So, I am putting myself in therapy here and hoping to finally get this all out of my system by writing about it. Here goes:
It all started with that early morning call that every parent dreads.
Our son’s girlfriend called us that morning at the end of April to tell us that he had been attacked and was in hospital with a badly fractured jaw that needed surgery. She couldn’t tell us much more as she hadn’t been with him and had only just arrived at the hospital. She put him on the phone but he couldn’t speak clearly because his jaw was dislocated too. All I could do was hold back the hysteria and tell him as calmly as I could, not to worry and that we were on our way and would be there as soon as possible.
She then put one of the medical staff on the phone who reassured us that though it was serious it wasn’t life-threatening and he was in good hands. That calmed the panic somewhat but all I could think was that we needed to get on the road for the three and a half drive to Liverpool as soon as possible. His girlfriend said she would arrange accommodation for us on the university campus but once I came off the phone to her, I couldn’t really move or think what I needed to do. My husband got ready quickly and my daughter sorted out a few clothes into a case for me as she could see I had stopped functioning. But she was crying and I remember being quite surprised at how upset she was as she is always so on top of everything. It was her though who was thinking practically, giving me all her loose change as she said we would need it for the hospital car park and reminding us to keep her informed of everything while she stayed behind to sit with my mother, who had taken the news very badly.
I think we made that journey faster than we have ever done it before. The roads were empty and the husband was driving at breakneck speed but it felt like the longest three hours ever. My son’s girlfriend was brilliant, ringing and texting regularly to let us know what was happening. It seemed that he had been returning to campus with three girls, and some guy had started pestering one of them. My son told him to back off and the guy hit him, and the girl as well. The thought of my boy being pounded in the face had me in silent tears for much of the journey. My husband was doing well and seemed very calm. He said he felt detached from the whole thing and just wanted to get there. But then, my son’s girlfriend sent a text saying that the police had someone in custody who they were hoping to charge later that day. I read that text out loud and noticed then my husband was crying too. I don’t know how he was able to drive.
We got further calls and texts saying that they were moving him from Liverpool’s Royal Hospital to Aintree Hospital where they have an excellent maxillo-facial unit. They wanted to get him into surgery as soon as possible but were waiting on a slot.
We arrived at lunchtime and when I walked into the ward and saw him for the first time, I nearly passed out. It took all the strength I had to keep walking towards him with a smile on my face and not show my absolute horror at seeing half his face drooping quite severely and his distorted mouth still full of blood. I wanted to scoop him up in my arms and hug him hard but was so scared of hurting him that I just gave him a tiny kiss on his forehead and made some pathetic joke about this being an extreme way of avoiding his exams.
His girlfriend, one of his best friends and someone I hadn’t met before were sitting with him and true to form he had been trying to make them laugh but his speech was barely recognisable as he couldn’t move his mouth and his tongue was lolling around unsupported in his mouth, which kept filling up with blood. It was really quite gruesome.
We got the full story then and it seems there was only one punch from this guy and for some inexplicable reason, that made me feel better even though I could see the horrendous damage that single blow had caused. But there was something about knowing that he hadn’t been repeatedly beaten that seemed to untie that knot in my throat that, up to then, had been making me feel so sick.
Almost as soon as we got there, a small team arrived and announced they were taking him up to theatre. He held my hand then and said he was scared and that stupid knot was back in my throat as I tried to tell him that it would be fine as he would be in a deep sleep and completely unaware of what was going on and when he woke up he would be so much better. He looked really frightened as they wheeled him off and I don’t think I’ll ever forget the look on his face which reminded me of when he was just a little boy.
We were told the surgery would take an hour or so because even though his injury was so horrific it was all quite routine for the medical team. His friends, who had been with him for most of the day, decided to go back, freshen up and come back later at visiting time with some fresh clothes and toiletries for him.
We waited in the hospital coffee shop where we realised we hadn’t eaten all day. I ordered caramel lattes and muffins but neither of us had the appetite or energy to get through them. After an hour, we returned to the ward but the staff said he was still in surgery and they told us to go offsite and get a meal and promised they would call once he was back on the ward. But neither of us dared leave the hospital so we just sat in reception and waited for the call.
But it didn’t come and although I tried to keep calm, I could feel the panic rising as I became convinced something had gone wrong during surgery. Maybe his heart had stopped or perhaps there was bleeding that couldn’t be stemmed or what if he was reacting badly to the anaesthetic or allergic to something they had given him? I made my husband call the ward every hour or so but they kept saying he was still in surgery and they would ring us when there was any news.
I couldn’t understand why so-called routine surgery was taking so long. We decided that we would go up and wait outside the ward in the corridor so that we were close by if there was any news. After another hour or so my husband, who had seemed relatively calm up to that point, got up and said he was going to find a doctor to get some answers. I knew then that he was as scared as I was, but he was soon back with a huge smile on his face and he told me to come and meet the doctor who had performed the surgery.
He was a young man, with the most gorgeous eyes, and he was really enthusiastic about the surgery showing us the before and after pictures, saying it had been a far more complex case than at first thought which is why it had taken so long as they had to repair some nerves and then mend and fit his jaw back together which he had managed to do, in his words, “perfectly”. He was clearly very pleased with his work and that he’d had such a “challenging case”. I wanted to be cross about his inappropriate delight but it was obvious that all had gone well and so I couldn’t help but beam along with him. He said my son would soon be back on the ward and that he would be absolutely fine. He also said that although it would be a long 6-8 week recovery on just a liquid diet, he would be back to normal with no lasting damage to his face apart from some permanent numbness just under his bottom lip where he didn’t think the nerve, which had been so badly stretched out of place, would recover. He assured us that it wouldn’t make any difference to my boy’s speech and that he would soon get used to not having any feeling there.
The relief was amazing. If he hadn’t been behind a desk, I think I would have hugged him forever. As it was, when he went to shake my hand, I just couldn’t let go of him until my husband had to prize that poor surgeon’s precious hand out of my grip
When we went outside the ward to wait for his return, a whole group of his friends had gathered and I told them all the good news and they were so thrilled, some of them even punching the air. It was lovely having them all there, even though there were far too many of them, and I was in slight overdrive talking and laughing much too much. After what seemed like forever, we saw him being brought down the corridor on a trolley. He was pretty much out of it but when I told him all his friends were there, he sat up like a shot ready to play to his audience. It was at that moment I knew he was going to be just fine!
He was discharged the next day and we brought him back to London where he pretty much slept for a week as I clucked around him. And then he was just the same boy he has always been – laughing, joking, doing his ridiculous impressions, taking the mick out of me and his sister, watching football with his friends and on and on. He’s lost a lot of weight but has coped really with his liquid only diet without any fuss, even though this is a lad who LOVES eating. He was finally given the all-clear from the hospital last week when they took out all the wires and studs from inside his mouth that had been holding his jaw together while the bones were mending. It was a painful process but the boy didn’t make a sound, even though I nearly passed out as I stupidly accepted the invitation to watch them do it!
He has been hailed as a hero and the police, the hospital, his university and all his friends have been so kind and supportive but I am seriously impressed at how incredible he has been through the whole ordeal. To me, that has been truly heroic as I know it has affected him and that he still plays it over in his mind but he has been determined not to let it influence how he lives his life. I told him he didn’t have to go back to Liverpool if he didn’t want to but he is counting the days to the start of his second year and getting back to the course he loves, the place that has become home and the people he adores.
I can only look and learn really and although I want to keep him close to me forever so that no one can ever hurt him again, I know deep down that he has to live his life and that I should be following the example he has set – to stop moping around and get on with life!