Family to hell and back
EVE 2011/12 LEFT GERARD O'CONNELL AT DEATH'S DOOR
for all that had happened. At that point I had to tell him what had actually happened. When he did find out, his first reaction was to urge us to stay indoors and not go out," she said.
After being discharged from the CUH, Gerard went up to the National Rehabilitation Centre in Dún Laoghaire where he underwent months of intensive therapy under the care of Dr Aine Carroll.
"Everyone there was magnificent; although at one point it was quite frustrating, because one doctor would say one thing and another doctor would have a different opinion on the same subject. I wanted Dr Carroll to come back with one answer. I knew I wasn't getting any better but was unable to explain what I felt about how things were going," said Gerard.
After seven weeks at the centre Gerard said something clicked and he said he had had enough.
"I cursed at the doctors and told them I was going home because I felt that they did not have an understanding of what was happening to me," he admitted.
"After consulting with each other they came back to me and admitted that the damage to my brain was such that I could never be properly cured. They were not able to tell me whether it would get worse or better," said Gerard.
Ann said that despite the fact that Gerard is now living back at home, they are still living under a cloud of uncertainly and are forced to take every day as it comes.
"We still do not know if things will get better or worse. The doctors said there is only so much that you can do. The rest is up to the brain itself.
"Gerard's long-term memory is poor but his short term memory is good as long as he has a routine. Take him away from that routine, and he is unable to recall anything," said Ann.
Gerard said that doctors have told him that his memories will always be there, but it would be hard to contextualise them.
"When I came home, I was able to recognise our house, but not how to get there. We have also been into town a number of times, but it was all new to me. My whole life before the attack is a mystery, it's all gone," he said.
Gerard is not longer able to read or write, but he proudly pointed out that he can still tell anyone about how a car or motorcycle engine works.
"The doctors said that I would be able to retain small bits of information, and I can, bit by bit. At first I found the whole learning process extremely frustrating, but I am determined to move on with my life," he said.
It is that kind of singleminded positivity and spirit that has helped Gerard and his family come to terms with what happened and to not let it overshadow their lives.
However, Ann bravely admitted that she did feel nervous about family members going outside of the house.
"Yes I do, all the time. For example I have to keep in constant contact with the children when they go out," she said.
Despite this, both Ann and Gerard have tried to remain positive about the future and what it holds in store for them.
"Ann and I have discussed this many times. We both believe that you have to remain positive and work hard to put the negatives out of your mind," said Gerard. Ann agreed. "I can never forgive that man for what happened. He did not just do this to Gerard; he did it to all of his family as well. This is something that will remain with us forever," she said.
"That said, we are overcoming what happened. The further we can get down the road, the better for us as a family. I refused to let what happened overtake our lives or our future," she said.
"That is not happening. It is an obstacle that may be there forever and if this is as far as we can come, so be it. But we are together and that is the most important thing."
That sense of family was underscored last New Year's Eve when, exactly a year after the attack, Gerard and Ann renewed their wedding vows in front of family and friends at the Arches Bar in Mallow.
"People were asking us what we were going to do this New Year's and this just felt like the right thing to do. We could have stayed at home and let all of the badness of the last year fester in our heads, but that is not something that we wanted to do," said Ann.
"Last New Year our families were with us in the hospital, this year we wanted them and our friends to be together in entirely different circumstances," added Gerard.
"It was not just about us. It was also about saying a heartfelt thank you so many people who have supported us over the past 12-months."
The couple said that they were also overwhelmed but the sheer weight of the support they received in the weeks and months following the attack.
"The money they donated made it possible for us to afford to go to Dún Laoghaire. To be honest, without it, it would have been hard to even go to the CUH to see Gerard everyday," said Ann.
She regularly returned home to find dozens of mass and get well cards had been posted through the letterbox.
"It is hard to put into words how grateful we are to the people of Mallow, the O'Connell and Relihan families, our friends and neighbours for their thoughts and prayers, which gave us both so much strength during our darkest days," said Gerard.
"The same goes for all of the gardai, ambulance personnel, doctors, nurses and medical staff who helped us over the past year. Between them they have given Gerard back his life and for that I will be forever