Swansea: Injecting Gone Wrong Drugs Map of Britain


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Swansea: Injecting Gone Wrong

Series looking at drug use across Britain. This episode takes a look at injecting-related injuries, including abscesses, open wounds and amputations.


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This programme contains scenes which some viewers may find upsetting and some strong language.

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People use drugs for all different reasons.

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People use drugs to forget about things.

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People use drugs to get a buzz, to get a high.

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People use drugs...

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..because they've had things happen to them when they was a child.

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People use drugs because they've been brought up

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and they don't know any different.

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For years, the rolling valleys and sprawling towns of South Wales

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have hidden a pervasive underground drug scene.

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High levels of injecting mean thousands of users

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experience a serious wound or injury every year.

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Overdose is the one that catches all the headlines,

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but there are so many problems associated with injecting drug use.

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According to the NHS, places like Swansea

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have seen a recent spike in blood-borne viruses,

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infections, abscesses, and even amputations.

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We're talking about life-threatening conditions.

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You can lose limbs, you can lose your life.

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Over six months, I met a series of individuals

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who invited me to film their lives and see the devastating consequences

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of what happens when injecting drugs goes wrong.

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January this year, they amputated my leg.

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At the age of 12, my mother gave me some heroin to sell.

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And I ended up using it myself,

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and I became an addict at the age of 12.

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I love my mother to bits, you know.

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I just perhaps...

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went the wrong path with the drugs and everything, you know.

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I grew up in some care homes sometimes.

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I'd end up running away from those...

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..just to get back home.

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Oh.

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The first-ever time I had any needle, it didn't do nothing.

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The second time I done it, and I done a little tiny bit more...

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Phew, I was on my knees.

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I was literally on my knees. I thought I was going to die.

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What dog's that, mate? Boxer, is it? Boxer?

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American bulldog.

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-What?

-American bulldog.

-American bulldog. Lovely dog, innit?

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I've had three drug overdoses.

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I've nearly lost my life a few times.

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I had been in intensive care for 28 or 29 days.

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Had a big abscess on one lung

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and I had more than five and less than ten on my other lung.

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So I was close to death.

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But I was performing to leave the hospital,

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cos I'd run out of drugs and I wanted to go and get more drugs.

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I know a friend of mine who's lost his leg

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through injecting down below.

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I know people who've come close to losing their legs, as myself.

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I missed the vein in my groin.

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It was the biggest vein in your body and the easiest one to go in,

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but little did I know the damage it could cause.

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They cut a large part of my leg away

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and ended up stitching it back together.

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I'll just show a small part of it.

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Right to the underneath on my leg.

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So it goes three quarters of the way round.

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The doctor had said I had nearly lost my leg.

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He came that close to taking my leg off.

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Lower parts of my legs, scarring.

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So I advise anyone at home looking at this

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just to not use heroin,

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because this is what it does.

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Michael only narrowly avoided amputation

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as a result of his drug use.

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The longer he continues to inject, the more at risk he is

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of these types of severe, life-altering consequences.

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My name is Brandon Miles, and I was born in Swansea in 1969.

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Grew up on these hills,

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catching horses, playing in the dirt and eating worms.

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I was an intravenous user of heroin,

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methamphetamine, and EP, ethylphenidate,

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for a period of 14 years.

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Every single day, several times a day.

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Here I am...

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..well, look, a mess.

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Ah, my toe, my leg.

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My other... My right leg.

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My hernia, my cochlea.

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My nose, my teeth.

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I'm in a mess.

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Ah, it's all to do with just... I was taking drugs, I think.

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Brandon recently had his right leg amputated

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due to injuries caused by years of injecting drugs.

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At 47, he's found himself newly disabled,

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adapting to life as an amputee.

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He was on his way to pawn his laptop

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after his disability benefit had run out for the week.

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I need about... £60, £70 for the laptop

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to cover the cost of living for the next few days.

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It goes on bills, it goes on food,

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domestic products, takeaways, taxis,

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if I need any painkillers.

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It's hard. I'm demoralised, I suppose.

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Yeah, cheers, man. See you again, yeah?

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Thanks a lot. Bye. OK, I'll see you shortly, then.

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Despite having spent money on a cab to get there,

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the pawn shop wouldn't take Brandon's laptop,

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meaning he was out of money for the rest of the week.

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Argh!

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It's ridiculous.

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It's like I'm in a trip. It's so surreal.

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It's just like, what the fuck...?

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Chin up, mate.

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I don't want sympathy. Or empathy.

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I want a fucking leg. I want it to grow back.

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Later that day, Brandon talked me through

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how injecting had led to his leg being amputated.

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I missed a vein.

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And I think I blew a capillary, because I used a super-fine needle.

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Brandon showed me pictures of the abscess

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that he'd taken during his stay in the hospital.

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I was like that for two years. It got bigger and bigger.

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That's the 31st of the 12th 2015.

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After two years of fighting infection,

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doctors amputated Brandon's right leg below the knee.

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I didn't set out with the intent, you know, of doing this.

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This here, this is... You know what I mean?

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There's a lot of things I can't do.

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You know, I can't just run up to the shop.

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And that's depressing.

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It's made my life 100 times harder.

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Just injecting it. Trying to, anyway.

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This is the trouble I've got to go through.

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All the fucking time.

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(Yes.)

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I'm just pushing it.

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Thank fuck for that, man.

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Takes all fucking day otherwise.

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HE INHALES DEEPLY AND EXHALES

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Sorry about that.

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Them people out there watching this, don't fucking touch heroin.

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It hurts, you know, just to find a vein in my body.

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I don't know the reason why human beings hurt themselves.

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But...

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Yeah, I wish I had the answer, because...

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..perhaps I wouldn't do it any more, you know.

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Since losing his leg,

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Brandon has had to adapt to life as a disabled person.

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For the past few months,

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his friend Ed has been coming round to help him with day-to-day chores

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such as cooking, cleaning and doing the shopping.

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-Bran...

-Yeah?

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-Tea or coffee?

-I'll have coffee, please.

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Whilst Ed helps out when he can, Brandon has recently asked

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if he would consider becoming his full-time carer.

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He could claim carer's allowance

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and I'm allowed to claim severe disability payments,

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-or scheme or whatever it is, I don't know.

-Yeah.

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-So you'd be Brandon's official carer?

-Yeah.

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I've been thinking about it for a while,

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but we'll see how it pans out now.

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It all depends on, you know,

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if Brandon is serious about committing to this

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-and doesn't, you know, go off on...

-100%, Ed.

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-..a mad scheme for a week and disappears.

-No. No.

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Cos I know he does get...

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After a few months, he does get, like, "Ahh!"

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On top of losing one leg,

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it became apparent that the ulcer on Brandon's remaining leg

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was refusing to heal.

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This meant he was facing the real possibility

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of becoming a double amputee.

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Brandon was now relying on Ed

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to take him to and from medical appointments

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to have his wound cleaned and re-dressed.

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I'm in pain.

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-The infection's getting worse on the toe?

-Yeah.

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HE GROANS

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See, that's...

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That's my leg.

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Underneath this area, this dressing, is an ulcer

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roughly the size of the dressing.

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Can you see the discolouration of the skin?

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That is what they're going to soak off. I can't take that off.

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-So if you take that off, it rips off the skin?

-Yeah.

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-In pain?

-Yeah, of course.

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..I'm filming at the minute, yeah?

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All right, bye. Bye.

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-How often do you have to go to get this wash?

-Three times a week.

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-Does it hurt when they do it?

-Yeah, it does, yeah.

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After speaking with Ed,

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it became apparent that Brandon was resorting to more

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than just prescription drugs to deal with his pain.

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None of the medication they've given him

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is having the time to work because he...can't stop smoking drugs.

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So his body's basically just going round in circles.

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He's discharged himself from hospital, I think, eight times.

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He was even smoking crack in the hospital at some point.

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BRANDON GROANS

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-Is that a bit better?

-BRANDON GROANS

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Oh, God, I'm dead.

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Well, lucky you're not a horse, innit?

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-Oh, yeah, they'd shoot me.

-Yeah.

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If I do all this and it ends up to be in vain,

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I'm sorry, I'm just going to say, "Brandon, I tried,

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"it's up to you, mate," and just walk away from it.

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You know?

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Bad enough losing one leg,

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but two through your own stupidity is...

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In Swansea, for injecting, is terrible.

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It's all squats where people just go in, inject,

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and just chuck their syringes on the floor.

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It's really bad for people injecting in Swansea. Real... Real bad.

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Although the squat Johnno was living in

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was filled with used needles and dirty injecting equipment,

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he'd managed to clear out a room for himself to sleep in.

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Injecting in squats like the one Johnno was staying in

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comes with a much higher risk of infection.

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It turned out Johnno

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had only recently had a very close call himself.

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I had an abscess that started eating away at my leg.

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I got a lift straight to the hospital

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cos I knew it was going to open up.

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It feels like as if someone's pouring

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a boiling hot kettle of water over your leg.

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It was a mess. It went outside the vein.

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It was...really painful.

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As you can see, it's healed up now.

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But I've known people to walk round for weeks

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with their leg...

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out...massive,

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all red raw, all the way down, and it's just like a balloon.

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The rise in injecting wounds and abscesses like Michael's

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has become a serious concern across South Wales.

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In Newport, needle exchange coordinator Mike Mallett

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has decided to take things into his own hands.

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A third of all injecting drug users

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will suffer some kind of wound, abscess,

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open ulcer, at some point per year.

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In March 2016, Mike opened a specialised wound clinic

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to treat injecting drug users.

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This is a mess, this is, in my leg.

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Cos I'm on the streets, I can't look after it as well as I'd like to,

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clean it and all that.

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Not looking too good,

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but it's looking a lot better than what it was.

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That black skin is what we call necrotic, OK?

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And that's basically what we want to take out.

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So what the dressings do that I'm going to put on,

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-help to break that down and liquefy it...

-OK.

-..and draws it off,

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so don't worry if it looks a bit wet or it gets a bit smelly.

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-That's what the dressings are designed to do.

-OK.

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-So, this is just sterile water.

-OK.

-Just so I can wash it.

-Yeah.

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'People in these situations

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'can become very, very isolated very quickly.'

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There is that stigma attached to being a drug user,

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and that's often what restricts the drive to go and seek help,

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because they're worried about how they're going to be perceived,

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how they're going to be met.

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If you hadn't have been able to come here, what would you have done?

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Do you know what? It would have been...

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I would have left it, get really bad,

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and probably got rushed into hospital

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with septicaemia or something,

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cos like I said, I've got no access to any doctor

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or any medical help, so it's only the hospital,

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and I don't really like going there.

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I'd say 95% of doctors are very anti-drug

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and, you know, they say, "Oh, it's self-inflicted."

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The vast majority of injecting drug users

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are highly stigmatised by health professionals,

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who perhaps are less than sympathetic

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and treat those individuals differently.

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If you know you are not going to be treated well,

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you are less likely to come forward for help.

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To explain just how bad the problem had got,

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Mike decided to show me pictures

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of some of the most serious wounds he'd treated in the past few months.

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When she came in to see me,

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she didn't have a bandage or anything,

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so when she presented here,

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she actually had a tea towel covering that wound,

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cos that's all she had in the house.

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It is like battlefield dressing sometimes.

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If you're injecting four £10 bags of heroin a day

0:19:490:19:55

and you're still feeling that pain,

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my God, what would it be like without the heroin?

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There is that potential for much greater damage than we currently see

0:20:010:20:05

because of that inability or reluctance or difficulty

0:20:050:20:09

in accessing treatment, and however relatively minor,

0:20:090:20:13

if it doesn't get any kind of intervention,

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it's going to get worse.

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It was clear from speaking to Mike's patients

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the wound clinic was the only place many felt they could go

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and be treated fairly.

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If it weren't for places like this,

0:20:230:20:25

I know there's half a dozen men walking round town

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that'd be in chairs with no legs.

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You don't get it...

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You can talk to people about it,

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but you ain't going to find anywhere else like this.

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For Mike, early intervention wasn't just about helping people in pain.

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There was also, potentially, a serious knock-on effect for the NHS.

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There's a human cost and there's a financial cost.

0:20:450:20:48

More drugs, different types of medications,

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possibly even surgery, hospital admissions.

0:20:500:20:52

Eventually, it costs everyone.

0:20:520:20:55

You know, wounds can develop into septicaemia, into sepsis,

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you can lose limbs, you can lose your life.

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Although Mike's clinic offers hope for younger users

0:21:020:21:05

seeking treatment in the future,

0:21:050:21:07

back in Swansea, Brandon had already lost one limb

0:21:070:21:10

and was in danger of losing another.

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RINGING TONE

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When I caught up with him,

0:21:140:21:15

he was desperately searching for alternative treatments

0:21:150:21:18

in a bid to save his remaining leg.

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I did lose my right leg in the end.

0:21:210:21:24

-WOMAN:

-'Aw, bless.'

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Now it's my left leg that's sore and what have you,

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and I don't want to lose my left leg.

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After weeks of waiting,

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Brandon finally managed to book a session with a local charity

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who offer hyperbaric oxygen therapy.

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-Hi, Brendan. All right?

-Hello. Hi.

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You're going to be in there for an hour and a half,

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-so if you need to use the loo...

-Yeah.

-..better go now!

0:21:430:21:47

SHE LAUGHS

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Brandon was hoping the hyperbaric treatment

0:21:480:21:50

would help to heal his abscess and save his remaining leg.

0:21:500:21:54

'It's available for a multitude of things.

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'In Brandon's case, we're looking for wound healing.

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'It heals from the inside out.'

0:22:010:22:03

AIR HISSES

0:22:050:22:06

It gives your chest a good workout, too.

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-Because it...

-Oh.

-AIR HISSES

0:22:080:22:10

-Because it...

-AIR HISSES

0:22:100:22:12

-It's what they call a demand valve.

-AIR HISSES

0:22:120:22:15

The charity offering the therapy was run on donations

0:22:150:22:18

and set up for people who suffer from multiple sclerosis.

0:22:180:22:22

I wanted to ask Christine, who ran the centre,

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why she decided to give Brandon a much sought-after seat

0:22:250:22:28

in the oxygen chamber.

0:22:280:22:29

'So, people with MS are prioritised.'

0:22:290:22:32

After that, it's basically life-threatening.

0:22:320:22:35

I had no idea that, you know, it was through drug use.

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Not that that would make any difference.

0:22:410:22:43

Everybody needs care regardless of how it happens, you know.

0:22:430:22:48

Why did he choose to go down that road?

0:22:480:22:50

Was it peer pressure? How young was he?

0:22:500:22:52

Was it desperation? Was it despondency?

0:22:520:22:54

Was it depression?

0:22:540:22:55

Is it making me feel better? Initially, probably, it was.

0:22:550:22:59

Just because you've made that bad choice

0:22:590:23:01

doesn't mean to say you're a bad person.

0:23:010:23:03

My whole life fell apart.

0:23:070:23:08

One of my ex-missus ran off with my kids

0:23:080:23:11

and denied me access to my children.

0:23:110:23:14

My business fell apart, everything, the home fell apart.

0:23:140:23:18

Or I fell apart.

0:23:180:23:19

You obviously had this sort of break-up of your family

0:23:270:23:31

when you were 32.

0:23:310:23:32

-Have you ever really recovered from that?

-No.

0:23:320:23:35

No.

0:23:350:23:36

-Do you consider...?

-Well, look at me. I mean...

0:23:390:23:43

Losing my sight. I've lost my right leg.

0:23:430:23:46

I've lost my left leg, almost, eventually, or soon.

0:23:470:23:51

Hopefully not.

0:23:510:23:53

-You know.

-How do you come back from it?

0:23:550:23:57

I don't know.

0:23:590:24:01

I don't know. Maybe I'm just lost and there's no way back.

0:24:020:24:06

There's no breadcrumbs for me to follow, you know.

0:24:060:24:09

And, um...

0:24:090:24:11

I don't know what to do.

0:24:130:24:15

Oh, God, it's snapped.

0:24:210:24:23

-What snapped?

-The pipe.

0:24:240:24:26

-You snapped the crack pipe?

-I have, yeah.

0:24:260:24:29

-How have you managed that?

-I don't know. Don't know.

0:24:290:24:32

Oh, bloody hell.

0:24:320:24:34

Just going to tape it back together.

0:24:350:24:38

RINGING TONE

0:24:410:24:42

Ed, can you bring some tape over quickly?

0:24:460:24:48

(I've just snapped the crack pipe.)

0:24:480:24:50

-'You've snapped what?'

-(The crack pipe.)

0:24:500:24:53

-'The crack pipe?'

-(The crack pipe, I've snapped it in half.)

0:24:530:24:57

'Sellotape, yeah?'

0:24:570:24:58

Yeah, something, please, quickly, yeah, before they notice.

0:24:580:25:00

'All right, all right. I've got a pair of tongs as well.'

0:25:000:25:03

Oh, wicked.

0:25:030:25:04

-All right.

-INDISTINCT SPEECH

0:25:040:25:07

OK, see you shortly.

0:25:070:25:08

'The crack pipe Brandon had broken

0:25:100:25:11

'belonged to someone else in the house

0:25:110:25:13

'and he was keen to fix it before they found out.'

0:25:130:25:16

-Surely they'll notice when you tape it back together.

-Hopefully...

0:25:160:25:20

But they'll notice the Sellotape on it.

0:25:200:25:23

BRANDON CHUCKLES

0:25:230:25:24

HE COUGHS

0:25:260:25:27

HE SIGHS

0:25:320:25:33

Well done, Ed.

0:25:350:25:36

Ed, can you quickly do this?

0:25:370:25:39

OK?

0:25:470:25:48

Yeah, it's OK.

0:25:480:25:50

-Yeah?

-Yeah.

-You look like you've done that before, Ed.

0:25:500:25:54

Yeah, I have. A few times.

0:25:540:25:55

For Michael, Brandon and Johnno,

0:26:010:26:03

there were familiar issues of coping with pain and trauma,

0:26:030:26:06

whether it was a battle with addiction, loss of a limb,

0:26:060:26:09

or the cutting isolation of homelessness,

0:26:090:26:12

being kept away from your family.

0:26:120:26:14

Do you think when your kids grow up, they would understand?

0:26:230:26:26

TEARFULLY:

0:26:320:26:34

Heroin's not going to ruin my life any more, you know.

0:26:490:26:53

I know perhaps I'm doing it now,

0:26:530:26:56

but I'm going to cut myself down slowly

0:26:560:26:59

till it's just me and my script, and that's it.

0:26:590:27:03

Sometimes it brings me close to tears.

0:27:030:27:06

I know the damage I've done to myself.

0:27:070:27:11

I don't want to lose my leg.

0:27:110:27:13

I don't want to die. I don't want to die.

0:27:130:27:16

Since I've lost my leg,

0:27:160:27:18

obviously my confidence has gone, depression's set in.

0:27:180:27:23

You know, I've had suicidal thoughts and all sorts of things.

0:27:240:27:28

And it's not me and it's not what I want.

0:27:280:27:30

It's just too negative.

0:27:300:27:32

I hope it doesn't prevent me from doing the things that I dream of.

0:27:320:27:35

You or I enjoy family, friends, loved ones.

0:27:590:28:02

When we're down, they'll back us up.

0:28:020:28:04

A lot of injecting drug users don't have that.

0:28:040:28:07

The more isolated they become, the more vulnerable they become.

0:28:070:28:10

Drug users require specialist services where they are.

0:28:100:28:16

We need to have a rethink.

0:28:170:28:19

If I'm trying not to use and I end up using,

0:28:250:28:28

I really beat myself up.

0:28:280:28:30

But I've got to realise it's just one little step at a time.

0:28:300:28:34

It feels like sometimes that...

0:28:370:28:40

I need drugs to survive.

0:28:400:28:42

And that's a scary thought.

0:28:440:28:46

I went out on Friday night for my birthday.

0:29:040:29:07

I had about eight cans of Bud as well, so that cheered me up.

0:29:070:29:11

And I can't really remember much.

0:29:110:29:13

It was quite a quiet night.

0:29:130:29:15

-Happy birthday, Ed.

-ED LAUGHS

0:29:150:29:17

# Happy birthday to you!

0:29:170:29:19

# Happy birthday to you

0:29:190:29:23

# Happy birthday, dear Edward

0:29:230:29:28

# Happy birthday to you. #

0:29:280:29:30

-And a cake.

-Oh, bloody hell.

0:29:320:29:33

-I've got to blow them out now, have I?

-Yeah, and a wish, yeah.

0:29:330:29:36

-You've got...

-PARTY POPPER POPS

0:29:360:29:39

THEY LAUGH

0:29:390:29:41

Put it there.

0:29:410:29:43

-Thank you.

-Appreciate that, right.

0:29:430:29:45

-I know, I know.

-He's a good man, honestly.

0:29:450:29:48

Would anyone like some cake?

0:29:480:29:49

Ed Walker, ladies and gentlemen!

0:29:490:29:52

Thank you!

0:29:520:29:54

BRANDON PLAYS A TUNE

0:29:540:29:56

I'd just love a girlfriend.

0:29:560:29:58

I'd love a car, I'd love to be able to drive.

0:29:580:30:01

I'd love my legs... I'd love new legs.

0:30:030:30:06

Can you give me new legs?!

0:30:060:30:07

See why we stay here?

0:30:090:30:10

-Cos it's God's country?

-It's all God's country, isn't it?

0:30:120:30:16

-GUITAR STOPS

-Do you know the words?!

0:30:480:30:50

Huh? Sorry, I was falling asleep.

0:30:500:30:52