My wife Georgena (George) & I used to ride motorbikes a lot and go on road trips. On 29th December 2002 I was riding ahead of George heading through Pirongia when a car coming towards us veered across the centre line and took me out. George was in the unenviable position of witnessing the entire event.
I have recollections of George running over to me as I pulled the glove off my hand and realised my finger was gone. I was wondering where it had gone, but heard George yelling, "your leg – you have lost your leg".
I spent six weeks in Waikato Hospital. George went back to work in Auckland and had to carry on on her own, coming to see me as often as she could. I don't think I can express the admiration and gratitude I feel for George. I can only imagine how stressful and tiring this time was for her and it overwhelms me that she did all of this with no support.
After eight operations I was discharged from Waikato Hospital. I left with an amputation of the right lower leg and an external fixator on my femur. The fixator was there to reattach my knee to my upper leg as the knee had been pushed back about 50mm. My knee joint was rebuilt but with limited movement, my right hand was missing the third finger and the little finger was permanently rigid and my right shoulder was permanently damaged. I left hospital 20kgs lighter (I couldn't stomach the food). I was ecstatic to get discharged home.
We live in a two-storeyed house so I went up the stairs on my bum using my arms to stabilise myself. The home care I received was amazing - from nurses to people ACC sent. I was issued with all sorts of equipment to help around the home.
At about the three-month mark I was sent off to see a psychologist to see if my brain had suffered any damage, but unfortunately nothing was picked up at this stage. At the time I didn't realise there was anything amiss. I was struggling to remember things and having trouble putting the right words into sentences, and my reaction time to process information just wasn't working. I was so frustrated at my lack of ability to communicate and there was just so much going on.
My rehab began at Rehab Plus and I used to go to three times a week by taxi. I found the staff and the job they do there absolutely wonderful. It was during this time that they picked up that I had a frontal lobe injury, which until then had been undiagnosed. A psychologist addressed these problems over a six-month period.
I spent between two and three years going to Rehab Plus, doing all sorts of exercises and re-learning all sorts of skills again. I am grateful for the help and encouragement they gave me over that period.
At the same time I was also seeing the orthopaedic surgeon every three weeks for x-rays etc. At about the eight-month mark I got to go to the Auckland Artificial Limb Centre. Although I still had the external fixator attached to my femur, I was assessed for an artificial limb. It was decided that I would go back to theatre to change my fixator to a different model. There was uncertainty as to whether the bone was mending with the knee as much as expected. They started to undo parts of the frame and I was to put light weight on the artificial limb and hope it didn't collapse! I remember the final visit to the orthopaedic surgeon when he decided to go ahead and remove this frame completely. He couldn't find the appropriate spanners - well I pulled them out of my bag at the back of my wheelchair so quickly - he wasn't going to get away with that!
So for the first time in ten months I could turn over in bed and I could wear proper pants. George had slit the side of all my undies and trousers and sewed velcro on the seams as the frame around my knee was 320mm in diameter.
From there it was back to getting serious about standing up properly again. I remember how fantastic it was to be looking at people at their height and not looking up at everyone from a wheelchair.
I had been home for about three or four months when ACC had an electric chair lift installed at home, which was a big help. They also renovated our bathroom with a wet room style shower and second toilet, and they widened the doorways in a few other areas to give better access for a wheelchair. These changes are still a big help today as I go to bed in a wheelchair as I find it easier if I have to get up during the night.
I spent a lot of time at the Limb Centre after getting the frame off my knee. We tried a number of different types of artificial limb as my stump was proving to be problematic. There was a large area of grafted skin at the front of my stump which was quite delicate. At one stage I managed to tear it and spent a further three months in a wheelchair and another trip to the operating theatre to have a skin graft to cover the tear. My stump was an awkward shape with a muscle out the side, and also the stump fluctuates in size over a day by as much as one thick and two thin cotton socks.
It was decided to go back to the operating theatre and have 50mm taken of the bottom and the extra skin was used to protect the bottom of the stump and also to reduce the size of the muscle out the side. The operation was a success and I was back up and standing again three months later.
However, I was getting a lot more nerve pain now so was referred to The Auckland Regional Pain Service (TARPS). I was treated with all sorts of different types of medication like Novocaine and then Ketamine injections. That stuff was crazy - I was floating around the ceiling with no control whatsoever. I remember swearing like crazy and this got a response as it was a mixed day ward, so they cut the dose in half but that had the same effect so that was the end of that. Then they tried Novocaine injections into the nerves. Now that really got my attention but had no effect other than throw my diabetes into chaos. Then I was put onto Gabapentin. Wow! It seemed like the magic bullet! NO PAIN!! Unfortunately the body does get used to them and over a period of time I was taking twice the recommended dose. So I was back to TARPS to find other ways to relieve the pain.
Over the past ten years I have had about three new prostheses and multiple re-sockets on my prosthesis. There have been times that we all felt like we were chasing our tails trying to keep up with the ever-changing stump and pain issues.
I try and use my artificial limb all day, only taking it off for a change in socks. I even leave it on when I go for my 'Nana nap' in the afternoon.
I can't walk for more than about 250 meters before needing a spell for a few minutes. I try and go to the gym three times a week as the physical activity helps. Nowadays I ride a quad bike which I thoroughly enjoy, and I spend time on the computer which has opened up a new world for me.
Georgena continues to support me along this journey. One of the things she has done to help me is to split the inside seam of my jeans and put a zipper in. This means that if I need to adjust the prostheses or add a sock I don't have to 'drop my trou', I can just unzip the side. We are also fortunate enough to have friends who have stuck by us and whose company we enjoy. There were also a couple of outstanding people at Rehab Plus who were amazing and gave terrific support and help both physically and also mentally (thank you Heather and John).
This may sound strange but I had a lot of help from ACC. Generally I had a good working relationship with them, they do things their way but once you get past that and work with them, it all comes together.
Then there are the funny moments you laugh about that can only happen to amputees. There was one instance when I was walking across the car park at the gym. I slipped on some ice and ended up on my butt. Two guys came running over to help but one saw my leg sticking out with the foot facing the wrong way. He got quite excited and told me to stay still and he would get some help, so I undid my "inner leg zip" (thanks George) and turned my leg round and put it back on. The look on his face was priceless.
I still forget things very easily. I find it difficult talking with more than two people in a group situation as I cannot keep up with the conversation. I still need my 'Nana nap' everyday.
Never mind – make the most of what you have.
I would like to sincerely thank all the people at the Auckland Limb Centre for their happy, positive, never-say-can't attitude. They are amazing people.