Angela is a nurse who, two years ago, experienced major trauma in the form of a high speed motor vehicle crash. Here she talks about her experience and provides personal advice for people in a similar situation.
A turning point
Two years ago I was given an inspirational book that changed my life. At the time I was unable to really move or anything but I could see and I could read. The book became like a bible for me. I read it over and over again, and that gave me the right frame of mind and the power to keep going.
I was also reading about neuroplasticity and how the brain has a way of healing itself. I was immersed in beautiful, interesting and inspirational prose. Books really helped. They helped me to believe in my ability to heal and gave me a determination I didn’t have before.
I was in intensive care for one week. It was touch and go whether I was going to live or not. When I improved and was well enough, I was moved to the ward, where I referred to the staff as my lovely white angels, who came to my rescue.
Nursed by colleagues
I went to Geelong Private Hospital, where I worked as a nurse. So it was actually my work colleagues that helped nurse me back to health.
I had physio every day and that's what really helped me. There were many tears, I have never cried so much in my life. But I had to work through the pain and I knew that everything I was doing was going to make me better every day, so I just kept at it. You’ve just got to keep at it.
It really helped being a nurse. I’m a division one nurse and I knew what was expected of me, what the healing process might be, and even not to expect immediate attention when you rang the bell. With so many patients to attend to, you just have to wait your turn. I understood that. Knowing the healthcare system helped me a lot in that respect.
I now move 20 kilometres a day
That was me two years ago. Today, I’m walking 20 kilometres. It was a slow process.
I first started sitting on the bed and moving onto a chair, and then slowly got my balance with two nurses on either side of me. Then on a frame, I’d walk from the chair to the toilet, say, as a goal. I would set little goals every day.
Then I’d walk a little bit further, or stand a little bit longer. I played it like a game, and I’d acknowledge my achievements, pat myself on the back, every time.
As I got better, I looked forward to my physio lessons because I was just so determined to walk. You’ve got to keep that positive self-talk in your head. It can only come from you. And you’ve got to believe.
Self-taught determination keeps me in check. I have a watch device that keeps track of my steps and every day I probably do about 20kms with my jogging, walks and bike rides. At the end of the day, I listen to relaxation music. Harp sounds are so relaxing.
Writing helps - keeping a diary
I kept a diary, which I found was good for my mental health. It kept my mind going, writing in a little diary, and I still do that every day.
It helped me to reflect on my injuries. I’d suffered a stroke from where they put the six pins in the C1 and 2, and the fusion 3 and 4. Then a blood clot formed and I suffered a stroke. So, it wasn't lifestyle-related it was accident-related.
That was really quite tough. I had to learn from scratch - how to walk, eat, talk, and write, which all needed persistence and resilience.
I’d love to write a book about my experiences, and include all the rehab stages, and what I do now to keep myself going. Today, I jog, I do my mat exercises, floor exercises, yoga, tai chi. I do my stretchy bands, my ball work, weights, stairs, balance disc, stick work for rotation of the spine. And it’s essential to make sure you have good food and good sleep for good health.
Top tip for recovery
Don't ever give up. You can do it!
It’s your brain that controls your whole body and if you say ‘oh I can't do this, it's all too hard,’ then you might well believe it.
You've just got to snap out of it and say ‘I can do it, I want my life back, I want to get back to the way I was.’
You might not get totally back to the way you were. Like with my balance, I'm about 98 per cent okay. Towards the end of the day it’s 95 per cent, but I can walk! I've got my mobility and I can walk.
Just don't ever give up. Believe in yourself.
I want to help people. I’ve got a personal blog and I’m happy to speak with anyone who has been through a major trauma.
What I wish I had during recovery
I wish there had been a masseur on hand, even a volunteer, who’d visit the ward and work on your muscles and keep the circulation going.
Actually my mother would visit to massage me. But I think generally it would be very good to have someone do that to help people in rehab, while they’re lying in bed recovering.
Problems living remotely
Living in a remote area does have it challenges with recovery but there are things you can do. I’ve discovered community groups that do strength training and the like. When I got discharged by my Echuca rehab, my doctor referred me on to some rehab type work where the community has been very supportive.
Also, anyone living in a remote area can make up their own little gym, using bricks and things like that. I’ve got my own little room on the farm, which has got a boxing bag, a rowing machine, an exercise bike, and other things that people have given me out of the kindness of their heart.
My TAC experience
They’re a good bunch, the TAC, very helpful. I have had a few case managers that have come and gone but the one that sticks out in my mind is Nicole. They are fantastic. I feature on the TAC website as well.
The TAC helped me back to work
Over the two years of trying to get back to work, my work place had to advertise my job for another person to step in and take it on. The TAC, along with an injury prevention and rehab organisation, is trying to channel me into an area which is less physical.
Perhaps I’ll end up in the mental health area, or assessing the elderly into facilities like a nursing home, or being part of a community assessment team. They are working on that right now.
All I want is to get my life back so I can give back to the community.
I am in a remote area which is very limited in terms of nursing work because of the small numbers in the community. So I might end up in Echuca or Kerang. If I were back in Geelong, I’d have more opportunities. So, I’ll have to wait and see what the TAC comes up with.
The TAC covers my income
Income was one of my greatest worries. But I’m very lucky, TAC covers 80 per cent of my income. I thought I was going to lose my family home, but thank God I can make mortgage repayments. That has been a blessing. So, I haven't had to sell my house.
The TAC helped me with transport to city appointments
The TAC is really good. They give you a code and when you ring it, a taxi turns up to collect you from where you live, and takes you to the facility and back. That’s funded all the way by the TAC, which was very helpful in the early days when I couldn’t drive. That was a blessing. I don't know what I would have done without them.
The TAC covered my expenses too. All my medical expenses. They pay for the medication I’m on and they’re paying for my gym membership.
Good family support
My family and friends have supported me all the way. I have got very positive people and parents, although my father has passed away since the accident and my recovery. But my family, my four sisters, my two children have been wonderful. I don't know what I would do without them. And there’s my partner, of course, Craig, who has been fantastic.
It helps so much to have good family support.
Relationships challenged through the injury
For Craig, being a farmer, it has been really hard for him, especially travelling to where I was 'rehabing' in Geelong Private Hospital. It was hard to get off the farm to support me. I was in hospital for three months and could go a month without seeing him.
I was pretty much on my own, except for my parents. I felt like I was a seven year old child again. Having my parents there and other family members meant that Craig didn’t have to worry too much about me while he continued the pig and cattle work. I had a very good support network.
Is my brain OK?
After the trauma, I had follow ups with the ophthalmologist to test my eyes and the neuropsychologist to check how my brain was going. It’s a very interesting three hour test!
At the start, I was very worried about my brain being okay. That was the first thing I asked, ‘Did my brain get affected?’
Thank God it didn’t. It’s okay. Although my hearing has gone a bit on one side. The stroke took out my right-side hearing which a hearing aid will never fix. So I am functioning on one ear at the moment.
Anniversary of the accident
Every year when the anniversary of my accident comes around I call it ‘grateful to be alive’ day. With encouragement from your family, the essence of life is to keep going. When March 5 comes around I base my whole day on gratefulness.
I look at things in a totally different way now.
Life is amazing
Because I can now drive, my confidence has gone up from being almost like a baby back to an independent woman.
It’s amazing. I look back at this photo of me with my halo brace on, with my tube, and I'm lying in bed with a little crooked smile. It’s no longer crooked, but my mouth sometimes gets a little bit fuzzy. But that's nothing to worry about, I am just so glad to be alive.
Interview courtesy:School of Public Health and Preventive Medicine, Monash University.