Adam Pownall - When Life Went Limp

by GEM Magazine / May 30, 2015 / Comments

I was always the type of person to describe myself as positive. I liked to think that I strolled through life oozing confidence and being ever the optimist. However, it isn’t until you are dealt a life changing situation that those shallow beliefs are truly tested and you have to summon the strength to find real positivity.

Positivity: being able to stay positive even when you have a real good reason to be negative.

I awoke one drizzly Sunday morning with a slight hangover and although being quite inebriated the night previous, it was not the cause of what was to come. I went about my usual Sunday with a strange sensation in my feet and toes. They were cold, as if I had slept the entire night with my feet poking from the end of the duvet. No matter what, they wouldn't warm up.

The next day, I had the same strange sensation in my feet which had spread into my lower legs and the hangover seemed worse, only that morning I hadn’t got a hangover. The day after, I experienced pain, numbness and a tingling sensation in my legs.

A brief consultation with my GP resulted in him telling me that I had a virus and the pain/lack of sensation in my legs was probably due to a trapped nerve. Over the following days the decline continued, as did the lack of interest from the doctor’s I had seen.

When the pain spread into my shoulders, arms and neck I knew it wasn’t a trapped nerve. I began to worry, and rightly so. I was a 26 year old active, healthy, young man. What was wrong with me?

By the weekend I had collapsed, not a dramatic faint, I simply just couldn’t hold up my own body weight anymore and I was taken to the local Accident & Emergency.

I declined rapidly until my whole body had shut down. I couldn't move, I had lost all feeling, the sensation to touch and was suffering a pain which felt like the burning fire pits of hell.

Much worse than all of that was my loss of the ability to communicate. A nurse in critical care ward would have me blink my eyes in response and even my eyelids weren’t up for the fight. Even though my body wasn’t functioning, I was totally aware in my mind. I could still think and feel but I had no way to express. I was "locked in".

Looking back, I experienced my greatest fear when the consultants told me they were going to have to perform a tracheostomy as I could no longer breathe sufficiently for myself.

As I waited for my turn in the operating theatre, my family had swarmed around. All I could see was their worried faces and the tears rolling down their cheeks. I wanted to tell them I’d be ok, but I wasn’t sure I would be. I wanted to express how worried I was, but I couldn’t. I wanted to scream at them to not look so sad and be supportive as their faces only made my fears worse.

In a panic, my mind quickly fabricated the notion that I wasn’t going into theatre and I was actually going to die. Why else would they all look so worried? They had made up the story so I didn’t worry, but now I knew. I had caught on to their trick.

The surgeons said I would be asleep for 2–3 days after the procedure due to the anaesthetic and that I wouldn’t feel any pain for that time. This was a relief even though I still thought I was being fed lies.

SPOILER ALERT - I didn’t die.

I woke up the next morning, finding that they had lied to me but not in the way I had originally thought... What happened to the 2–3 days of sleep? A nurse explained I must have been a fighter to wake up so soon.

Was my mind telling me to wake up to check that I hadn’t died?

I had gone from normal to paralysed in the space of 3 weeks. I was told there was a 95% chance of full recovery from Guillain Barre Syndrome, this rare affliction which had debilitated me. The fear of having some sort of disability for the rest of my life gave me inspiration to recover beyond all doubt.

During my 6 months in hospital, I went through countless physiotherapy sessions, all of which caused excruciating pain. I had something called hypersensitivity, which didn't mean I would cry at a picture of a kitten. Unfortunately, it meant that I responded to touch in a variety of extremes. If someone grabbed my arm it either felt like someone was tickling me, or as if I was being branded by a red hot poker.

Prior to the illness, I was a performer and dancer with high levels of energy and fitness. Being motionless was unusual for me but with the support of the hospital's physio team I used dance to aid in my recovery.

My levels of positivity waned throughout my recovery, but I would do what I could to get better. There were days where I wanted to give in, and I struggled with bouts of depression due to loneliness and feeling like a failure when I couldn’t take more than 5 steps unaided. I was tired, chronically tired.

I’m pleased to say that through my positivity and determination I have made almost a full recovery. I still get odd moments of pain in my lower limbs and there is a small lack of sensation in my feet and toes but physically I am fighting fit again.

Through this new found positivity I am probably fitter now as a 32 year old than I ever was. I am an advocate for fitness and wellbeing and use this new level of positivity to inspire others around me.

My personal life has had many changes due to this ordeal. I am thankful for all opportunities that come my way and see life in a brighter light now. My career has flourished because of this and my commitment to making something of a life which was nearly taken away.

It wasn’t about trying to fix something that was broken, maybe it was about being given the chance to start over and create something better.

By Adam Pownall.

Adam is the programmer and producer for a leading regional theatre in the UK, who specialises in the support of emerging companies, artist development and new writing. He is a supporter of GAIN Charity (the official charity for GBS) and is currently working towards developing his story into a small scale theatre piece to raise awareness of the illness and the charity.

Please visit to find out more about the illness and help raise awareness.

gem's picture
The Contributor

GEM Magazine


GEM is pushing for Gender Equality, and encouraging people to share their message through free speech. It aims to create more positive ways to utilize the internet.

This publication is an open platform raising awareness and resonating with readers through truth, honesty and vulnerability on subjects affecting our daily lives.

GEM contains articles that educate, inspire and provoke thought around aspects that are of concern in our current society.

"We all have the ability to make a difference. Inside each and everyone of us, we have the power. We are the people."