So, yesterday, another big day for this small disabled guy.
An early start from Oakham, Rutland, a journey by private taxi all the way down to London with my wife, Nic. It’s International Day of Persons with Disabilities and I have been invited to speak at the law firm Norton Fulbright.
We glide southwards, steady down the A1. I always feel like that road is like an artery back to my old self, having grown up in Essex and London. As I approach the city and see the tall buildings in Canary Wharf rising in the distance, my confidence grows, my spirit rises – I’m coming home, back to the crazy metropolis, where everything is hustle, where Change is a lifestyle goal, where everything and anything is possible.
How I love London. I spent my teenage days hanging out at Capital Radio, I remember singing along to Gerry Rafferty as I was driving down Baker Street, I love the traffic, the pace on the streets, all the crazy sights, all the shops and theatres. I was at drama school in Gloucester Road, I used to travel right across town on the tube to my home in Wapping. From there, in the 1990’s, I watched Docklands rise from the ashes of the WW2 bombsites. London is my heartbeat.
What’s that other song that’s in my head, as we move through London? Babylon, by David Gray. ‘If you want it, come and get it, for cryin’ out loud…’
This morning, I’m back. Or at least, a different version of me is – there’s just two thirds of me left after my amputations, and my face no longer looks the same. sepsis remodelled me, but I’m way stronger, much more of a grown up, and in many important ways, I’m a happier man.
We arrive at the Norton Fulbright offices on the South Bank. We are in a beautiful, modern glass building, with spacious interiors, everyone around us is smart, moving quickly, with purpose. There are two people I know already to greet us, so I feel instantly at home.
My wife Nic helps me set up in the conference room, there are about a hundred people in the audience, the first slide pops up on the giant screen and away I go. Talk Talk. I am so happy inside. It’s not that I’m a show off, or even really an extrovert. But I do love a good presentation, I have an amazing story to tell, lots to say – plus, I really do feel like I am the absolute single world expert on my subject matter.
I talk about my own experience of sepsis, sudden disability, rehabilitation, resilience and recovery. Throughout, the theme I like to return to is Change. Because, I know, although few of my audience will encounter sepsis, they will all go through unexpected change. They will have to deal with divorce, separation, bereavement, illness, losing work, moving house, growing older, accidents, financial transformation, accidents, fraud, estrangement from children, losing and making friends… The list is endless. Change is one of the dynamics of modern life, we receive no training in how to deal with it, and the consequences can be potentially devastating.
Well, I talk things through. We end exactly where I want to, when I encourage my audience to make sure they develop close allies and strong personal networks that can protect and help them through periods of change. That’s my message. Thankfully, we’re not alone, and with resilience, we can use Change as a huge positive, helping us to grow.
I feel good. Speaking like this is enormously helpful to me, taking me to new places both geographically and in my own head. Something new occurs to me in my soul whilst I’m talking, a feeling rises within me all in one moment – it’s overpowering and almost overwhelming. I have to steel myself for a moment to keep control of my emotion.
I talk about the 44,000 adults and children who die every year in the UK from sepsis – which is entirely treatable, with the right emergency care. 44,000 is a big number. Then I talk about all the husbands, wives, sons, daughters, parents, grandparents and friends who are bereaved. It’s a staggering death toll. And whilst I’m on my feet, it occurs to me that what I am doing is speaking for those people. All of them. I suddenly think, in that split-second, what an amazingly huge responsibility – and what a privilege. They never got the chance to say how they feel, what life meant to them, or even to say goodbye to those who loved them.
Yes, that’s the word. Privilege. I survived and I can stand up and tell the story, both for myself and for all those who didn’t make it through.
So, how lucky am I?
Nic & I make it back to Oakham, through the London traffic, through a black December night. Mark, our driver, steers a steady course. After London and the big city, it feels good going back to Rutland.
In the evening, my employer, Lands’ End, screens our movie Starfish. This is a beautiful film directed by Bill Clark and it’s been on general release throughout the UK since November. It tells the story of the romance between Nic & I, my sudden sepsis, all the drama of my amputations, my rehab, finding a way forward and back to life. It’s really nice to be watching in such an intimate environment, and it feels like we’re with friends.
By this time of the night, I’m feeling tired. But I have another chance to talk to a new audience of invited guests, and I take it. Every word I speak helps to raise awareness and hopefully to educate.
Occasionally – very occasionally, I suddenly see myself as if from afar – telling my sad, amazing story, catching glimpses of my mangled face and my ravaged body.
In those moments, I remember the man I was before sepsis, and I shed a tear or two inside.
But Nic is always close at hand, my wonderful children too – and now it feels like I have the whole world to talk to about the precious things that remain in our lives and how important it is that we cherish and value them.
So, I hope I can go on to do more of the Talk Talk.