Although it was 26 years ago last February, I remember the way my life changed then as vividly as though it happened yesterday.
Aged 26 and a keen musician and motorcyclist, I had just finished a morning practice and thought it would be a nice day for a quiet, safe ride out of town. I had settled down and had my new sensible and slower cruising bike. Half an hour later in a quiet town near the airport I was happy to see a car stop at the give way sign, as I was about to pass. I was right in front of the car as it pulled out and collected me. I left the bike, flew through the air, slid down the road and stopped inches from a tree in front of a Vet, which proved handy for bandages. In short the lower right leg took the impact, and I still recall almost looking down on myself and thinking get back and get on with it as I went into shock.
I was enjoying a fast-growing career in the Maritime Industry as a Deck Officer and had recently joined a prominent multinational company operating offshore oil & gas vessels and all was good. The ambulance took me to the Royal Melbourne Hospital. I awoke in the orthopaedic ward and begun to summon up the courage to look down. I had the full range of emotions, but for whatever reason I decided at least I was alive. I remember thinking I’d never be Captain of a ship which was my life’s goal. Help and encouragement from my brother and company was incredible. My parents were shattered I think and perhaps not quite sure what to do, equally devastated about my career as much as anything. I got fresh fruit delivered, ate well (challenging in hospital sometimes) and thought about all the little things that would contribute physically or mentally to recovery.
Moving to a rehab facility after 11 days I found myself in a ward of people with all sorts of ailments. Among strokes and head injuries, I felt strangely fortunate. I suffered badly from phantom pain, which kept me awake a lot. Physio became a part of the day I looked forward to, something to do other than sitting around.
I would have liked more contact just from people who had been down the same path and more information generally about all the issues of caring for my leg in those early healing days. Nonetheless rehab was generally good. The sleeping and pain issue grew, and the doctors suggested a higher dosage of drugs. I suggested stopping it altogether, they resisted but agreed. It got no worse and one night a night-shift nurse of Chinese background suggested meditation. We went through the ideas and I went to sleep! I felt that I now had a new level of control over dealing with things internally.
My company suggested I could help out in the office a couple of days a week but being at work was difficult from a mobility aspect although healthy in many ways. I went on crutches and vividly remember being so very self-conscious on Collins Street with the trouser leg of my suit pinned up on one side. I was sure everyone was looking. Interim legs came with regular adjustments and difficulties initially. With no help at home during the day, I had some very ordinary days of course.
Later that year I went to Tasmania’s Cradle Mountain with a new girlfriend and began a short period of “look what I can do on this leg!” Having a new partner was a great support also. I worked in many operational roles in shipping and took some senior roles over the next five or six years. I had a brief few weeks back at sea but found it a little difficult. Simultaneously, I vigorously pursued my music technology interest and ended up teaching audio production part time and started a small recording studio. One evening I decided to follow the dream, quit the corporate life and went for music and my passion full time. By this stage my leg functioned so well I rarely thought about it. I was married and happily battling on in the music business. My wife and children have never known anything other than the prosthesis and so support is fairly pragmatic in that it’s just the ways things are.
On New Year’s Eve 2004 I resolved to revisit the Maritime industry, returning to an exciting project in oil & gas. I then moved onwards to my present position as Chief Officer on a modern vessel that carries out all sorts of offshore construction and subsea intervention in oilfields. In August 2010 I obtained a Masters Certificate enabling command on vessels of unlimited size worldwide, so 2011 may present some interesting new challenges by the looks of things. Colleagues are amused to have an actual pirate on board with the “ol’ wooden leg”. This role is very active, mobility is vital and the subject of various medicals required for the job. These days if my leg doesn’t work well, I don’t. On a previous project I estimated covering around 2500 stairs plus all the walking around.
Limbs 4 Life has refocussed my attention and through the online forum I’ve learnt a lot about issues that concern me and hopefully have made some useful postings. Whilst I am reasonably low maintenance mobility wise, it has been great to hear of all the issues many experience and often identify with them. I now value my health and I do my best to look after myself. The leg is a big part of this plus I have a wife and three gorgeous children who are better off with a happy healthy dad, a fabulous incentive.
Working four weeks on/four weeks off I have plenty of time at home for them and my many hobbies. I use a C- Walk foot and Delta twist ankle insert which provides some shock absorption and torsional movement. I also have a water leg, which is good for the beach, pool, and sea survival courses I’m required to do. I encourage people to take advantage of the entire resources Limbs 4 Life offer through their website.