Man who fell down steps on night out went 'from being an independent adult to being babysat'
Published 21/10/2016 | 16:13
An Irish man who fell down the concrete steps of his apartment block on New Year’s Eve has spoken about the accident that left him fighting for his life.
Stephen Shortall (29) sustained a severe brain injury when he fell down the stairs following a night out in Dublin with friends before the New Year struck in 2014.
The Laois man revealed that doctors believed he would not survive the night due to the severity of his injury, which catapulted him out of his life and into months of strenuous rehabilitation.
Stephen recalls his friends’ accounts of the incident, which saw him sustain more than 20 fractures to his skull and left him in a coma for six days.
“I was out for a few drinks on New Year’s Eve with a couple of my friends and I walked back to my apartment in Rathmines. From the stories I’ve heard, they left me at the door but a few moments later there was a loud noise and I was lucky that they came back to see what it was. They found me in a pool of my own blood at the bottom, knocked unconscious by the concrete steps. I’ve sort of created memories of that night from the stories I’ve heard, but really I don’t remember anything of the night.
“I was sent to St James’ where I underwent scans but because my injuries were so serious I was rushed to Beaumont where I underwent emergency surgery. My friends knew my brother was a Guard, so they managed to get in contact with him by ringing the local station, who gave him a call then. I can’t imagine what getting that phone call at 5am felt like, but he was told that I was unlikely to survive the night,” he said.
During the fall, the IT worker damaged his temporal lobe, and his family were prepared for the possibility that he would not regain consciousness.
“My brain was so swollen they had to put Vaseline on my eyelids to help them close over my eyes. I had fractured my skull more in more than 20 places and I had damaged my temporal lobe on the left side, but I had injured my right side during the fall as well.
“In the days after the fall, my family didn’t know if I’d walk or talk again or even wake up,” said Stephen.
Stephen’s first memory of his life after acquiring his life-changing injury is twelve days after the fall, when he recalls his stitches being removed.
“I remember the doctor removing stitches from my head. My family have told me that in those days after I woke up, they were so relieved that I was speaking. I kept asking ridiculous things though, questions that didn’t have an answer like ‘What is religion?’. My brother visited the hospital with a woman, who I told him he should marry, but I had no recollection that I had been at their wedding two years before that. I was having the same conversations with people every 30 minutes asking the same questions,” he said.
At the end of January, Stephen was released from hospital into the care of his mum and was forced to move home to Durrow, Co. Laois to continue his recovery, which he explains was difficult.
“When I was discharged from Beaumont I had to move home to Laois, to my mam’s. I wasn’t allowed to be on my own and I wouldn’t have been able for it. It was difficult to go from being an independent adult to being babysat. When my mam had to go out to do something, I was dropped to my brothers’ houses to be minded almost. It strips you of your confidence in a way. Although they’re helping you, it feels as though you’re constantly being watched in case you do something wrong.
“After my fall I couldn’t read. I could read one or two words, but I couldn’t finish a sentence together. During those months at my mam’s I practised reading for two hours each day. It was a goal I set for myself, something to do to occupy myself,” he said.
After three months in Laois, Stephen was thrilled to be offered a place in the National Rehabilitation Centre in Dublin to continue his recovery, but says it was a frustrating time due to the difficult goals he set himself.
“During that time and through my recovery I was really hard on myself, which I look at in two ways. Yes, it was tough and stressful to meet those goals that were set for me, but also my determination to return to normal motivated me to hit those goals quite quickly. The stay helped me to build back confidence and I encountered so many people who were much worse off than me, which made me feel incredibly lucky,” he said.
In the years since the accident, Stephen has progressed in leaps and bounds and has written a book. He also counts himself lucky to continue working for the same company as he did before the accident, who he said have been extremely supportive.
“It’s only in the last few months that I’ve really improved. I’m certainly much less tired and fatigued and I’ve learned to be less hard on myself. I’ve gotten back to the gym and swimming which is great and I’ve gotten into crafts.
“I’m so lucky to have survived that fall and I feel very lucky to have had the family and friends that I do. Without my mam and my siblings, I wouldn’t have been able to go home when I was discharged. I would have had to go to an acute hospital to continue to recover which would have impacted my recovery,” he said.
Almost two years on from the accident that threw his life into disarray, Stephen admitted that he feels incredibly privileged to be alive and is reminded of the fact often by his family and friends who worried he’d die on New Year’s Day.
“My family and friends thought I would die that night, so they were delighted to even see me walking again, but of course they’re happy to see how far I’ve come since then. I am proud of myself, but because I’m an Irishman we don’t really say that. When I look back at that night I see how quickly it happened, how quickly everything changed and how it could have ended so differently,” he said.