A pint of Guinness and brain surgery: The change of my life 

Ben Hickey submitted his dissertation on the 10th March, after two bottles of wine and two pints of cider at a house party. Ben moves onto a Guinness, chugs it down, and is ready for the rest of the night. Rain tipping down the dirty Nottingham street, he slips in his tattered Air Force trainers. Next thing he knows, he wakes up in hospital.

Ben told Messy his story…

“I remember going to a pub. I was drunk but no drunker than I had been before. After saying goodbye to my girlfriend, I thought a quick 15-metre jog down to my friends would be a good idea. My feet slipped from under me. The last thing I remember was trying to grab the bicycle rack my feet had crashed into, my hand was on the ramp but it wasn’t clasping anything.”

“What felt like two or three seconds of blackness later, I woke up on a cold hospital bed with a frumpy looking doctor hanging over me. He informed me I had a fractured skull from hitting the pavement which had damaged the blood vessels and led to a sizable bleed on my brain. It was like a shotgun to the face.

“In my half-concussed half-tipsy mind, I went into a manic state and started balling my eyes out. I was begging and shouting at my friends to not let me die and I didn’t want to die because I thought I would. At that moment, I thought I was dead. Not in the sense of ‘oh this is serious, I could die.’ I thought for certain I was going to die. If not at that moment in time, I had an hour left at most.

“I was lucky, the CT scans showed my bleed was going down, slowly, but still going down. The doctors said to me my bleed was like a bruise on the knee, and it should reabsorb because it is ‘active’ (whatever that means). They said I didn’t need brain surgery. Thank god. I was the most scared I have ever been just at the thought of having surgery opening my brain. 

“It was a week since the accident, and they said they would send me home without surgery. But as a precaution they kept me in because the bleed wasn’t reabsorbing fast enough.

“On St Patrick’s Day, I was vomiting and sweating all over the ward. I let them know and they told me it was normal and I should try to sleep. At about 2am, I attempted to go to the bathroom collapsed on the floor and had a seizure. 

“Next thing I knew, I woke up in ICU. I was in a different place, my stuff wasn’t with me, and I had a huge nappy-like bandage on my head and my brain was pulsing with pain.

“As it turns out the doctors chose right there and then to send me into theatre. No tearful goodbye from my parents or quick call to my friends to tell them, they made an emergency call.

“They performed a right-sided craniotomy (brain surgery) to evacuate the bleeding. They found the original bleed was accompanied by loads of other little bleeds where I had smacked my head that night, leading to loads of other blood vessels rupturing. Essentially they went in with a vacuum to suck out all the excess blood, and then had to cauterise the vessels to stop them from bleeding again. They then stitched me back up and gave me the worst haircut of my life. 

“It took them three hours. A lot longer than they thought because of all the extra bleeds. Which is a horrible thought to have. My brain was open for three hours and they saved my life.

“My parents were told it would take up to a day for me to wake up. Two hours later my eyes were open. I couldn’t remember a thing – the fall, the seizure, anything before or after the surgery, but I know thats a good thing.

“I came out of hospital on my 22nd birthday, surrounded by friends and family. I can say for sure those three weeks in the hospital were the worst three weeks of my life. And I don’t mean so far, I mean ever. I want to die having had a career, kids, a marriage and those three weeks still being the worst of my life. Because I cannot fathom how anything could be worse.

“But what came after was worse.

“It’s easy to think you’re lucky. Your brain is alright. You can still see out of your left eye and maybe the haircut isn’t that bad. But once the dust settles, you can’t help but think what the f*ck have I done to my friends and family.

“Parents always worry, whether you are out for a cheeky drink or popping to the shops. But putting my parents through this is the worst thing I have ever done. And my friends, the ones in the hospital and the ones waiting for a text that I was okay after brain surgery, I can never undo the damage I caused them. No one deserves that.

“You just have to sit back and watch all of this fall apart. This wasn’t in the script. This accident has ripped away a massive part of my life – my last days of university, graduation, summer barbecues and festival… everything I was looking forward to.

“The recovery after brain surgery is a massive thing to come to terms with, but my mum jokingly said to me “how would you eat an elephant? One bite at a time”. And that’s what recovery has been for me. One day at a time. I have good days and bad days that I have to take in stride. I thought the physical recovery would be worse, but getting over the emotional hurdle was the hardest. I really struggled trying not to fixate on how bleak my life was and instead appreciate how lucky I was.

“You can’t pick when an accident is going to happen, and it sucks. But you definitely won’t know how strong your friendships are until something like this happens. Without my friends driving me to hospital, I wouldn’t be here right now. 

“Walking the dog right now to me is the biggest occasion of my week, or even going to the shops with my mum. I can’t be out for longer than four hours without getting tired. I can’t drive. I’ll be finishing uni a year later than I thought I would. My muscle mass has gone to shit after lying in bed for weeks. My left eye has only just started to work, and my wanky balance means I run into the sofa everytime I fetch a cup of tea.

“I wouldn’t say there is a teachable moment in this, but appreciating the little things is important. That being said, I would tell past Ben to maybe not have that pint of Guinness and get a decent pair of f*cking trainers.”

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