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Paul’s inspirational journey to recovery

20 January 2012

Health Care

Paul Jones looks a picture of health. But only a few months ago, the Southend University Hospital operating department practitioner was lying in one of the hospital’s critical care beds on a ventilator, unable to speak or move after suddenly being taken ill at work.

Paul, 55, recalled: "I was on the night shift getting ready to transfer a patient. Gradually my arms just became weak and then I could not physically lift up my foot to step into the ambulance with the patient. I just thought I was really tired."

With pins and needles in his hands, he still finished his shift and then went home to bed. When he got up, he fell to the floor with chest pains and was taken back to the hospital's A&E where he was diagnosed with Guillain-Barre syndrome, a rare and serious condition in which the immune system attacks the peripheral nervous system.

By then, Paul was having difficulty breathing. He spent the night in a ward where a senior anaesthetist kept an eye on him all night. The following day he was rushed to the critical care unit, completely numb from the nose downwards.

He was put on a ventilator and had a tracheostomy fitted. Paul then developed a severe chest infection and his blood pressure shot up dangerously.

He said: "All the time I was very aware of what was going on. I knew I could have a stroke from the blood pressure and the noise of the machines told me how much medication I was on. I know now it was touch and go.

"It was very scary being unable to breathe or communicate. All I could do was cry. It is very, very lonely inside your own body."

The event which spurred him to recovery was when his one-year-old granddaughter Gabriella was allowed to come in to see him.

"I thought to myself 'I have got to get out to see her'."

After two weeks in the critical care unit, he was transferred to the hospital's stroke unit for physiotherapy but was still seen regularly by the critical care unit's outreach team.

Unbelievably, in just six months he was back working in the hospital's operating theatres.

Paul said: "They reckoned I could have been on critical care for a year and at least two years before I was OK - maybe never. But, although I get tired, all I was left with is an itchy thumb, which is not too bad!"

Paul praised the critical care team for the support they gave him and his wife Belinda.

At the end of last year, a five-year study by the Intensive Care National Audit and Research Centre (ICNARC) found that Southend's unit experienced far fewer deaths than predicted, despite patients being admitted with more severe conditions. During the five-year period reviewed, a total of 2483 patients were admitted to the unit, of whom 155 more survived than expected.

Paul said: "I feel fabulous. I swim a lot to get my lungs back working and have taken up model building to loosen up my fingers."

Paul has already given a couple of talks on the patient's perspective to critical care unit staff and now he and Belinda, who dept a detailed diary of his time in hospital, have been asked by the Guillain-Barre Syndrome Support group to write an uplifting book about his rapid progress from being a quadriplegic to getting back to work.

He said: "It is easy to get into a real spiral of depression. I hope my experience will help others who are diagnosed."