That’s not true – I wouldn’t strangle him. What I would do is drag him naked behind a four-stroke, 1800cc grunty motorbike by a Columbian necktie. Think that’s a bit mean and over the top? I would sing Monty Python’s Always Look on the Bright Side of Life while riding down the road. And that would only be the beginning of what would be a long period of suffering...including but not limited to potato peelers and electric sanders.
As you will have read in my previous post, on 17 October 2015 while Pierce was under his car, a meth head – I refer to as Mr F. Witt – hit the car from behind dragging Pierce down the road causing multiple injuries. This post is a snapshot into the second year of Pierce’s recovery.
The end of 2016 and into the beginning of 2017 have been big for Pierce’s recovery.
For four months ACC have been implementing a return-to-work programme. Every fortnight the number of days worked, or the number of work hours increase, until he reaches six hours a day. His permanent colouring is similar to a navy warship’s. Depending on the sunlight, of course. When the sun’s rays hit a warship just so it reminds me of the bottom of a dead beach-fire pit. Since I work for the same company where Pierce is an apprentice electrician I am able to some degree to control his workload. I tend to judge this by his colour. Grey equals jobs like test and tagging electrical appliances. Rosy pink cheeks and he gets to help rewire sockets and light switches. He is now a pro at test and tagging! I have to say the programme might have worked if it had gone at the pace of a large water snail.
Pierce’s occupational therapist is a paragon of the newly mending walking wounded. After a particularly gruelling week for Pierce she takes one look at his gun metal grey and books him into an occupational-doctor assessment. Most of Pierce’s appointments I attend, but since I have no more leave left, this one I couldn’t.
‘Mum, the doctor says if I stay working all I’ll do is work, eat and sleep. I won’t have the energy to go to the gym, do physio or have a life.’
‘Oh, wow...like you already are?’
‘Like I’m already what?’
‘Going to work, coming home, eating and going straight to bed. Jesus, you didn’t need a doctor to tell you that.’
‘Yeah, well, my OT did.’
‘Because with his report she can have a meeting with work and me and figure out what I should do.’
‘What do you want to do?’
‘I don’t know. I know I don’t want to be so tired all the time and I wanna go to the gym.’
‘Fair enough. I’ll be coming to your work meeting, so think about what it is you’d want to do if you don’t continue at work.’
So, Pierce is no longer an apprentice electrician. At a meeting following his work one – I didn’t get to attend again – between Amanda, Pierce and his ACC case manager it was decided Pierce would start studying.
‘Hi, you’ve reached the ACC advocacy line, my name is Sue. How may I help you today?’
‘Hi, Sue. I need to know if we can do anything about ACC’s two courses that’ve been offered to my son, neither of which is the one he wants to do.’
‘Sure. First off, what is your son’s name, what are the courses on offer and what’s the one he wants to do?’
‘His name is Pierce. ACC have offered him a $50 basic computer course or a forklift-driving course. The course he wants to do is Information Systems through our local tech.’
“Yes, those are the most common courses offered to people who can’t continue in pre-accident work.’
‘But, surely if Pierce was going for a career before the accident he should be able to do a course that will give him a different profession, not just a job?’
‘Unfortunately, that isn’t the case. Doing it by the book, ACC’s process is to get people back into a job; a career path isn’t a priority.’
‘So, my son who – through no fault of his own – has been in an accident that has broken his bones, scarred his flesh and at one stage had him in intensive care completely sedated, fed through a tube with a machine breathing for him, doesn’t deserve to have a career? And…there’s nothing we can do about this?’
‘I’m sorry to say there isn’t any recourse. If ACC isn’t willing to pay for the course Pierce wants to do, he’ll have to choose one they are. I realise it’s not what you want to hear and I’m sorry I couldn’t be of more help.’
‘It’s okay, Sue. You aren’t the one making stupid edicts – ACC is.’ I run my fingers through my hair and tug. ‘Thank you for your time. Goodbye.’
Don’t get me wrong, I’m in no way saying driving a forklift is a bad thing, and Pierce could have taught a basic computer course. What I am saying is: the systems, processes and care set up in this country for victims is disgustingly flawed.
But, miracles can and do happen. Two days after my call to the ACC advocacy line – when I’d run out of creative swear words for the whole situation - Amanda phoned to say ACC had reconsidered and approved payment for the Information Systems Diploma. Wow, for a petite lady Amanda must be crossed with an angry pit bull – or a stealthy panther who managed to rip the metaphorical face off the ACC rulebook.
So, with this small triumph Pierce only must deal with ongoing pain that requires strong medication to control it. Oh, yippee!
Pierce in Intensive Care
First Few Days in a Ward
Pain. The body’s primitive, instinctual reaction to something that hurts.
I can only imagine the amount of pain Pierce had and continues to suffer through. Every time I witness Pierce in agony I wanted to scoop it out of him and install it in me. Or, better yet, take even the smallest hurt from him, multiply it by one hundred and gift it back to F. Witt with a pretty blood-red ribbon tied around it.
I’ve been told that being dragged along the road, grating off skin, top layers of muscle and part of his right ankle bone creates pain similar to burn victims. Burn victims with third degree burns. Soon after moving to Northland I had a pressure cooker of pumpkin soup explode, causing steam burns on my face, arm and stomach. It stung for days after it happened, even with me having hurtled myself into an ice-cold shower. The burns covered less than five percent of my body. Pierce’s wounds covered about one-third of his body.
At the beginning it took an hour to change the dressings on each one, and it was five months before they healed enough that the dressings could stay off. The healed skin still looks almost translucent, like you are looking through cling wrap at tissue and capillaries, almost able to see the blood swishing through veins.
For several months after he was mobile again Pierce was still receiving massage, acupuncture and osteopathy to help the pain, particularly in his back, knee and peeled leg. Now he’s not having anything but medication, but that’s solely because of affordability. One hundred percent of an apprentice’s wages is under the minimum hourly rate. Eighty percent of an apprentice’s wages is Sweet Fanny Adams. Every appointment he attended came with an ACC surcharge, some as high as $42.00 a time. So now it’s only doctor’s visits, plus medication at $35.00 a trip. Pierce is essentially paying to recover. What a wonderful health-care system we have in New Zealand – it’s nearly as good as our ineffective justice system, but I’ll get to that shortly.
I can’t remember which of Pierce’s doctor visits it was, but on one of them the doctor ordered an MRI and referred him to an orthopaedic specialist to look at the increasing pain where his vertebrae had burst. So off he traipsed back to the hospital to lie in a machine that sounds like two transformer bulldozers going at it.
‘Hi Pierce, it’s nice to meet you,’ Doctor Ortho said as he shook Pierce’s hand. ‘You must be Mum,” shaking mine.
‘Yes, I’m Pierce’s mum, Justine.’
‘Nice to meet you both. Have a seat. Now, I’m going to explain what the MRI has shown, if that’s okay?’
‘That would be great, thanks.’
‘Unfortunately, the vertebrae that burst isn’t healing. The front and back of the bone is crumbling and the rest isn’t very stable. As you can see here –’ points at the lit-up MRI ‘ – the canal where the spinal cord runs through is diminished in size. This is what is causing a majority of the pain in your back and leg.’
‘Um, okay...how do we go about fixing it so Pierce isn’t constantly in pain?’
‘If you don’t mind, Pierce, I’d like to carry out a brief examination.’
‘Sure. What do you want me to do?’
‘Can you walk in a straight line from the bed towards me?’
I stare out the window at the concrete slab that is the building next door. I’d get someone creative to paint a mural on that. God… I’m glad it doesn’t smell like disinfectant here.
‘I’ll request an MRI on your knee, and sort out a referral to a doctor who specialises in knees since I specialise in spines. Take a seat again, Pierce, and we’ll discuss what we need to do.’
As Doctor Ortho told us about the spinal surgery Pierce would need, I watched Pierce’s reaction out of the corner of my eye. He went paler and swallowed three or four times when Dr O said, ‘After we stitch you up in the front we’ll flip you over and go in through the back.’
I let Pierce digest everything he’d been told and asked Dr O questions about when he envisioned the surgery would take place.
‘First we have to apply to ACC for the surgery. Then book a vascular surgeon and theatre at the hospital. You’ll remain in for about a week post-surgery.”.’
‘How long does it usually take ACC to approve applications?’
‘Four to six weeks. I’ll give you a tentative surgery date of mid to late October.’
‘Will having the cage around my vertebrae and the fusing stop the pain?’ Pierce’s eyebrow twitched and his Adam’s apple bobbed.
‘Yes, but later in life you may have to have further surgery.’
I think back to when I entered the intensive care area, after his initial eight hours of surgery, to see Pierce hooked up to machines going bleep, inflating then deflating, while above him bags of liquid dripped into tubes that ran into his arms. Picking up his hand, I just looked at his face. Taking shallow breaths to stop the burn of antiseptic up my nose very nearly brought on a panic attack. The buzzing started in my ears, then what felt like mercury came from a point deep within my brain, feeding into my arteries and flowing down my neck, shoulders and arms, chilling as it slithered. I took deeper breaths, the burning smell of antiseptic preferable.
After Pierce and I left Doctor O’s rooms, we retreated to the café for a desperately needed caffeine hit.
Pierce asked, ‘You’ll take me there and be there when I wake up, won’t you, Mum?’
‘Of course, darling. Whatever you need, I’ll do.’
‘I hate going under. I’m scared, Mum. What if something happens?’
‘I know, darling. You wouldn’t be normal if you weren’t scared. But Dr O is a fantastic surgeon, and you’ll be in a great hospital getting excellent care with great facilities so if anything did happen they’d be able to fix it immediately.’
I didn’t add I’d be shitting myself until I could walk into his room and pick up his hand, knowing the surgery was a complete success.
Approval took six weeks. We’re now near the end of November, with 9 February 2018 a tentative surgery date, still on tenterhooks. We are also awaiting the outcome of his knee MRI, and pending specialist appointment there is potentially another dreaded surgery in 2018.
Pierce waiting for a surgery
So, we come back full circle to my desire to commit grievous bodily harm against Mr F. Witt. Unlike Pierce, who’s paid in blood, the parasite who caused the accident has received no consequences for his actions.
Part of the sentence the judge handed down were reparations to be paid to Pierce by F. Witt. I want to take a moment to point out that this man is a methadone user who had double-dosed on the drug when he crashed into the back of Pierce’s car, causing his injuries. Yet the judge believed him when he said he was working for himself and could pay Pierce a hundred dollars a week.
A few months after the sentencing Pierce contacted the court to find out how long until he’d start being paid the reparations he was due, the court advised him there was an arrest warrant issued for Mr. F Witt. Apparently, he’d disappeared from the address his curfew was based on, and they believed he’d cut off his ankle bracelet – and of course he didn’t have a job.
Oh, well done, Judge, what a fucking surprise. With each subsequent phone call Pierce was told the same thing.
Then came the day a police officer rocked up to the front door with news.
Not good news though. Three charming local girls had been on a bit of a party night up and down Hikurangi, which included smashing a window on Pierce’s car and trying to jump-start it.
In the discussion about his damaged car – the officer having recognised our address and Pierce – we checked if the warrant for Mr Witt had been executed. Well, slap me with a mouldy turnip and colour me flabbergasted - there didn’t appear to be a warrant for F. Witt’s arrest currently issued. So where did it go? Did it even exist in the first place? Questions we’ll probably never get answers to. Maybe, because of our overloaded justice system, no warrant was ever issued.
Pierce’s take on it pretty much sums things up for me: ‘Nobody has actually done anything about this and it’s pissing me off. It pisses me off that the justice system here is so shit.’
I’m amazed at how Pierce has come through the last two years.
Sometimes I catch myself watching him, maybe because of a combination of awe, soul-deep relief and occasional bouts of desire to commit GBH towards the man who did this. Well… not occasional!
He’s slowly put on weight and is about sixty-two kilograms now – only eight kilograms lighter than before the accident. I remember the first time he stood up and took two steps in hospital, the shuffle of bare feet on lino and the squeak of the walker wheels. I wanted to dance, skip down the corridor and throw in a few cartwheels for good measure, even while at the back of my mind was a growing sense of distress at the possibility of him snapping in half like a twig.
Other times I watch him as a car passes by on the street outside our house where the accident happened. The tightening of his arm and leg muscles, holding of breath and unnerving immobility would put a gargoyle to shame, until the car reaches him and he recoils infinitesimally, then slowly relaxes the further down the street the car gets. Or when I’m driving and he’s in the passenger seat his knuckles are white where he’s holding the strap handle above his door, a constant tic in his jaw as I reach the speed limit.
Even with all that’s going on for Pierce, the thing that still passes through my mind is: I’m glad my beautiful boy is alive, able to walk and wasn’t brain-damaged. So many people can’t say the same about relatives taken out by drug-crazed lunatics on our roads.
Over the past year I’ve tried to go back in my mind to the day of the accident. I don’t get very far before an enormous weight sits on my chest – and it’s not Jubba, my 1,000,000 kilogram cat, looking for loving. My throat feels like it’s becoming narrower and I’m in danger of having a major panic attack full of the chunky bits that I hate. Funnily enough I don’t like dwelling on that day. The times I’ve been able to get past the anxiety, I find the rusty-nail smell of blood as Pierce oozed, dripped and spurted onto the tar seal smacks me around the nostrils, while the litany of Help me, Oh my God and Oh fuck form a similar helix in my mind. Then it’s like watching a movie playing in my head…the moment I saw him bent at a funny angle and noticed the blood pooling around the gaping wound with an unobstructed view of bone, the process of administering first aid while waiting for experts, right to the noise of the ambulance door banging shut on us and the siren that continued to reverberate around my skull until we reached the hospital.
One of the things I do battle with frequently is an almost fanatical desire to hold on tight to all of my kids when they head off in cars. Especially when a month after Pierce got out of hospital somebody crashed into his girlfriend, Brooke’s, car in exactly the same place that Pierce’s had been. After Pierce’s accident Kevin (my partner) contacted the council and suggested they put in speed bumps along our road. They never got back to him…go figure.
I’m regularly amazed and a smidge baffled that I haven’t ended up a basket case, wearing a lovely white B & D jacket and rocking in the corner singing Marianne Faithfull’s “The Ballad of Lucy Jordan” to myself in a slightly tone-deaf way. Maybe there’s hope for me yet. Either that or, I should start singing this instead:
After all of the darkness and sadness
Soon comes happiness
If I surround myself with positive things
I'll gain prosperity
I'm a survivor (what?)
I'm not gon' give up (what?)
I'm not gon' stop (what?)
I'm gon' work harder (what?)
I'm a survivor (what?)
I'm gonna make it (what?)
I will survive (what?)
Keep on survivin' (what?)
– “Survivor” by Destiny’s Child
Sometimes it can be hard to remember that our family are survivors, particularly when I wake up in the middle of the night, sweating, my heart racing, gulping enormous lungs full of air because the nightmare felt so real. I might have been careening down the side of cliff, frantically trying to catch up to my partner or one of my kids to save them from going over the edge to drop a thousand metres to diamond-and-oyster-encrusted rocks below. Or – my personal fave – I’m swimming at the beach and spot a toothy great white between me and one of my family. Just knowing a shark has me on the speed stakes is enough to give me the screaming meemees – and I don’t mean that beautifully crooned song from the eighties Auckland band of the same name.
I agree with the saying, To err is human, to forgive divine, coined by Alexander Pope(1688-1744), but since the accident I also agree with Jamie Cardinal Sin’s version: To err is human, to forgive divine, but to repeat is stupid. After altering Pierce’s life for ever, F. Witt has walked away scot free. The most disturbing thing is there’s absolutely nothing to stop him from doing it again, and next time he could kill someone – or worse, several someones.
This is something that I feel people forget when they produce inane comments like Forgive and forget, and Move on and try getting past the injustice of it all. I could describe the first time two district nurses and the ACC nurse changed his dressings, the day after he got out of hospital. That took three hours. It had already taken Pierce an hour to peel one of the dressings off the open wound on his right calf, freeing it a millimetre at a time while he alternated between crying and screaming in pain.
There was no surprise he was in so much pain – the tissue had begun to heal up through the small webbing of the non-stick dressing. The ACC nurse suggested that for the second district-nurse dressing change he use Medazolam nasal spray to forget the pain – not take the pain away, just forget it. And, oh, what a godsend that spray was. A couple of times Pierce forgot to get out of the shower, or couldn’t remember whether or not he’d used soap, and several times he fell asleep after the dressing change, possibly because of a few too many squirts.
Kudos to Pierce’s ACC nurse. She was a bright light and voice of reason in the swirling darkness that was Pierce’s recovery. She would sit at our table and ask, ‘What do you need?’ A simple question that meant so much. Every time she asked I’m not sure what stopped me from saying, ‘To turn back time to the 17 October 2015 and change what happened,’ but I managed to restrain myself. If wishes were horses, or something like that.
She truly was an angel. Ordered the dressings and medical supplies we needed. Stopped the delivery of stuff he no longer needed - as it was we ended up with boxes and boxes of excess medical supplies, even after sending a ton back. Liaised with ACC on any and all of Pierce’s needs. Organised home help so I could focus on caring for Pierce. And just having her ask about my, his and the family’s day was immeasurably important in the normalcy it gave us.
I find talking with Kevin about the accident has also helped. He said once, ‘I’ve never felt so powerless in my life. I’ve always been a believer that a situation could be fixed, or sorted. That was not the case when Pierce was hurt. All he wanted was his mum. If you hadn’t been there I don’t think I’d have made it. Probably would have gone mad or gone bush.’
It’s entirely possible that my being already a bit eccentric (crazy for you non-Aquarians), is the one thing that has kept me sane.
Lyrics to the Destiny’s Child song “Survivor”: https://play.google.com/music/preview/Triuzw6z7ighcp4jyf4nymenrka?lyrics=1&utm_source=google&utm_medium=search&utm_campaign=lyrics&pcampaignid=kp-lyrics
Alexander Pope’s idiom: