Every day we get up, get dressed, and hit the road for a day’s work and head home without much thought about tomorrow. That was the case Mark Bates who was working as an electrician for IKON Electrical both remotely in Western Australia and in Brisbane.
On March 21, 2017, Mark jumped on his much-loved 1600cc Yamaha road bike to get to work on wiring a shopping centre development, like he had done for weeks before.
“I have always loved the freedom of getting on my bike and getting away from it all,” Mark said. “It was good for the soul being able to get out on your own, be with your own thoughts and having a burn up the road. I loved it!”
Mark had finished up work for the day and was on his way home when in an instant, his life changed forever. He was travelling on the bike when a Triton 4x4 went straight through an intersection and struck him on the left side. His leg and foot had been crushed by the impact.
He spent the next seven days at the Royal Women’s Hospital in Brisbane with his wife Beck, daughter Kaitlyn and his mum, dad, sister, brother and close friends Trudi and Jeremy by his side when – after the doctors had done all they could to put the bones and nerves back together unsuccessfully – the decision was made to amputate below his knee.
Mark was sent home to live what he described as “the new normal” with many lows, lots of raw emotion and doubts about what the future held. “There was a lot to deal with,” Mark said.
“It all became so real when I first got home because it was like I’m home, there’s no doctors with me and I had to try to come to terms with this new normal. It’s not that couldn’t do things, it’s that I had to learn to do them a different way. On the crutches (pre-prosthetic) I had to learn to manoeuvre up and downs stairs, drive, shower and remember that I didn’t have two legs to stand on when I was getting out of bed. I went ass up plenty of times,” he said with a laugh.
“People looked at you differently too. Kids were good but adults were the worst. Even when I went back to work people didn’t see me as I was anymore … they wouldn’t let me lift things. It was like if you only ever wore a white t-shirt and then you had to wear a tie dyed multi-coloured get up and walk through the shopping centre; you stood out. I found the perception of disability is all in the seeing,” Mark described.
Mark said one of the lowest points at the beginning was experiencing phantom pain; a sensation of pain that feels like it’s coming from a body part that is no longer there. “I had to retrain the brain to try and get rid of that phantom pain because it would start in the morning and by night-time the leg couldn’t touch the bed … I was just in pain. I used the foot recognition app, mirror therapy and I did hypnotherapy to overcome that pain.”
A frustrating part of the recovery process, Mark said, was the lack of information from doctors and the internet surrounding what was next for a new amputee, especially during the six-month “limbo” period between letting the stump heal and getting fitted for the first prosthetic.
“You start off on an interim leg because they don’t tell you that the size of your stump is going to change up and down depending on your body. This is my fourth leg in 5 years and until it stabilises and maintains that shape, you are forever changing legs as well.”
There were no firsthand accounts of what to expect until you’re there, getting fitted for your first leg, which Mark added, was decorated especially for his adored then four-year-old nephew with a superhero Iron Man character. “We did that initially, so he didn’t freak out at Uncle Mark’s new robot leg, but he didn’t bat an eye. He thought it was cool.”
From there, things improved. After only six months off, Mark went back to work as an electrician in a fast-paced environment which gave him back his sense of confidence and worth. “Getting back to work helped with my recovery and being able to walk normally and well. Because it was a job that had a lot of walking, it let me work out what was right and what was wrong with the leg; what liners worked and what liners didn’t. It also really to helped my mental health and my overall health.”
While it was amazing to get back to work, Mark’s love for his job had gone and a yearning to help other amputees and people with disabilities set in. “After a while the passion had gone from being a sparky and I didn’t want to be a 60-year-old amputee still climbing through roofs and digging holes with one leg, so it was time for a change.”
In 2018, Mark became a Limbs 4 Life volunteer, and later gained a Diploma in Community Services and is now a senior support worker for Quirky Support Services; a job that is more than the right fit! He works with adults and children with varying disabilities like Down Syndrome, autism and the intellectually disabled.
“I just wanted to try and help people that have gone through an amputation and help them find their way through the process, the highs, and the lows. I like to focus on letting them know that there is hope, that you can get back to normal but it’s going to be a new normal. I just love helping people out and recognising that even though they have a disability it doesn’t mean they can’t live life to their fullest as well. Helping them achieve that is an awesome thing! I tell them positivity is the key, as well as looking after yourself, your limb and just keep trucking on,” Mark shared.
“Can’t stop, won’t stop, refuse to stop; that’s my mantra! It’s tattooed on my arm to remind me.”
The road to recovery has been long with many twists and turns along the way but there has been one constant Mark said, and that’s family!
“It’s important to surround yourself with loving family and friends. My wife Beck’s support was paramount! Without her being there and without that support not just through the initial stages, but from then to now – because there weren’t just lows at the start. It’s been a roller coaster right the way through and it’s something you have to continually work at. Without that support, including from my parents and the rest of the family, it would have been a completely different story.”
Mark is now happy in life, work and home, with his days off spent tinkering with his HQ Holden Ute and throwing endless rounds of balls to his best mate Beau, a black and white border collie.
“For me, recovery was the first two years and everything from then on has been onwards and upwards. Just don’t give up!”