When Ed James, an Englishman who speaks with a slight Welsh valleys twang, reflects on his childhood spent growing up in the rugby-mad town of Bridgend – he admits it was tough.
But that’s nothing compared to how tough it must have been for the winger when he took the decision to retire, aged just 27, earlier this year following a sickening injury suffered while playing for Dubai Exiles in a West Asia Premiership fixture against Bahrain in January.
James doesn’t remember anything from the actual incident that saw him knocked out in a freak collision with an opponent who had been tackled by an Exiles team-mate. That is probably a blessing in disguise considering he discovered afterwards he almost choked on his own blood and medics at first found him unresponsive.
“The incident I have no recollection of,” said James. “From what I gather we were defending. There was a decoy runner coming down my inside man’s channel, my team-mate tackled the decoy runner who then collided with me. It was a heavy collision and we were both knocked out.”
Collisions are attritional aspects of rugby’s nature. But no-one in Saar was prepared for what this one would lead to.
James added: “In the contact I somehow severed an artery in my lip. There was blood gushing everywhere out of my mouth. And because I was knocked out I started swallowing my own blood and started having a seizure apparently. One thing after another.
“Luckily there was a doctor at the ground. She had to clear my airways but I’d stopped breathing. She’d taken a pulse and apparently I didn’t have one so she had to cut my shirt open and start resuscitating me.
“I had no idea this was going on, which was probably a good job. I couldn’t believe it when someone told me later on, it’s such a freak accident.
“I was conscious being stretchered off the pitch apparently but I don’t remember that. The first thing I remember was being in the ambulance on the way to the hospital and then passed out again and had another seizure.”
Despite not having to live with vivid recollections of the incident, hearing about what had happened would be enough to put anyone off playing again. But the Guilford-born James admits he would have wanted to return to action for Exiles – had it not been the opposite of what everyone else wanted.
“It wasn’t my decision,” added James, who admits mum Andrea and girlfriend Milli were influential in his decision.
“The doctors advised me to retire. After what happened my mum, girlfriend, sister, grandmother, it was pretty serious and they said they’d never forgive me for going back.
“As much as I’d love to go back I can’t be selfish, there’s other people to consider. I probably could if I really wanted to but I’m not even sure if Jacques (Benade, Exiles director of rugby) and the guys would want to see me back after witnessing what they saw. So, I’m happily retired.”
James is lucky his family actually live in the UAE so didn’t have to make emergency plans to fly out from the UK to see him after his injury. After living in Wales until he was 17, moving there after dad Mark accepted a job with British Airways in Cardiff, James’ family moved to the UAE where they’ve been for 10 years.
James works in marketing for Al Naboodah Group Enterprises in Al Awir, having attended the University of West England in Bristol after his parents made the move to the Gulf.
James does admit he has felt the itch to return with the local rugby season kicking off in the last month. But he’s grateful the game of rugby fosters a family atmosphere whether you’re playing or not.
“As much as everyone loves the game you can’t play forever,” he said.
“Even if you can’t play it’s still one big family so that bond won’t change whether I’m playing or not.
“It wasn’t too difficult at first but it’s been a bit hard with the season kicking back off and going down to watch the games has been a bit bittersweet. I’ve started to get the itch.
“I’m still playing some touch so I’m not completely lost from the game, but it is a bit tough not having the choice to go back there. But I’ve had plenty of good times in rugby so I’m happy with my lot.
“I miss the social side and the bonding, training during the week as it breaks the week up. The togetherness.”
As if to rubberstamp James’ point, he is quick to take a moment to thank Dr Amy Bowzaylo, the medic on duty that day in Bahrain, who he is in no doubt, the reason he is still here.
“She’s an amazing lady, I owe her a lot,” he said.
“I spent a week in Bahrain to recover and have more tests. They weren’t sure if I had brain damage so didn’t want to risk putting me in a high pressure aeroplane cabin.
“Once I was released from hospital Amy actually took me in to her house and looked after me for the week. After the hospital cleared me after two or three nights she took me in until I was medically cleared.
“I don’t know what laws there are with doctors and ambulances on standby at games. But if that doctor wasn’t there it could have been very different for me. I was very lucky and she saved my life.
“I think that should be mandatory because even though it was freak it could be different for someone else and the difference between living or dying.”
In addition to Dr Bowzaylo, James also has plenty of praise for how he’s been treated by Exiles during an arduous few months.
“The club were brilliant as soon as I got back. They covered all the costs and supported me anyway they could,” he said.
“I still speak to Jacques relatively regularly and everyone asks how I’m doing. I initially spoke to Jacques about doing a bit of coaching as he was keen to keep me involved, but right now I don’t have the time.”
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