One year on the day manchester showed terrorism wouldn’t win – ladbible gas bubble in throat


I was on the floor and couldn’t move. Twenty-two pieces of shrapnel had shot into me. My body was full of golf-ball sized holes. There wasn’t a part of me that wasn’t bleeding. I saw a leg lying close by and I remember wondering if it was mine and making an effort to look down. It wasn’t.

I’d seen on a film that the best thing to stop a wound bleeding is hold a credit card over it and I tried to reach for my wallet but, after five minutes, I realised it wasn’t even there anyway. So, I just lay, trying to stay conscious. I was more tired than I’ve ever been in my life. I made a pledge with myself – I’d stay awake until they got my daughter out and, after that…we’d see.

I was there maybe 45 minutes. At some point someone put a sheet over her. I was growling to get their attention. I was telling him she’s still breathing and they looked at her again and then they were carrying her out on a stretcher, and I was so thankful. I was thinking, ‘that’s your job done’. I’d made peace with the fact I was dying.

I had two seven-hour operations to remove the nuts and bolts. My feet, legs, arms and jaw were all smashed. One had severed my spinal column. My throat had a part missing. There was one bolt in my face they couldn’t get but it eventually rose to the surface and broke the skin itself. I tweezered it out. I keep it in a jar.

The bolt that severed my spine means, doctors say, I may never walk again. Maybe they’re right but I’ve managed to move my toes which I was told would be impossible so I refuse to give in. I keep doing my exercises, keep seeking treatment, keep trying to push things forward.

My daughter has been left brain-damaged and in a wheelchair but she has the same spirit as me. She can’t speak but she can see and hear, and she writes things down. It’s devastating but I remind myself that, lying on that arena floor, I’d have done anything for her just to be alive. In that moment, I’d have taken this.

As a family, we’re refusing to let terrorism win. I’m back working a little and trying to live as regular a life as possible. I’m doing the Manchester 10km on May 20 to raise money for three hospitals. If I can complete that it feels like a huge two fingers to the terrorists."

Blood was everywhere. In puddles on the floor, all over the walls, drenching the injured. There was literally a red tint in the air. I’ve dealt with some horrific fatalities working on the railways but nothing I’ve ever seen came close to the concourse of Victoria Station that night. I struggled to sleep for a while afterwards.

I think, at first, we thought we’d probably be turned around half way there but I remember a message coming over that there were actually three fatalities and suddenly we were fearing the worst. Then the count went up again. We were in the car listening to it unfolding on the radio, feeling helpless, trying to go faster. It was the longest journey of my life.

By the time we arrived, there were 19 dead. We knew it was a terror attack. Ambulances were parallel parked everywhere. I remember walking into Victoria and just seeing a mass of injured people – open wounds, missing limbs, agony everywhere you looked, young and old, children. There were bodies covered over.

I think the only way you can process something like that is to go on automatic and start helping. I opened my first aid bag and threw bandages to people, provided a doctor with some equipment, then got to work treating the more severely injured. I don’t remember who or how many. The only one that sticks in mind was a little girl. She was unconscious; hips, ankles and jaw all broken, fingers shredded. Her shinbones were sticking out. I did what I could, and when an ambulance came for her, she was still alive. Amid the devastation, that felt like a victory.

I was there four hours in all. The bravery on the survivors was inspiring. They had battle field injuries but they kept calm. The courage on show that night was astonishing. Someone asked later if I was worried another terrorist might be on the loose but you don’t think about it. You trust your armed colleagues to deal with that. It was my job to help people.

It’s probably obvious to say but you can’t see things like that and not be affected by it – even if you’ve had all the training in the world. But I have no regrets I was on duty that night. My entire professional life has been about helping people and keeping them safe. I would be at a similar incident again in an instant. All my colleagues would. In the end it’s pretty simple: terrorism won’t win."

As a surgeon, you deal with life and death situations on a weekly basis. I have seen some horrendous road traffic accidents down the years. I don’t pretend you get used to it but it’s the job – we’re fortunate to be able to save lives. But there was a horror associated with this, with the volume of casualties, the nature of the injuries, the whole thing of that sat behind it – terrorism at a concert – that was haunting.

I found out about the attack on my phone that night. The intensive care unit has a closed discussion group for surgeons, and there were messages on there. My initial instinct was to go in to the hospital but I was told the unit was coping and I should get some sleep to be fresh the next morning. I didn’t get much.

I have never seen intensive care so busy as it was that Tuesday. The main things we were dealing with were shrapnel injuries, nuts and bolts which had embedded in people or which had passed right through. But what was striking was the sense of calm. The whole team was there – expert doctors, nurses and auxiliary staff – and they swung into action exactly as you would want: calm, professional, quick. Everything worked. We have never looked back and thought we could have done things better. The unit did a brilliant job.

The strangest thing for me was the first patient who came in. They hadn’t been identified so they were just a number. I’ve never worked on someone like that. Even in the most serious road collisions you normally know something about who you’re treating. But during a break, one of the nurses recognised this person on social media and told the police, and so the family could be told their loved one was alive. Just thinking about their relief – that was a good moment.

I got a bee tattoo afterwards. Lots of people were doing it. I was chatting to some colleagues and I said I might get a T-shirt and they said, ‘oh come on, you can do better than that’. So, I said, if I could raise a suitable amount I’d do it. And £5,000 later I had a tattoo. It’s a tribute to Manchester’s spirit."

As the day wore on we discussed whether or not we should hold a vigil and, in the end, it was decided we should. Looking back, I realise it was the single best thing we did because bringing the city together allowed people to find comfort from each other and for the character of the place to reassert itself. It allowed Manchester to find its voice again and begin to face its future.

There were mixed emotions of course. People were numb. Everybody was trying to make sense of what had happened and, at least immediately, it proved impossible to do that given the enormity of the situation. But there was a sense of togetherness in Manchester, of people going above and beyond for each other.

But in the end, you realise it does not help to dwell on those feelings. The only way to defeat terrorism is to show defiantly that the vast majority of people won’t be divided. That is the best counter to the rising extremism we see around us.