When many of us were 15, we were awkward, grouchy teenagers trying to fit in and pay just enough attention in school to pass GCSEs.
But Archie Veale found himself in Alder Hey Hospital fighting for his life after a vicious infection attacked his body. Now 22 Archie has told Gef about how sepsis changed his life. This is the second of our two part interview with Archie, focussing on his time at university and the difficulties faced by people living with disabilities and the long term effects of illnesses.
Having completed his A-Levels, Archie went to study Prosthetics and Orthotics at the University of Salford, a decision driven by his experience of Sepsis and his recovery.
Archie said: ‘Originally when growing up, before I was sick, I always wanted to do architecture. That was my big dream, so I did all my work experience, with architecture firms and I spoke to a mate’s dad who is an architect so I got a good idea of the job from him and then I missed the year of school so was behind in my education and I would’ve had to do A-Level physics to do architecture. Having tried it for three or four weeks, I dropped it as it was far too hard and I only had geography, product design and maths as my A-Levels so I couldn’t go and do architecture.
‘So me and my mum were having one of those talks where she was asked “well what are you going to do?” So part of my physio included the use of orthotics, I wear splints to control my foot and ankle when I’m walking so my mum said “what about those things” and wafted her hand towards my legs and from that point it just clicked that that was exactly what I wanted to do.’
Archie said the course was a perfect balance of design and engineering while also allowing him to help others who would go through a similar experience to him.
While he attended and graduated from the University of Salford, Archie said the support for disabled students ‘isn’t as good as you’d possibly hope’. He added: ‘Even the network wasn’t there, so a big part of my rehab and something I do now for physical activity, but mostly for socialising and being free, is wheelchair basketball. So we train once a week and hopefully when things settle down a bit more, we’ll be able to get back into matches. But at uni there were no sports for disabled people, there was no access for sports for disabled people which I thought was quite shocking actually.’
Archie said that throughout his time at uni, the situation improved very little, but he was able to find a team outside of uni and joined them instead. He did say that the course itself was very good, but said ‘the uni life of a disabled student was not so good’.
For a large percentage of people who went to uni, there is a culture that many people become part of. To a large extent this includes drinking heavily in questionable bars and generally d*cking about.
Archie said: ‘I think my university experience was very different from the “typical” experience. I was very fortunate in that my flatmates were very understanding and have become very good friends so they were there to support and help me with being a student, so going out to the pub and going drinking side of things. But there’s the flip side of that, people can be very narrow minded and the idea of how they behave around disabled people was shocking.
‘I’ve had situations before where we’ve been sitting at a table and people have taken my crutches and think it’s a laugh to hop around on them and think it’s fun or they move them away from me so I can’t get to them. But I did have really supportive friends who would go and grab them and give people a talking to, but the comments you get and I’ve had these on island and off island, is shocking.’
Some of the situations Archie has faced include idiots calling him a ‘cripple’ and others questioning his right to use a blue badge when parking his car, to the point where he no longer uses one. Trips to the cinema have also largely been ruled out due to a bad experience in a certain venue on the island some years ago where he was ushered in through a back door and had to be carried out the cinema in his wheelchair by one of the island’s Commonwealth Games athletes. He said that awareness and access on the island is ‘hindered’ and that despite equality legislation and rules regarding access to public buildings, improvements are still desperately needed.
Weakness not Disability
Because of the long term effects of his illness, Archie said he is classified as disabled, which he said is a word that is ‘poorly used’ in our society. He explained: ‘I have a weakness essentially, so from my time that I spent in Intensive Care I have ICU acquired weakness, which is called critical illness polyneuromyopathy [which is easy for noone to say], which is the loss of nerves and muscles, so that’s what led to my initial paralysis. While my upper limbs, neck, chest and a solid amount of my upper legs came back, my lower legs and feet have taken a hell of a lot longer.
‘So I have a weakness from my legs down and that resulted in foot drop, so they’re much weaker and instead of how people walk by ankle down and roll through to the toes, I can’t do that, I just sort of drop onto the floor with my forefoot which makes walking a lot more tiring and I have to load my joints in a different way so I get a lot of knee, foot and ankle pain now and my balance is quite significantly affected too so now exactly where my feet are is more difficult so I have to go a more steady pace while walking.’
However, Archie has been able to return to the gym, allowing him to focus on keeping his upper body muscles in good shape and keep up his cardio levels and to ensure he has fit and healthy lungs.
He told Gef that despite his medical history, he wasn’t considered a vulnerable person during the Covid vaccine rollout in the UK where he now lives. He said: ‘When Covid first kicked off, I was terrified because I would’ve put myself in the at risk category, I thought I was high risk and my family all thought the same, so they were terrified to come near me if they’d been out and about. So I phoned my old consultant at Alder Hey for advice and he spoke to his colleagues and they all said no you’ll be fine, so that was surprising but good.’
Archie’s job sees him specialise in orthotics, which could be anything from insoles for people with poor posture to braces or protective head gear and collars for people who have neck and spinal problems. ‘I feel like they [patients] have this mutual understanding or respect with me because they see that when I’m giving them advice, it’s because I have lived it and I know about it,’ Archie said. ‘The knowledge I have of people’s pain and difficulties puts me in quite a good position to treat them effectively.’
While seven years may seem like a long time, considering everything that Archie has lived with and achieved, it seems like no time at all. From finishing school, getting with his girlfriend, completing university and then going to work in a sector which continues to support him, Archie has a very positive outlook. Yes he admits there are dark days, but his grit and determination to help others shines through that.