March 15, 2024

Paul’s story

Paul’s story begins in a hotel in October 2023. Whilst a previous shoulder injury had left him vulnerable to further health challenges, he never imagined that a simple fall from a stool would leave him unable to walk.

Having lived in Belfast for many years working as a public sector accountant, Paul was familiar with the Royal Victoria Hospital and Musgrave Park Hospital, but never thought he would face a time when he would call these hospitals home.

After being admitted to the Royal Victoria Hospital for initial treatment in October, Paul was transferred to continue his rehabilitation at the Spinal Cord Injuries Unit in Musgrave Park Hospital just before Christmas.

“My spinal injury means I can’t walk, and I also have reduced feeling and mobility in my right arm and leg. I have suffered financial loss due to being unable to work, and my mental health has been poor at times.”

“I’ve struggled with the uncertainty of knowing if I will walk again, how long I will stay in hospital, and what life will look like when I leave. At the moment, I am unable to return home and initially it wasn’t always practical for people to visit the ward. I have lots of good friends supporting me, but the difficulties with visiting has left me feeling very isolated at times.”

Paul spent his first few days in Musgrave Park Hospital getting to know his fellow patients and the NHS staff working on the ward. Once he felt he’d got his bearings inside, he decided it was time to venture outside to the newly opened Horatio’s Garden Northern Ireland.

“At first I was nipping out now and again, but once I received my power chair, I am now out every single day.”

“The garden, and in particular the garden room, has given me a reason to get out of bed. I now get up early in the morning so I can go into the garden and take a paper or a book. It is great escapism, which brightens up my day, lifts my mood, and gives me the feel-good factor.”

“It’s better than any pill from the doctor. It’s the Horatio’s Garden pill.”

The more time Paul spent outside in the garden, the more he’s noticed and appreciated the thoughtful aspects of its design.

“The garden is of such a high standard, it’s good enough to live in. If this was an Airbnb, I’d be the first to sign up!”

The opportunity to spend time beyond the ward is immensely beneficial for Paul’s mental and physical wellbeing. Whilst acknowledging the importance of the medical care he’s received, the garden serves as a welcome respite from the clinical environment.

“It’s like the difference between night and day. The garden offers privacy, tranquillity and a sense of revitalisation. It’s a relief from the hospital and a place to chill out.”

Paul’s also grateful to have had the opportunity to get to know people by being in the garden.

“The ward can be very insular. It would be very easy to stay in bed and only see the people in your bay. The garden has allowed me to connect with other patients on the ward, socialise, and enjoy some live music. My days would be a lot emptier without it.”

Arriving at the Spinal Cord Injuries Unit just as Horatio’s Garden Northern Ireland opened means Paul has grown with the garden. He’s also had the chance to discover more about the charity’s nationwide work and has seen the positive impact the sanctuary is having on his fellow patients, their loved ones, and the staff working in the spinal unit, many of whom experienced life on the ward before the garden.

“My advice to anyone going through this journey is to communicate, which is something Horatio’s Garden really encourages and is another great aspect of the design. Getting to know the NHS staff and other patients, but also talking to the Horatio’s Garden team, including Head Gardener Matthew and all the volunteers, has been brilliant.”

When reflecting on his time in Horatio’s Garden Northern Ireland so far, Paul fondly remembers the moment he met the charity’s Founder & Chair of Trustees.

“I’ll always remember having a visit from Dr Olivia Chapple herself. She was a pleasure to talk to, she made me some chamomile and honey tea, and we took a wander around the garden and chatted. It was a lovely reminder to always embrace your situation and engage as much as possible. It’s all too easy to stay in your shell and get lost in your phone.”

Over the past three months, Paul has come to be a familiar and friendly face in the garden. From attending creative workshops and live music performances, to joining Head Gardener Matthew for horticultural therapy sessions, his enthusiasm for the garden and the charity continues to flourish.

“I was very surprised to hear that the charity raises all the funds to build the garden and then to maintain it. Everyone should be supporting these gardens, even Willy Wonka can see the logic and the benefits!”

Thinking about his future, Paul is already considering how he can continue to lend a hand in the horticultural haven.

“It is wonderful to know I can still use the garden as an outpatient and that I will be able to see it develop and grow. Head Gardener Matthew is trying to recruit me as a volunteer, and I’m seriously considering it! The idea of what is yet to come gives me a sense of hope and encourages me to look forward.”

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