You are on page 1of 18

I’ll ask you first about your health issue, if you wouldn’t mind just....

I had a brain haemorrhage and therefore a brain injury. That’s it. It happened to be
honest, it’s almost impossible to believe but I was in the shower and everything went
black. And I screamed my head off and my little girl came to the bathroom and she
said ‘Mummy what’s the problem?’ I said ‘Go and tell Daddy I cannot see anything
anymore’ and then I thought, silly woman, my little girl was about two and a half and I
thought she’s going to run down the stairs, my husband couldn’t hear me because
he was preparing the breakfast and all that. And er...obviously what happened I
found out subsequently is that the haemorrhage, the blood was running between the
function of the eyes you know and that’s why I suddenly became - felt like I was
becoming blind and that’s why I screamed and called my daughter. Well my
daughter came, I didn’t call her. I called my husband but he couldn’t hear me, he was
preparing breakfast, bless him. Well that’s what happened and then after that he, as
soon as he came to see what was going on, because he did eventually understand
the situation, he started calling the ambulance and nobody would come because
they were all taken up. Addenbrookes is such a busy place so he drove me to the
hospital as well he could – as he could - and we arrived there and as, I kept phoning
- he had his mobile with him - he kept phoning the hospital even though the
ambulance couldn’t make it, he said he’d let them know what was going on, he was
going on, and the fact that he was taking me, that he was bringing me there to them.
And when I got there the surgeon came out of the operating room and he said, it’s
ready for you madam. I thought ah are you sure, I didn’t want to go I panicked then!
And anyway that’s it, basically it was an aneurism to give you the medical term. And
it had burst and the blood was running and that’s why I thought I was becoming blind
and screamed in the shower, the blood was running in front of a function of my eyes,

not my eyes but the function you know where the vision is placed in the brain. And
that’s it and so they operated on the aneurism and that’s it, thus far. And thank
goodness I got away so well: I have got my left side is a bit impaired but compared to
what could have been, I could have been paralysed and I really am grateful to the
doctors that looked after me there, did a brilliant job. That’s it, that’s my story.
Thank you. So I am going to go back to the beginning now.
When I came to Headway?
No earlier than that.
Earlier than that?
When you were born and where you were born.
When I was born!?
We don’t need to know any days, just where you were born.
I was born in Italy in the middle of the mountains, a tiny village in Calabria, sorry, the
deep south in the middle of mountains, a little tiny village about 800 inhabitants and I
was born inside my home apparently, because at the time there was no maternities
round there.
So your mum gave birth?
My mum gave birth with a midwife who came to her house.
So your parents, tell me a bit about them.
They are Italian.
They’re Italian, can you tell me anymore?

My mum is a brilliant cook, I am nowhere near as good as her. I am trying to emulate
her and my dad. When I - i was born in Italy, my dad was in France because he had
this, well, when I was born he was in France but obviously he had something to do
with it before I was born! I am a bit daft don’t worry about it! Don’t transcribe
everything I say! [laughing]
So what about....
Anyway then my father when he, I was born he decided he wanted to give me a
future and we lived in the middle of a sticks in South of Italy in Calabria, you know,
there was nothing else to do but emigrate and my dad had emigrated a bit before us
you know in order to organise our life. And then when I was born he decided “I want
to give my daughter a future”. That’s what he tells me anyway. And so he took the
whole family up to France and that’s where I lived all my life. And that’s my
nationality also because eventually my dad decided that we should take the
nationality of the country that had welcomed us and given us a life. I agree with him.
It was a good thing to do.
Did you have any siblings?
Yes I had two brothers and one - I have two brothers and one sister. My youngest
sister was born years after me, em, but she’s deaf and dumb. Thank goodness she,
we don’t know the reason why that happened. My mum is convinced she had otitis
when she was very young baby and the doctors didn’t notice it. She blames the
doctors, anyway that’s my mum. She will always blame the doctors! I think she, to
her parting days she will blame the doctors.
And your brothers?


My brothers are both fine. They are professionals, they work, my brother has got a
business as a plumber, that’s the best business you can be in! I wish I was a man I
had been a plumber! Cause you get a lot of money. Anyway... I am diverging.
No it’s interesting. So when you lived in France, you went to school in France... can
you tell me about the school.
Yes I did the whole my schooling in France. I was very good. I think the French have
got education very well sussed out. I am not trying to be patriotic but I believe that.
And er I did all of my schooling and I went to University... all in France, and then as I
was at University I was given the opportunity to apply for a job as a French assistant
and I ended up in Leeds at the University of Leeds as a French Assistant and that’s
where I met my husband.
In Leeds.
I never looked back.
Whereabouts in France did you move to?
We moved to Nancy, Nancy in the North East, do you know Nancy? It’s kind of if you
go from Paris to Strasbourg, it’s two thirds of the way from Paris and one third from
Strasbourg that’s kind of in the middle of La Lorraine, the region is called Lorraine.
Why did you move to France?
I was very young, maybe 4 or 5 because I started all my schooling even the first
years you know, nursery school I was already in France.
Was your sister born in France?


Everybody else was born... no except my brother number…just after me was born in
Italy too but everybody else was born in France, I have two brothers and one sister
and my brother number two was born in France and my sister was number four child
was born in France too.
So you are the oldest then?
I am the oldest. My brother number one also was born in Italy in the South of Italy.
Do you know what took your Dad to France?
Yes, work.
What did he do?
He’s a... he works in building, he’s a mason, what would you call it? A builder.
Builder full stop what more can I say. Yes he is a builder and he found work on a
building site. What he did is “I am not staying in this country” because the south of
Italy was very poor at the time and he decided that he needed to get a proper job
and so he went to France and then he organised his life and he came back to the
little village in the South of Italy and took his wife and his two kids, because my
brother number one was born in Italy too. And before, before he did that he found a
house because he wanted his family to be comfortable and then he moved us all.
That’s his story. He’s a brilliant man my dad. Thank you, thanks to him I got a decent
education in France. And then but that’s in the future we don’t want to know about
the future. You wanted to know about the beginnings didn’t you.
But then carry on.....


With your little sister having a disability, how was that when you were younger
and she was young, how did you find that what are your memories?
That was really tough because my mother didn’t know who to blame…but you know
so she spent her life crying... but then we, we got help from the social workers and
we found her a school for deaf and that’s where she spent all her life basically after
that, but it was good for her because she learnt sign language and er she also learnt
to say things by mouthing them and making some strange sounds because she can’t
speak, you know, I don’t know if you’ve ever experienced people who can’t speak
they tend to just shout. But anyway she is now married to also a deaf man, but they
have a family and they are doing fine and I am very pleased for her.
Do they still live in France?
Yes, everybody still lives in France I am the only one mad enough to have moved to
So you then, what did you study in France?
Sociology. And I remember doing interviews with people as well!
Did you enjoy them?
Oh yes very much I loved, I loved the subject sociology. I did social psychology as
well which was very interesting.
When you finished you moved to Leeds you said?
When I finished my degree, I went to, no I didn’t move to Leeds as a decision, I
applied for a job as a French assistant and that’s where I got my job it was at the
university of Leeds and that’s where my husband was studying.

He was studying there when you met him?
Yes and I saw him across the room and thought woo, you look like a lovely young
man! [laughing] I spotted him but he spotted me too.
What was he studying?
He was doing, funnily enough, German and French, but French as a secondary
subject so I wasn’t involved in the classroom with him cause I wouldn’t as a teacher
marry my student would I! I’ve got principles! [Laughing]
So you met him…?
At the university, I met him in the lounge you know they had an interesting little cafe
in there and there was a big lounge where you could buy your cup of tea and that
was it, that’s where he was sitting there and then we made plans to go and have,
spend half term together and we went to Wales. We hitchhiked to Wales.
Did you like Wales?
I loved it, it was lovely.
Just you and him went to Wales?
Yeah and we slept in a barn on bales of straw I tell you it’s not the most
comfortable…sleeping arrangement but it’s ok?
So after that have you been with him ever since?
Well... basically yes, I took a few years, first he came to France to see where I was
from and that’s it and then after -I remember one thing I’ll tell you as just an anecdote
but…my dad was going upstairs to the bathroom as I was coming down from my


bedroom, he stopped me on the stairs and said ‘So who is this young man then? I
want to know what’s going on here?’ I said ‘Nothing he’s just a friend, just a friend!’
So funny but you know my dad from the old school he was a, he was born and bred
in Italy and that’s not the sort of thing you do when you’re Italian usually but now I
am sure they do worse! But at the time my dad is 70 odd years old so you can
imagine that he had a very old fashioned way of looking at things.
So with your husband, who met in Leeds, so you stayed with him sort of ever since.
Can you tell me about the wedding?
Oh that was funny.
Or the engagement just all of it...
Well I just told you about ‘So who is this young man then?’ I said ‘We will get
married’. But I didn’t know then but I pretended! That I knew. I didn’t want my dad to
get too upset. That’s it.
So what about the wedding?
We sorted out the wedding, it was in, we got married in a little church in my town, my
little town, it’s not a town, I didn’t live in a town, we lived in a small town, I suppose it
was a town in a way.
So you got married in a church there.
Did his family come?
Yes his mum and his sister and his brother came but his Dad was not very well so he
didn’t manage.

So when did you get married, how long had you been together?
I got married in 1981, we have been together a long time because I met him in the
70s because that’s when I was a French - I was still at university and I went to do a
year as a French assistant.
And you met him there.
That’s when I met him there and we got married in 1981, so several years later.
So did you have children after you were married?
Oh yes we are good like that! Yes, 4.
Four children? Can you tell me about them?
Well I have got a 29 year old daughter, 27 year old daughter and an 11 - oh she’ll kill
me if I say - she’s 15. I always think of her as 11 years old I don’t know why! Poor
girl. She really would strangle me if she heard this interview.
So 15 year old daughter.
Yeah she’s 15 and she goes to Bottisham Village College.
And any others, did you say you had 4?
I had, I have 4 kids, one is she is 29, number 2 is 26, and my son I can’t remember
how old he is, he must be 21 something like that.
And so do any of them still live at home?
And my young daughter is 11, oh no, sorry apologies, she’s 15.
She’s 15, so does she live at home?


I think of her as my baby you know! We are terrible mothers aren’t we?
Does she live at home with you then?
Yes of course, yes.
What about your son?
No, my son is at University of Leeds now. Would you believe, following in his father’s
footsteps! He is studying, I can’t remember what.
That’s ok.
German and philology - don’t ask me what it is I have been trying ever since he told
me what he was studying philology to find out what that was but I have no idea and
you can’t even find out in a dictionary it’s not there.
So with your children, you said when you first sort of started suffering from you
aneurism, one of your daughters was two and half?
Yes, she is the one that’s 14 now.
Ok so with your children how did they sort of cope when you first became ill?
Well I have a wonderful husband; he has been father and mother to them. And still is
in a way. So I think that’s what has helped everybody. Me included. What more can I
How did, obviously when you had your, em aneurism it really drastically
changed your life, can you tell us about the period immediately after that
happened and what, how you coped with it really and what changes


Well first of all I was in hospital for weeks, to the point that my father, who had never
left France in his life, and especially England for him you know was the back of
beyond! He actually came to England, I tell you that because I know it was quite an
effort. Because he thought right I am going to lose a daughter I must see her that’s
what he thought, poor man. But anyway I survived. And everything went well.
Although I am still fairly impaired, the left side, so I go to the gym a lot because I am
trying to fortify the muscle of my left side. That was the side that was impaired for
quite a while.
Was that immediately after?
Yes after my brain injury.
So did it mainly affect your left side?
My left side yes. And my memory so I don’t remember anything that’s why I wrote a
diary. For ages I wrote a diary and then I became lazy, as one does.
You seem to have good recall of your early life and stuff like that, so is the
memory is it to do with your short term memory or....?
It’s more my short term memory yes. I remember things like happened when I was 3
years old even better than what happened yesterday. I think it is the short term
How has that affected you in your life?
It is incredibly annoying but how does it affect me? It’s like going upstairs 25 times
within 2 minutes because you forget what you were about to do and what you
needed to bring down and all that sort of thing. I don’t wish it to anyone because it’s


really infuriating. It’s the sort of thing that, ok it’s neither here nor there, if you think
about it carefully you think well so what. I forgot to bring well I will just go back
upstairs so what, what’s the problem, so you keep going up and down like a yoyo,
but that’s alright I can cope with that.
When you were first in hospital, sort of after it happened, you said earlier the doctors
treated you really well. You had a good experience in the hospital?
Definitely I did, yes.
And how about after did you sort of, did you receive any sort of help afterwards as
well when you came out?
Yes I had the regular appointments, they checked me very regularly, no, I think the
care at Addenbrookes was extraordinary, it was very good.
So how about Headway, how did you end up?
Headway, ah Headway is my lifeline! It’s been my lifeline seriously sort of, ok the life,
in terms of saving my life I have to thank Addenbrookes, they have been absolutely
wonderful and spot on. The surgeon that did my, the job on me must have been such
a clever man but after that, Headway is what has given me the opportunity to
become normal again if normal has a definition, there isn’t a definition but what I
mean is, its has given me the opportunity to start living again, a life which I thought
was finished for me because I was very brainy and anything happening to my brain
was the end of me.
And Headway brought that back?


In my feelings you know but…yeah slowly Headway has given me the opportunity to
see that not everything in my brain has gone or dead. We do a lot of activities that
are extremely helpful and I am sure if somebody came to me to ask me for advice
after a brain injury I would say ‘Guys, life is not over, just go to Headway you’ll see,
you will regain your normality slowly’. I really am grateful to Headway. Sorry.
How long have you been coming to Headway?
Practically ever since I came out of hospital. I can’t remember now to be honest, it’s
probably in my folder somewhere! You will probably find out before I do.
What sort of stuff do you do here?
We do an enormous amount of interesting things. We do art as well and it’s aspired
me to do art because I enjoyed it so much by doing it here and realise how much I
benefitted from it. I actually taken up art privately with an art teacher and I have
done, I even had an exhibition of my work. So my art is doing alright and that’s to,
the starting point was definitely thanks to Headway with the art teacher we had years
ago, I don’t know about the lady that does it now, I have no idea, I don’t know one
way or another but the guy that was here do you remember his name? He gave me
the spur, he spurred me towards art, I enjoyed it. I never used to because at school I
don’t know if you have ever done art at school, my drawings were so hopeless I
thought “Art? Me doing art?” but at Headway it started to take shape and after that
when the art teacher left Headway, the new teacher I don’t know at all because I
haven’t done art since. But my husband found a private teacher and I have done
plenty of art since. That’s it, there’s nothing else to say.


When, apart from when you are not at Headway, apart from obviously your art,
what other things do you do?
I used to go to aerobics but then I realised that I haven’t got the strength really, I tried
to find a gym which was as good as this gym here, I love the gym here, the gym also
is brilliant and so I went to the gym privately as well but it’s nowhere near as good as
the one we have here and it’s too much, there’s people who go to the gym you know
which is not my scene at all! I love it here but nowhere else. Anyway, enough of me.
What sort of art do you do?
I have painted all sorts to be honest, I start with a picture, like I look at a Monet in a
book and I try to reproduce - basically. I am an art forger! [all laughing] I am making
Monets all over the place! I am only joking now. I follow the instructions of my art
teacher basically and I do as well as I can.
But you find that originals have helped like in terms of technique and things
like that?
Oh absolutely. I mean I expect that I did some art here before but it’s not the same,
it’s really private lesson with that lady I have as an art teacher. Being in a group you
don’t really get much out of your teacher.
Do you find art sort of helps you?
Mmm very much.
A bit therapeutic?
Mmm definitely. But I wouldn’t be able to analyse that, you could ask my daughter
because she is an art therapist so somehow it must do a lot of good but it’s definitely

done me a lot of good, I enjoy my life much more because of my art. I have even had
exhibitions. You have never seen my exhibitions in the Round Church?
Changing the subject slightly, how did you find it coming to terms with the fact
that you had gained a disability, going from being, just the change in your
situation from somebody who didn’t have a disability to somebody who did.
That can be quite a difficult thing to kind of, in your head, to come to terms
with, how did you find that?
That’s a difficult question to answer. I will have to say something that is might allow
you to understand the context I have a very strong spiritual life and I believe that
things are given to try us but to try us in a sense of... but to help us progress towards
a better self. So I have taken... I have accepted that was my destiny and I am quite
happy now as you can see I am no problem at all and I think I have a social attitude;
I tend to like talking to people and even giving advice and help. Maybe that’s my
pride. I shouldn’t be like that but we can’t all choose to be perfect we, we try, we
strive but we don’t always get there.
So with your spirituality in your life that helped you sort of accept what happened to
It does, yeah. What was the question?
No I was just saying your sort of your spiritual sort of just helps you?
I believe that every experience in one’s life is given to us in order to become a better
person. Not saying I am a better person, please don’t interpret it in that way, but I still
believe that we are working towards becoming a being which has understanding and
can relate to people in difficulty and be able to empathise and sympathise - not

sympathise, sounds - don’t like that word - but empathise that’s important and I think
this experience that I have had has helped me be empathetic and that’s why I like
Headway because in Headway there’s a lot of people with different disability they
have had to comes to terms to, with. And I am happy to talk to anyone here,
everyone is the same as me, we are on the path. If you have a question please do
ask because I run out of things to say.
Would you like to talk a little bit about your spirituality?
Oh my god!
You certainly don’t have to but if you would like to talk about your spirituality
or your faith or however you say it it would be very interesting to hear.
Well I believe first of all, I deeply believe in God and I am sure that all of us are the
children of God and we are given a quality inside us which we have to find and
express. What else can I say? And I think that I found that my talent is compassion.
And I believe that I am able to help a lot of people just by talking to them. Maybe
that’s what my talent is. Not art! Although I wish it was art.
So with your faith, have you always had a belief in God sort of right from when you
were younger?
From a child. I have always believed in God very strongly. But that belief has been
strengthened by my problem. You’d think it would be the opposite wouldn’t you
because when you get like a bash on the head and have everything impaired
because of that out of the blue you think so where was God then? But it didn’t stop
me from believing. I still believe.
And has your faith also helped you? With coping?

I wouldn’t say so because I’ve got, I believe very strongly in God but I haven’t got a
faith that is like that. I don’t know how to explain it. I believe in God that’s all I can
say and I am sure well I don’t know, I am not sure of anything to be honest! Why am
I saying I am sure? I am not sure. Anyway sorry to ramble on.
That’s fine it’s all interesting.
Thank you.
Has the experience of having a brain injury, did that in any way alter your
thoughts or attitudes towards your sister who was born with a disability do
you think?
What was the verb you used?
Well you gained a disability whereas your sister was born with a disability, do
you think that your experiences post your injury changed your attitude to your
sister or helped you maybe to understand her in a different way or...?
I always had a lot of love for my sister, I don’t think my brain injury changed anything
to be honest. I was a child when she was born. And I have seen the situation from
the moment we understood that she was deaf and obviously would never speak I
was prepared kind of inwardly to be her mentor. I don’t know what else to say.
That’s brilliant thank you. What do you think the future holds for you?
Well I hope a lot of lovely things! (laughs) I don’t know.
Do you have anything you want to achieve or anything you want to do or..?
I haven’t thought about it, it’s an interesting question, maybe I will give it a thought.


If you could, what do you think could change within society, within people, to
make the situation for people who have suffered a brain injury, better? What
do you think could be done to improve things?
That’s a difficult question.
Obviously you don’t have to answer it, I just thought it might be interesting.
I was just trying to think how to put it in words because sometimes I think in pictures,
that’s the funny thing about my brain.
Have you always thought visually? Or is that something that came about post
your experience?
I think its post my brain injury. And maybe that’s why I am better at art now than I
have ever been before in my... At school when the art teacher would go ‘Oh my god,
this, what’s this Sonia?’ But now I paint really nice things so maybe I have to be
grateful to my brain injury! Maybe it triggered something in my brain which has made
me, my brain more artistic. I don’t know I am only rambling now. Sorry.
I think we have covered quite a lot is there anything we haven’t spoken about
that you would like to speak about?
I can’t think of anything, sorry.
Ok I think we will probably end it there then if that’s good.