Taster of Chapter 01
No hurdle in life is impossible overcome
I regained consciousness at the bottom of a 15-foot embankment in the driver’s seat of a wrecked car.
Moments earlier I had been enjoying the drive to Airlie Beach in Queensland, Australia, looking forward to catching up with old friends one last time before returning home to England at the end of what had been the most amazing year of my life.
How had I got here? Had I hit another car? Or lost control of mine? All these thoughts running through my mind distracted me from the fact that my arm was starting to hurt.
I looked down and saw a severed arm lying across my lap. At first I was scared it was from a pedestrian or another car I had collided with. I did not even contemplate that it might be mine.
In a state of panic, I turned to my passenger, Barry, for reassurance, but all he said was, “Don’t look down, it’s your arm.” I don’t know why but those words seemed to calm me.
I tried to get out of the car, but it had sustained a lot of damage and the door on my side was wedged shut. Barry was already clambering out of the window on his side and I followed close behind, a scared 21-year- old carrying his own severed arm.
As I saw Barry scrambling up the bank, I was suddenly alone, scared and slipping into shock. Just at that moment my guardian angel arrived in the form of a woman called Cathy. She had heard the crash from her house and came to see what had happened.
At this point, although I had seen the arm, I had not registered how bad the situation was, so the fact that I was losing blood at a frightening rate was not a concern to me – I was more interested in climbing up the embankment.
But Cathy could see the danger I was in and ran across, wrestling me to the ground with the sort of tackle that would have made the Australian rugby team proud. The only way she could keep me still was to sit on me while we waited for the ambulance.
It is funny but I felt exactly the way you see in films when someone is in trouble – my eyes were closing and I had an overwhelming desire to sleep. Thankfully Cathy was determined to be annoying and did everything she could to keep me awake.
From nowhere I turned to Cathy and said, “I think I have stuffed my rugby career.”
It must have been one of the hardest things for her to hear that and have to lie, but she told me I would be fine and back playing in no time, although she didn’t need to be a doctor to see that my arm was unsavable.
While I hadn’t felt the pain at first, I was definitely feeling it now, an unbearable burning sensation in my right shoulder. Finally, I heard the sound I had been waiting for, and Cathy had no doubt been praying for – sirens. Help had arrived.
The fire brigade was first on the scene and they quickly noticed a strong smell of petrol coming from the car. Without pause for breath I was fastened to a stretcher and run up the hill. Bizarrely, through all that was happening and the pain I was in, I remember smiling at the fact that, in their haste, the fire crew were carrying me the wrong way – feet first – up the hill, so I kept sliding off the board while they frantically tried to hold me in place.
By the time we reached the top of the bank the ambulance had arrived. All I remember at that point was asking to be put to sleep. Of course this was not possible – all they could offer me was gas and air for pain relief.
Meanwhile, the driver of the other vehicle involved in the collision – a 74-year-old local farmer – was 100 yards up the road, casually changing the tyre on an otherwise unscathed car. Once his tyre was changed, he left without even coming to see if I was all right.
All this had happened in a small town called Sarina, about 40 miles south of Mackay, and luckily it was only a few miles to the local hospital. My last memory is lying on the table while the doctor unwrapped the bandage now holding my arm in place. I don’t know if I lost consciousness or they put me to sleep, but I recall nothing of my second ride in an Australian ambulance – the transfer to Mackay Base Hospital, where I would receive the specialist attention I needed.
Again, my memory of this time is vague. My only recollection is of a doctor explaining that they would do all they could to save the arm, but there was a chance they would have to amputate or, as I like to say, ”finish what I started”.
The doctor asked for my permission to amputate if needed. I replied sharply, “I don’t care, just put me to sleep.” Then the lights went out. Relief at last.
While I was under the knife, unbeknown to me, someone had made the phone call that every parent dreads: “Mrs. Crates, your son has been involved in a serious accident.” I can only imagine the fear my mum felt as she passed the phone to my dad, unable to comprehend what was happening. They received the call at 4am so were unable to do anything until the morning and must have felt totally alone.