Back from the Brink: A Life Lesson in Never Giving Up
by Gary Leigh Part 1
For several months in 2016 GO! Kombucha ceased production and, to all intents and purposes, was no more after 12 years of pioneering and paving the way for Kombucha tea in the UK.
After several turbulent months in early 2016 when harsh weather conditions hampered our production, at around 5pm on 19th May I suffered a life-changing accident that resulted in five months of hospitalization. With both legs broken below the knees, ankles smashed and two lower vertebrae fractured, 13 years of organically building GO! Kombucha from four cultures donated by the late, great UK Kombucha guru Alick Bartholemew and his wife Mari – and a zero interest credit card (not something I would recommend any sane person to ever consider!) – suddenly appeared over in one fell swoop.
The overriding consideration had to be my repair – replete with multiple pins in my feet and lower legs held in place by external steel rods and fixators which rendered me resembling a hybrid human-Meccano set – and umpteen months of recuperation and rehabilitation.
With the benefit of hindsight – and how I have chosen to interpret my experience – the Universe had resorted to extreme means to force me to slow down and smell the roses. I had been ignoring the warning signs for some time and was spinning many plates while tearing across the country – from my home in Manchester city centre to our ‘Kombuchery’ on the south coast – in an effort to keep them all spinning. Inevitably, and ultimately, they came crashing down, and me with them. A hard, painful and pin-filled lesson learned!
apply a positive spin to anything and everything
I woke up dazed from my induced sedation on 20th May 2016 in Manchester Royal Infirmary. I was somehow still alive if not kicking, my lower legs encased in cladding to segue them together pending several operations ahead, my upper body clamped in a near-suffocating brace to hold my back in position. But in that dreadful moment of realization I intuitively knew that if I was to make it through the tumultuously painful and rocky road ahead – myriad operations, endless medications and painkillers and excrutiatingly painful physio a given – and keep my sanity intact, I would have to apply a positive outlook/spin to anything and everything that entered my thoughts, and not dwell for one moment on my predicament; rather, to view it as a temporary setback and challenge to be overcome.
To that end I immediately befriended the wonderful nurses and porters on my ward, relished and savoured mealtimes and visiting hours, and focused on simply being grateful – indeed overwhelmed with relief and gratitude – to be alive, even as doctor after doctor recoiled from the sight of my injuries the like of which, they grimaced, they’d rarely encountered before. But the prognosis was good; I had never smoked nor drunk alcohol, and my healthy lifestyle – including daily lashings of GO! Kombucha! – had held me in good stead, reducing my expected recovery time to half that of the average person; 9-12 months as opposed to up to 2 years.
And even though my passion in raising awareness of Kombucha tea in the UK over the previous 12 years – quite the best task anyone could be gifted with having fallen into their lap (another long story!), and which had fueled and driven my life with zest and joy for many years – now lay in tatters, even the prospect of a sedentary job stuffing envelopes, I reasoned, seemed a tiny price to pay to still be breathing.
keeping the dream alive
Yet behind the scenes, even as I was being transferred down to St. Marys Hospital in Paddington, London to be operated upon, further south in East Sussex some good souls were working tirelessly to keep the dream alive and GO! Kombucha’s ongoing starter culture – like myself while being cared for by our priceless NHS – fed, nourished and nurtured in anticipation of a return to full production.
By the end of July 2016 I had recovered enough to be transferred from St. Mary’s wonderful Valentine Ellis Ward to my family’s local hospital, Northwick Park in Harrow, where I was reconciled with my self-contained office, a.k.a. my iPhone. I was then informed, to my utter amazement and sheer jubilation, that the culture I had nurtured since 2003 – and which had effectively spawned a Kombucha revolution in the UK as well as given my life a renewed sense of meaning and purpose – was still thriving when, for the preceding three months while my recovery took precedence, I’d been cut off from the outside world and assumed all was lost.
But now out of physical action myself, the challenge was on to find a way to get our complex – and occasionally temperamental – live tea made and flowing abundantly again…