My romance with Ray put me on cloud nine, until I was brought down to earth with a deadly bump…
By Sam Paterson, 41, Fareham, Hampshire
As I took the photo and uploaded it online I kept my fingers crossed. I was advertising my old bed for sale, hoping to make a bit of extra cash.
Luckily, it wasn’t long before I got a response. A man, Ray Paterson, got in touch over text.
“Is your bed still going?” he asked.
Over messages he explained that he was going in for a knee op, and while he recovered he’d need a new bed that was the perfect height.
I was glad to be getting it shifted but when Ray, 28, turned up to collect it I had another reason to smile… he was gorgeous!
With his short cropped hair and chunky figure, he was just my type. I flirted as he carried the bed out, but as he drove away I was kicking myself.
I should have asked him out.
But I hadn’t missed my chance completely…
The very next day Ray text me to say that the bed was just what he needed. And so, not long after, I messaged him again to see how his knee op had gone.
Hope you don’t mind me getting in touch. After all, we do share a bed now… I joked.
That’s how, in October 2013, Ray ended up on my doorstep with a bottle of wine and a bunch of flowers.
We took things slowly, but romance soon blossomed. By the following summer, life was bliss.
I had a sexy new man, and big plans for setting up a new business. I wanted to launch pet fairs for local suppliers to show off their goods.
Then, one afternoon in August 2014, Ray and I decided to treat ourselves to lunch out. We were both working hard – we deserved it!
I was looking after my sister’s dog so we picked a pet-friendly pub near the beach at Hill Head in Hampshire and ordered some grub.
Before we tucked in, I thought I’d better take the pooch outside to relieve itself.
“Don’t you dare scoff my lunch too,” I said to Ray with a grin, grabbing the dog lead.
But as I stepped out of the door, I tripped on the step. As my feet slipped from under me, I plunged forwards face first.
There was a searing pain as the front of my skull struck the door frame and then everything went black.
The next thing I knew, I woke up to a blindingly bright light. I felt fuzzy-headed and strangely numb.
“Sam, I’m here sweetheart,” I heard Ray say.
I opened my mouth to ask what had happened, but I couldn’t even croak.
“There was an accident and you’re in intensive care at Southampton General Hospital,” Ray said. “You’ve got a tube in your throat to help you breathe.”
I felt confused and dazed. What had happened to me?
Soon, there was a doctor by my bedside too.
“You’ve been in a coma for a few weeks,” he said. “You hit your head and you broke your neck.”
Slowly the memories of that afternoon at the pub came back to me.
“It’s called a hangman break, because it’s right at the top of your neck. I have to be honest with you – there’s a good chance you could be paralysed from the head down for the rest of your life.”
But I’d only tripped, how could this have happened?
“We’ve fitted you with a halo brace, which is screwed into your skull so your head can’t even move a millimetre,” the doctor continued. “The break will heal, but your spinal cord might not recover.”
I felt too woozy to fully absorb the devastating news.
Over the next few hours I dipped in and out of sleep, as Ray helped me to piece together everything I’d missed.
When I’d fallen I hadn’t just knocked myself out, I’d stopped breathing. But, thankfully, a midwife had been in the pub too. When she saw me slip she rushed over and tried to resuscitate me.
“There was an off duty policeman cycling past too. He stopped to help until the ambulance arrived,” Ray said, choking up at the memory.
Then, at the hospital, a whole team of doctors had battled to save my life. I was put into an induced coma and my family had been called in to say goodbye.
Apparently I’d only been given 24 hours to live.
And now I was alive, but unable feel a thing. My whole body was numb from the neck down.
My eyes filled with tears as it started to dawn on me how serious my condition was. In one stupid little accident, my life had changed forever.
I’ll be in this bed for the rest of my life.
Then, my mind turned to Ray. It might have ruined my life, but I won’t ruin his, I thought.
He hadn’t signed up to a future of nursing me and caring for me. It wasn’t fair on him. I knew I loved him, and so I had to let him go.
I caught Ray’s eye and tried to mouth words to him. It was the only way I could communicate.
“Leave me,” I said, silently.
“I’ve been here from sunrise to sunset every single day, and I’m not going anywhere,” Ray said.
“Please leave,” I desperately mouthed.
Ray looked utterly heartbroken. Dejected, he picked up his jacket and headed to the door.
“If that’s what you want…” he said, as he quietly pulled the door behind him.
Of course it wasn’t what I wanted. But if I was going to be stuck in a hospital bed for the rest of my life I couldn’t face trapping him with me.
I knew I’d done the right thing. Then, a few hours later a nurse bustled in to check the settings on my machines.
“You know your fella’s sitting outside?” she asked.
I thought Ray had gone…. for good.
“He said you’ve tried to throw him out, but he’s adamant he’s not going anywhere,” she said, rolling her eyes.
And so, after ten hours he was still sitting out in the waiting room.
“Perhaps you should let him back in?” the nurse gently suggested.
“Ok,” I mouthed.
Moments later Ray plonked himself back in the chair by my bed.
“Have I made my point now? I’m going to be by your side no matter what,” he said, giving me a hesitant grin.
In time, I started to feel stronger. And, after six weeks, I had a breakthrough. I managed to wiggle a toe on my left foot.
My doctors were delighted. They explained as the swelling around my spinal cord continued to go down I might regain more movement.
Sure enough, a week later I managed to twitch a finger on my left hand. Soon a second finger followed, and eventually I could move both of my hands and feet.
Then medics started to reduce my dependency on oxygen and eventually took me off the breathing machine.
That was terrifying. What if I suffocate? I thought.
But after 12 long weeks in hospital I was finally breathing for myself, and in November doctors transferred me to the Duke of Cornwall Spinal Treatment Centre in Salisbury to continue my recovery.
I still didn’t know how much better I was ever going to get, but I was determined to try. Soon the physiotherapist had me strapped up in a hoist, being transferred to a wheelchair.
“This feels so strange,” I said, grimacing through the pain.
It had been months since I’d sat upright. My poor body wasn’t used to the strain. Gradually, I spent longer and longer in the chair.
Then, one afternoon, Ray hatched a plan.
“I’m allowed to take you down to the hospital garden for a bit,” he said, pushing my wheelchair towards the lifts.
As the fresh air hit my face, I couldn’t help but smile. It had been so long since I’d been outside. It made me feel almost normal again.
Then he pushed me over to a quiet corner, next to a colourful patch of plants.
“This is fantastic,” I said, breathing in the cool breeze. But, as I turned back to Ray, he was down on the floor.
Then it dawned on me… he’s down on one knee.
“Sam, I want you to know that this is it for me for life. Nothing’s changed,” Ray said, taking my hand.
I gaped at him, dumbstruck. “Will you marry me?” he asked.
“Yes!” I said. Ray had already proved his devotion, in sickness and in health. I knew he was the man for me.
Wedding plans immediately went on the back burner though. Instead, I needed every ounce of my energy to focus on my recovery.
This time I had a new motivation though – I wanted to walk down the aisle. Then, in April, I took my first step.
I was absolutely elated, I never thought it would be possible. “It feels like I’ve never walked before,” I told my physiotherapist. “It hurts like hell.”
Even the pain couldn’t stop me from smiling though.
Later that month I moved into a nursing home, while I was on the waiting list for a suitable flat for me and Ray.
Family and friends rallied to help us to plan a last minute wedding for August. We wanted a simple ceremony to say our vows – that was all that mattered.
Meanwhile I focussed on making it down the aisle. Some days I was too drained to even stand, so it was touch and go whether I’d be able to walk.
But on August 26, I clutched my dad’s arm and hobbled down the aisle of the registry office towards my husband-to-be.
It was the best wedding present ever, Ray looked so proud. We celebrated with a small group of family and friends, then just two days later we moved into our new home in Fareham.
Now, I’m still having treatment and doctors can’t say for sure whether I’ll ever fully recover. I’ve been told my progress in the next year will be crucial.
But with Ray by my side for better and for worse, I know our future will be bright.