“Part of me did think I was going to die.”
My brother sits across from me, with no hesitation or a sense of regret in his tone as he describes the scariest moment of his life, and how he lost the use of his lower body.
“The friends I was with thought I was joking at the time. I could hear them when I was floating in the water saying: ‘Gerard stop messing about. Gerard this isn’t funny.’
“I thought ‘if they don’t realise that this is serious then, yeah, I’m going to die.’”
It was almost three months ago to the day when I got a hurried phone call at 1am to say he’d been in an accident, and would be going into surgery shortly.
Gerard was working in Sigtuna, Sweden, for a couple of weeks in July, tutoring secondary school students. Being the daring, care-free student my brother is, he decided to head down to a nearby lake with some friends.
The water sat at knee-height, but without any signs to say otherwise Gerard took the plunge, head-first. He fractured his spine, leaving him with C5 tetraplegia, meaning he has no use of his hands, wrists or legs.
An air ambulance, medevac repatriation, and three hospitals later, my brother is finally in a place he feels a bit more at home.
Sat in a quiet room at the National Spinal Injuries Centre, in Stoke Mandeville, this was my first real chance to chat to him in private since his accident. He smiles patiently as I think carefully what to ask him.
That smile is significantly special to me. It’s the one I saw on birthdays; it’s the one looking back at me after every resolved teenage argument; and now it means more to me than ever, because it says he’s comfortable, he’s safe, and everything is going to be okay.