Nichola Beales

I remember that day very clearly. It was Easter Sunday 2019 and it was a really lovely day. I was on my way to visit my dad in Eastbourne to spend the day with him and my sister’s family. It was hot and sunny, and I remember looking at the time because I was only about five minutes away; it was around 11am.

I was heading down the Pevensey bypass and suddenly, I saw a black car coming straight towards me on my side of the road. It was overtaking, which a lot of cars do in that area because it’s a wide road. There was plenty of space, but suddenly the car clipped the one it was overtaking and came straight at me, hitting me head on. I heard the bang before I became unconscious.

I didn’t realise it but I was unconscious for about 15-20 minutes; it felt shorter than that. I woke up feeling warm and dizzy. I could see my windscreen had smashed and what looked like a hedge in front of me. A woman called Jackie, who had been in a car a few behind me with her son Mark, was holding my hand and talking to me. I was struggling to talk but I suddenly realised that my dad was expecting me and wouldn’t know what had happened to me. I knew his number off by heart so I was able to give it to Jackie and she called him to let him know. My sister had already arrived at my dad’s so they both came straight to the crash site.

Paramedics, police and the fire brigade started to arrive and it got very busy around me. It took the fire brigade over an hour to get me out of the car. Thankfully, I had spun into a layby but not hit the crash barriers, otherwise things could have been a lot worse. There was also a field with a gate onto the road right in front of where I had come to a stop, which meant Air Ambulance Kent Surrey Sussex (KSS) was able to land there and their team could reach me without too much difficulty.

It was then that I realised my injuries were quite serious, but I never felt scared once. I am so grateful to the team who were completely calm around me. They explained everything to me carefully as they were doing it and reassured me that it would be okay. I had broken ribs which had caused one of my lungs to collapse, which is why I had found talking difficult.

I had also broken some bones in my back and my left arm had broken in three places. As a result of my injuries I had suffered from internal bleeding. It was definitely serious, but even the doctors said I was lucky that my injuries hadn’t been more severe.

The decision was made to take me to the Royal Sussex County Hospital in Brighton by air ambulance. My dad and sister followed by car.

Nichola Beales in 2020 (during lockdown).
The doctor, Dr Maja Gavrilovski, held my hand as we flew and touched my cheek occasionally just to let me know she was there. I remember it really clearly. I found it comforting and was grateful to her for taking the time to make sure I felt reassured.

Nichola Beales

When I got to the hospital I was taken straight in to be operated on. It was a six hour operation. My mum, who also lives in Oxfordshire, came as soon as she was told, but I had already gone into surgery by the time she arrived. She was understandably upset that she couldn’t see me. I was put in an induced coma after my operation to help control my breathing, and mum didn’t see me until I woke up from the coma the following day.

The doctors had said it would take several days to come out of my coma, so I came round much sooner than expected. In fact in general my recovery was much quicker than expected; they had anticipated me being in hospital for six weeks but I was only there for two and a half. At the same time though it was difficult and painful. I had to be on oxygen for a few days. Not being able to move was the worst part, although I’m sure it helped me heal more quickly. I was given a ‘pain button’ – when it went green I could press it and get more pain relief. I used to lie and watch it, waiting for it to go green and pressing it as soon as it did, because I was in so much pain.

Still, there were some positives. Being at the hospital in Brighton meant my dad could visit me every day, and I could see the sea from my hospital bed. I felt very lucky to be alive. My dad joked that the Easter eggs I had brought with me, which were sitting on my passenger seat when I had my accident, were perfectly intact. He even brought them to the hospital to prove it to me! It was little things like that which made it easier.

At the time I had only been seeing my boyfriend for a couple of months, but he came to see me every day. My parents wondered who he was! I couldn’t be alone when I first left the hospital, so I stayed with my dad for the first two weeks and then with my boyfriend for three and a half weeks. It was good to have that time together. Sadly, a couple of months after my accident, my boyfriend had a sudden heart attack while we were together and passed away. He was only in his 40’s and it was a huge shock.

I still haven’t recovered fully from everything that happened last year. I went back to work in July which was perhaps a bit too soon, but I wanted to try and get back to normal.

I had an operation to remove the metal in my right arm in January 2020 and my wrist is still painful. I get back pain most of the time. I am also living with a large hernia on my right side that the doctor said is a result of my accident; the muscles from my ribs down were obliterated. I was supposed to be having it removed in March 2020 but my operation has been cancelled because of the Coronavirus. It’s frustrating because it slows my recovery, but I understand why.

My accident has definitely been life-changing, but I am lucky in many ways and I know that. I am so grateful to the people who helped me that day, from Jackie, the first person on the scene, who I’m still in touch with, to KSS who came out to me. KSS really is an incredible organisation that deserves recognition. I certainly never thought I’d need them, living in Oxfordshire, but they were there to help me when I needed them most. For that I will always be thankful.

Dr Maja Gavrilovski had been on an early shift when the call came through about the accident. Maja, alongside Captain Kevin Goddard and Paramedic Ben Clarke arrived at the scene just after 11:15am.

Once on site the team performed a full primary survey, and discovered that Nichola had a fast heart rate and low blood pressure, along with a seat belt mark, injury to her left wrist and abdominal tenderness, which at the time suggested intra-abdominal injury and bleeding.

They carefully moved Nichola onto a scoop stretcher, applied a pelvic binder, which helps reducing the bleeding from any pelvic injury if there was one, and put her on a vacuum mattress. They also put her injured arm into a vacuum splint to reduce the pain and further movement of broken segments. Nichola was given pain relief, anti-sickness medication and medication to prevent blood clot breakdown and minimise the bleeding.

“There was a lot going on around Nichola. I was acutely aware that she must have been extremely frightened and that this was a shocking experience for her, so we tried to reassure her as much as we could. It’s crucial to support patients throughout this busy phase, by acknowledging their fears and reassuring them that they’re in the safe hands.

Our role at KSS is to ensure the best possible patient outcome and make their journey as safe and comfortable as possible, whilst providing the best possible pre-hospital care”, said Dr Gavrilovski.

The scene at Nichola's accident, 2019

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