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My Inspiring New Friend, George

  • By Becky Bond
  • 24 Jan, 2017
"I'm what's commonly known as a stubborn bitch."

I instantly liked George but knew I'd have to listen very carefully to what she had to say. A botched tracheostomy left her with laboured speech but she's not fussed. "I can't change it, so I just get on with it," she says. In fairness, I'd have thought slower speech was the least of her worries.

It was at a mutual friends party over Christmas when George and I got chatting. Within five minutes I was itching to share her story. So the next day, I sent her a friend request on Facebook and invited myself round for coffee.

In 1998, aged just twenty five, George was in a head-on collision, going at a combined speed of 120 mph. She suffered a broken neck, broken leg, torn liver, kidney and bladder, shattered pelvis and punctures in both lungs. "I've had better days." is how she summed it up, after adding details about her FIVE resuscitations.
George in St James's Hospital, Leeds
It means she's primarily wheelchair bound with on-off live-in carers. George hates the word 'carers'. "I prefer to call the agency staff 'friends' and I'm officially known as a 'service user'." (Cue much eye rolling).

"To begin with, I needed somebody here twenty four seven. I couldn't wash, dress, or even make a drink independently, never mind a meal. Now, it's much more of a part-time thing. I still need help with some basics like cooking, cleaning and straightening my hair. But let me show you my bathroom."

She's got good taste. It's modern, black and white with clean lines. The glaring difference is her bath though. It's like one of those you see advertised for the elderly in the back of Sunday supplements. A walk-in effigy with a detachable shower.

"I prefer having a shower, because look," she opens and closes the clunky bath door, "you have to get in naked and wait for it to fill up. It's just boring. Then when you're finished, you have to wait for it to drain before you can get out again, by which point you're freezing!" All these obstacles just to get ready for the day. What a faff, I'm thinking.

George was a paramedic in Merseyside but had applied for a new job with West Yorkshire Metropolitan Ambulance Service (WYMAS) to be nearer family, friends and her boyfriend, Tim. It was while she was home on annual leave, hoping for an acceptance letter, when the accident occurred.

A bunch of them had gone to the pub for a catch up. On the way home, Tim and his mates were racing each other and he overtook someone on the brow of a hill. She can't remember saying "slow down" but that's not surprising, everything a week prior and eight weeks after the crash has gone from her memory due to trauma. A small blessing, I'd have thought.

"They were young," she says matter of factly. "They hadn't been drinking, they were just showing off."

The person in the oncoming car got a broken leg, ribs and sternum. Tim received some bruising and a three month sentence of which he did six weeks in an open prison.

But get this: George is so kind that she forgave him and, unbelievably after nearly a year and a half in various hospitals, she moved in with him. That lasted six months. She dumped him. He still hasn't said sorry.

Her condition is called Critical Care Poly Neuropathy, for which there's been a substantial amount of rehab (and not of the Amy Winehouse kind): physiotherapy, hydrotherapy, speech therapy, the list goes on. In the early days some of it was residential, at Abbey Gisburne Park in Clitheroe. I googled it; it looks posh, but it's still a hospital and not home.

I reluctantly ask if there are any positives to come out of this life changing event.

"Well, you get first in the queue at Disneyland. It's made me a more confident person. And before the accident I had to wear glasses. After, bizarrely, I had 20-20 vision! Also, I'm very lucky because for the first time ever, Tim had taken out fully comprehensive car insurance."

We move on to future plans. 'Proper' work is off the agenda. It's dexterity that's the issue, and ataxia, more commonly known as the shakes. Incidentally, she did get offered the job with WYMAS. Her mum took the phone call a few days after the crash.

"How did you feel when she told you?" I ask. "You must have been devastated." "Not really," she laughs "I was dead at the time."

One of her big regrets is not having any photographs of the initial scene and close-ups of her wounds. It's a bit macabre, but I sort of get what she means. It would have been an amazing visual marker of how far she's come in the last eighteen years.

Wheeling across her lounge, she directs me through a door to the in-house gym, where a personal trainer puts her through her paces three times a week. But two things catch my eye: on the wall of mirrors there's what looks like a lipstick-daubed shopping list; and slap bang in the middle of the room is a pole. It's for pole dancing.

The list, it transpires, is of the pole moves she's been learning at Planet Fitness: Boomerang Mermaid, Butterfly and one she's made up — Nice Spastic Spin — which I have to say makes me wince when I read it.

I suspect George's upper body strength must be hiding under her Aran sweater as she's so petite. Perhaps it's residing with her iron will because on top of the fitness regime, this amazing woman has shed three stones with Slimming World.

George doing 'The Butterfly'
I feel such a loser. "So, what else have you got coming up, George?" I venture.

"Well, I'm travelling to Mexico on my own this year. And my resolution for 2017 is to get upside down on the pole, unaided. Hey, perhaps we should write about it together?"

I don't need asking twice. We've yet to cover the horror-holiday-on-wheels incident, her tattoo addiction and a handful of dating disasters which will leave you in stitches.
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