Shan's Story


On 28th January 2015 at approximately 6.30pm I was involved in an accident, which was to change my life forever. Inspired by others that have shared their stories before me on the AfterTrauma web site, I am writing this article in the hope that my story can also give you the courage and self belief through the early stages of rehab.

All that I remember is leaving work to attend a beauty therapy appointment at 6pm. I remember phoning my husband from the car as I always do, and recall looking at the clock in the car and remember that I was running 10 minutes early for my appointment. I do not have any recollection of events after that until I woke up 8 days later in Southampton Intensive Care Unit, frightened and confused with my family by my side. The events leading up to this have been filled in by my family, friends, therapists at the shop where I was before the accident and the nursing staff at Southampton Hospital.

Apparently, it was a cold but dry evening, the sky lit by the moon. I was pedestrian, crossing a small village road to my car, which was parked in a small lay-by, situated on a road that connects two villages.   I was wearing black, believed to be by the side of my car but the driver didn’t see me. He didn’t stop straight away but thankfully did turn around as he thought he had hit something. My therapist, Kayleigh, heard a bang just as I had left the shop and looked out towards her car that was parked in the same lay-by. She saw that her windscreen had been smashed. About to the call the police, Kayleigh and her colleague went outside and met with the driver who said he thought he had hit something or someone. My therapist saw that my car was still there and my handbag was in the road. They found me on the other side of her car in the woodland. I had been hit by the travelling car and had landed on her car, before landing in the wooded clearing.

I had suffered multiple and complex injuries with an injury severity score of 64 out of a possible 75 and given a 6.1% chance of survival. My injuries included fractures to my neck (C2), back (L1 and L5), broken shoulder, shoulder blade, elbow, every rib, some with multiple fractures, broken pelvis and 2 broken legs. (The break in my left leg had been missed and not identified until 5 months later). I also had internal injuries to my lungs and a pancreatic bleed. The consultant treating me for my lungs and said that in his 30 years of practice, he had only seen similar rib damage in Afghanistan, treating soldiers injured in bomb blasts.   My injuries were extensive and my prognosis initially very poor, but the medical team put me together sufficiently to begin the journey which I now can tell.

My husband was called to the scene and was with me prior to the emergency services arriving. Having been treated at the scene by a paramedic, whilst waiting for the doctor and ambulance to arrive, I was then taken to Southampton General A&E - the Major Trauma Centre for our region. Apparently, I was conscious – talking and trying to get up off the floor. On calling for the emergency services the employees at the shop had answered the questions used to assess my condition – this we believe may have affected the prioritisation of the ambulance and the police- it was also ‘change over’ time.

The A&E team at Southampton were ready for my arrival and worked immediately on me. My family describe the situation at the time as confusing with little information early on. My injuries were such that my family were told to expect the worst during the first 48 hours but I pulled through to be well enough to have the 7 hour operation on the Friday 30th January. The family were told that my situation was potentially life ending and if I did survive I would have a very long recovery.

Approximately 8 days later I woke up in Southampton ICU extremely confused with a pipe stuck down my throat, with my family who had not left my side. I recall the most vivid dream. I remember thinking I was in a very plush hotel reception and hearing voices I thought were the receptionists and guests. The dream had involved a dinner party at our home with friends, followed by my husband attempting to ‘bring the house down’ surrounded by US soldiers who had lost arms and legs. There were 2 Indian looking ladies present – one of which had black and gold spotted face who was calling me to safety. I know now that to be my daughter Stephanie who never left my side. Stephanie has freckles on her forehead - these were the gold and black dots that I saw on one of the Indian ladies.

The photograph below was a ‘happy’ day - the 4th February 2015 - the day I woke up and had the breathing tube extracted. My husband shared this with me the evening before I left hospital 3 months later as I was feeling very depressed - I use this photograph now to look back at how far I have come.

I recall being very frightened as well as confused and desperate to know what was going on and where I was. I couldn’t communicate due to the pipe and was offered a pen and pad to write my questions down, which were illegible apparently. I remember hearing a lot of voices, conversation and people crying. I thought at one point I had been diagnosed with terminal cancer and remember asking my husband to be honest with me. I now know this crying to be visitors of one of the patients in the bay next to me who had died after taking his own life. It seemed to take a long time before I could get any comprehension of what had happened, why I had something stuck down my throat. I almost felt that people were not being honest with me – either that or I just didn’t comprehend and was confused.

In the 10 days I spent in Southampton General I received the most wonderful professional care from the consultants who operated on me and saved my life, the wonderful nurses and my family and close friends, some of whom stayed at the hospital and took it in turns to sit by my side. My daughter appears to have overseen much of the activity and coordinated family and friends’ visits and ensured that the nurses were ‘on it’! She and the nurses grew a strong bond. I still feel the guilt of putting my family through all that stress and upset.

The medication played some horrible tricks on me and I recall the pain, especially when I was moved in my bed. However, I remember fondly the hair washes, endless creaming and the love and care given by the nurses - I especially remember my nurse Sally who had a ‘bag of cream’ that she had bought with her own money to use on patients.  I remember vaguely being sat up for the first time in the ‘Barton’ chair and having a hair wash. I thought I was moved to an area without any walls, which overlooked the sea - of course I had not left Bay 2! I love hearing the noise of the sea.   The physio started almost immediately – OMG the pain the first time I sat on the edge of the bed ……… but to Fiona (physio) I will always be grateful. Physio became my best friend and still is. 

Communication has played a major role in my rehab - both good, bad and indifferent. The lack of it and often the way in which it was delivered has caused many issues. Despite being told by the clinical professionals that my stay in Southampton was a minimum of 3 weeks due to the complexity of my injuries, and assured it was the ‘best place’ for me, at approximately 7.45pm on the Friday 6th February we were informed I was being discharged and transferred to Basingstoke Hospital. This was a very difficult and confusing time for myself and the family. Eventually, at about 11pm that evening we were told that the move was not taking place as it was too cold and late to move me until the following week.

The next day, Saturday 7th February, I was transferred to Basingstoke HDU by ambulance, along with my nurse Sally and daughter Stephanie. Confused and concerned, I was greeted however by a friendly team and welcomed into what was to be my new home.   The recollections of HDU were insufficient experience of staff in moving me and confusion with regard to my pain relief when admitted. My case study was used in the recently published NICE guidelines on Trauma - I am pleased to say that Communication was identified as one of the 5 key factors effecting the treatment of major trauma.

Whilst there were some communication issues, there were also some areas that worked well for me during my rehab. These included having the support of a Trauma Coordinator Nurse who coordinated matters and came to update me daily as to what was going on. This key role was introduced in recent years to support improvements in the support of Trauma treatment in the UK.

One of the things I needed to do was to ‘plan’. I have to plan - that’s how I tick. I can recall meeting my first consultant in Basingstoke and asking him for a plan and he reminded me that I was a called a ‘patient’ and that was for a reason.… ‘to be patient’. No one could give me that plan that I craved for to keep believing that I could conquer this horrible thing that had happened to me. I needed to know when I could walk, when I could next dance, get on a plane to the sun, go back to work. 6 weeks in however, I was lucky enough to have the most wonderful consultant in Nigel Rossiter who coordinated my care and treatment. Not only has he given me expert treatment and care, he has given me the opportunity of being a bit of a national champion for trauma and I have presented my story within the NHS, both nationally and locally in the hope that I can bring a difference to other trauma patients - my way of putting something back.

I was lucky enough to have private health insurance as one of my employment benefits and was transferred into the private wing of the hospital late February 2015 and made it my home until my discharge the 30th March 2015.   I was unable to weight bear and reliant on care 24/7. However, my husband made me a bedroom downstairs along with the basic equipment supplied by the OT department. We were literally on our own! We tried the care system but this was not geared up for someone who required 24/7 care. For the first 7 months of me returning home my husband did not return to work and stayed home to care for me. I don’t know what I would have done if this had not been possible.

A major milestone for me was the 13th April when I was given the green light to weight bear and since then I have been learning to walk and building my stamina and fitness with hydrotherapy, physiotherapy and visits to the gym. Everyone supporting me has given me the most amazing encouragement and praise with regard to my progress - this has given me even more determination. In fact, I have set a goal to be fitter than before - but haven’t set a timescale!

I have learned that the psychological recovery of trauma, certainly in my case, should be tackled earlier during the rehab. Family should also have support.   I suffered flash backs, loss of sleep and very low moments - I still do so now.   I now have a fear of very loud car engine noises and constantly worried about remembering being hit.   I also had the additional challenge of not returning to my role as HR Director. This was a very difficult for me but I have used it as an opportunity to do something that my family reminded me, that I had wanted to do even before the accident and set up my own HR consultancy business, called Liverty HR.   I named the company after a small boat I saw in Barbados on the anniversary of my accident. It means ‘energy of life’.

However, the support from my psychologist when I received it has been extremely helpful. I have revisited the scene of the accident, Southampton ITU and Basingstoke HDU as part of my psychological rehab. The other thing that helped me was the massive support I had from family, friends, work colleagues and even people that I didn’t even know - the number of cards, messages and visitors were astounding. This really did give me the strength that I needed to get through the early stages of my rehab.

As part of my ‘planning’ and to look forward to an exciting future, during my time in hospital, with my daughter, who was constantly by my side, we put together a bucket list. The top of the list was a holiday to our favorite place, Barbados - we have just returned - all 10 of us! Also one of the other events on my bucket list was a ‘Staying Alive Party’ which was held on the 15th August. Held in our garden, family and friends from work, friends from our local village as well as some of the medical professionals helped me to celebrate staying alive. It was my way of saying thank you for the friendship and support they had given to me and my wonderful family. What a night we had!

Having a coordinated rehab plan and knowing about some of the support available to me earlier in my rehab it would have made a massive difference. Reading other people’s stories has given me the inspiration to keep going and see the light at the end of the tunnel.

I remain eternally indebted to the wonderful NHS, the consultants, doctors, nurses, physios and my family and friends for giving me the support and encouragement to get to where I am today. Thanks to the work of the medical professionals and charities out there, major progress has been made in the treatment of trauma patients in the UK. Some of those improvements introduced e.g. blood given at scene, I know helped to save my life and have made my rehab a lot easier. However, we need to keep making differences by sharing our experiences. For information, these are the areas that I talk about in my presentation:

  • Bring forward the psychological support and don’t forget the family
  • Remove bureaucracy within the system and coordinate resources
  • Rehab plan post discharge and set up national trauma centres
  • Educate employers

I am told I have another 12 months of rehab before I am ‘fixed’. I may never look the same, or be as mobile, but with the support of my family and that all important self determination and belief, I am doing things now that I would never had imagined and defying all the odds. 2016 is going to be a great year, celebrated with our daughter’s wedding in July and setting up my own business.

Shan has made some short videos where she shares her tips about how she got through her challenging recovery, you can watch them here.

About Shan

Shan lives with her husband Pip in a small village in Hampshire and has two children, Stephanie and Jack. She has over 25 years’ experience within the HR arena, and the last 12 years as HR Director operating at Board and Executive level with a corporate career spanning many different industry sectors.

In February 2016, Shan has set up her own company, Liverty HR, allowing her to channel her experience and determination to inspire organisations who wish to derive benefit through transformation and the engagement of people.

Shan has presented her story at the Major Trauma Centre Patient-Carers Conference in September 2015 (NHS England) and has contributed to several training sessions with the emergency and intensive care units at the North Hants Hospital Trust in the hope that this will make a difference for other trauma patients. Her insights were also used as a case study to contribute to the recent NICE Trauma Guidelines published in February 2016.

You can find her on LinkedIn or Twitter @ShanM65