See below an email conversation between myself and a friend of mine from school – when I say a friend, he was a lad that was 2 years above me in school but we played in the school Senior 15 rugby Team together ( i Would have been 15, as I was the youngest lad in my year – August birth – and he was 17/18 ) and when you’re in school 3 years is s very big age gap in every way – maturity / worldliness / drinking beer/ Girls etc etc. >
The thing is that Ian Matthews was in a car that crashed and rolled over when he was 21, leaving him a quadriplegic – without leg use at all, and with limited arm function.
5 months after my injury, i emailed him.
Sent: Wednesday, October 09, 2013 3:14 PM
Subject: Hello mate.
Ian me old chum,
Just bade farewell to my folks here at Stoke Mandeville.
They gave me your email address.
So …. Now we’ve got something else in common it would seem!
I keep thinking back to that time in that pub near Twickenham when we hoisted you up in your wheelchair and you stuck a naked lady postage stamp on the ceiling ….
I wonder if anyone’ll ever do that for me, or whether I’d want them to!
Was pretty reckless, come to think of it.
But funny. 😉
If there was a wheelchair hall of fame, that day’s antics might just qualify.
Anyhow, after this initial contact, maybe i could ask you a favour in terms of answering a few questions I might have about life as a disabled person going forward..?
Would that be ok buddy?
Look forward to hearing from you.
Sent from my iPhone
On 10 Oct 2013, at 17:09, “Ian Matthews” <firstname.lastname@example.org> wrote:
Great to hear from you and you seem pretty positive which is everything at this stage. Sorry to hear about what happened and I’m assuming what I’ve heard is correct i.e. that you’ve had a complete T12 break plus plenty of other bangs. Again I’m assuming that the other injuries are hopefully transient. From my experience after 29 years the spinal injury ain’t going away. The number one thing you need to know now is that this is the hard part. Things get much easier with time but you need to be patient. The psychologists say it’s like a bereavement and takes 3 to 5 years to “come to terms” with it. It is amazing that for such a physical injury it’s all about mentally coping with the life change and your new physical situation. This spinal injury isn’t going to kill you or even effect life expectancy. When I first had my accident, I remember another patient, called Dominic, saying that you need to go for it, be very positive about things or we might as well kill ourselves because the worst, third option, was to sit around being feeling sorry for ourselves, being miserable for the rest of our lives, waiting for an unlikely cure. Very hard hitting stuff but the best advice I ever had. (Dominic, who became a good friend of mine is dead now. He went for it, had an affair and his wife murdered him – true, honest.)
Of course I’m available anytime to answer any questions. Because of my degree and what I’ve read over the years I’m fairly well informed. As for the personal experience we are all different so you may feel later that some of my advice turned out to be total bollocks. Depending where you are (time post-accident) different issues have different importance and so I need to think back e.g. I suppose it’s all bladder and bowels at the moment. Also I need to remember that you will become mentally very tough about this but this will take awhile. I am that cynical old bastard so I apologise if some of my advice and humour comes across as too hard hitting. I can remember putting a brave face on things initially (telling everyone you’re ok)because it made people more comfortable when they first meet you. You will be pleased to know that that bluff does become reality though as I’ve said it takes time. Seeing true friends again was fine after the very first minutes of contact. Meeting strangers was no problem. I hated meeting acquaintances for a few years. They often visited you because they thought they should and so making them feel comfortable was a pain. Then after a year or two you still meet people who say what the fuck has happened to you. After awhile that doesn’t bother you and it’s fun making things up.
Just to end with a few positives. It’s massive to have supportive friends and family. It’s great you already have Danielle and the kids (I hear she has been amazing), it’s a pain messing about with women as well. Your fitness life-style will be useful with the rehab and the fact you have an established job where you use your brain (i.e. not a manual job like the roofers I used to meet). All very positive and will make the future a lot easier eventually. When discussing these positives you will probably hear people say that “you’re lucky……….” Just tell them to fuck off and point out how statistically how unlucky you have been to have a spinal injury (I used to know the figure) it soon shuts them up.
keep in touch
Sent: Thursday, October 10, 2013 7:08 PM
Subject: Re: Hello mate.
Love your frankness mixed with great advice and humour. I’d expect nothing less, having known you for a long time.
The late Dominic sounded like a bit of a boy! I hope not to live through this only to be murdered shortly after.
T11 is where I’m at, and yeah, it’s fucking horrible at the moment.
I’m almost drowning in love and support though, which helps take my mind off it a bit.
I’ve become a right soft shite in terms of talking honestly about the way I feel, cos it seems a bit daft to pretend to be a tough guy now.
I’ll definitely tap you up for advice though as time goes by as I know you won’t mind.
In the meantime, how’s young brother Stuart and your folks, plus of course wife ( Rachel?) and your boy?
Sent from my iPhone 7 prototype.
On 18 Oct 2013, at 13:45, “Ian Matthews” <email@example.com> wrote:
A bit slow getting back to you. Had a busy week – mostly social, I have to confess. Met your Dad at Carter’s book launch on Tuesday. That went really well and he tells me he has been in touch with you. Unfortunately I’ll see Cart again this Tuesday for his Dad’s funeral.
Yes mate, the tough guy feeling will have to go on the back burner for awhile. I would go further, when I was where you are now I can remember feeling like a very frightened little boy with the big bad world waiting for me out there. Though I’ve said that it’s important to have supportive family around (which is very true) ultimately I came to realise that your on your own. I mean that in the sense that the mental challenge/readjustment can only be done by you. I am sure you will succeed but again as I’ve said before it wiil take time and you are going to have big ups and downs over that journey. Be prepared for some depressed times. I got it around 6 months post accident – a bit later than most – I’m probably just a bit thick. What did it for me was that my level of improvement was tailing off (until then I was getting much stronger and could do more all the time) and I was going out more and realised the world out there was not geared up too well for me (though those things are much better these days). So just remember these downers are going to happen but they will pass. I believe the head of clinical psychology at Stoke was my clinical psychologist at Stanmore – a northern Irish bloke. We had a good relationship in the end. When he first came to have a “chat” I was aware he was assessing my head. I told him to leave alone because he should know that “psychology was the study of people who don’t need to be studied by those who do”. He later told me my aggression/rudness was avery good sign.
Stew’s ok. We just went to Madrid together for Selwyn’s 50th. It was good to spend some time with him as we don’t see eachother that much (maybe for the best??). He hasn’t been in great health. He’s now diabetic and has cholesterol problems but unlike me and you he looks perfectly fit. Having said that if you listen to the moaning git you would think he’s having a tougher time than you. Rest of family all well.
Sent: Tuesday, November 05, 2013 10:33 AM
Subject: Re: Hello mate.
Christ, did I not reply to you?!
Thought I had?
Half the time I don’t know if I’ve dreamt it of bloody done it these days..
Yeah, I seem to have stalled in my progression, tho ppl keep telling me I look much better etc.
Spend far too much time thinking about the past and feeling regretful for it all being my fault etc.
Plus thinking I’d be better off dead.
Morbid cunt that I am!
Am going to Twick on the 19th then Cardiff for the Aussies so stuff to look forward to!
But miss my fucking canoe and shivery mornings on the Thames.
Funny I miss the unpleasant things really..
Sent from my iPhone 7 prototype.
From: “Ian Matthews” <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Date: 15 November 2013 at 13:19:12 GMT
To: “Russ” <email@example.com>
Subject: Re: Hello mate.
Reply-To: “Ian Matthews” <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Sorry your so low at the moment but this really is the toughest of times. I keep saying that things will get much better with time but that seems to be a very inadequate response. Things “getting better” are going to seem a long way off for you at the moment but nevertheless the advice remains true. I think I said before that I got really down about this time when progress statrs to slow. I also had the really vivid dreams when your not sure whether things actually happened or not. I also had two outer body experiences, I was so off my head. I complained to a nurse that the bloke in the next bed was getting more favourable treatment than me and then realised the bloke I was looking at in the next bed was me – weird. Also had a great threesome dream about two nurses and woke up to find both of them stood either side of me. I couldn’t tell them why I was smiling.
People used to say I looked well. I think it was a relative thing. They expect you to look worse. I did start to look alot better when I got out of hospital, away from infections and got good food down me.
It’s common to feel regretful/guilty for several reasons. We all feel guilty about putting everyone through it. We can’t do anything about that but remember if we had died that pain they have would be far worse. I don’t think my parents would have got over my death. When everything settles, you will still be around as before having normal family rows etc. As quads we also had the quilt of being a burden on people but you can only do your best. As a para you are going to be totally indepedent – well, changing a light bulb may be tricky. The third thing can be guilt about what we did in the accidents. Playing sports or getting into a car with someone who had a drink all increase your risk factors for a spinal injury but I did alot more stupid things than on the night I broke my neck. You can’t wrap youself in cotton wool. I always quote the story of a woman I was in hospital with who broke her back walking her dog in a park. A branch of a tree fell on her because some council workers had half cut into it and buggered off for lunch. The wind came up and snapped the branch precisely as she was walking underneath it. Your not going to protect yourself against that. It was the same for Margaret Tebbit (another contemporay of mine). She was in bed and thought she heard a bang!!!
I hadn’t revisited these words of experience, until last night, reading them 4 and a half years after he’d written them. At the time, i was very much in shock still, though I sounded perfectly lucid, and was ‘ in a protective environment – a hospital for the paralysed ‘
I’d not been outside the hospital very much, and faced the real world, in my new very unreal reality. That didn’t really come until 4 months later, and it WAS terrifying – he was right, I felt like a small child, and I did for probably 2 years. I don’t think Ian had been in a coma or had a brain injury like I did, which complicated my thought process, though undoubtedly Ian’s injury was worse than mine, having broken his neck, so his upper body was also very affected. He could feel his arms and hands, unlike some ‘ high level injuries ‘ and he could hold a glass and shake hands ( albeit not firmly )
I saw Ian from time to time, as he lived in the same village as my parents, in South Wales. I always made a point of talking to him ( properly ) when I saw him – having no idea of what the future held for me, of course. I had no idea of the nightmare prospect of myself being paralysed one day – who does, after all?
Ian certainly made the most of his life, in spite of his injury,having very many loyal friends who certainly stuck by him after his accident, and went out of their way to ‘ keep him safe’ in a masculine manner. I think he was probably effectively surrounded by body guards for most moments he spent outside of his house, so Ian was pretty safe by and large. He Travelled the world, and was always included in trips away to rugby related events around the globe. His intellect was sharp, and he made up in brains what he had lost in brawn.
About 2 years ago he had a stroke,which robbed him of his speech ability to a fair degree – a cruel blow to a man already very compromised. I gather that he endured and carried on in his stoic manner, but I felt his loss so much, the unfairness being so harsh.
Last week, Ian died, aged 53, and paralysed a good 32 of those years. In Wales, it’s a measure of respect by how many people turn up to your funeral. I don’t know for sure, but I think Ian could fill a cathedral, if there was one handy, locally.
I hope to be able to go, to Pay my last respects to a true hero.
Ian Matthews RIP. You deserve it.