Life Changing accident
I was a primary trained teacher with 7 years experience. I was 27 years old, married with a three week old baby daughter. I went out one afternoon and broke my neck resulting in permanent paralysis from the shoulders down to my toes. I remember feeling very scared, shocked and annoyed because I had kissed my baby daughter’s ear and whispered that I would be back. As it turned out I would never to step in that flat as an able bodied man again. I knew rugby union was a fast and combative game but I thought I had too much experience to suffer an ugly injury that would result in living the rest of my life in a wheelchair. That baby daughter is now 27 years old and living with her mother as we divorced 7 or 8 years after my injury. Therein lies another shock as I didn’t think that my wife had the heart to do this. However R. chose a progressive career over family and in all sincerity R and I different priorities. R. was determined to further her education at university whereas I was happy to be alive and adapting to my new life with a delightful toddler. Readers on face value it all looked promising as three quarters of the mortgage on a smart house in a nice suburb in Palmerston North, New Zealand had been paid and a young couple with a toddler looked reasonably happy. There is no doubt both R. and myself were trying very hard to adapt to our new roles and I certainly was grieving for the loss of an active life and my independence. I am sure my former wife was grieving too though R. was more adept at hiding her grief whereas I have always been a person who showed his emotions. I noticed R. was getting more involved with her part time studies and this meant a reduction in family time with just the three of us so I was relieved when R. said she wanted another baby. To her credit R. and I tried to conceive another child through assistance from a fertility professional but our efforts proved to be futile so R. and I decided to use the services of a donor sperm provided by anonymous male who had donated his sperm to a fertility clinic in Wellington, New Zealand. We attended ante natal classes at the local hospital and soon R. and I were presented with a baby boy and a brother for our daughter. I thought this new arrival would temper R.s enthusiasm for chasing academic dreams and we would spend more family time as young parents with an excited 5 year old daughter and a new born. However this was not to be and to my surprise my former wife told me that she was leaving me yet our son was only 18 months old. I was shocked and scared because I had to leave the family home until the property settlement was legally processed. I was stunned however R. had made up her mind and it was back to a home for the disabled and special needs residents. This was like Napolean Bonaparte’s retreat from Moscow as I wondered how I was going to carry on, reconcile and make sense of it all. After living in the comfort of a home with a family I was thrown into institutional living with other disabled people with mixed impairments. What did I learn from this 6 month experience? That I was very lucky to be disabled and to be living in a suburban home with a family as these residents had known nothing else other than institutional living. And I got to see the flip side of the disability coin. Readers in New Zealand when a Kiwi has an accident they are covered by the Accident Compensation scheme until they can either return to work or be rehabilitated to live in the community they choose. Those Kiwis who are born with a disability or suffer a life changing illness such as cancer, multiple sclerosis, motor neurone et al. These people live on the Ministry of Health entitlements such as an invalids’ benefit and reduced care. Being an accident victim I own my home and receive 80% of a primary teacher’s salary or earning related compensation until retirement age of 65 years. This is an unfair iniquity that needs addressing by our government. Post injury I have achieved a Bachelor of Arts with a media major, post primary teaching qualification and a diploma in Maori or reo. In spite of being reasonably educated I am yet to find part-time employment that works for the employer and I. My 21 year old son has nearly completed his bachelor of medical science as he aims to enter medicine. R. and I have definitely supported this bright young man so that is one achievement that I am proud of. I doubt my 27 year old daughter realises the effort we made in the early days of this injury as I was very sick and fighting for my life. My former wife gave me great motivation to keep fighting as she told me ‘that in spite of this life changing accident we can still be a family’. Incredulous I carried on with intensive chest physiotherapy and assisted coughing to clear my lung of mucus. Had this intensive physiotherapy and assisted coughing not taken place I wouldn’t be writing this story. It was a huge effort by the hospital staff, physiotherapists and myself to restore this collapsed lung and while Rachel was 9 years old when her mother and I separated I don’t think she acknowledges the huge effort made by me to go through this near death episode so that she would know her father and I would know her. R. is now a clinical psychologist up at the local hospital and at a similar age, I think she enjoys living as a solo Mum and dividing her time between work and our offspring. I feel stupid because I did many hours of child minding in the hope that we would resolve differences and be a united family again. I feel used but then I allowed this to happen and it is me now who has to change his focus, discover a raison d’etre and carry on being a father where necessary. The key is to not be bitter because I have allowed many years to slip by without achieving my goal of retrieving a family that works together. I must not allow the years to slip by, forgive myself, forgive R. and achieve realistic goals that turn this life changing injury into a life worth living (what is left of it anyway).