‘One punch can ruin your life. Use your brain, not your fists’
Shane Grogan suffered a brain injury. His father warns against danger of excess drink
Shane Grogan: “Shane was minding his own business and look what happened to him.” Photograph: Ray Ryan
Joe Grogan says he will sleep with one eye open on Saturday night. “It should be a great weekend with St Patrick’s Day, and Ireland hopefully winning the Grand Slam,” said Joe, sounding genuinely hopeful. But with so many young people likely to be out this bank holiday weekend, he’s not expecting to get much rest.
On August 5th, 2012, Joe’s son, Shane, then 22, was hit on the head with a brick as he walked his girlfriend home. When the phone rang at about 2.30am, Joe saw his son’s name flash up, and assumed he had locked himself out. But it wasn’t Shane’s voice on the line and in fact Shane hasn’t spoken since that night. “It happened two minutes from the house. When we got there it was a terrible scene,” said Joe.
He says Shane’s future was robbed all because of a moment of madness which should never have happened. He suffered a catastrophic brain injury that night, and now he cannot walk or talk and is fed through a tube.
Joe is a funeral director and the family live “over this shop” on one of Tuam’s busiest streets.
Shane’s experience means that any late-night commotion on the street outside means a sleepless night for Joe and his wife Joan, and an anxious wait for the morning news bulletins.
“Every Sunday morning I wake up and wonder will we hear about another assault. I dread to hear Beaumont hospital being mentioned ,” said Joe. The gnawing fear is worse on bank holiday weekends like this one. With the prospect of a “wet” Good Friday looming, he believes the “novelty value” means people will overdo it on that day as well. “It seems to be an Irish thing.” He adds, “We sleep at the front of the house and if we hear anything we’ll worry. I sleep with one eye open on bank holidays.”
He says Shane had been an outdoor, sporty type . “He liked running, cycling, swimming, all the good things. He loved every kind of music and he loved his friends. He was a fashion guru. He had a business degree, a job, and was planning to do accountancy. He was going to buy an Audi. He was very level-headed for a guy of 22. He was going places.”
He reckons there is telepathy between Joan and Shane, so deep is the connection, but the 28 year old is now learning how to use his index finger to communicate.
“He can move his right arm and if we can get him to use his index finger to communicate he can tell us when something is wrong – if his nose is itchy or if he is in pain. It’s terrible to see your son distressed and not know what is wrong,” said Joe.
The family and their friends have also been raising funds to build a new accessible house through the Care for Shane Facebook page so that they can bring their son home. “It can be heartbreaking to visit an older person in a nursing home, but it’s very hard going to see your 28-year-old son there, even though they are very good to him,” said Joe.
Shane’s two-year-old nephew Harry is a regular visitor to the nursing home where he climbs up on the bed on top of his uncle to gave him a kiss and a cuddle. “We have seen Shane smile at that. These are the reactions we treasure,” said Joe.
When the Leitrim branch of youth group Comhairle na nÓg decided to make a video hammering home the “use your brain, not your fist” message in a bid to reduce the number of unprovoked street assaults, Joe and Joan were happy to participate with Shane.
“Shane was minding his own business and look what happened to him,” said Joe. He says such cases could be reduced if young people took a step back and encouraged friends to do the same if there is a confrontation.
He says it angers him that alcohol is used as an excuse during many assault trials, but he notes that even young teens seem to get access to alcohol on St Patrick’s Day.
He says pubs and clubs should also be “a bit responsible”, especially when it comes to younger patrons. “I know it’s hard for a night club to control what happens outside the door, but I think if clubs flashed up even 30 seconds of this video it could make people think,” he said. The Leitrim youth organisation will launch its video next month, and hope to circulate it to post-primary schools nationwide.
“One punch can ruin a life,” said Joe. “I can’t put it any better than the young people who made the video. Use your brain, not your fists. Young people should look out for each other and if someone is getting aggressive, talk them down.”