Do you remember, back on March 15 when we were told that we were going into lockdown? As we were being told to stay in our houses Justin Jones was finally being released from hospital to return to his! As we were all bemoaning the fact that we would have to stay indoors in our homes Justin was celebrating the fact that he even could.
You may not know what happened last June on Friday the 14th when Justin, who runs Balearic Coating Solutions, had an accident. He and his workmate and good friend, Gavin were in Justin’s Citroen Picasso on the way to Alcudia to see a client. One moment they were motoring up the road to the north, the next they had been hit head on by a car overtaking the oncoming traffic. You can see from the photos how the car was destroyed. Incredibly Gavin and Justin, and the driver of the other car, are alive. In Justin’s case, only just.
“From the moment of the impact I remember everything. As the car hit us I could feel the sun baking on my head. I couldn’t breathe but I could hear Gavin screaming at me “Are you alive?”. Although I couldn’t answer him my first thought was ‘I am here and I have to get through this for my family. I can’t leave them. I have nothing prepared for them’. And it was as simple as that”. Fortunately for Justin and Gavin there was a Guardia Civil vehicle just a few cars back from them, and the officers were quickly on the scene with a defibrillator, without which Justin says he would have died that day.
Justin spent two weeks in a coma in hospital before he was able to communicate with the doctors and they could assess how much damage had been done. “I couldn’t move anything. I was 100% locked in my body, I couldn’t feel anything but I was aware of a lot of things”. Eventually the medics were able to take stock: the list of broken bones was extensive and if you ask Justin about his injuries he uses the word “crushed” a lot. I can’t imagine how painful it must be to have a crushed leg, when I can barely cope with a stubbed toe. Both legs and one arm, and three vertebrae in his neck, all broken in multiple places, and a severe head injury, which left him with terrifying, bizarre and confusing hallucinations for quite a while afterwards. His other injuries were a broken sternum and six ribs, a hernia in his stomach the size of his hand, and broken ankles and broken toes.
The extent of his injuries started to become clear to him when: “A doctor asked me to close my eyes and raise my left arm, which I did. He said, open your eyes, I could see my left arm raised up in front of me. Then he asked me to do the same for my right arm, so I closed my eyes and raised it, he told me to open my eyes and although I felt as if I had moved it, it had not budged an inch”. There was talk then of how the doctors may not be able to save the limb, but after a discussion with his mum it was agreed that due to the nature of Justin’s work it was better to have his hands than not. Later on a solution was subsequently found for the mangled elbow, and a spring mechanism has been inserted into his arm and some feeling has now returned to three fingers in his hand.
After extensive pinning of his limbs there followed a four month period where he was immobilised in bed whilst his body began the big job of healing. “It took a team of ten people to move me because I could not be allowed to bend in anyway. They couldn’t use a hoist on me. It took four people on each side to pick me up and then two more to fix the sheets or do whatever needed doing”. This procedure happened three or four times a day.
“To me these people are angels,” Justin says, “Nothing was ever too much trouble for them, they really cared about me, They never showed any anger or frustration, I was completely dependent on them for everything”. During his confinement Justin spent many hours listening to the goings on around him on the ward. “You tune into sounds and what is going on. I was on floor three, and I could hear other patients passing away and their family members crying, It happened quite often. The nurses who were caring for me would be comforting a relative, or saving someone’s life, then the next thing they would be cleaning someone’s bum, and all of the time so professional and kind. I cannot thank them enough for their work for all of us”.
Rehab has been a tough process, taking a lot of mental and physical strength. “The physios told me that I would have to force myself to try to move my toes. Everyday I had to do it. After a couple of weeks I started to get sensations and then I could move nothing but I could feel everything! It was summer time, and I was so hot! Every 15 minutes I had to get my mum who was sitting with me to move a sheet as I was so uncomfortable. I was just stuck there”. It wasn’t until November when the metal pins were removed from his body that Justin was able to go into a scanner and have the full situation assessed.
Justin’s comprehensive medical team stretched across two hospitals, firstly Son Espases for a month and then floor three of the Juaneda Miramar where he spent many months preparing for and then recuperating from several operations. Luck was on his side when he was originally admitted to Son Espases as a certain Doctor Gaya was on rotation that day. Perhaps if this doctor had not been there Justin would not have his legs today. “The bones were sticking out of the sides of my legs, there were bones everywhere”, he said.
“Amputation was on the cards, but Doctor Gaya had just read a medical journal about a new procedure to transplant bones from one person to another and it was down to him that he suggested that they try this new idea. He made it possible for me to have this ground breaking operation. More than 50% of both of my thigh bones have been donated from the bone bank in Palma which Doctor Gaya runs. The doctor, along with more experts in Madrid, used a system involving the innovative reconnection of veins as arteries meaning the donor bone wouldn’t be rejected by my body. When Doctor Gaya and his team of Trauma specialists and Plastic surgeons worked on me, one leg took 14 hours and the other took 12 hours to do. Now they have since worked out an even better way to do it with 3D printing to help make a pattern for the bone to be cut to size so that anyone else needing the same operation will have an even higher possibility of success. I feel very grateful to these doctors who have done so much for me”.
Another vital operation was on three of the cervical vertebrae in Justin’s neck, they operated on him from the back of his head which has left an impressive scar, “The bones were just floating in there,” Justin said, “the surgeons could not understand how I wasn’t paralysed”. His recovery from the operation was remarkable, in three weeks he had no pain in his neck, although apparently it makes “the weirdest sounds” when he turns his head from side to side, but he has regained 100% movement in his neck which is a complete triumph.
How did he and his family manage with the breadwinner out of action I ask. “We have had amazing help from a group of friends who have helped us a lot with a Go Fund Me page which was set up for my wife Marie and the kids. And the landlord for the business has been really kind. Marie and the kids haven’t wanted for anything.” Marie has been holding the family together and she has been incredible, keeping it all going on her own whilst I have been in hospital. And how is Gavin, his friend who was in the car? “He lives opposite me so we are able to wave at each other now from our terraces! He is getting better as well.” And how does Justin feel about the other driver who caused the accident? “The driver admitted to it straight away: that he had overtaken a car and crashed headlong into us. A court case is pending but our lawyers know very little about where it is in the proceedings. My first feelings were a lot of anger towards him, but now my thoughts are that the driver was stupid, but that we all do stupid things in life. There must have been a reason why he was speeding. What if it had been someone I know who was in the other car?”
Incredibly Justin is recovering, and although he has had fifteen operations already and has a minimum of another five to go he is now making good progress at home having been released from hospital to keep him safe from any potential risk of catching the coronavirus.
“My immune system is quite low so I must avoid getting an infection. I am allowed to have a physio come to the house so Tracey Evans has been coming to see me. I can get up on my feet, although my legs don’t bend because I don’t have any kneecaps, so I can’t just sit down anywhere. I’ve got a “Granny walker” with a high seat on it which I can perch on. In a way the timing of the lockdown couldn’t have been more perfect. I have been able to get outside onto the terrace when the weather has been okay.” Leaving the hospital was emotional for him and the staff, “The nurses on duty were crying when I left, they really took me in and took care of me. It is because of them that I have made it this far, the very least that I can do is to keep working to get better”.
“My kids, Richard (12) and Christian (7) are over the moon to have me home, and I am happy to be able to do stuff around the house, and get a cuddle from my family. Marie and I have been together for nineteen years. We used to irritate each other about silly little things, but now we have learnt to appreciate the simple stuff. Instead of doing the dishes or worrying about something insignificant we are able to spend time together eating and chatting. The dishes will still be there, just leave them be. I think we should all try to stop the busy-ness, notice the connections instead between things, and the truly important things”.
It would seem you have had, pardon the pun, a crash course in mindfulness, I say. “I had to learn how to stay calm. I wasn’t calm when it first happened, I was pulling my neck brace off and throwing it across the floor. I wasn’t thinking about my neck. I was thinking I CAN get up and get out of here. If I will myself I will do it. I had to accept that I was stuck there. That I couldn’t eat,drink or go to the toilet, I had to make peace with that”. How has the accident changed him as a person I wonder? “I am 100% changed, I was always a pretty down to earth, rational person. But I have a much more open mind towards everything else and people’s ideas. I appreciate everything. I appreciate my food, I appreciate the kids, even if they are nagging me! I don’t feel any frustration, I feel free, I have never felt freer. I am out of the hospital, I am with my family. I will still be dependent on a wheelchair for a long time, if not forever. but I am lucky to be alive and have my limbs, It could have been a lot worse. I am very grateful for everything. What can you moan about? Everything will work itself out”.
Finally, what advice do you have for anyone struggling right now with the lockdown? “To accept that there is nothing in your power to change where you are now. But that you are still alive and keep thinking of what you want to do in the future. That where you are at this point is temporary and as bad as it feels. It will pass”.