Thank goodness no switch was available …
If Brett could’ve flicked a switch while in hospital to end it all, he would’ve.
Now he says thank goodness no such switch was available – “I’m so much more appreciative of what I have and value it so much”.
Let’s rewind a little – to December 2017. It was a hot night. Brett was with friends. He dived off the deck into the pool, as he’d done a number of times before. But this time he went in too sharp. Just before he blacked out someone flipped him over so he could breathe … he knew straight away this was serious. “Don’t move me.” His friends held him still, in the water, until the ambulance arrived. And still as the ambulance officers stabilised him. Hypothermia was setting in as he was driven to a local park for the helicopter to pick him up – he was heading directly to Christchurch. His flight down was almost thwarted by bad weather – they had to fly around a storm and land at Kaikoura to refuel … it took five hours to fly from Wellington to Christchurch!
At Christchurch Hospital’s ICU Brett thinks they put his neck back into place … he remembers a ‘click’ and then a feeling of release. And then he blacked out.
His next memory was two days later – he’d had surgery to fuse his C4-C6, he was wearing a Halo, his Mum looked worried, he was freaking out. His worst nightmare – as a sports loving, energetic young bloke – was paralysis. It was at this point he would have turned off that switch.
After two weeks at Christchurch Hospital he was transferred to Burwood Spinal Unit to begin his rehab. And it was here that he had the first flicker of feeling in his fingers … “I’ve got some hope here – I can make the most of this situation.” It was a massive moment when he could scratch his face for the first time – winning at life!
From there he learned how to hold a fork; a bottle; control movement so he could feed himself. Brett says he was like a toddler – watching everyone to see how to do things … he was re-learning these skills.
The feeling returned first to his left side. After three months he felt something in his right big toe – “Sweet as.” He was determined he would walk out of the Unit. It took a huge amount of determination, mind control and support – his first steps were in the therapy pool using parallel bars and surrounded by Physiotherapists. Another winning at life! moment.
He worked hard and kept making progress – small steps figuratively and literally. While he still spent a lot of time in his wheelchair, he would try to walk three times a day with crutches to build his strength and stamina.
Brett says having the Peer Support team there was awesome – it was great to have Josh, Brett and Meika there to talk to. “Pretty much everyone who works at NZST is awesome!” And the rugby trips were another winning at life! moment – a chance to get out and enjoy life beyond the Unit.
After six months at Burwood, using a crutch, Brett walked out. He was stoked.
However walking out of hospital wasn’t the end of it.
Brett still has chronic neuropathic pain – his body feels like it’s on fire. He has medications he can take, but they blur his thinking – he says “too many meds makes you a space cadet”, so he puts up with the pain.
His bladder, bowels, internal organs still don’t work properly. He needs meds to help control function and good routines. Even breathing can be difficult – sometimes he gets out of breath just talking.
Balance is still a big problem – a strong wind gust can send him over. He’s a brave man to be living in Wellington! If he’s going anywhere he needs to plan – uneven ground might mean he has to take his wheelchair. He can cope with a few stairs, but only if there’s a sturdy handrail. Even walking day-to-day has its challenges – people see a bloke with a crutch and probably think he’s just hurt his knee or some such … Brett has to be alert all the time as others aren’t terribly cautious around someone with a crutch. They don’t see that every step is deliberate and measured – there is no thoughtless movement here.
Despite these challenges, Brett says “life’s good”. He’s bought his own home, he can drive, he’s nearly independent – he’s winning at life!
Prior to his accident he was an electrician and owned his own firm that specialised in solar panel installation. Obviously that wasn’t an option post-accident. Deb, in our Christchurch office, worked with Brett to bounce ideas around and come up with viable work options. “Deb was awesome – she came up with some really good insight into options available to me.” Deb also gave advice and support around a gradual return to work – fatigue can be a huge issue for ‘walkers’. Brett’s ended up working for a major power lines company as an electrical estimator pricing up jobs – he loves it and they’re very supportive and accommodating. Fatigue did prove to be an issue when he started working – he began at three days per week and gradually built up to full time work over a 12 month period.
Outside of work Brett has fantastic support from whānau and friends. He’s been setting goals – and meeting them. His first big one was the Wellington Round the Bays Walk and his mates were there to walk it with him. He’s eyeing up the Otago Rail Trail … he’ll need to re-learn how to ride a bike but I wouldn’t bet against him!
“I miss playing sport but what I can do, the way I look at life now .. it’s so much more beneficial. If I went back I wouldn’t change anything.”
And that is absolutely winning at life!