Lucky to be alive: The extraordinary tale of the invincible Bubble

Birmingham vendor Karl ‘Bubble’ Lamsdale is lucky to be alive after a suspected hit-and-run. He suffered broken bones, sepsis and two heart attacks – and was so close to death he says he met God. Now, against all expectations he’s back on his pitch of 19 years. This is the story of his remarkable resurrection

People are amazed I’m back on my pitch within five months. I saw one of the people who were looking after me in the critical care unit, and he said he couldn’t believe I was back there after what I’d been through.

I remember some bits of the accident – I recall getting off the bus, walking up behind it, looking left and seeing the traffic really off in the distance. I thought, ‘I’ve got enough time to cross the road all the way’. I took two or three steps off the kerb, looked left and then I heard the noise. There’s a pair of headlights there and I thought, ‘Shit, this is gonna happen’. I remember the car hitting me and then going up in the air, but I don’t remember landing. When I came round there’s people saying, ‘Stay still, stay still’ and someone was holding my head and my neck – there were quite a few folk around me.

I opened my eyes, and all I could see was red because they were pooled with blood, so I wiped it away. I was saying, ‘Leave me alone, I want to go home’. I was trying to get up but I couldn’t. My flatmate came round ’cos my neighbour’s daughter got off the bus and said I was there, and that it had been me in the accident. He had heard the crash. I passed him my phone and my wallet for some reason, and he said he’d phone my mum. I said, ‘No, leave it, I’ll phone her later or in the morning – I better go in the ambulance and get checked out’. I didn’t realise how bad I was.

I remember getting put into the ambulance and the man said, ‘We’ll cut your coat off’. I said, ‘No, you won’t, it was a present from a customer’. I unzipped this really big, baggy coat and my arm sort of fell out of the sleeve as much as I took it out – which made them think I wasn’t as bad as I was. I don’t remember much else about getting to hospital, except them putting the oxygen hood on me and I was trying to fight them and rip it off, arguing with them.

I got an epidural that didn’t work, then I got one that did, and the next day they injected me with ketamine. That was the strangest thing, I had instant pure hallucinations. It was like a horror film with 3D effects. I suffered a fractured spine, sternum, pelvis, broken shoulder, hip, ankle, nine ribs, had two missing teeth, and had to have an emergency bowel operation so I’ve got a stoma bag fitted. I won’t know for about a year or 18 months if that’s going to be permanent.

I saw God too – he told me to piss off back to my pitch

I had a heart attack during the op, and one afterwards too. I had kidney failure so I was on dialysis for a while, I had pneumonia off the ventilator during the coma, and I also had sepsis. They were picking bits of glass and gravel out my forehead. I saw God too, when I was having one of my heart attacks – he told me to piss off back to my pitch at Snow Hill! He was just like the pictures you see of him – grey beard, long hair and a robe. I haven’t seen him since though!

It felt strange being in hospital, I’d never really been in before. Obviously when I was in a coma for five weeks I didn’t remember anything and when I came out of it I was all over the place for a little bit. But I was treated really well by all the medical staff, when I was in critical care and on the orthopaedic and trauma ward, when I was eventually able to come off the machines. The nurses and healthcare assistants were fantastic. I’ve had my money’s worth off the NHS!

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Bubble back on his pitch. Image: Matt Sheehan

I’ve been told that without my attitude and determination I wouldn’t be where I am now. The physios were saying that what I was doing in a day would take other people a week. They even said they’d like to film me to use me as an inspirational training video to show others how far and how quick people could get into my position with the right attitude and determination. I’ve always been strong and determined. I actually got released on my 52nd birthday, April 27. The hospital staff got me a cake.   

I was saying to the physios and occupational therapists that I feel ready to go back to work but I’m not doing the hours I was doing; I haven’t got the strength. All your muscles waste away in the hospital, you lose all your core strength. I’m borrowing a chair off the train station at the moment, but I’ve got a perching stool that’s being delivered soon from the rehab case manager. I’ve got to take that into town but the station say they’ll store it overnight for me, save me taking it backwards and forwards all the time. The station staff are amazing, they’ve been brilliant, they always have been. They let me use the toilet facilities, they’ll bring me a hot drink in the winter, they’ve had collections for me at Christmas time, Chiltern Railways staff left a card at the Big Issue office with money for me from the staff.

It’s been incredible the response I’ve had, not just off customers but off everybody

It’s really good to be back, I couldn’t wait, I was going stir crazy in my flat after coming out of hospital. I am used to working seven days a week, and only have three or four days off a year. I’m so used to being out and talking to people. Everybody’s been asking about the accident and saying how sorry they were to hear about it. They’re glad to see I’m on the mend and amazed I’m back at work. It’s been incredible the response I’ve had, not just off customers but off everybody, all the messages on Facebook and elsewhere on the internet, all the cards and best wishes, everybody saying to me ‘Welcome back, it’s really great to see you back, it’s not been the same without you’. It’s really nice. Quite a few people have come up and said they’d sent a card, left a message and donated on my GoFund page. I expected a bit of a response but the extent of it is about 100 times more than I anticipated. People are saying, ‘I came to speak to you yesterday but there’s already a crowd around you talking’.

DID YOU KNOW…

In total, more than 92,000 people have sold The Big Issue since 1991 to help themselves work their way out of poverty – more than could fit into Wembley Stadium.

A lot of my customers I know by face, not by their name, it’s only about 10 per cent of the people I speak to whose names I know. It’s facial recognition more than names, and loads of customers said they didn’t know my name until they saw the newspaper, they just knew me as The Big Issue man! But I speak to a hell of a lot of people. I spend as much time saying ‘morning’ ‘hello’ and ‘good evening’ as I do saying ‘Big Issue’ now! I’m doing well sales-wise, especially on a Monday when the new issue comes in and all my regulars get it. I was top seller in Birmingham for quite a while. I’ve built the pitch up over the 19 years I’ve been a vendor.

I want to say a big thank you for the help and support I’ve received and all the cards and messages. It’s brilliant – it makes you feel more of the community than you thought you were. People around there look out for me, make sure I’m alright, but something like this makes you notice how many people accept you. It’s so nice.

Bubble was speaking to Alan Woodhouse @HibernianG42

Image: Matt Sheehan