Money can never make up for it

FIVE years after a devastating accident that left her husband badly brain damaged, Ann Mayes finally accepted an out-of-court financial settlement earlier this year.

By Debbie Watson

FIVE years after a devastating accident that left her husband badly brain damaged, Ann Mayes finally accepted an out-of-court financial settlement earlier this year.

Here, she tells Debbie Watson why that money will never be able to compensate for the trauma and the heartache her family has endured.

EVERYTHING about the quaint Suffolk home of Ann and Derek Mayes subtly lends itself to a couple deeply in love.

The wedding portrait standing proud at the far side of the room, the many photographs of their smiling grandchildren, and those beautifully hand crafted love hearts that bear their names in shining wood.

This ought to be the very setting in which their romance extends beyond their hard-fought working years, in which they laugh, joke and reminisce about all that has gone before – and all that is still to come.

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And yet, today, with tears rolling down her face uncontrollably, Ann Mayes sits alone and wishes for the life that she knows has gone forever.

It had fast been approaching Christmas when Ann, now 59, took that life-changing call at work.

Just 24 hours earlier she'd been late-night shopping for her husband's festive present – a portable television; a gift which would entertain him on his long monotonous journeys as a lorry driver around the country's roads. And only a week previously she had sat at home with her husband and discussed their plans for the future; for a cruise and plenty of days with the grandchildren.

Today – December 19 – she was expecting Derek home early for a festive event with the work social club.

"As soon as the phone went at work I was laughing with my colleague about it," she said. "I told her it was bound to be Derek saying he'd be late home.

In fact, the call came from Derek's employer. He had – though the details were not clear at the time – been in an accident at the Port of Felixstowe where a crane had incorrectly lifted his lorry cab.

"Even when the call came I wasn't thrown into any panic, I was told he had taken a small bump to the head but was going to be checked out at hospital.

"There was no reason to get upset because they kept saying he was fine and that he was conscious. It wasn't until I went to the hospital that the reality became clear."

Ann was sitting in a side room at the hospital and reading a book when a doctor and nurse shuffled their way in front of her.

What they said was to change things forever.

"First they were telling me that my husband had a foul temper and that he was swearing constantly – which was so out of character. He was such a placid man.

"Then the doctor looked at me with this really unexpected look of pity and said 'I'm so sorry. There is no other way of telling you this. Your husband has between 24 and 48 hours to live'."

With an expression that speaks of the emotional pain, Ann went on: "I couldn't take it in. I bombarded him with questions and they repeatedly told me that even if he did survive he would not be the man I knew.

"He was going to be brain-damaged and I wouldn't recognise him as Derek – that much is true. I don't recognise him as the Derek I married."

To the relief of his large family, Derek did defy that early bleak outlook for his health. After a spell in Addenbrookes and later Bury Hospital he came home to the house he had shared with Ann in Old Newton for their 22 years of marriage.

And yet, despite a recovery of sorts, Derek was now – and always would be – a much changed man to the one who had married Ann, raised children, played mischeviously with his growing grandchildren and driven thousands of miles on the busy roads of the UK.

"Addenbrookes told us that it was our large family which had helped him on his way so much," Ann said through more tears. "There was always one of us at his bedside, always one of us talking to him and begging him to recover.

"But even though he became physically stronger and able to come home, there was never any likelihood that he would be the husband, the father, the friend and the grandfather that we'd already known.

"It was a child that came home to this house. He's not the strong man he was. He tires easily, gets cross and frustrated if he can't have his own way, and is terribly insecure if he's away from me.

"I can't go anywhere for very long before he's shouting for me and coming to look for me," she said. "I don't ever have a bath anymore – only showers." Whenever I would try to soak for a while he would go crazy wondering where I had been, even though I'd told him implicitly.

"He can't be left on his own for more than about half an hour before he's looking for me and getting upset. Going out became so traumatic that I don't feel I can do it anymore.

"It's a terrible position to be in because I love this man, but I want time to myself too."

Ann showers praise on the many groups and individuals who have helped her as they have ensured that she does indeed snatch some time alone.

Derek's carer Cathy – who comes in every day to assist, Headway, Icanho Brain Rehabilitation Centre, and Wood n Stuff; all have helped to offer the Mayes family just one little step closer to normality.

It's Wood n Stuff with whom Derek is spending a few active hours on the day of my visit. They collect him from his door, teach him to produce craftwork, and then return him to his marital home.

"It's fantastic for someone in a position like me," Ann commented, pointing toward two neatly displayed love hearts crafted by Derek in his early days with the facility.

"I feel so guilty for saying this, but you do need time to yourself. You need to have times apart because you can feel like you're going crazy with it all.

"It's often like being a prisoner in your own home and own life. I feel I need to get out to see my daughters or to spend a day with a friend – but if I do, I end up feeling so guilty and making Derek so angry that it's just not worth it." She added: "The one thing they stressed to me in hospital was that even though Derek had been the one hurt in the accident, I had to look after myself and carry on my own life or else I would become just as ill."

Hardly able to control the tears now, she said: "It was only recently that I started to realise just how much it was taking its toll on me. I was bitter, angry and very depressed. I had almost completely stopped caring for myself.

"My girls have now encouraged me to get back on my feet and hopefully things will feel easier. I have to accept that things aren't going to change. It will always be like this and I have lost my companion and husband forever."


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