A search and a small revelation on 21 January

21 January, 2014.

Will you look at us by the river! The whole restless mob of us on spread blankets in the dreamy briny sunshine skylarking and chiacking about for one day, one clear, clean, sweet day in a good world in the midst of our living.
“Cloudstreet” – Tim Winton

G’day. Today, 21 January, is an anniversary day in my life.

Today marks 19 years since the car accident in which I was a front seat passenger came a-crashing and threw everything sideways. In many ways, my old self ended that day and new version of me took his place. I’ve found in the 19 years since 1995, that when I share my story, others often share their own formative experiences and stories. We all of us seem to carry something. The wonderful by-line to this brilliant Footy Almanac site says “Sport. Write from the heart.” And so I’ll relate my story in that spirit.

In the 1994/95 summer, I was a 19-year-old uni student. Three of us had decided to drive Melbourne-Darwin (inland) and back via the coast. I’d bought an HK Kingswood wagon (3-on-the-tree). My mates had supplied cassette deck and CB radio. We were off.

Already we’d met SK Warne on the street at Lorne. He’d signed my trip diary. We’d celebrated Christmas Day under the open eucalypts of Wilpena Pound.  We’d listened on the beach at Streaky Bay as SK Warne took a hat-trick of Pommy wickets. We’d stayed for New Year’s Eve. We’d camped at Uluru, Ti Tree, Edith Falls. It was brilliant.

Heading home, one fella decided to stay on in Darwin for a 4WD entry into sodden Kakudu. My female companion, K, and I decided to carry on. He planned meet us via coach in Cairns.

One and half days out of Darwin, about 30 minutes east of the Threeways roadhouse, we stacked it. 4.30pm in the afternoon, I think. I’ve lost that day and about three weeks afterwards.
The short version of the story is this: I was front seat passenger in a single-car rollover. I ended unconscious and hanging from my seatbelt as the car ended up on the driver’s side after rolling. I’d sustained a fractured C5 vertebra and a closed head injury. K was conscious and alert and suffered minor physical injuries. The Royal Flying Doctor came to fetch us: K to Alice. Me to Adelaide and intensive care.

Months later, following transfer to Austin, surgery to stablise my neck, admission to the Acquired Brain Injury unit at Royal Talbot, I was discharged. I had regained most of the use of my right hand. My legs were alright. Unlike for that Fish Lamb in Cloudstreet, my head injury was improving. Yet everything was different.

The world was different, somehow.

K and I stayed together for a year or so. She helped me enormously with rehabilitation and through some very difficult adjustments. But eventually, I think the weight of that event was just too much for us and it ended badly. We’ve not seen each other for fifteen years.

After a year or so I returned to play local cricket. I was determined to play at the same level (A Grade) that I’d played prior to the accident. One of those arbitrary but personally meaningful goals people set. Though now unable to throw a ball, I played out a year in C Grade. And another. I was improving. I was frustrated. I won the bowling average. I won the competition bowling average. I won the club best and fairest award. But all of this was grist to my personal mill of one day playing A Grade again.

The next year I played again and gained promotion to B Grade as an opening (shine off the ball –style) batsman. My goal of reaching A Grade was within realistic reach. Although I never made many runs in B Grade, I’d done enough in the shine-off-the-ball department to one day be selected for A Grade. That was a personally gratifying and emotional time. I lasted only a couple of matches in A Grade as a batsman. But I’d made it. Prior to the car accident I had played as a bowler. But never mind, achieving this selection doused a personal fire of my rehabilitation. It quenched my need to prove myself capable of living as I had done before. It had been enormously important to me while 19, 20, 21 years-of-age, to show myself and others that my car accident injuries could be overcome.

And yet, rapidly after being dropped from A Grade, I realised that my previously roaring competitive fire had dimmed to a flicker. I played on for years, mainly in C Grade, dislocating my shoulder a few times, and gave cricket away at age 29. The fire was out. And that was fine.

Today is 19 years since that accident and I was 19-years-old at the time. It shocks me to think that half my life I’ve lived as the “new me.” I clearly remember lying in the Austin hospital spinal unit thinking alternately, “I’m so lucky”/ “Why me?” / “I’m so lucky”/ “Why me?” /“I’m so lucky”/ “Why me?” on a seemingly endless loop. Without me noticing, that loop ended. The sun came up. And then it came up again.

Out of curiosity and a sense of completeness, I ventured back to the site of the stack. Nothafagus cunninghamii and I drove the first bit of the Barkly Highway in 2004. I just wanted to see. To see if any memory came back. After five minutes I’d seen enough.

Today, 19 years since the accident, I know that those injuries will never be overcome. And I know that they’re not something to be overcome. Rather, they’re something to accommodate, to learn about. To accept. I know that things won’t be the same as they were. I know that tomorrow will be different to today. I know that a good life is not measured by comparing before and after -selves. I know that a good life can be simply doing your best.

Others have their stories. I wonder what they are. For today, that’s my small revelation.

 

 

Another side of this story – the head injury

About David Wilson

Living is easy with eyes closed. Noodling away at The Footy Almanac since 2013. Twitter: @e_regnans

Comments

  1. Beautifully, eloquently and simply put. Thanks David.
    I was only saying to another Knacker today how much I had enjoyed your writing, but the long sentences and mystical allusions of Clarrie and Piggie had left me a little lost. Not this piece – from the heart rather than the brain.
    When I am struggling for words I always resort to poetry. The clarity of your piece reminded me of TS Eliot:
    “We shall not cease from exploration
    And the end of all our exploring
    Will be to arrive where we started
    And know the place for the first time.”
    Well played both those men.

  2. Cat ftom the Country says

    Wow. E Regnans you have been very courageous in telling your story in this public forum.
    Well done on your success over the last 19 years
    Wonder what the next 19 years will bring for you.
    Good Luck and Best Wishes.

  3. Malcolm Ashwood says

    Thanks E regnans a lot of courage and honesty there and I see some similarities with
    D Lehmann in that how a event has changed you and thru the hardship and trauma you have managed to obtain and work towards a better more balanced outlook on life
    I think most of us have something happen ( Not as dramatic as you and I am not diminishing what you have gone thru in any way ) mine is finally admitting to myself I had a problem with the booze and giving it away AA helped but in the end it is being honest to myself yep it is hard being so involved in a sporting environment but it is 1 day at a time . I have found being a member of the Knackery helps reading such stories of honesty does a world of good thanks opening the batting partner I look forward to meeting you 1 day

  4. Thanks for sharing this anniversary David. I really admire the attitude, and congrats for achieving the goal of A grade again.

    You don’t have to be the best man in the world, just be the best man you can be

    Shows some courage to do what you did, but even more to share it. Credit to you and good luck for the next phase, the bit that starts tomorrow

    Sean

  5. Great piece David, as always.

    Had me thinking about John Greening – and how his motivation changed once he climbed the huge mountain to get back into Collingwood’s seniors. Having been near-to BOG in his comeback game the flame to keep it up went out, despite all he ever wanted to do since being a kid in Tassie was play for the Magpies.

    I guess when you’ve had that near-death experience devoting all one’s energies to competitive sport probably seems a bit of a waste, or just requires too much mental energy on top of dealing with what happened.

  6. Peter Fuller says

    David,
    Thank you for privileging us with this lovely, highly personal piece. Your inspirational journey – small progressions towards your bigger target – resonates for all of us who have attempted anything in sport, or life, however modest our goals or achievements.
    Congratulations on coming through such a life-changing experience and drawing so productively on the lessons of the accident and rehab.

  7. Peter Fuller says

    JD,
    Jason McCartney after the triumph of his post-Bali comeback game is a recent parallel with John Greening.

  8. Well played DW

  9. Thanks for sharing your story with us all David. There is something in there for everyone to learn from.

  10. Dave Lazzaro says

    Great piece again Dave.
    I feel fortunate to to have known you prior to your accident as the “rover trapped in a ruckman’s body”, and also the post accident version. Still can’t imagine how you came through this experience as well as you have, but your writing here shed’s a little light on your thoughts during that time.
    Always essential reading Dollars!

  11. Ben Footner says

    One of the things I love about this site is the way a piece comes along every now and then that gives you a real healthy dose of perspective. Thanks David, great read.

  12. Well written Sir. A window to the soul is a remarkable thing.

  13. E.r.
    Writing from the heart alright!
    Brilliant.
    Royal Talbot brings back personal memories for me.
    When he was 19, my uncle was shot in a hunting accident. I can still remember my dad (his brother) emerging from RMH and announcing “it doesn’t look like he will make it”, but he did. He spent a couple of years in Royal Talbot. When on weekend release, Sunday evenings were difficult, because he did not want to go back. I have always maintained that those idiots and hoons on the road should be made to take a look inside places like these to see how many lives are silently destroyed by road trauma.

  14. Glen Potter says

    Great read, E. Regnans. I hope that flame can re-ignited one day. One can be a long time retired. Perhaps an Almanackers XI? Well done for opening up.
    Glen

  15. Thanks all. Good on you.

  16. Matthew McCabe says

    Thanks for sharing this Dave – great read as always.

  17. Luke Reynolds says

    Superb David. What a comeback. Hugely inspiring. Brilliantly written.

  18. mickey randall says

    Wonderful story. Inspiring and humbling. Thanks very much.

  19. Marcus Holt says

    Can’t remember being moved to tears by an Almanac story before but the screen is blurry in my vision right now.
    Having presided at the funerals of a number of young people killed on the road I have strong feelings regarding car crashes. Sometimes those who die are the “lucky” ones. In this instance we are the lucky ones for hearing your story.

    Many thanks

  20. Great work Dave. Really lovely read. You might be at the point where “recovery” would be foreign territory.

  21. Malcolm Ashwood says

    Dave I am sure you have felt the warmth and enormous respect from the Knackery re the huge amount of courage to write this article . I would love you to write another article not only about what you went thru physically to fight back but also mentally
    and how it has affected or changed your outlook on life consciously and even sub consciously ( Do not mean to intrude ) Thanks Dave

  22. Steve Fahey says

    A moving and very well written story, thank you David.

    It certainly brought back memories of Jason McCartney’s story, battle and triumph to me.

  23. Just back from a holiday in Coffs Harbour; drove 1450+ ks in the last couple of days; always aware that one mistake by me or another could take my family out.

    Courageous life and courageous writing.

  24. Barry Nicholls says

    Good piece in all manner of ways.

  25. I went through the Austin and rehab (just pre-Talbot) and know
    that, say what else you will about it, purgatory does purge …
    … you of all pettiness, distorted understandings and illusions
    that people are either better or worse than you thought they would be.
    Your article shines with understanding. Have a glorious next 19 years,
    and 19 after that, and 19 after that. That will bring you up to a Mandela-esque 95:
    no one should ask for more than that. :)

    k

  26. Hi all,
    Thanks for choosing to contribute your comments.
    I wondered about the posting of this piece, but not for long. I felt quite self-conscious and worried lest I come across as triumphant, knowing that so many are left worse off than me.
    Thanks very much, too, for sharing your own vulnerabilities here on a public forum.
    I think it’s again been shown to be a powerful action to take.
    Speedy Lazzaro – good one. There aren’t many in my life now who knew me prior to 1995, but you are one of them. Thanks very much for posting there.
    And Rulebook – your suggestion of a piece reflecting on the mental journey is one I’ve thought about for years. I once read a book by a vulcanologist who suffered a head injury and for a while thought I might write one too. It’s a big topic. But I’ll give your idea of a short piece some more thought now. Thanks.

  27. Glad this came up again ER. A wonderful little reflection.

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