For the past 25 years I’ve been working as a probation officer; my job is to work with victims of serious crime. I represent them and act as their voice in the criminal justice system at hearings and other important stages of the offender’s sentence. I’ve always had a good reputation at work for knowing everything. People would say ‘Ask Ann, she knows’. However, the unfortunate reality is that this has changed since my injury. Everything is so much harder and requires much more effort.
It was in 2008 when I was on holiday on a Greek island with my husband. In our final week of the vacation, we were clambering over rocks and walking around the cliff bays. We reached a cliff path that appeared to be some sort of ‘stepping stone’ down to the beach.
My husband had taken the first step and was standing there with his arm extended ready to support me. He looked up at me and said ‘C’mon, we’re pioneers!’ as that was our little joke. I don’t remember any details after that because that was when I fell down the cliff. My husband told me that in the moment he took his eyes off me, I flew past him, tumbling down the cliff. It was a 30ft drop and I had smashed my body against the rocks until I landed at the bottom. My husband describes the sound of my head hitting a rock like a bat hitting a baseball. I had lost consciousness but he thought I was dead.
When I regained consciousness, I didn’t know what had happened. I looked at the rocks I was laying on and just thought ‘this is an odd place to sunbathe’ but then I touched my head and saw that a bunch of hair and skin had come off into my hands. My husband and I cleaned me up with antibacterial wipes and we headed back to the hotel. He said I told him I was fine, but I don’t remember that. The journey was an hour long but I can’t recall it. I went to bed and slept through the night. Apparently I had been as still as a stone. When I woke up, I knew something was wrong. My head was in a lot of pain and I kept walking into the walls instead of through the door. I felt like I was going to die and so we went to the local hospital.
In A&E, I had to wait a long time to be seen. When I eventually was, nobody even parted my hair to look at my head. I was just put on a drip and monitored for a few days. I decided to pay for a CAT scan whilst I was out there, however there was nobody available to interpret the scan in Greece.
When my insurance company flew me back to England, I took my scan to a neurologist. She sent me for an MRI and discovered areas in my brain which located the injuries.
I was left with numerous symptoms and side effects. I can’t list them all because even to this day I encounter things that I realise I can no longer do. However the main issues were the fluidity of my speech and the anxiety and confusion that I encounter due to my disability.
My speech further deteriorated once I returned to work; this was three months after I had been discharged from hospital. I’d been in the office about ten minutes and my boss opened up a big stationary cupboard and said ‘Look, we’ve kept all your work in here. It’s been waiting for you’.
At that moment, I thought my head was going to explode. I was completely overwhelmed and from then on and I couldn’t speak at all. All I could do was make ‘mur mur mur’ noises. I couldn’t form a sentence, I just couldn’t breathe. I had to get speech therapy to learn how to sustain my breath through a whole sentence. My speech eventually got better but to this day, I still stutter a lot and get very nervous speaking to new people.
At work, I contacted somebody from the HR department to tell him I was still struggling. He arranged for a work psychologist to visit and assess me. After a series of tests, he wrote a report about what I could and couldn’t do. He said I needed help with my spatial awareness, I needed documents to be put into better reading forms and I needed a longer time to absorb information. I also struggled with the alphabet and so he made note of that. As a result, he recommended a job coach from Attend and duly, Bridget came along who helped me a lot with creating coping mechanisms at work. However she left the organisation in 2011 and was replaced with Anthony.
I remember feeling very anxious about somebody new coming along. After all, I felt like Bridget was my rock at work. However Anthony proved to be an immense help and made me feel so secure. He helps with a range of things. One of the most useful things Anthony has suggested for me to do is to keep a little notepad with things I need to remember, for example passwords and phrases that I often forget and need reminding of. Anthony also helps me with directions and plans my journeys with me for when I need to go somewhere for work. What’s more, he has told me that at any time I get lost, I am free to give him a ring and he would direct me from where I was. I think this is amazing because once I get lost, I get stressed and become overwhelmed by all the pressure.
All in all, Anthony is fantastic; he helps me with so much, not just with the things I’ve mentioned. I am so thankful to have him as my job coach up until my retirement because I fear what work would be like without him. Also, through talking to him, I found out about FAABI…
I first started coming to the FAABI social occasions. FAABI announced that they were doing ‘extra-curricular’ type courses and so I signed up for the first one – ‘Law for Life’. I wasn’t sure what to expect but when I started, I was pleasantly surprised. I found the course really interesting and learnt a lot about civil law and our rights. However, the best thing for me wasn’t the course material. It was meeting people with disabilities who had similar experiences to mine.
Since then, I have also signed up for the ‘Art for Life’ event at the Tate, the cake decorating course, and the ARNI exercise classes. In each course, I met different ABI clients and learnt new things that I wouldn’t have been able to otherwise. The cake decorating course stood out for me especially because the course teacher, Marina, who had a brain injury herself, was considerate and caring and ensured that we all enjoyed the course.
I would recommend FAABI to everybody because there’s no doubt that they’d get something out of it, and enjoy it. Plus it gets you out of the house and gives you something fun, and worthwhile, to do. Attend, their staff, and FAABI have all been so brilliant.