After three decades working in a job he loved, Peter Miles left his role with Leicestershire Fire and Rescue looking forward to enjoying retirement with his wife and their shared home renovation project in Worcester. But not long into retired life, Peter’s health took a sudden nosedive and he became seriously ill.
He spent four weeks in hospital while staff tried to work out what was causing his organs to shut down and trace the source of infection, eventually diagnosing pneumonia and pleurisy. He was also told he had osteoarthritis in his ankle, leading to a surgery to have it fused. The combination of these put him out of action for over a year and left him feeling very low.
“It was a hell of a shock to suddenly be so ill out of no-where, especially when at its worst there were times I thought I was on the way out,” he says. “We had all these plans for retirement, and all of a sudden, my part in that equation was different. Never mind the dent to your pride of not being able to provide how you once did, I don’t think I realised how shaken to my core I was at how ill I got at the worst point.”
During his career, Peter was responsible for training and welfare and would often signpost colleagues to The Fire Fighters Charity. When he realised he was in need of help, he knew who to turn to. “I never imagined it would be me who would need to call upon their support, but I knew how good they were, so I didn’t think twice about getting in contact.”
Peter was invited to spend time at Jubilee House for what he thought would be a physical workout. He had no idea he would end up going on a life-changing emotional journey while there as well.
“I’ve seen people who really didn’t want to go there come back as complete converts to the whole thing, so I knew I’d be an idiot if I didn’t really go for it.”
“I went there determined to get the most out of it I possibly could,” he says. “I’ve seen people who really didn’t want to go there come back as complete converts to the whole thing, so I knew I’d be an idiot if I didn’t really go for it. So I went with an open mind to everything that came up.”
By the end of his second day, Peter says his reflective nature got the better of him, and that he realised he had some questions he felt were going unanswered in his mind. Having been offered a psychological support session, he decided to ‘listen to the mental worms digging away’ and give it a go.
“I’ve got to say, the whole week was superb, but my session with the psychological therapist was a real turning point in terms of how I felt about myself and dealing with things I’d parcelled up for a long time,” he says. “I went in a little bit tight-lipped to start with, but thought, what the hell, and started to open up. It was absolutely fantastic. I realised I thought I was broken; I never thought I was Superman but I’d always been healthy until I wasn’t and I was carrying that baggage around with me.”
Peter says he came out of this session ‘still the same bloke’, the same age, with the same body, but that something had changed: “It was a eureka moment for me. She did for me what I had done for my colleagues in the past: she held up a mirror saying ‘this is you, this is where you are and this is what you’ve done and are doing’. Sometimes you need someone to tell you something and you have to be receptive to that message.”
“It was a eureka moment for me. Sometimes you need someone to tell you something and you have to be receptive to that message.”
“Our minds are incredible pieces of kit, but if it isn’t running right it can affect everything. I worked bloody hard on myself, physically and mentally, and I walked away from that week in a much better shape than I’d walked into it with. They taught me to accept that although I have a disability, I don’t have to think of myself as disabled, I just have to relearn certain things, because my body isn’t the same as it once was.”
For someone who spent their career praising the work of the Charity, Peter says it was only going through it himself that he realised how truly special it is: “I’d always known the Charity was good, but it isn’t just good, it’s off the flipping charts. It’s lottery win, it’s up there. We have to support it and we have to use it. Regular donations? Absoflippinglutely. You’re getting my donations until the day I peg it, it’s the least I can do after what you’ve done for me. I can’t thank you enough.”Share your story