The day that changed my life, and how it could help you
January 31st, 2007, 8:30 am. Oxford North Canterbury.
I was working as a rural fencer and that day I was putting in a stay post on an already existing deer fence at the compound where I worked. My fencing partner Pete marked where I had to back the tractor into from the other side of the wire and I backed up the post driver and climbed of it to set the post in position. This day he was controlling the post and I was operating the controls. Normally when you set the post it's like setting in a nail. You hold the post about halfway down and the person taps the post with the Monkey (That's what we call the 400 kgs of steel that we use to drive the posts into the ground) setting the post firmly into the ground so that we can then hammer it in properly. Pete was new and nervous so he tried to hold it steady with the crowbar, but when he put the bar through the link in the deer fence he put it too low and the post tilted over, away from me. Without thinking I reached out to grab it with my right arm, reaching between the fence and the post driver... That's funny? what's wrong with my vision? Why is everything in black and white? Why am I Hard up against this cold steel mast? Why is my arm between the crowbar rest and the monkey, I pull my arm free and try and focus on it. It looks odd and misshaped but in my black and white vision I can't make it out. Then the colour bleeds back into my eyes and I wish it hadn't.
Your brain has methods to protect you. It takes a couple of seconds for your brain to lock things into your memory. If things happen suddenly or traumatically quick, then your brain doesn't remember it or the pain, and its one thing about that day that I am thankful for and that I curse.
My forearm is a mixture of colours and textures and I have no idea how it happened, I can speculate but that's all I can do. From my elbow to a third of the way down my forearm I can see my radius. It's whitey pink and not as smooth as I thought it would be. The smooth white silk of my tendons run alongside it and I lazily move my fingers and watch them slide back and forth. My forearms are well-muscled from hauling fence posts but they still have fat in them because I can see it, pale and pink bubbling up between the layers of the bright red muscle that is pushed up into a lump on my wrist, I can smell the inside of my arm. Hot raw meat and bone, It looked better in black and white, almost artistic. slightly abstract. There is a pinched shut soft round tube sticking slightly from the mass of quivering flesh of my forearm and I stare at it wondering what it is, then a crimson spot of blood oozes out From that broken vein and I'm slammed back to reality. It's only been seconds since the Event and Pete is looking at the post and has no idea I'm injured, though I'm in no pain.
"Arghhhh" I yell and I grab the meat of my arm and try and haul it into place. "What is it," Pete says looking up, his eyes widening at the sight and his ruddy face going pale. "I've been Degloved" I answer, My brain now working properly, doing what it always does when the shit hits the fan. I'm calm now and analytical. "Fuck it that's not going to work," I say and I stop trying to tug the ruined flesh back to where it was, I let it fall back down and head for the Ute. Pete Vaults the Deer fence, which is a sight in itself. He's in his mid 50's short and unfit but he goes over that 2-metre fence like it isn't even there and sprints for the ute. He opens the passenger door for me and fires my work bag into the paddock so I can sit down. I climb in and sit down, folding my arm up to my chest and ignoring the graunch of my shattered elbow and the wet ping as my tricep pulls free of the bone. He's panicking now as he jumps into the driver's seat and I have to calm him down
"Tis merely a flesh wound," I say and he looks at me, He's pale, sweaty and he's breathing hard. He barely registers what I am saying, "Fuck don't have a heart attack, I don't need that!!". I think "I think you've had too much to drink Pete, want me to drive" I smile at him. "Huh," he says as he fumbles the key into the ignition...Fuck I don't need to talk him down. "Pete...PETE...Breathe, slowly. In, out...we have time, I'm not bleeding" And I'm not, the occasional droplet oozes out but that's it " Just calm" He breathes in and out with me and starts to calm down. "Ok. take me back to the depot...Slowly" He starts the car and heads back to the yard. It only takes a couple of minutes as even with my request Pete floors it and we jolt and bounce over potholes and ruts and I fight to stay upright as I'm not wearing a seat-belt. Its a maintenance day at the Depot and everyone is working there so there is plenty of help.
Pete roars into the yard, blaring the horn and yelling and everyone comes running to see what the commotion is. Carol the office manager and the bosses wife starts to tell him off for speeding in the yard but he cuts her off by yelling. "Gary got hit by the post driver" Everyone stops talking with an intake of breath. They all know what that means and they expect me to be a mess. Which I am, but not that bad. I climb out of the ute, "It's not that bad," I say "Look" and I expose my arm and wiggle my fingers. Kelvin clamps his hand over his mouth and runs for privacy and Steve peers into the ruin of my arm,"Hey cool, tendons...wiggle them again". I swat his head out of the injury "Get out of it you sick fuck. you will infect it". He laughs, "Na with all the cow shit and grease that's on the bottom of the monkey, it's already infected". Carol runs for a phone to ring for an ambulance, while I call out, "don't you want to see the tendons move" she makes a rude gesture and keeps running.
John the boss looks me over, "Shall I ring Stars?", he says, "Please, and can someone get my bag from the paddock. I need a smoke". Pete jumps back in the ute and roars off and Kelvin sheepishly reappears back from the side of the building. "Were you sick, mate?", I laugh, he nods. "I can't handle gore".
"Yeah, it is a bit mucky " I agree. The rest of the crew try and get me to sit down and ask me stupid questions like does it hurt, and it doesn't... and then it does as a breeze blows right across the exposed bone and my eyes cross and tear up. I need to keep moving and to get out of the wind so I head into the office. John is on the phone to Stars, trying to explain what has happened and making a meal of it.
"Give me the phone," I say and with a relieved look he hands it over to me. "Hi Hun, don't worry its worse than it looks", I joke down the phone; She later tells me that when she heard me joking she knew I was going to be fine. John facepalms at my comment and at the detailed description of the injury I give her down the phone. "Ok Hun, I love you, I'm going to have a smoke now, here's John", and I hand him the phone. I walk outside just in time for Pete to arrive with my bag. He digs out my smokes and hands it to me, then lights it while Carol comes out to tell me that the ambulance is on its way. "How did this happen Gary," she asks" I have to do an investigation as soon as possible" I nod. "I have no idea Carol", I explain about the post. "If I have to guess I would say while reaching for it I hit the Monkey release. Fuck I'm lucky it didn't kill me!". She nods, "I'm amazed your arm is attached" I'm still calm but now the adrenaline is wearing off and my arm starts to hurt. Like its caught in a vice, Flies have been attracted to the smell of raw meat and I'm having to wave them off. I walk away from everyone and try and focus. I smoke a tenth cigarette since the accident and just as I finish, the ambulance arrives. I step on board and the paramedic sits me down, He starts dressing my arm and telling me that there is a helicopter on the way. He's come the 30 minutes from Rangiora and the hospital in Christchurch is an hour drive away.
While he's talking I allow myself to relax. After all, help is here. Wrong. Don't relax. Instantly I start to shake. "Fuck", he yells to the driver. "He's going into shock". His words come from far away and penetrate my brain. Shock is bad. Shock Kills. Stay in Control, Gary. "Like Fuck," I say through shivering teeth. "You are Pale, Shaky and Clammy, You are Ok. I need you to Lie down" . "Like fuck," I say again "I'm not going into shock, I refuse". Gary Lie down, Once you start going into shock you can't stop it."
Fucking watch me, "I'm angry now and stubborn. I close my eyes and focus on my breathing. I walked on the ambulance, I will walk off it unaided, Slow deep breath in. Slow deep breath out...In, out, In, Out, calm, breath, I am in control, I am in control, I am in control. "Holy shit," he says " I've never seen anything like it, you shouldn't be able to do that", and he finishes bandaging my arm. "How did you do that?", he finally asks. "I'm stubborn", I reply.
"Are you in pain?", he asks. "Oh yeah", I reply. My arm is now screaming in agony. Like its been crushed flat and squeezed till there isn't a drop of blood left in it. "The helicopter is a minute out, Do you want morphine now or on the chopper." I think about trying to climb on the chopper on morphine... "I will wait", he nods. "Ok", We can hear it now and it flies over us and lands on the large front lawn.
"Pete, I need my bag" He rushes off to get it and catches up with me as I near the Chopper" Thanks". The paramedic walks with me, I think he wanted me to drive over but fuck that noise I will walk. The chopper paramedic goes to help me on but I shake him off and hand him my bag. "Don't lose that, It has my lunch and smokes in it", I one hand myself up into the chopper and sit on the gurney as the Ambulance guy fills in the helicopter guy about what happened and I guess what sort of person I am because the first thing he says to me is: "So, you are stubborn" and he hands me my bag. "Little bit" I reply and I spot John and Carol outside the chopper. I yell over the noise "I shall see you guys at work on Monday" John Laughs, Carol Shakes her head and yells back, "Take a fortnight off, you have earnt it" and the paramedic shuts the door. "Ok. Gary we are going to take off and then I shall give you some Morphine" I flutter my eyelashes and simper. "Are you trying to get me drunk". Situations like this make me want to laugh it off, it's almost pathological. He laughs and says, "oh you are one of those patients".
We lift off and climb and now I need to lie down, I'm tired and sore and I'm just keeping the cries of pain at bay. I don't know these people and I'm not going to cry in front of them. Fuck I'm so scared. I just want to scream and cry. I want Stars, I want to be held. Fuck my arm looks bad, like a ham hock that's been attacked by an amateur butcher. Fuck am I going to lose my arm, I can't, I can't, I can't. There's a prick of a shunt going into my left forearm and then the spreading numbness of morphine and I calm down, I still have pain but it's bearable and my fears recede. I love morphine. "Ok Gary. Ttell me about yourself," He says, I should have paid attention to his name. "hows that shot. Still in pain" I nod, "yup but it's not too bad"
"Ok. I can't give you anymore, but we will be at the hospital in ten minutes and they will give you more pain killers, Ok?", I nod and we talk. I make him laugh. I've pushed aside my fears and panic, I'm with strangers and I can't let them know. The situation is out of control so control yourself, Make them laugh. Smile. You are calm, you are calm, you are calm. "Ok Gary we are a minute out, there's an ambulance waiting at Hagley Park to take you the rest of the way. Let's strap you to the gurney so we can wheel you off it".
"Fuck that doc. I walked on, I will walk off. You get my bag".
"You are stubborn", he smiles. "Ok, I will carry your bag. We flair in and land and he opens the doors. Again I one hand down the steps and walk to the waiting ambulance, he follows with my bag and my paperwork and hands them to the paramedic. "Ok Gary, I will see you later, Good luck. Don't lose his bag" My bag has become my focus. I climb on the ambulance and take my seat. The morphine is wearing off and the pain is gnawing at my arm again. Its a short drive to the hospital from Hagley especially with the sirens and on the way he asks me how it happened. I make him laugh and I joke around, soon we arrive and back into triage, They have radioed that I am here and I walk out of the ambulance with my Bag and paperwork in my hand. "It's cool I don't need a gurney, just point me in the right direction".
"Ok we will be right behind you, its the first door on your left" and I walk off. I walk into the triage room to see a wall of people all poised and ready to help the poor screaming patient on the gurney that they are expecting. They look shocked to see me. Showtime... "Hi I'm Gary and I will be your patient for the day, Where do you want me and someone keep an eye on my bag, It has my lunch and my smokes in it". Everyone moves. But I'm in Control
What happens after you fuck yourself up?
My friend Rusty is writing a training manual for farmers, she has a health and safety part to write and she needed the view of someone who had fucked themselves...what did it do to you after the accident...Some have read my adventure with the post driver...heres what happened next ... The hospital is awful. all you can do is focus on how fucked up you are, and you feel vulnerable...you feel your body has betrayed you, you can't do anything that you used to do, you were once 12 feet tall and bulletproof and now you are a broken-winged bird. Even coming out of the hospital is tough, they give you painkillers. Codeine is good...do you know what else Codeine does. it makes you constipated it also makes it hard to get an erection...and when you can it makes it quite numb so you cant come.
If you keep the limb then you have to learn how to reuse it...you have to make it work again. and that takes pain, all the pain. It took me two years of agony to make my arm work again. The doctor did offer to amputate it when I couldn't get it working but I said no. I want it, I need it, and I refuse to lose it, it will work.
So I would sit at the table and lift my wrist, sweating and trying not to scream from the pain for just one extra millimetre of movement. I squeezed tennis balls to get my hand working only to have them mock me by not bending. I would force my elbow to bend and straighten, tears on my cheeks and sweat pouring down my face for a victory of half a millimetre. I would not only do this every day but 5 times a day for up to half an hour at a time.
Sometimes I would get a week in which I got no extra movement and I would crash into despair...all that work for nothing, I'm going to lose my arm and that thought just loomed, Nightmares about surgeons with handsaws would fill my sleep, sometimes I still have them, but I didn't stop. I kept on and on. every day at the kitchen table, my body shaking like I had lifted all the weights, instead of half a kilo.
My moods swung, angry sad, angry sad, happy, angry, sad. I stopped taking the painkillers, changed nothing except now I hurt, but I could shit without feeling like it was tearing my arse open. But still, angry sad angry sad. You learn to hide it so people don't see it...well strangers don't paranoia kicks in...situations become dangerous, even crossing a road becomes a challenge, something could go wrong. I had to put a belt on a pully the other day and I almost had a panic attack...what if it catches my fingers...yes the machine was off, but anxiety is a bastard.
My family had to tiptoe around me never sure when I would lose my temper, I yelled a lot. Finances got worse...ACC only covers so much, That added to me and my wife's already frayed nerves. I had fucked up and because of it, my family was suffering, that's another kick to the ego.
My wife helped me as much as I would let her, she was wonderful. She allowed me the space to do the things I could do, and she only helped when asked. She took great delight in watching me put a beanie on one-handed. Try it, it's hilarious. she was patient and oh it hurt her to see me in so much pain, especially the pain I caused myself with physio, she would help me do my exercises with a wince in her face, and it came to a point that she would show the pain I wouldn't allow myself to show.
My poor kids, I was a ball of angry misery and they were stuck with me. I was unreasonable and demanding and it affected them greatly. the after-effects are still happening and it has been 10 years.
I now have use of my arm, I have relearned how to use it, it has occasional spasms. I have twitched many a lunch onto the floor. Mentally I'm dealing with things, I have PTSD, I've had a couple of breakdowns...I haven't missed a day of work from them though, They have taught me that mental health is just as important as physical health and I've gotten help, and I'm coping...just. I'm still shorter tempered than I used to be and I am quick to argue which does affect relationships... there's more but, I will keep that for me I think. I've shared enough
I knew I had a problem when I cried in front of my boss, I had been in denial for months at this point about the state of my mental health and working in a toxic environment at a cemetery wasn't helping. My boss was a nice person but as a boss was out of his depth and could only cope if he had a scapegoat, my workmates were angry about him being in charge and I was in the full grip of PTSD from an industrial accident.
I went to talk to him about a minor matter and found myself blubbering with tears streaming down my face, he sent me home and organised me a transfer to another dept till I was ready to come back. I cried my way home then got on the phone and found myself a therapist. Stars was supportive, she knew there had been a problem but I wouldn't listen, Couldn't listen actually. I was in the grip of full macho bullshit, I had reverted to "nah, no problem I'm fine, beer and sport, just leave me alone". I found a good therapist and the first thing I told him was, "I mask very well its second nature". I had been wearing the everything is fine mask since I was a small boy, just to hide the anger I came with, Matt helped a lot and I learnt how to develop coping mechanisms to deal with my PTSD and the anxiety that I found out also had...who knew.
But I carry on at work, I carry on with therapy and I get better at dealing with flashbacks and anger till at last, I am back to being me again, and I thought yay I can live my life and I took my eye off the ball. Things had changed in my life and in my relationship and one day I get a piece of news that surprises me, and the next thing I know I'm on the floor of the kitchen in a fetal position and I am bawling my eyes out, it frightened the crap out of Stars, she had seen me come through my accident with hardly a complaint and to see me like this almost knocked her for a loop. She regathered herself, sat on the floor and cradled my head in her lap while I cried, there was nothing else that she could do.
Back to Matt I went, He helped, I was a lot more forthcoming this time which was helpful. Stars and I did a lot of work on me and her and us, we walked together. When you walk with another person you tend to talk and we did, nothing was off-limits, no feelings were spared, we tore ourselves, each other and our relationship down to the bedrock and then helped each other put us back together. we walked miles down by the river, sometimes we hadn't finished talking things through for that evening so we would go another 5 circuit, we cried buckets and often we had to avoid people because it was obvious that tears had been shed.
It was the most we had talked since the spawn got cancer and it was amazing how much I had withdrawn from Stars and my family over that time, no wonder I wasn't dealing with things, I had cut myself off from support, I had reasons but now they were bad reasons and they had to go. Then there was that guy. That guy who said, "Nah I'm fine, beer and sport, leave me alone" the guy who yelled, the guy who was petty and demanding, that guy who lost his temper, and the more I looked at him the more I despised that guy. I had to kill that guy, so I took him out behind my psyche and put a bullet in his brain. It was a mercy killing
Like a lot of people with mental health problems, I have a support network. Mine seems to be made up of the broken, the crippled, and the damned, and I wouldn't have it any other way.
We are a group of people that check in to see that we are upright, breathing, aren't planning a killing spree and have left the house with pants on if we have planned one.
I have one that for over 400 days now we have checked on each other daily, a simple text of "how are you today, I'm good the sunflowers are about to bloom, I'm not so good, today is a bad day, what's up" little things but it goes both ways and reminds me that I'm not alone and that I'm there for others.
I have my wife who keeps me grounded in the now, despite her depression and anxiety, who supports me and allows me to test her patience with bad jokes and worse puns and who knows I will drop everything to give her a hug, tell her it will be ok and then admire what she has done during the day with her diminishing energy, all while saving some for me and my high need intensity...
One of my eldest and best mates, we have supported each other through black humour since we met, that humour that only comes from when you have lived in the pit and you will find anything funny because when you've been fucked that hard by life then you really need a laugh.
A world-weary crazed hermit...well as much of a hermit as you can be with a wife and kids... with chronic PTSD and a whole sackful of eccentricities, who would give you the shirt off his back and another from his closet in case you didn't like the colour of the first.
A mate that has chosen to be the nicest guy he can because too many people weren't to him, unfortunately, he's so nice it causes problems because he can't say no when he should...but he's learning.
And oddly enough there's me, yes I support myself and kick my ass, I'm the friend you need, just not always the friend you want. So many people, too many to be listed. So much support, So much love and so many broken people all trying to help one another be whole.
All are there, crazy people one and all, from all parts of the world, Poland, Canada, Wales, England, and America. People I have never met, And people I have drunk with, fought with, and cried with, I hate to cry in front of people but they have earnt that right to see my tears because they have shared theirs with me.
All full of rage and despair, bipolar mood swings and PTSD frailties. Medical conditions and physical ailments. Alcoholics and recovering drug addicts and family members
People that will hold their head up high and walk that line of insanity all the way in with a smile on their face for me, people who wear their hearts on their sleeves, people who pretend to not care and at least one who I expect a phone call about from the police any day now so I can talk him down from the clock tower, My response will be "either give me a megaphone or a rifle because he would rather be shot by someone he knows, and I'm fairly sure he won't shoot back at me". But then again, what else are friends for.
To quote Stich from Lilo and Stitch :
" This is my family.
I found it all on my own.
It is little and broken.
But still good."
My support network is broken, and it's glorious and beautiful because it's broken, and it works because it is broken.