Both the unluckiest, and luckiest, accident of my life.
23.06.2014 - 02.08.2014
It's about time that I filled you all in on exactly what happened to me on Monday the 23rd of June, and my progress since.
It was day 4 at Cardies (Cardrona ski resort). The back bowl finally opened resulting in a super fun morning with my friend Marijke consisting of pretty much all fresh pow tracks! After lunch I headed over to the park for two hours to practice my skills on the box with my mate Lochy. When I finally chose to call it Lochy agreed it was time to finish up and head to my car for the drive home. Typically, for my last run of the day I decided to send it off one of my fave jumps (a natural side hit by the main chairlift). I still remember hitting it perfectly. Flying down the groomed run towards my jump as fast as I could, the exhilarating feeling of the wind rushing past me, approaching my jump extra wide so that I could get more air, pushing down hard through my legs to pop off the jump as high as I possibly could.
Then I landed. I overshot my usual landing spot, missed the downslope and instead touched down on the flat. My right ski binding released (I knew I should've tightened my ski din settings!), my right ski disappeared behind me, but my body continued to fly forwards with just one ski on the snow. I attempted frantically to turn to my right and push down through my left foot to slow myself down. I was heading directly towards the loading station for the main chairlift and as I came closer and closer I thought to myself, "oh shoot, this is going to be humiliating when the whole lift queue sees me eat it".
That's all I remember. I woke up two days later in Dunedin Hospital. Dunedin Hospital is a four hour drive from Cardrona ski resort, but luckily a much quicker trip via helicopter which was how I was transported from Cardrona Ski Resort to Dunedin Hospital. Upon arriving at Dunedin Hospital I was immediately rushed into surgery where surgeons and their teams worked to stabilise my condition, and then correct my injuries. It was determined that I had sustained six internal brain bleeds in my left frontal lobe, and one in my right frontal lobe, along with multiple facial fractures including my nose. As a result I underwent emergency surgery to stop the bleeding, along with facial reconstruction surgery to correct my skull fractures and my nose. Two metal plates are now permanently in my skull over the fracture sight, my frontal sinus had to be obliterated and I also got a free nose job! ( I personally think it's a bit of an improvement on my old nose!). Following the surgery I was left in an induced coma for 24 hours. The medical team had no idea what state I would be in when I was taken out of the coma, but did expect some level of personality change due to the multiple bleeds I had sustained in the front of my brain.
When I woke up from my Coma I remember feeling very groggy and hearing the voices of my best friends from Wanaka, Holly and Justin. They asked if I could open my eyes. Due to the amount of swelling on my face I had to slowly pry my eyes open with my hands. My vision slowly cleared and I was able to make out their faces exclaiming, "Justin and Holly!". I still remember the excitement and relief in their voices at the fact that I could talk and remembered who they were. The first couple of days were a bit of a blur as I was super tired and drugged up; probably lucky as it dampened my extreme embarrassment at being washed butt-naked by the nursing staff! I didn't manage to get out of bed until day2 post op due to low Hb levels (79 for my physio friends reading this), everyone else this just means that I would have been too dizzy due to my blood loss in the accident and had to wait a few days for my body to replenish.
Brushing my teeth in hospital
I had an incredible recovery that impressed the doctors and nurses, along with my family and friends. After one week in hospital I was discharged and admitted to rehab. Here I underwent extensive cognitive testing and saw a whole range of therapists including physio (ironic being the patient for a change), psychologist, social worker, occupational therapist, and medical. Pretty much every test in the book was tried on me and it was a gigantic relief for me, my family and friends when the rehab team were able to conclude that my frontal lobe function was barely affected. I possibly had very minimal changes in higher level abstract thinking as testing showed me to be in an "average" range, rather than "above average" which was what i was predicted to be at pre morbidly due to my high level of education and physio degree. The psychologist stated that my brain should return to full function after a couple of months!
However not everything went smoothly in my recovery. I had an ongoing runny nose which the doctors were concerned about as it may indicate a CSF (brain fluid) leak! Some testing was done immediately as if this was the case, further surgery may be required (eeeek!). On my second day at the rehab facility, I was horrified to notice that my forehead had a number of holes in it. Not complete holes, but areas were there was obviously no bone under the skin, and the skin would move in and out at the same time as my pulse, making me look kind of like a creepy alien! I wasted no time in reporting these findings straight to Richard (the rehab team doctor), so that he could liaise with my facial surgeons and have the situation rectified ASAP! Unfortunately, when he recieved a response two days later, my surgeons stated that it was perfectly normal to have the “holes” visible on the front of my forehead as these were where they had to drill into my skull to fix things up following my accident. Allegedly my skull would heal itself and the holes would disappear in time, I would just have to be patient until this happened. As for my terrifying CSF leak, it was found to be nothing more than an upper respiratory tract infraction (minor cold with a runny nose), thank goodness I wouldn't have to go through another surgery!!
The only ongoing issue since my accident seems to be the loss of some of my right eye vision. I have lost around the upper 3rd of my vision but still have the important line of sight region and hopefully this will recover. Despite this, I am absolutely ecstatic with my outstanding recovery and beyond relieved to have avoided any serious deficits in brain function or personality changes as were expected. Once I was taken off all my medications in rehab I no longer felt fatigued throughout the day and had to stop having my lunch time naps as I found i couldn't sleep until 2am (I obviously didn't need the extra sleep that most brain injured patients need). This further backed up my feelings that I had miraculously escaped brain damage. It really is just my skull and scars healing up, i can function as usual, exercise as usual and have normal length days without wearing myself into the ground (woohoo!).
After only 8 days in rehab I was finally discharged and able to return to my wonderful home in Wanaka! It was a huge relief to finally be back and able to catch up with all my friends that I hadn’t seen for two and a half weeks! I had coffee at Kai and met up with Casey, the lifty that actually witnessed my stack/tumble/yardsale/disaster and was first to attend to me, slash possibly saved my life. He filled me in on all the gory details and was able to dismiss many rumours that had been spread around town (for example that he had to hold my brain in whilst waiting for ski patrol to come and see me). It turns out that after watching me stack, superman into one of the chairlift poles, and then come to a stop 10m further from the pole, I was laying lifeless in the snow and he immediately ran to see what condition i was in. He saw that I was being chocked by my helmet strap and that he had to remove it, open my airway and get my tongue out of the back of my throat to get me breathing again. Luckily ski patrol got to me within 2minutes, and whilst waiting for them to come I came to and was extremely aggressive and kept trying to touch my forehead where i had bone sticking out and brain visible. Casey described the amazing lengths he took to keep me calm, stop me from touching my head, and keep me in a stable condition until Ski Patrol arrived. After hearing his story I feel that much more appreciative of his help, along with the ski patrollers and other lifties. I also found out about the calls made by ski patrol to my poor parents back in australia, and the incredible lengths my housemate Justin went to after receiving a similar call from our mate Lochy, to then find my dads phone number so that the patrollers were able to contact my family.
Whilst I still haven't been able to start back at work yet (fingers crossed for next week!), I am loving being back with all my Wanaka friends. As it will take around 12months for my skull to fully heal I regrettably have had to put anymore skiing and snowboarding plans on hold until next year. Thankfully I was able to get full refunds on both my Cardrona and Treble Cone season passes so I can still afford to eat and pay my rent despite not working. With all my spare time at the moment I've been filling my days with coffee catch ups, walks, bike rides, gym and even a spot of baking. As it slows down the healing process I'm also not allowed to drink any alcohol for 3 whole months! I'm definitely setting a new record for myself, though I have to admit my body has been extremely appreciative of the break!
Apologies that it's taken me so long to get this blog entry done! As you can see there was a lot for me to include so I hope I haven't overloaded you all! I'm more than happy to answer any extra questions you guys have and overall i'm just stoked that I survived the whole thing without any more serious consequences!
Love and miss you all! Please enjoy every day and never forget to tell your friends and family how much you value and care about them!