8 December 2022

Musician who had to relearn how to play guitar and sing after a month in a coma says performing again will “mean everything”

A musician who had to relearn how to play the guitar and sing after spending a month in a coma following a stroke says it will “mean everything” to him to be able to perform again thanks to the incredible care of staff at Sheffield Hospitals.

Graham Rodgers, 62, of Frecheville, Sheffield, said that his experience of illness and recovery had rekindled his faith in human nature.

Graham spent over three months in hospital, including one month in a coma, after he suffered a severe stroke due to ‘sticky blood’ (increased blood coagulation and clotting) caused by Covid-19.

While in hospital, Graham suffered three further minor strokes, a heart attack, pneumonia, septicaemia and blood clots on his lungs and had to be revived three times. He finally awoke from the coma when some of his own music was played back to him by the nurses in critical care.
Since then he has spent almost three years recovering, relearning how to sing and play the guitar as well as walk, talk, read and write.

As a token of his thanks to the NHS staff who cared for him, he has invited them to his comeback gig at the Greystones pub in Sheffield, where he will perform with his band Calico Fever.

Graham said: “Saying thank you doesn’t seem enough. I have a life again now. It will mean everything to perform again. It is me. I can’t imagine not being in a band, it is my identity.”

Despite his ordeal, Graham said the experience had rekindled his faith in human nature.

When he was finally able to go home he was applauded out of hospital by the staff that had treated him, and when he got back his neighbours had decked out the street with balloons and a banner, coming out of their homes to welcome him. His next door-neighbour Jenny had also cared for his three cats and helps him with his shopping. She still cooks him a Sunday dinner each weekend, bringing it to his door.

“It makes me tearful thinking about it all,” Graham said. “Before all this happened, I was a bit jaded and I would get down about politics and the world. But going through all of this, I have seen so much love and kindness and actually this experience has shown me how beautiful and kind people are, and sometimes I think maybe that is why it happened. With everyone’s support and encouragement I could not help but get better.”

Graham’s ordeal began when he was at home self-isolating with Covid-19 in March 2020. He started to feel like “nothing was working properly” and collapsed at the bottom of the stairs.

“Luckily, when I fell I knocked the phone onto the floor and was able to reach it and call 999 and tell them I thought I was having a stroke. After that the next thing I remember is waking up in hospital one month later.”

While he was in hospital Graham’s brother Alan and sister-in-law Janet told staff about his love of music and asked if some could be played to him. It was when some of his own songs were being played that he came back to consciousness.

He said: “At one point I heard music in the distance and it got a bit louder, then I could hear some women talking and then I thought ‘they’re my songs’ and I opened my eyes and I remember a nurse saying ‘he’s come back to us’. There were nurses gathered around the bed with masks and visors on – it was quite a sight to wake up to.

“I was in and out of consciousness for weeks, on a ventilator, I could not talk, and I was having dreams where I was fighting for my life. I think in hindsight that must have been me fighting against the virus.

“The strange thing is I never once thought I wouldn’t get better. The staff were fighting so hard for me to survive. I remember a nurse sitting with me when I had pneumonia and I was panicking and struggling to breathe, and she was saying she would not let me die.

“The nurses kept a diary for me of my critical care experience and wrote a note each day. I will treasure that always, it is one of my most cherished possessions.”

Due to Covid restrictions on visitors, Graham said the hospital staff became his “temporary family”, from the lady who brought him toast in the morning to the chaplains who visited him for a chat which he “always looked forward to.”

His nieces Marie and Hazel helped raise almost £2,000 for the NHS and kept friends at home and in the USA informed of his situation.

After leaving hospital, Graham began a gruelling period of recovery and rehabilitation, including relearning how to walk, talk, swallow, read and write with the support of doctors, nurses, carers, speech and language therapists, physiotherapists and psychologists.

Because music was such a major part of his life, one thing he wanted to be able to do was play the guitar again.

“I have been playing the guitar since I was 14, but after hospital I kept putting it off. One day I picked it up and it was like going back to square one. I burst into tears because I thought I had lost music. But then I thought how lucky I am still to be here, and how I owe it to all those people who didn’t survive Covid to stick at it.

“I got a new guitar and amp and got 80% of my guitar playing back through pure hard work and perseverance. Even though my lungs were damaged, when I could I would try and sing again. The doctors encouraged me and said it would help my lung function, while relearning the guitar has helped with my dexterity.

“Eventually I reached a point where when I felt up to it I could play with the fellas in the band again. Doing a gig again will be a major milestone in my life. My balance isn’t great so I won’t be able to jump around like I used to, and some of my memory is gone so I have the lyrics on an iPad to prompt me if I need it. I now have bad dyslexia but if I get some words wrong who cares, just to be back at all is a massive deal to me.”

Graham’s style of music is a combination of country and 60s and 70s rock. He spent a year in Nashville in the US writing songs and worked with big names including top songwriter Rivers Rutherford, who he opened for on his UK tour.

“I always used to say that going to Nashville and writing songs was my proudest achievement,” said Graham.

“But now my proudest achievement is surviving. I still get brain fog and days where I feel extremely fatigued due to long covid and I also have heart and lung damage, but I’m being well looked after by the NHS.

“I owe my life to the heroic efforts of NHS staff. It is thanks to them that I am now living some kind of productive life. I want them to know that they will always be in my heart and my thoughts.”

Graham and Calico Fever are performing at The Greystones pub in Sheffield on 10th December at 8pm.

1) Graham Rodgers now
2) Graham (left) with his band Calico Fever

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