As they say… “Every story has a beginning” mine is no different!!
I guess life changed on October 3rd 1973, when I lost both my legs above the knee in a horrific train accident.
Like most other 21 yr olds, I was “Six foot tall & Bulletproof” well.. I was actually.. 6’1? and fighting fit, loved the outdoors, surfed, cycled, played sport, did all the things one does at that age. I had taken a job working on the railway, shunting trains – dangerous work, but well paid. I had decided to give University a bit of an interlude and go make some “real” money.. I could always continue my studies at a later date, or so I thought. I was to be married on October 20th and life was good!
It all came crashing to the ground at around 4:20pm on that fateful Wednesday afternoon..
I had started work at around 5:30am and was asked if I wanted an extra shift… Not wanting to turn down the dollars, I said yes..so here it was, 4:30 in the afternoon on this hot Spring day and I am laying under a railway wagon, thinking “this is going to be ok”..Well, it wasn’t ok. I did not know the extent of my injuries at that point in time, I figured I had broken my leg and was pissed that I would be in a plaster cast when I walked down that aisle. Little did I know!!
Once I saw the emergency teams arrive, I figured this might be a little more serious. “If I have broken both legs, I am going to be REALLY PISSED”!!
Finally through the heroics of one of the fire crew at the scene, I was pulled from under the wagon. I do remember that hurting somewhat!! and like every young blooded male, all I wanted to make sure of was that I had my “jewels”.
As I was wheeled into the Emergency Department at the hospital, I recall the nursing team cutting away my trowsers, I remembered my mothers words.. “Always make sure you wear clean underwear.. you never know when you’ll be run over by a bus”.. Ok,so a train is not quite a bus, but still I was glad I heeded her warning.! I could hear the bits of scoria being picked out of my mangled legs and dropped in the sterile kidney dish..
Next thing I remember, is one of the nurses letting out a bit of a “OH MY GOD!!” she had gone to lift my foot on to the gurney when it came away in her hand, boot and all. By this time the morphine was more that doing its required job and it was “goodnight nurse”.
I woke some 18 hours later in the Post-Op room with a bunch of doctors & nurses standing over me with somber looks, some with tears.. I remember as clear as I sit here now, writing this.. saying “What’s the problem?” no one was prepared to say a word… “WELL!! what’s the bloody problem?” I think my language may have been a little more colourful, but finally, one of the surgeons spoke.. He just said..”I’m so very,very sorry!” (yeah ok, sorry for what?) at this point the thoughts were racing like a jig saw on a time limit…. “You have been in a horrific train accident and we have had to amputate your legs”…. I just replied..
“Yeah, ok.. I’m alive!!”
At this point one of the social workers in the team muttered something about me being in shock… post trauma shock…and that they should just keep me heavily sedated….
I guess it was at this point that my belief in “ATTITUDE” kicked in… you see, I have always held the belief that Attitude is everything… I did then and I still do now…. “ATTITUDE, ATTITUDE, ATTITUDE”. HELL, I HAD JUST SURVIVED A HORRIFIC ACCIDENT and am here to tell the tale.
I guess there is such a thing as a “second chance” at life and I had been given it.
The next 48 hours were the most painful, a gamer of “cat & mouse” was being played out unbeknown to me.. I knew what had happened, my family had, or were in the process of being told along with my fiance (after all, I was due to be married in 17 days!) so as it went, they didn’t know that I knew that they knew that I knew. I just really wanted to get on and get out of this place.
Unfortunately things took a bit of a turn for the worse. Infection had set in and at some point, I was given about a 10% chance of making it through the night. That was, until a young doctor, an intern, came up with the idea of putting me in the hyperbaric chamber and pumping pure oxygen through my body. It was a LIVING HELL for the next 5 days, but it actually worked!!
This young man pioneered the technique and as they say, “the rest is history!!”.
If I had a dollar for every conference, every lecture he attended talking about this treatment, I would be a wealthy man, but, I guess he saved my life by taking a chance. For this I will be ever grateful and I thank him for his belief!
October 12th 1973
Life just got better from that point and by October 12th, I am sitting up in my bed planning the wedding that was to go ahead on October 22nd in the day room of the hospital, despite many many protests from parents, priests and friends, apart from the only one that did not want it cancelled – my fiance.
So, like the script for a movie, the fairytale wedding took place in the day room of the ward (ward 7) not with the hundred plus guests, but a mere handful which included family and one or two friends, along with doctors & nursing staff, oh, and the reporter from the country’s National newspaper! It was a long tiring day, I had not really sat in the wheelchair provided, but managed just fine.
Now, you must remember this is 1973.. People with disabilities were still considered as “social outcasts” Cripples, Handicapped and some what not the full quid!.. So, when it came time to get into the chair to go to the day room, I had a sheet placed over the front of the wheelchair, “Don’t want any one to be alarmed or frightened!” as the Ward Sister put it. I could not have cared less, all I wanted to do was marry my sweetheart.
The nursing staff, orderlies and doctors had made the room as nice as they possibly could..after all, it’s not often you get to have a wedding in your ward. Let alone with someone that should not have “made it”.
To be perfectly honest, I could not tell you too much about what took place as I was still pretty well sedated, but, I do remember the most important bits – saying “I DO” and the words spoken by the Priest..who, not a week before, he had administered the “Last Rites” as I mentioned. I was not supposed to make it through that night.
As they say, “the rest is history” some photos, a TV reporter gathering comment for her story, glass of bubbly, and cake, along with other little treats ended the day, but not before my new bride and I had some private time. When I reflect on this time in my life, I’m reminded of the strong “Faith” she had, the belief in me and that somehow she knew we would get through this… together!