Life after a cycling accident: ‘I am now a permanent carer’

Patrick Maher’s wife was hit by a car while cycling and suffered a massive brain injury

Dorian and Patrick met 23 years ago and have been married for over ten years. Cycling home in 2014, Dorian was knocked off her bike and suffered brain injuries. She now requires 24-hour care. Much of her day is now spent reading. Video: Barry Cronin

 

Life changed dramatically almost three years ago for Dublin couple Patrick Maher and Grainne Duncan, known as Dorian, following a cycling accident.

Ms Duncan, who had swapped her annual bus ticket for a bicycle when the Bike to Work scheme was introduced, was struck by a car in February 2015 as she cycled from work in Malahide to her home in Coolock.

The 48-year-old suffered a devastating brain injury which has left her in need of 24/7 care.

Speaking at St Doolagh’s Rehabilitation centre in Malahide, where he visits his wife each day, Mr Maher recalled the day of the crash and waiting for Ms Duncan, who was often delayed, to return from work.

“I was at home working on something and I had actually forgotten about time. The clock said 7.30pm but I wasn’t alarmed. I had turned on the hot water tap when there was a knock at the door. As I walked through the sitting room I could see a flash of high-visibility yellow and assumed it was Dorian,” he said.

“I thought it was her, until a really heavy knock came to the door and the words ‘guards’. I knew it was bad. We left so fast for the hospital that it’s a blur. I grabbed my phone and turned off the tap and went straight to the hospital.

“When I first arrived, the doctors told me my wife had various injuries including a broken hip, broken leg, various organs had been slightly perforated and that she had banged her head. It appeared that while they were all very serious injuries, they were fixable,” he said.

Brain bleeds

“She didn’t look like she had been involved in a serious road traffic accident; instead there was a single mark to her head. It was the next day that doctors told me they had found brain bleeds. There was lots of little brain bleeds and unfortunately this is what caused Dorian’s brain injury.”

The couple have been married for 10 years but have been together for 23. At the time of the accident, Mr Maher was a mature student in the third year of a course at Dublin Institute of Technology. Ms Duncan was a configuration manager for a software company, working on satellite control software.

“Then the accident happened and that was the end of college for me,” he said.

Since then, Ms Duncan has never returned home on a full-time basis, but there are occasional day visits. Following the accident, Ms Duncan spent the first year and a half in Beaumont Hospital before moving on to the National Rehabilitation Hospital in Dún Laoghaire for six months.

“Since then Dorian has been here at St Doolagh’s Rehabilitation Centre. This is home away from home. Unfortunately our house is not equipped to deal with the wheelchair at the moment,” Mr Maher said. “For the next two to three years this is home for her.”

He said that while the care for his wife is excellent at St Doolagh’s, he feels that her life is now “very boring”.

“She can’t walk or do anything for herself beyond simple hand movements. She reads a lot, so that’s one thing she still has but being mostly deaf she can’t watch TV or listen to conversations,” he said.

“Most of her day is very boring unless I or her parents or friends come in to visit. Even then it can be very boring. If we don’t write everything down then she can’t understand what is going on and will get bored. As you can see now, she’s quite bored now as she can’t hear us, so she’s reading.”

Full of tissues

As Mr Maher turned the page on his wife’s book, he noted that his pockets were always full of tissues to wipe out words he spells out on a clipboard for her.

“For me, I gave up college and I’m just waiting around now until I can bring her home and care for her full-time. College was just too difficult to finish. Life is sometimes difficult and sometimes not. I’m not very good at the day-to-day running of the house as I always had her help.”

Mr Maher has issued an appeal for road users to be more aware of cyclists in the hope that future accidents similar to Ms Duncan’s might be avoided.

“You don’t always see cyclists and drivers don’t always respect that the road is there to be shared,” he said.

“I now have my life mapped out for me . . . I am now a permanent carer for Dorian, not that this matters but this is how this accident has shaped both our lives.”

He would like to see more visible road safety campaigns for cyclists in Ireland.

“There are two things that we need to look at. Firstly are other driver’s attitudes to cyclists. They need to be aware, and the other is to cyclists themselves. You are subject to the rules of the road whether you think you are or not,” Mr Maher said.

“It’s difficult for me not to have my wife at home with me, sometimes I look at the clock and it’s 7:30pm and then the reality of the situation hits me. She’s not going to come in the door from work, but I am blessed that the accident wasn’t fatal. So many families don’t get that chance.”