The accident that changed me

October 17 will always be a special date for me. The anniversary of a an accident that left me a medical miracle, and permanently physically and mentally scarred. My TBI (Traumatic Brain Injury) has left me with a strange kind of optimism. No matter what happens to me, it should have been a lot worse, and any day I wake up is a "good" day.
October 18 2011

October 17 2011 marked 20 years since my head injury, an event that continues to influence my life daily.  Twenty years on is probably as good a time as any to remember what happened on that day and the for the first few years after it.

Thursday October 17th 1991 I was a 15 year old grade 10 student at Maleny State High School.  I'd recently filled out my subjects for senior school and what I hoped would shape my future.  I wanted to be an astrophysicist and had enrolled in Math I, Math II, Chemistry, Physics, and Biology, as well as the compulsory English.  The 5 hardest subjects you can do at highschool, but also the 5 I worked out I needed most to become what I wanted to be.

I also remember only the day before, a Wednesday, I had told my best friend where was no way I was coming to school on Friday.  That Friday my HPE (Health and Physical Education) class had kayaking at Baroon Pocket Dam and I hated taking my shirt off. Hated it.  Water in general just didnt' do it for me.  Glasses get wet...  Months later I would laugh with this with my friend. I certainly did get the day off that Friday. I got the days off for a long time after that.  I never did finish grade 10.

From what I've been able to fill in, my friends and I were sitting at 'B Block', the manual arts block we always sat.  It was at the top of the school and the least populated block, which is good because it meant we could better make our pipe bombs and read our Terrorists Cookbooks and whatever it is bevan kids of the early 90's did.  One of my mates younger brothers (a grade 8 kid) ran off with a mates hat and me being the biggest and fastest gave chase.

Maleny State High School is built on a hill, and comprises a number of  buildings (Blocks) for each different department.  Connecting each block are covered walkways, much the same as in other schools.  A result of the school being on a hill is that most of the walkways include stairs at various parts, as was the case coming down from B block to the central hub of the school, the Undercovered Area (where the Tuckshop lived).  The first set of stair was about 6-7 steps and but the second set wsa only 3 steps, so the drop from the top to bottom was not very great, maybe 50-60cm.  At the bottom of each set of strairs, set 5cm in front of the bottom step was a frame used to support the roof, where the angled roof over the stairs met the rest of the covering.  Welded in the center of the large beam was a metal plate that was used to bolt the wooden frame of the roof to the supporting beam.  The end of this plate (approximately 8mm thick) stuck out from the top of the beam, such that there was a hard corner at the bottom of it...

I can only figure I chose to gain some ground on this kid I was chasing by jumping that set of stairs.

The top of my forehead hit the corner of the plate sticking out and because I was carrying speed, my head and body continued to move forward.  My head twisted and my chin came up, so the right side of my face smashed into the steel beam.  I pretty much stopped there, about 2.2m up in the air, and fell straight down onto the concrete below.


I woke up in the doctors surgery, not far from the school, as the doctor stitched my head together, vomitting into a bucket as he stitched.  I think that was about 1:20pm (I'm assuming the accident itself happened at lunch time).  I was admitted to the Maleny hospital for observation.  Friday came and I had a headache but I wanted to go home. I was bored lying around.  Doctors being smarter than 15 year old kids said 'No'.  I needed to stay in for observation for a few days.

Saturday morning (I think? maybe friday night. It's all a blur but I do remember the pethidine shots in the arse. those hurt.) I started to complain of numbness in my left hand and leg.  Mum, who had be sitting beside my bed since Thursday started massaging it, thinking the bloodflow may be restricted.  The doctors suspected I had a broken neck and I was put on an ambulance for a bumpy 45 minute lights and sirens ride to Nambour General Hospital, where an x-ray could be performed.

I don't have memory of getting in the Ambulance, as I Saturday morning was when I fell into a coma.  Nambour found I didn't have a broken neck.  What I had was four accute subdural haematoma's, one in each quadrant of my brain, with the largest, about 35mm across, in the front right quadrant closest to where my head had been split open. My brain had been bleeding since Thursday afternoon and had now reached critical mass, so to speak.

Wikipedia says this about accute subdural haematoma's: Acute bleeds often develop after high speed acceleration or deceleration injuries and are increasingly severe with larger hematomas. They are most severe if associated with cerebral contusions.[3] Though much faster than chronic subdural bleeds, acute subdural bleeding is usually venous and therefore slower than the usually arterial bleeding of an epidural hemorrhage. Acute subdural bleeds have a high mortality rate, higher even than epidural hematomas and diffuse brain injuries, because the force (acceleration/deceleration) required to cause them causes other severe injuries as well.[4] The mortality rate associated with acute subdural hematoma is around 60 to 80%.[5]

See also Traumtic Brain Injury

It was at this point the helicopter was called.  I needed to be in Brisbane ASAP.  The doctors told my parents there was a 20% chance I'd live and if I did it was a foregone conclusion that I'd be a "vegetable". It was at this point my family called in our church.  Practicing Mormons, attending the Nambour ward, at least I was near the Bishop and other that would come to administer a blessing.  Apprently as soon as this blessing was administered my condition did not further deteriorate.

Once at the Royal Brisbane Hospital doctors examined me and determined an operation to remove the clots in my brain was too risky, as the largest was over my "Personality and Learning" area and would definitely leave me in bad shape in those areas.  My best bet was to take steriods and hope the swelling went down and the blood clots broke up.

My injuries listed: 4 brain bleed (as mentioned above) causing complete left side hemiplasia (paralysis).  The top and rear of my skull was fractured, as was my right cheekbone. My right eye was swollen shut along with the majority of the right side of my face being black and swollen and my left eye was paralysed but working and open.  I also had Papilledema of the left eye and I remember something about 3 and 7 nerve damage?

I think I spent 10 days in the ICU, 7 of those in a coma.  It might have been less, I'm not sure. I do remember being conscious on a few occasions in the ICU.  I remember pulling at my cathoder on several occasions, trying to remove it.  I also remember trying to go number two lying down, with a bed ban under my bottom. Not very doable so I got to use a wheel chair with a toilet seat attached  and a real toilet.  I also remember waking in the middle of the night to what I swear was a male and female nurse "going at it" behind a curtain.  Seems my male teenage brain was on the mend ;)

During my ICU stay my parents had two missionaries come and administer another blessing. This time they blessed me that I'd eventually make a full recovery (sounds like a safe bet at this stage, the heathen in my says).

Once out of the ICU I went up to floor N (I think). Apparently I was too old for the childrens ward but too young to be put with the general adult male populate. This meant I got my own suite with own bathroom and TV and everything. Sweet! (Suite?! :))  I had a view out the window over down to the exhibition grounds.

Over the next few weeks I had physiotherapy a few times day to try and get my left side going again.  It's scary when your brain is telling your fingers to open and to move, but nothing is happening.  Focussing so hard brought so little effort for a long time.  For a while there I was very scared. I didn't know if I was going to fully recover.  My head pounded all the time and couldn't walk more than a few metres before I got too tired to continue.  I got a release for a few hours in November so I could go to my grandmothers house and watch the Adelaide Formula 1 Grand Prix (yes I was a big fan back then too :)) and walking up the 6 stairs leading in to her house was  a real struggle.

During my stay at the RBH a few friends came and dropped in, brining dirt bike and car magazines for me to read.  I spent a good portion of my waking hours dreaming of riding dirt bikes when I got out (at the time not knowing how risky and stupid that would be).

After 4 weeks I was transferred the Head Injury Rehabilitation unit at the Princess Alexandra Hospital, where I participated in Physiotherapy, Occupational Therapy, Hydra Therapy, Speech Therpay and bit of conselling.  I still couldn't walk properly and my left side was very weak.  I think there was even some discolouration from bruising, still evident on the right side of my face.  I did meet some interesting people too.  A 28 year old called Brian, who had been in an horific car accident that killed his partner and had been at the rehab unit for the last 5 months.  An interesting guy to talk to.

Thankfully I powered through rehab and was fit leave in only 2 weeks definitely surprising the doctors with my progress.

I got out as the school year ended. I did go back to school the next year but I had no ability to concentrate for longer than a minute or two at best and my memory was rubbish.  I had many days off.   My report cars all read the same "Motivation a cause for concern.  Lack of attendance a problem. Next year will be a better year".  All the teachers knew what happened to me and all were understanding.  My best result that year as a C in english. Everything else was D- or E. E!

I wasn't a very popular guy at school for a number of months that year, 1992.  Maleny rains a lot, and as a result of my accident building regulations were revisited and it was found that the beams that held up the roof at the bottom of all the staircases, were too close to the bottom stair. regulation said they needed to be at least 300mm away from the stair, not 50mm.  Through 1992 all beams were moved back to the required distance. This meant the walkway covers had to be removed. When it rained, no one had could stay dry, and it rained a lot.

Working in paint factory in Darra in 1995 I realised I was getting better.  I was doing caculations in my head faster than the guy I worked with (we worked in teams of two) could enter the numbers into the calculator.  I could mentally attend to tasks for inceasingly longer periods of time and I realised I can do better than were I was.  I went back to grade 11 in 1996, as a 19 year old, studying Math B, Math C, Physics, Chemistry and Information Processing and Technology. I got the Math B and IPT awards in both grade 11 and 12, and finished #2 in the year at the end of grade 12, with VHA's (A's) in Math B, Math  C, Physics, IPT. (and HA's, B+'s) in English and Chemistry.

One day a few years after my accident I was feeling particularly down with myself and the lasting effects of the accident and my brother got angry at me and told me to shut up because by all rights I should be dead.  To this day, whenever I get down on myself or I'm facing adversity, I recall my angry 15 year old brother and his true words.  For me, things surely should have been worse than whatever situation I find myself in and I should be thankful for everything and anything I can get.

Over those two years from 1996-1997, and perhaps a bit of 1995, I came to know that people are capable of achieving great things if they're motivated enough and they keep at it.  I've definitely come out the other end a different person becuase of that experience and the realisation that we all, even teenagers are mortal.

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