UPLIFTING STORIESNick Mills tells us how the Air Ambulance came to his aid

At the time of my accident I was 27 and working as a self employed joiner with a decent workload.

That day I was finishing up a kitchen job in Bembridge.  I had a busy schedule for the next two months and in hindsight maybe I was a little too busy. I had just put in a final set of drawers and was ready to pack up and head off to start the next job. I wanted to complete the job to a good standard, so when my client asked me to adjust the drawer handles again, I took them out and returned to the workshop.

Alone in the workshop, it was getting towards the end of the day and stress was building. I should have gone home, but I wanted to get the job finished, so I stayed and set up the machine; a spindle moulder. Without thinking, I didn’t set a back stop to stop the wood biting and being pulled through the machine. In a split second the wood was grabbed, and along with my hand, was pulled through the cutter block and spat out on the other side.

I knew instantly that it wasn’t good news.  I looked down at my hand and three of my fingers had been mangled and the bone was poking out of a fourth – there was no way was I looking through sawdust for the tip!  There was no pain for a few seconds, and then it hit me, the worst pain I had ever experienced.   I ran to another workshop on the site to find someone to help me, but they had gone home ten minutes earlier, so I ran round to the farmhouse to find the farmer. We went back to switch off all the machinery and the farmer drove me to hospital.  I hadn’t passed out so I didn’t think an ambulance was necessary.  My hand was wrapped in his hand towel, which was now soaked in blood and dripping on my lap. I was taken straight to A&E, x-rayed, cleaned up and told to wait for a surgeon.

They tried to straighten my fingers; it was the most horrendous pain I have ever felt.  I nearly passed out, so they gave me more morphine before trying again. The nurses and doctors that helped me were amazing, they kept me focused and made sure I was comfortable. Unfortunately, there was so much damage to my fingers that the surgeon at St Mary’s Hospital was unable to help and the decision was made to ring for the Air Ambulance so that I could be transferred to Odstock hospital as soon as possible. When they contacted my Mother, she just assumed that it would be another chisel cut and I don’t think that she was prepared for what she saw when she arrived.  It wasn’t until she saw me being prepped for the Air Ambulance that she realised how serious my injuries were.

The Air Ambulance arrived quickly but the crew only had 5-10 minutes to get me on board before thick fog threatened to stop them flying.

The team at the hospital walked me to the helipad, settled me in and made sure I was ok, talking me through every part of the flight and transfer. I remember seeing the fog rolling in over the Solent and talking to the pilot. I don’t remember how long the flight was, but it only felt like a few minutes. One of the nurses flew over with me to meet an ambulance waiting at Southampton, ready to take me on to Odstock. The ambulance crew were so lovely, despite the fact that I used about 20 bandages and left blood everywhere!

Without the Air Ambulance I would either have had to be transferred by land ambulance on the ferry, by which time it may have been too late to save my fingers, or to have had basic surgery at St Mary’s Hospital.

Thanks to the Air Ambulance, I arrived at Odstock within about 45 minutes, where a surgeon, Roman, and his team were waiting. I had ten hours of surgery over two days to tidy up my index finger, rebuild my middle finger, amputate my little finger and re-build my ring finger using what was left of my little finger and a pyrocarbon joint, plates, wires and pins.

I spent a week in hospital. On day four, the physiotherapy team got to work on my hand to get it unwrapped and moving again.  I will forever be grateful to them for teaching me how to use my hand again and to adapt to doing everything with fewer fingers.  I eventually needed a year of physiotherapy, but with their support, I got back to work after three weeks of leaving hospital and today I am still able to run my joinery workshop.  I could never have done any of this without the help and support of my Mum and Dad, who drove me to Odstock every other week for several months until I could drive again; the support of my sister and her husband, who came to see me every day in hospital; and my friends who looked out for me.

I’ve learned not to take too much on and to slow down and be more careful.  If I am getting stressed or tired, I just go home.

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