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Sunday, 14 May 2017
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A Near Death Experience

Some of you may have heard I was in a traffic accident recently. I have had some emails about it so let me explain it for Members, who I have realised from the experience, are one of the things that actually matter to me. 

And please, there is no need to email me, I will take any best wishes for granted and there are so many people who have not been as lucky as I am. 

I was on my way back from a Motorcycle Rally in Alice Springs with my Motorcycle Club when, at the BP in Glendambo (middle of the South Australia desert), I noticed my rear tyre had worn through to the metal. Long, hard South Australian and Northern Territory roads were chewing through everyone’s tyres. You can see the surface of the road in the photo of the tyre on the right. Hard gravel. My tyre had been fine two days before but after 1000km in two days they had been ripped through. 

I rang a couple of Motorcycle places in Port Augusta (next major town 287km away) and one said “You could limp it 50km but not 287km in the desert where phone coverage drops out. You don't want to get caught out there when its getting dark. Get it towed here and I’ll have a tyre for you in the morning and you’ll be on your way”.

I rang a tow truck, said goodbye to my motorcycling mates who had to get where they were going by dark, and waited for the tow. The estimated time of arrival was three hours, it was 12:03pm. At 6:30pm, after I had taken a few photos of the bike as the sun set, a 1990's white Isuzu tilt tray truck turned up. It was getting dark.

This is just before the Truck arrived - deserted Glendambo BP station:

The driver did not know how to tie a motorbike onto the back of the truck. I googled how to tie a motorbike onto a truck. It had to be kept vertical with the front wheel chocked and with forward and backward pressure applied at the same time whilst the suspension was compressed to around half way. Not “Let’s put it sideways on the stand and put a strap over it”. His first Quote of the Day.

I asked for his ties. He handed me two very cheap $10 ties, one with a broken ratchet and the other, when I tightened it, broke. Rotten. “Better throw those away” he said. I went into the Glendambo BP and bought a series of heavy straps for $39 each. I tied the bike down. At no point did the driver get onto the tilt tray to help. He did however relieve himself at the back of the truck saying “My bladder ain’t what it used to be”. 

As he tried to unknot the broken strap from his truck he said..."Maybe if I took these dark glasses off I'd be able to see what I was doing". He still didn't take them off. It was dark. I still can't recall if he ever took them off. 

The BP attendant (with desert smarts) said “You’re not going to drive tonight are you, no-one drives these roads at night except the road trains. Best you stay the night and I’ll get someone to give you a lift into Port Augusta the next morning”.

The tow truck was old but it had a big bull bar so I said “No, its OK, better get the bike there, not sure he’ll be able to get it off on his own”.

We set off down the desert road. Pitch black. Dead straight roads. You could see a truck coming literally miles away. The seatbelt was an old loose lap belt that didn’t adjust - I eventually got it on after it "simply wouldn't go in" initially. No airbags, no modern safety features. Sitting so close to the windscreen with nothing between the cabin and the road with the road appearing out of the dark 20 yards in front at 110kph was nothing short of terrifying.

The headlights were pointed off to the left and were a dull halogen orange glow (Bikes are used to bright LEDs). I remarked on how we could only see 20 yards ahead and if there were any animals on the road at 110kph we would never see them in time.

We had a bit of a chat. His quotes during the drive:

  • Every time I hit another cow the lights go further out of alignment”.
  • Guess how old I am?” He was 82.
  • I had my last drink on…” – we discussed his alcoholism.
  • We’ll have to stop every 50km so I can have a p@#s
  • After a road train overtook us (they weigh over 100 tons) – “Those things can’t speed they’ve got log books, lucky I don’t have a log book I've done six and a half hours before picking you up without a break”.
  • After going over a cattle grid - “Is the bike still on there?”

A Road Train - they can weigh 130 tons full of fuel or concrete.

I stopped talking and started texting my mates about how dangerous this was, sending them a picture of the pitiful headlights - the text wouldn't send.

His last quote of the day was to the point: 

Oh F@#@#$$K!

I looked up and there were two headlights coming straight at my side of the cabin at high speed. I assumed it was a road train.

My last thoughts were:

  • That’s a road train.
  • Is this really how everything I've ever done comes to an end.
  • The poor kids.
  • Emma will be livid.
  • God I hope this is instantaneous.

Net result. After a lot of banging and crashing I was alive. 

It turned out my driver had contrived to have a head on with a parked white 4WD (also with a bull bar) and we had obliterated it. We had been the bigger vehicle. That 4WD had stopped for another 4WD that had hit a cow (never drive these roads at night). My driver had approached the scene without slowing, been confused by the headlights at the last minute and swerved into the parked car. Had he had decent headlights and been half competent and alert he would most surely have slowed 200m out when he saw two sets of headlights of stopped cars (no other cars around for miles) and rolled quietly into the scene as any normal driver would have done. The police reports say people had been out of the cars waving at him. He had not seen them either. The Police tell me his explanation is that he thought the cars were coming down his right hand side and he got confused when he was upon them and one was on his left and the other on his right. 

But it really doesn't matter....you or I would have seen something ahead with normal headlights and stopped well short of the incident. 

Amazingly no-one was hurt or injured...except me. The car occupants had fled into the desert as we approached without slowing and the impact was all on my side of the truck. The driver was fine. 

My left foot was crushed between the seat base (metal) and the truck’s bull bar which had intruded into the passenger area. I could hear fluid pouring underneath me. Thinking it was petrol I had a panic attack shouting for people to get me out of there. It was either diesel or radiator fluid because I never smelt petrol and it didn't go up. 

Truckies arrived (thank you whoever you were). There's something about big strong silent types. They instil confidence. One began methodically undoing the seat from the base with a wrench set, others started crowbarring the seat one way and another couple set about tying a tow cable to the bull bar and pulling it the other way with a 4WD. After half an hour my foot came out.

When it did the crushing had obviously numbed it and now the blood rushed back in. That hurt. I might have made that apparent to the South Australian desert…the ambulance was still an hour away (middle of the desert). 

By the time it arrived I was quivering in the back of the truck cabin in shock. A truckie had stayed with me the whole time talking to me and monitoring me. The driver of the tow truck was fine, having taken the impact down my side of the truck he could get out of the cabin (which he did in the first few minutes) and I didn’t see him again.

The Ambulance took me to Roxby Down hospital (BHP - Olympic Dam). Never been so happy to see a green whistle. The Ambulance guy spoke to Emma on the way. She switched straight into practical ex-nurse mode rather than useless jelly mode, as is her way.

In the end all I have is four fractures of the foot and broken ligaments and tendons that will need surgery when the swelling goes down. 

My left boot - a motorcycle boot - it had a metal toe cap and was made of tough leather - the Ambulance cut it up to get it off. I have a "lisfranc" injury, so named after a surgeon in the Napoleonic Wars that identified a common injury amongst cavalrymen who had fallen off their horse and got their foot caught in the stirrup. Imagine a foot being bent with toes to heel, cracking the ligaments across the top. Pretty much what I have.

Net result, I have had a near death experience...but it could have been so much worse. 

I thought I might need counselling for that, but it turns out I am married to the best amateur trauma counsellor in the southern hemisphere, she gave me all of 0.5 seconds to dwell on it before moving on - helps to have family. 

I do however begin to understand how trauma happens. Victims have no choice...they are the unwilling and unwitting victims of something out of their control that they didn't choose to happen, often happens very suddenly adding a 'shock factor' and they don't have time to process it. You need to have empathy and understanding to help them travel through it and they need time.

Result:

I now understand how inconsequential so many things are that would otherwise occupy the mind. Its quite cleansing really. There are only a few things that really matter quite honestly and the rest doesn't.

And a motto for your kids: "If someone looks incompetent, sounds incompetent and acts incompetent, more likely than not they are incompetent. Do not trust them, especially not with your life". 

But for me now, its foot up under the desk, and business as usual. I now have nowhere to go but to sit in front of the newsletter...and hug those kids, and Emma, just that little bit tighter when I get the chance.

Life hangs by a thread obviously, I didn't know that. But now that I do and now that I am on my second life, my job is to simply make the most of it. 

 

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