In the blink of an eye. A cliched idiom that suggests acceleration or rapidity.
But for Deborah Parkinson - the wife of former Burnley full back Gary - it’s the difference between being able to communicate and not being able to interact with her husband. It’s the tool that helps the couple - and children Luke, 20, Chloe, 16, and Sophie, 10 - engage and share their thoughts and feelings.
They say actions speak louder than words, and in this circumstance that phrase couldn’t be closer to the truth.
While Gary’s stroke on September 7th, 2010, crushed his brainstem and rendered the 1994 Wembley hero immobile with Locked-in Syndrome, his mind, soul and vision are still alive.
And it’s that consciousness and ability to communicate from within that has enabled him to connect with loved ones, while remarkably allowing him to stay involved in football. After Gary’s involvement in the progression and development of youngsters as Blackpool’s youth coach, Middlesbrough boss Tony Mowbray invited the one-time defender to scout for the club.
It was a method of interaction that allowed French journalist Jean-Dominique Bauby pen his poetic prose ‘The Diving Bell and the Butterfly’, which totaled more than 200,000 blinks to capture his life and the diagnosis of his paralysis.
“We’ve tried lots of different options and there’s some great devices out there,” said Deborah. “But I prefer our method; I verbally say the alphabet and Gary will raise his eyelids when he wants the letter and I hold that in my head and go on to the next letter until we build up words and sentences.
“The children tend to use that system as well. I like to be able to look at him and talk to him and Gary can answer me back with his eyes. Some of the staff will use picture boards or alphabet charts.
“It’s amazing how quick he can get a point across sometimes, particularly if he wants the TV channel switching. If he blinks his eyes rapidly then I know he wants to tell me something.”
Deborah added: “He’s not done any scouting for a month or two now but he’d look at the DVDs of players and then we’d use a system of one to five of words that Gary would use such as ‘potential’, ‘don’t sign’ and so on then we can pass on what Gary has said to the manager.”
While the family continue to adjust to Gary’s condition, there have been stories of hope and inspiring words from individuals that have helped along the way. Peter Coghlan, a former British Army soldier who became a prisoner in his own body two years ago, flew from Australia to visit Gary after emigrating to Perth in 2005.
In 2011 the 35-year-old was told by doctors that he would never be able to move a part of his body again but now he’s working full-time and has scripted his journey in online videos and in a book entitled ‘In the Blink of an Eye’.
Then there’s Kate Allatt who suffered a stroke exactly seven months before Gary at the age of 39. After battling and overcoming the condition, Kate has now set up her own charity ‘Fighting Strokes’ and is the author of ‘Running Free’ and ‘Gonna Fly Now’.
“Peter has done amazingly well and he believes that Gary’s background will help him fight it,” Deborah said. “We thought that was really inspirational. Peter was a soldier so he knew how it was important to have a regime to keep to, and keep him fit.
“It was great to see someone like that get out of the car, walk in to our house, he looked absolutely brilliant, he was speaking and drinking. Peter could actually answer questions and make things make sense for Gary. He is living proof that people have been through it and beaten it. He could relate to how Gary was feeling.”
Deborah added: “Right from the very beginning Kate Allatt got in touch with us and she came to visit Gary when he was bed-ridden. Some of the stuff I was telling Gary about her must’ve sounded like a fairytale so for her to come and stand beside him was again inspirational. It shows that if other people can do it then we can.”
But it’s not only the verbal support that has overwhelmed Deborah, the financial support pledged by fans and well-wishers has evoked a plethora of emotion as it has contributed to Gary’s rehabilitation as well as raising awareness about Locked-in Syndrome. While rivalries have been sidelined, and supporters of various clubs have come together for the cause, it is believed that the fund-raising total has crept over the six-figure mark.
“It’s amazing how the whole football world has united,” she said. “There’s no rivalry when something like this happens. Even fans of clubs that Gary has never been involved with have been in touch with us. It’s lovely how they’ve made the effort to write to us or email us and shown their support.
“Some people have even sent funds through the post. It amazes us every day and people still want to keep going. His clubs, including Burnley, are amazing and just keep going. People are still pumping away at the heart of these football clubs and thinking about Gary.
“Funds come in daily but it also goes out daily. It’s just a continuation. When you consider the recession I think the support has been unbelievable. It just shows what people are willing to do. They’re willing to give to others when they are in need themselves.”
Deborah added: “It’s been absolutely priceless. I always say to people that it doesn’t matter what they raise, it’s the fact that they’re thinking about Gary.
“There’ll be days, like anybody else with a long term illness, that Gary probably feels like giving up but he just needs that little bit of encouragement. We ask visitors to keep going with messages and we keep him updated with what’s on Twitter. It’s nice for him to know that there’s always someone out there thinking about him.
“We really appreciate the things that people have been doing over the past three years. If they can just keep up that support then it raises that awareness of locked in syndrome.
“Hopefully somebody who is out there and experiencing the same kind of thing can relate to us and if it helps them then that’s great. We want them to know that there’s always hope.”