Hughie Haskins

Asbestos the hidden killer, my story by Elaine Haskins

My Hughie left school at fifteen and worked as a plasterer for many companies. Hughie also worked in a number of other trades, as a roofer and also did some plumbing work. During the 1960's and 70's he worked for two companies in Manchester cutting down guttering and boards on roofs with a handsaw to fit down pipes. Another aspect of his work was renovation; he sometimes removed ceiling boards with a hand chisel creating a lot of white dust, so much that he would be completely covered in it. This meant he brought the dust home on himself and his clothes; he needed to shower when he got home each day. I don't remember Hughie ever being given any protective equipment or clothing at work. Hughie wasn't even aware that he was working with asbestos, a dangerous and deadly substance.

The plumbing work that Hughie did was inside a boiler house. He often had to eat his lunch in there too, literally sitting in dust whilst others around him were still working.

Between 1984 and 1998 Hughie worked for a company doing renovation work. Again Hughie said that no protective equipment or training was provided.

We were out shopping in December 2003 when Hughie became breathless after climbing some stairs. It was so bad he was gasping for breath; it took over 15 minutes for him to recover. He visited our GP a couple of days later. After listening to his chest the doctor immediately sent him to Trafford General Hospital for an X-ray. Following that first X-ray Hughie was called back four times to repeat the procedure. He was told not to worry, but something had been found on the X-rays. It turned out that one of his lungs was full of fluid. Hughie saw a chest specialist very quickly and had a small amount of the fluid removed for testing. Whilst we were there, the consultant asked Hughie if he had ever worked with asbestos.

A follow-up appointment couldn't be made until early January 2004. Hughie and I were left worrying about the results all throughout the Christmas period. On returning to the Consultant, Hughie was informed that he was terminally ill and may only have about three months to live. What a shock! He was immediately admitted to the ward for a chest drain and 5 litres of blood stained fluid was removed.

My husband still looked really well at this point and you never would have known he was terminally ill to look at him. We decided to have a few short holidays before he started chemotherapy at Manchester's cancer hospital Christies. We visited Ireland, Paris, Guernsey and Edinburgh. Hughie always had a positive attitude; he'd talk about what we could do next, next month and even next year. I was too scared to think beyond the coming week.

Hughie was not diagnosed with mesothelioma until April 2004; at this point he still looked really well. During the next fourteen months he had two more painful lung drains as and then the fluid returned.

My Hughie was in a great deal of pain throughout his illness, and sadly died on the 21st March 2005 of mesothelioma, an asbestos-related cancer. He was 66 years old.

Hughie and I would have celebrated our 35th wedding anniversary this February. He was my life and my love and I miss him terribly, he wasn't just my husband, he was my best friend. The hardest thing is knowing I will never see him again. I still wait for the front door to open. I even struggle with knowing what to cook. I miss simply sitting in the garden together reading the newspaper. Our children of course miss him and I wish he was here to see how well our grand-children Christopher and Jonathan are doing.

I urge anyone who thinks they might sometimes be exposed to asbestos to be aware of this hidden killer. My Hughie never got any training; he didn't know what the dangers were. If you have read this you do, and you need to make the necessary actions to protect yourself and your family. Hughie would have been in his late teens or early 20's when he was first exposed to the disease that killed him - he just didn't know it.

Hughie Haskins died on 21 March 2005, he was 66 years old.

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Updated 2023-05-16