For anyone who is struggling to cope and process their time on the unit, I would say, please don’t keep it all inside, take a positive step forward and come along to the COSMIC walk – it’s such a lovely day of shared understanding – it’s a great way to reconnect and does help you process what you went through.
Sophie is now a happy 18 year old, and I am an extremely proud dad. I was worried that she would be bullied because she has part of her finger missing, and there is a such pressure on young women and body image, but she has been strong and is now going on to study psychology at university. She even did work experience at Imperial College and plays amazing piano!