Blind Wiltshire composer creates work inspired by illness

A composer who contracted a rare neurological virus that left him blind has recorded new work about his time in an intensive care unit.

Michael Stimpson, who lives in the Chalke Valley, near Salisbury experienced “horrific” hallucinations while on morphine sick from Guillain-Barré syndrome aged 29. It left him registered blind and needing to learn to walk again.

Mr Stimpson said: “That illness played such a huge role in my musical life.”

“It started on Christmas Day in 1976 when I lifted a cup of coffee to my mouth and it went past my face, which was a bit strange but I was also feeling very unwell,” he said.

The 74-year old explained that a few days later he was “staggering along” Fulham Palace Road in London holding on to lampposts and sandwich boards before ending up in Charing Cross hospital where a lumbar puncture confirmed he had Guillain-Barré syndrome.

Guillain-Barré syndrome is a very rare and serious condition where the body’s immune system attacks the nervous system.

“It went downhill from then, on New Year’s Eve I got myself out of my hospital bed to the window and saw a spectacular view across London when my legs gave way and I collapsed to the floor,” Mr Stimpson said.

What followed was a gruelling four month period in the ICU because he had become paralysed, slipped into a coma and had also developed breathing problems requiring a ventilator.

“The pain was tough and so they kept giving me morphine but it induced some horrific hallucinations.

“I was awoken occasionally that was really the prominent memory of that time,” he said.

Mr Stimpson described hallucinations such as being stuck under a dead elephant being trapped in slime and believing Frank Sinatra was trying to kill him, which he thinks took place when he was at his sickest and fighting for his life.

Eventually he did recover after a year of tough rehab and went on to study at the Royal Academy, later earning a Doctorate in Composition

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