Stories

Dad who couldn't cuddle

A freak accident wrecked far more than our holiday


Published by: Keeley Henderson & Sarah Veness
Published on: 16th June 2011


Laughter filled the garden, but it wasn’t coming from my children – it was my husband Ian, who was just as much of a big kid!
Bringing his badminton racket down with a whack, he’d just won a game against our son Liam.
‘Nice one,’ I chuckled, as he danced across the lawn.
Every summer Ian, 36, strung a badminton net across the garden and our kids Stacey, 14, Sophie, 12, Liam, eight, and Owen, five, loved playing – until Dad won!
‘Want a go, Mum?’ Liam asked.
‘No thanks, love,’ I smiled. ‘I need to pack.’
In a couple of days, we were off to Fuerteventura for two weeks with my sister Anita, her partner Len and her two kids Wayne, 17, and Jessica, six.
Folding Ian’s t-shirts, his laughter filtered through the window.
A family man, he was happiest at home. But, after being teenage sweethearts and marrying 12 years ago, things hadn’t always been easy.
Over the years I’d miscarried four babies, and depression had threatened to consume me.
Ian had been my rock.
So, there was no doubt we deserved this holiday.
From the minute the plane landed, I felt my troubles melt away. We played on the beach, pottered around the markets and, by the eighth day, were chilling by the swimming pool.
‘This is perfect,’ I smiled to myself, shielding my eyes from the sun and spotting Ian sitting on the edge of the toddler pool with Owen.
Grabbing the camcorder, I filmed their smiling faces.
‘There’s Daddy and Owen playing,’ I commentated.
Turning to put it down, I smiled to myself. Ian was such a good dad, so caring and… Suddenly, a piercing scream rang out across the pool. ‘He’s bleeding!’ someone cried.
Whipping my head around, I saw a man floating face-down in the pool, blood spilling from his head, turning the water red.
Oh God…
‘Ian!’ I screamed, scrabbling to my feet. ‘Help!’
Running over to the pool, I watched in horror as two men dragged his lifeless body from the water. ‘He’s not breathing,’ I screamed, as paramedics appeared and started working on him.
Suddenly, Len put a hand on my shoulder. ‘Louise, he’s conscious,’ he said gently. ‘But he’s got a nasty cut on his head.’
Relief rushed through me.
A few stitches and he’d be fine.
‘I’ll stay with the kids, you and Len go to the hospital,’ Anita said.
As the car wound along the island’s roads, I imagined doing the return journey with Ian later, relaying how hysterical I’d been about a bump to the head.
But, arriving at the hospital, a doctor took me to one side.
‘I’m sorry, Ian’s injuries are worse than expected,’ he started.
‘W-what?’ I panicked.
‘When Ian banged his head, he broke his spine in two places,’
he said gently.
‘He may never move again…’
An icy fear took my breath away.Ian… paralysed?
He couldn’t be. He was so active, racing about after the kids… and things like this didn’t happen on holiday. It was just a bang to the head, surely?
But there was no way of telling the full extent of his injuries until he was transferred to a hospital in Gran Canaria the next day.
‘Can I see him?’ I asked.
‘Of course,’ the doctor nodded.
Deathly pale, Ian was laying naked under a sheet, his swimming shorts thrown in a bag beside him.
‘Hello, love,’ I whispered.
He was conscious, but sedated.
‘Look after them,’ he mumbled to Len, who squeezed his hand reassuringly.
Back at the hotel, we found out Ian had been standing by the pool when a child had run past and accidentally knocked him in. He’d hit his head on a concrete step.
But had his life really changed in that split-second?
The next day, he was transferred. I went with him, leaving the kids with Anita, who’d  explained to them the best she could about what had happened.
But how would I ever tell them the news I was about to hear?
After an operation on Ian’s spine, the surgeon came to see me.
‘I’m sorry,’ he said, lowering his eyes. He didn’t have to say another word. I knew my life had changed forever. Ian was paralysed from the neck down.
My world spun out of control.
‘D-do you want to talk about it?’ I asked Ian gently.
‘No,’ he croaked, tears in his eyes. Gone was my happy-go-lucky hubby who was a bigger kid than our four. Instead, back home, he sank into himself, refusing to talk about his ordeal.
‘He’s completely lost his spark,’ I confided in Anita.
‘Give him time, his life’s turned inside-out and upside-down,’ she said. ‘Take each day as it comes.’
Yet each day was following a sorry pattern… ‘Let’s get some fresh air,’ I’d suggest, reaching for our coats. ‘You’ve hardly used your wheelchair.’
‘No,’ he’d whisper. ‘I don’t want anyone to see me like this.’
Only months before, he’d been strutting about the pool on holiday, carefree. ‘Come on, it’ll be good to get out,’ I’d coax.
‘No,’ he’d snap. ‘Close the blinds, and we’ll watch telly.’
He never once spoke about the accident, it was like he couldn’t face the truth.
So, our once happy home became his prison.
But, worse still, Ian was a prisoner in his own body.
‘You know what’s worst?’ he said one day.
‘What?’ I asked him, taking hold of his hand.
‘If I could still move my arms, at least I could cuddle the kids,’ he sighed. They were coping better than him, though.
Overhearing, Owen climbed on to his lap. ‘I can still cuddle you, though,’ he said, throwing his arms around Ian’s neck.
Ian smiled sadly, and I wondered if I’d ever hear him laugh again.
Four years went by and I became his full-time carer, converting the living room into
our bedroom so he’d be at the centre of family life. But I
couldn’t have planned on how
little of that he’d see.
Without warning, his health started to deteriorate and he was admitted to hospital with pneumonia.
After a week of fighting the infection, he grew too weak and suffered a heart attack.
‘I’m sorry,’ the doctor said to me sadly. ‘There was nothing we could do for him.’
Yet again, without warning, my life had changed in seconds.
How had a family holiday come to this?
Holding Ian’s still-warm body, I rested my head on his chest.
‘Goodbye my darling, I love you,’ I sobbed.
Now I regret ever going on that fateful holiday. I still wonder if Ian would be here today if we’d stayed at home.
However, I’m trying to stay strong for the kids, but it’s hard. Last week, I spotted the badminton net in the shed. I had to walk away, leaving it to gather dust.
Me and Ian should have had the rest of our lives ahead of us.
Instead, a chance accident has left me with only memories to cling on to.
Louise Corkhill, 37, Murton, Co Durham