South Shields man speaks of 'crushing' depression following brain injury after lorry fall

Alan Croke’s life changed dramatically in September last year when he fell backwards from a lorry and landed on his head
-Credit: (Image: CNTW)

A South Shields man has spoken of the "crushing" depression he now battles after sustaining a brain injury from a fall.

Alan Croke’s life changed dramatically in September last year when he fell backwards from a lorry and landed on his head. Alan had been checking the load on the back of the lorry when the fall happened.

Alan suffered a fractured skull and a bleed on the brain from the fall and spent two weeks in Sunderland Royal Hospital. The accident happened on an abandoned industrial estate in Sunderland and Alan believes if he hadn’t been conscious and was able to call for help, he might not be here today.

“People don’t realise that having a brain injury changes your life", Alan said. “I knew I had fallen but I didn’t realise the damage I had done. I didn’t know if I had been unconscious or how long for.

“I remember being awake. My head was pounding and I could see flashing lights. I really didn’t want to go to hospital and tried to get my son who came to my rescue to take me home. I’m of the mindset that if you break your leg in the morning, you get back to work in the afternoon.”

After being discharged from hospital, Alan was referred to the Community Acquired Brain Injury Service (CABIS). Part of Cumbria, Northumberland, Tyne and Wear NHS Foundation Trust, CABIS provides specialist community rehab for people with acquired brain or head injuries living in Gateshead, Sunderland and South Tyneside. The service offers neurorehabilitation care, as well as emotional support and practical help.

Alan has physio every week and neuropsychology every other week at his home. He also has occupational therapy there too.

“I can’t emphasise enough how fantastic CABIS have been,” he said. "The physio team have been working on sorting out my vestibular system, providing strength building exercises as well as getting me outside for a walk. I cannot walk very far at all before I get too tired and have to stop. The occupational therapy side of CABIS have helped me with hand eye coordination, such as using knives to chop vegetables. There has also been emotional support from day one.

“It all seems very simple because we take things for granted. We're used to doing everyday tasks automatically. But after suffering a brain injury, you have to relearn the easiest of tasks all over again. Because it’s me I don’t see the improvements that have occurred since my accident, but everyone says there’s been a huge change from where I was in September to now.”

But since his accident, Alan has also suffered from depression. “I’ve been depressed because I feel isolated due to being housebound,” he continued. “When everybody else goes to work, I’m in the house on my own for 10 hours a day. The days are long. It’s crushing.”

Alan now attends Andy’s Man Club which offers peer-to-peer support, aiming to end the stigma surrounding men’s mental health. He added: “This helps relieve the pressure. And importantly, it gets me out of the house even though it's only for a few hours a week.

“We might have all got a brain injury under different circumstances, but we feel the same in many ways. We’ve all said that your head doesn’t feel like your own anymore, it’s a really odd feeling. And we’re all hoping to get back to where we were before our injury occurred.

“I don’t think I’m the person I was before the injury and I don’t know if I’ll ever get back there. But with the help of CABIS, I'm pushing as hard as possible.”

Alan also describes the fatigue he now suffers as overwhelming. He said: “It’s not the same as just being tired after a day's work or going out for the day. It is completely different. I have never experienced anything like it. The last six weeks in particular have been very difficult. You feel completely drained, physically and mentally. Just lifting a cup to drink from takes so much effort.

“I can iron sitting down but I can only do one thing before I get tired. I could chop a carrot and an onion at the table but would be exhausted for the rest of the day. These are the small things you take for granted, the things that are taken away from you.”

Alan believes there is still a lot of misunderstanding around brain injuries. “It’s cliché but it’s true that not all disabilities are visible,” he said. “I can talk normally with clarity now as we're discussing my injury. Then my brain just seems to shut down because it needs a rest and I have to sit quietly and recover.

“Sometimes I can find myself being able to walk fairly normally with a stick for support and then two minutes later, I won’t be able to. Everything can change instantly. None of this happened before my accident.

“I had my accident in September and genuinely thought I’d be fine by Christmas. There is light at the end of the tunnel but it might take a bit longer to get there. It’s not like breaking your arm, recovery from a brain injury is indefinite. The service from CABIS has been invaluable. Without them, I don’t think I’d be here.”