Londoners’ experiences of life-changing injuries

How the life-changing injury occurred

Life-changing injuries (also called traumatic or catastrophic injuries) can result in brain injury, spinal injury, limb loss, loss of sight or hearing, burns, paralysis and chronic pain. They are commonly caused by incidents on the road, falls or assaults. We spoke with people who were injured in various ways including swimming and skiing accidents, road traffic accidents, through medical procedures and falls. One man was injured while on duty in Afghanistan.
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Sometimes people didn’t know exactly how their injuries were caused because they lost consciousness and there were no witnesses to the incident (or witnesses disagreed). Bryan went to buy fast food after a night out with university friends and was found four hours later at the foot of an underpass staircase with a head injury.
Often after life-changing injuries people don’t remember their injury occurring and can be surprised to wake up in hospital, days, weeks or sometimes months later. This can be because of post-traumatic amnesia, memory problems or the strong medication they are prescribed in hospital. People may never remember what happened, which can worry them. Sometimes they tried to regain their memory through speaking with a trauma specialist or filling in details provided by family members, friends, information from hospital reports and newspaper articles. CCTV footage could also be used to find out what happened. 
Not remembering how the injury happened suited some people; Nick Z described his amnesia as a "self-preservation mechanism" and Kenneth thought it was ‘your mind’s way of shutting things off so you can carry on and survive’.
Some people remained conscious at the time of the injury and could clearly remember what happened. Dave dived from the beach into a wave while on holiday and fractured his neck. He said the actual injury was painless but the drowning sensation was more traumatic. Bill, who was hit by a car while riding his motorbike, described the “unbelievable pain” he experienced and how he thought people could hear him in Central London as he screamed so loudly.
Life-changing injuries can be caused by other people, accidentally or intentionally. For some of those we interviewed fights broke out during a night out or they were mugged. Others were injured through hit and run incidents or through driver error. Occasionally a minor injury could become life-changing even after medical treatment.
People felt differently about their assailants. Some talked about forgiving the person, while others felt unable to as the impact on their lives was so severe. One man who was badly beaten in a random attack said he felt a bit angry that the friend he was with did not intervene to help him, but the friend said he was held back. 
Sometimes the perpetrators were caught and imprisoned, fined, or given community service. One man was deported when he was found guilty of hit and run. Several people thought the sentences given were too short and they felt angry about this. Jack felt there was no point in being angry because “no sentence would make up for a lost limb”. 
Sometimes, even when the cause of their injuries was out of their control, people felt others blamed them. It was somehow their fault.

People also were responsible for causing their own injuries; they were driving too fast, had been drinking alcohol or became involved in fights. Sometimes they worried what family or friends thought of them, which could cause feelings of guilt and shame. Sam thought it was unhelpful to dwell on how the injury is caused, saying it’s “the worst use of your time”.  

Last reviewed May 2019.


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