In January 2011, our little family was faced with what would be the beginning of a three month long challenging period of our lives. Let me start at the beginning..
It was a typical week-day evening at our family home in Sydney, Australia. I was preparing dinner whilst simultaneously trying to manage our two young children (then 6 months and 2 years of age) who wanted my constant attention, particular at that time of the day. My husband was at work and usually arrived back home for dinner each night between 6-6:30pm. If he ever ran late at work, he always called to let me know. We lived about an hour’s drive out of the city centre and the traffic was awful. He hated depending on the set train times, so he obtained his motorbike license and bought a motorbike a few years prior. He enjoyed the freedom of commuting to work each day on his bike.
On that particular day, 6:30pm came and went. I started to get a little shitty that he hadn’t called. Dinner was ready! I decided to feed the kids, but waited to have my meal together with him once he arrived home. 7pm arrived, then 7:30pm. By that stage I was fuming. I knew he was flat out at work, but I was angry that he hadn’t thought to call me to let me know that he wouldn’t be home for dinner. I decided to put the kids to bed, as they could not wait up any longer. By 8pm, I began to worry. I had called him several times, but he was not answering his phone. I had assumed that he must be therefore on his way home and driving; thats why he couldn’t pick up. I was mentally preparing the lecture that I was going to give him once he got home. Then the doorbell rang.
I opened the door and my heart sank as two policeman came into view. After confirming my identity, they then went on to inform me that my husband had been in a motorbike accident. They quickly assured me that he was alive, but in a bad way. He had been taken to the North Shore Private Hospital in North Sydney. I was in shock and terrified. The policeman left after making sure I was ok. I wanted to race to the hospital immediately, but then I remembered that I had two babies sleeping in their beds. My mind raced. What to do? We had no family living close by. Thankfully, we had the most amazing group of friends in Sydney that anyone could ever hope for. I called two of them and without any hesitation, they immediately came to my rescue; one stayed at our house with the kids while they slept, and the other drove me into the hospital 45 minutes away (as I was in no state to be driving).
We arrived at the emergency department around 9:30pm and they escorted me to a private room for waiting families. I was informed to wait there and someone would be by shortly to update me on my husbands current state. At that time I had no idea of what had happened exactly or of what injuries he had suffered. It may have been just 15 minutes, but that wait felt like more than an hour. Finally, an ambulance officer came into our room. She sat beside me and said matter-of-factly, “You are here for your husband? I nodded. Well we did manage to get a pulse back and he is now stable“. I looked at her in shock and disbelief. What?! Did you just tell me that his heart had stopped beating?! She then went on to say, “You are Mrs Smith, are you not?” I replied with a broken and angry, yet relieved, “No, I am not!!!!!”.
She knew she had made a dreadful mistake. She shy’ed away sheepishly back into the emergency treatment rooms, quickly saying that she would go back in to check on my actual husband. She didn’t come back out. We waiting another long period of time before a different nurse came out to tell me that I could come in and see my husband now. I stood up quickly and shakily, still recovering from the shock of the news I had previously been given, and followed her into the rooms. Seeing him for the first time was heart breaking. His left leg was broken and in a splint, his left shoulder had been shattered into many pieces, a spinal collar supported his neck, multiple cords were attached to him, and he was so dosed up on morphine for the pain that he didn’t even know I was standing next to him. His cut up motorbike clothing were in a bag beside the bed (the ambulance officers had to cut his jacket and pants off him in order to assess his injuries). We stayed with him until around 1am, then headed back home to try and get some sleep. The next day would be a big day as he would go into surgery.
Again, I relied on friends to help me. I dropped my two year old daughter off at a good friend’s house first thing in the morning, then I headed into the hospital with my 6 month old son (as I was still breastfeeding him, so I could not leave him for a full day). We got to the hospital by 8am and my husband was alert and in a lot of pain. We went over the events of the previous day and he informed me that he had not collided with a car as I had assumed; His chain had come off as he was making a turn, jamming up and locking his rear wheel which sent him flying. He landed on the road shattering his shoulder, then his heavy bike landed on top of him, breaking both his tibia and fibula. As he was laying on the road, unable to move, it took a long time before someone stopped to help him. Many cars actually drove around him, tooting their horns! This make me feel incredibly angry and disappointed. All of those commuters only cared about one thing and that was getting home themselves. I couldn’t comprehend how they could not spare a few moments to stop and help someone in trouble. Eventually, two lovely people stopped to help him and called the ambulance, which I was extremely grateful for.
They began prepping him for surgery. They told us that the two operations to repair both his shoulder and leg would take approximately three to four hours in total. We gently hugged him and we all shed our tears of concern, then they wheeled his bed away into the operating room. They informed me that they would call my mobile once the surgeries were complete. Three hours went by, then four hours went by, then five. My mum flew up to Sydney and arrived at that stage. It was comforting to have her there waiting with us. Six hours went by, then seven. Just as I was thinking the worst and about to panic, my phone finally rang to say that the operations had been more complex than expected, but successful; he was in recovery and I would be able to visit once he had woken up. We waited another couple of long hours before the nurse finally came out to the waiting room to tell us that we could see him at last.
He was drugged up on morphine, his left shoulder was in a sling and and his left leg was plastered. We were eventually shown the before and after x-rays and were shocked with what we were seeing. He now resembled robocop. Many long screws were required to repair the shoulder joint and a large titanium rod now held his leg bones together.
The following day, my father-in-law arrived at the hospital. He had spent the previous thirty hours flying from the Netherlands to Australia to be there for his son. My husband remained in hospital for two weeks. For the first few days, mum was able to help watch my daughter as my father in law and I (with a baby strapped to my chest) sat by my husband’s bed. After mum had returned home I relied heavily on my friends to help with babysitting, and my father in law was also a huge help.
We then began preparing our house for him to come home. As both of the injuries were on his left side, our home thefore needed to become ‘wheelchair friendly’. I rented a ramp for the front door, a narrow wheelchair that had a right arm joystick/drive, a shower chair, ‘elephant feet’ to raise our bed, a high backed chair and mobile commode. He came home and suddenly, I had three dependents to care for (in addition to working part time and organising an upcoming international move). He remained in that wheelchair for almost three months.
Meanwhile, I could not shake the day of his accident from my mind. I wanted to thank the two caring people who helped my husband. As I had no idea of their identity, I wrote a thank you message (below) which was published in our local newspaper. I was able to track down one of them and eventually thanked her in person.
“My husband had a motorbike accident on Monday night around 7pm (24.01) in Berowra near the traffic lights coming off the F3. The motorbike landed heavily on top of him. As he was lying badly injured on the road, cars passed around him honking their horns! We would like to thank the gentleman who stopped and called the ambulance, reassuring my husband, and the lady who also stopped to help him. We don’t know their names, but the lady was a registered nurse and she sat by him, keeping him stable until the Ambulance personnel arrived. Thank you both so much for all your support whilst he was lying helpless on the road with terrible injuries to his shoulder and leg. After 7 hours of surgery at RNS, he is now doing well and on the long road to recovery.”
Five years have passed, yet that moment of dread as I opened the door to see those two police officers standing there remains strongly in my memory – as though it were yesterday. I also look back on my amazing group of friends that were such a wonderful support system for us during that time and I am forever thankful.
Much to my husband’s disappointment, as soon as he had recovered, I practically begged him to sell his bike and never ride a motorbike again. He is a father of two and has a responsibility to stay safe – to them, to me and to himself. Maybe with more time, the fear will fade and I may feel comfortable enough for him to ride again for recreational purposes on weekends, as I know how much he enjoyed it. However, I’m sure that I will never again be comfortable with the idea of him commuting that way to work every day. The risk is just too high. Every time I look at the long scar across his shoulder, I am reminded of the day I almost lost him.