Lodge Moor Hospital Spinal Unit
Patients were referred to our unit from as far as Suffolk and Norfolk in the East, Nottingham and Derbyshire in the South and parts of Manchester in the West.
Seldom did we have a native Sheffielder admitted.
The tiny hospital, perched precariously at the end of a main road on the edge of the Derbyshire moors would become " home" for dozens of young men and women for sometimes well over a year.
Men and women paralysed after some unexpected trauma.
Their lives changed forever in what was often described as a blinking Of an eye.
Each patient would be admitted to the acute injury ward initially and would be allocated two trained nurses who would coordinate their care
Sue was admitted following a car accident in Manchester and my friend Ruth and I were asked to be her primary nurses
From the get go, Sue was a challenge.
Born into a tough working class family who were tight lipped and insular in adversity she spent much of her early days at the unit with her back to the world.
She had a potty mouth and a sharp tongue, and was quick enough to pick up any inconsistencies that she came across in her care. She was placed on bed rest for 12 weeks, so that her thoracic vertebrae would strengthen enough for her to be mobilised into a wheelchair. Then her rehabilitation would start in earnest .
Our job, as nurses , was to prepare her for massive change in her life and her circumstances.
Ruth and I worked well together . We used humour and warmth and banter to our advantage and we spent a great deal of time getting the patients to trust us, a challenge with patients like Sue who cocooned herself with a tough veneer of foul mouthed protection .
It was Ruth that finally broke through that shell, for after an insightful epiphany one day, she sat down at Sue's bedside and quietly asked if she was gay.
The floodgates opened and Sue cried and cried and cried, for a whole afternoon.
With Ruth protectively at her side.
Coming out as gay, can for many people be a liberating and often cathartic experience, and in Sue's case this relief of releasing years of shame and pain was compounded by the grief of her paralysis.
And the emotion was huge and all encompassing.
Ruth soaked it up as we had been trained to do.
And eventually Sue moved slowly forward.
Not only did she come out to her family. ( A family that took the news without batting so much as an eyelid) she allowed us to prepare her for her journey of rehabilitation.
Ruth and I taught her how to manage her uncoordinated bladder and bowels.
We taught her to balance and we got her up to her wheelchair amid tears and much swearing
And we watched and supported her as she started to pick up the reins of her life again.
I often compared spinal Injury nursing with primary school. The patients start as many children do. Unconfident, clingy, uninformed and ripe for education and through the process of school graduate to bigger and better things.
Sue , followed that path and was transferred to the rehabilitation ward where new nurses took over her care.
But Ruth and I never really let go of her. We took her to the Ledmill with the other male patients and got her sloshed on cheap lager. We celebrated her birthday when's her massive family turned up from across the Pennines and we met her girlfriend when she felt comfortable enough to introduce her.
I can't really remember the details of what happened next, but I do remember the nurse from the rehab ward ringing me at home to tell me that something dreadful had happened and that Sue had collapsed on the ward after feeling unwell for a few days .
She had been taken to Sheffield's main hospital into Intensive Care.
I picked Ruth up from home and without thinking drove to The Northern General Hospital across the city
" Are you family ? " The intensive care Nurse asked us with a quizzical face
" No we are her nurses ?" Ruth said breathlessly
And we were shown into the room where Sue had just died.
I like to think that our presence helped Sue's family just a little more .
They were moved to see us there.
The intensive care nurses even asked us if we wanted to perform the last offices which was kind.
And I remember Ruth and I walking out of the hospital in the wee small hours feeling exhausted and unreal
And I remember too that we were holding hands.