On 7 October it will be the one year anniversary of my accident. As we lead up to this auspicious day, I thought it might be of interest for my wife and I to post a few recollections on our experience of the past year.
I guess the obvious place to start is the day itself. It was mid-semester break and my family and I were staying with my parents at beautiful Callala Bay. The morning of the seventh started perfectly with an early surf in a crisp swell with offshore breeze. There is no doubt that surfing is one of the things I miss the most, and I still find myself looking longingly at waves. But it is, at least, a nice thought that my last day with legs included embracing the joy of the waves.
Returning from the surf the family was keen to head into Nowra. My boys, especially the oldest Jeremy, had been longing for some weeks to have a go at the skate/bike jump that had been set up for the youth group at Nowra City Church. The generous pastors Peter Pilt and Simon Clegg were happy to oblige, so off we all went – my wife, my boys and my mum – to the church.
The kids were having a great time, and I’d seen photos of other “old men” like me using the jump. It looked safe, as the landing was a seemingly soft pit full of foam. Grabbing a pushbike off I went, into the air and landed unspectacularly in the pit.
I knew instantly I’d broken my neck. I did not black out but I simply could not move anything. I shouted out as much to my wife who was videoing the jump (we have a video but I have not had the fortitude to see it). She thought I was joking, but my repeated avowal created instant shock waves. Elly and others came into the pit. With my head under the foam I was struggling to breathe and I pleaded to be lifted up. Wisely, they moved the foam around my face but kept me still. Thank God, because movement could have worsened the damage, further crushing the nerve cord (although I’m not sure what it means to thank God in this situation – can you be thankful that things are not worse when they are bloody terrible?). An ambulance was called. Paramedics arrived, stabilised my neck. A helicopter thundered in. Sometime later I was taking the 23 min flight from Nowra to Prince of Wales Hospital – my first in a helicopter!
It is impossible to describe the feeling of the seconds and minutes and hours that follow spinal-cord injury. On the one hand it is surreal; a phantasm – the “feeling” of moving an arm or leg, but no response. On the other hand you are consumed by utter panic, by the sense that this cannot be real, but the certain knowledge that it is. It is simply overwhelming, the realisation that your whole life has changed and, perhaps worse, that you have placed a terrible burden upon your wife and family. I remember apologising to Elly. I remember being thankful that it was me and not one of my sons lying on the stretcher. I remember kissing my family goodbye. I remember the paradox of pain, yet having no feeling. I remember drowning in fear. I remember trying to be calm, making a conscious choice to slow my breathing. I remember being encircled by paramedics and yet being completely alone.
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