I run a tiling adhesive business in Lancashire. One February, 13 years ago, I had just moved to new premises near Chorley. We had cement mixers installed beneath holes in the ground. For obvious safety reasons, they had to be kept covered at all times. That day, both members of my staff were off sick and I was working alone. The phone kept ringing and I was rushing around like a blue-arsed fly. I also had a sand delivery due. When the tanker arrived, I saw it was driven by a guy called Mick and I cursed aloud. Mick was a nice guy who loved a cup of tea and a chat, and I didn’t have the time.
I watched him drive round the back to the silo, then the phone rang again, so I threw a piece of cardboard over the hole to stop dust flying everywhere, took the order and put the phone down on a pallet. I was heading for the office when it rang again. I span round and rushed to pick it up, stepping straight on to the cardboard.
A split second later I was being churned around in a ton of grout by a ribbon blender spinning at 30 revs a minute. Somehow I found myself right in the middle, clinging on to the centre shaft. I couldn’t move and though I was obviously hurt, I couldn’t actually feel any pain. I was certain I was going to die but I wasn’t frightened. I somehow accepted it and let my body relax.
I’d been in there for less than a minute when the machine stopped suddenly. I found out later my boot had been dragged through the mixer, causing the fuse to blow. I sat there in the mix of grout and I could see blood. I tried to lever myself out but I was stuck fast. I called for help, even though I knew no one was there.
At that moment Mick wandered in. He’d come for that cuppa. I made him turn off the mixer, then he ran to phone for help, came back, got in the hole with me and held me until, within minutes, the emergency services arrived. I was given a drip; I was losing a lot of blood but they couldn’t get me out and I was starting to lose consciousness. I’d been in there for 40 minutes by this point and there was a danger I could suffer brain damage, so they tied a rope under my arms and hauled me out with a forklift. I came out like a crucifix.
I had lost my left hand around the wrist, all four fingers and the thumb of my right hand; my left leg was virtually severed below the knee. The fire crew found the hand and all the fingers apart from the little one, and put them in a bucket of ice. They were flown with me by air ambulance to Royal Preston hospital, where I was stabilised. From there I was transferred to Wythenshawe hospital, where 10 surgeons put me back together. They couldn’t save the thumb, so they used the big toe from the leg I’d lost. They replanted the left hand completely using nerves and veins from the same limb. My leg was taken off below the knee using a new technique the surgeon had seen on a DVD. He’d never done it before. I was operated on for 22 hours and needed blood from 40 people.
When I woke up, I asked the surgeon if I could still play football. He joked, “Not outfield but you can still keep goal.”
I burst into tears. I was so grateful to everyone. It was all down to the NHS and emergency services. While in intensive care I’d seen a young woman die from meningitis. Her two little girls had been brought in to say goodbye. I couldn’t understand why I’d survived and she’d gone, when it was all my fault. Why me? Well, it just wasn’t my time to go.
A week later, I called all my customers to explain. They said they would use other suppliers while I got back to full fitness, then come back. They kept their promises when I left rehab and now the business employs 37 people. If I’d gone, there would be nothing.
I live a full life – I can’t do heavy work, but I am active, and have done several long cycle rides. Mick was tortured for months by nightmares in which he pressed the wrong button, but I have never been traumatised by what happened. I walk past the same cement mixer every day.
• As told to Mike Pattenden.