I had planned on going fishing after work, but just as we were packing up for the day we got a call from the boss asking us to help unload a switch board off the back of a truck just around the corner.
I’d been an electrician since I was 19, this was something I’d done a dozen times before and knew it would only take about 15 minutes, so I didn’t even think twice.
What happened next would change my family’s life forever. As the switchboard was being lifted off the truck, it slipped in the sling and fell on top of me, literally folding my body in half. My first thought was that I was going to die from internal bleeding – at least that’s how it felt. I thought for sure my time was up, and said to my mates “please tell my wife and kids I love them”.
The next thing I knew, I was in the Spinal Unit at the Princess Alexandra Hospital in Brisbane. The first thing I felt when I woke up was pure elation at being alive. But then the thoughts of “why me” and “what if I had done things differently” started spinning around in my head. I drove myself crazy thinking about the accident. But I wasn’t really angry – they were just negative thoughts, and I try to think positive.
I was a bit lazy to start with when it came to rehab, but then I realised that doing it was the only way I was going to get out of there. That became my motivation, and in the end I sailed through it. My kids were so young at the time, my little girl had seen me right after the accident when I had tubes all over me and after that she refused to come and see me, so I was determined to get out of hospital as soon as I could.
Four months after my accident I left hospital and went home. In the early days I didn’t really want to do anything outside the house, it was just too hard watching other dads pushing their kids on the swings or running around with their kids and knowing I couldn’t. But these days that really doesn’t worry me. My son is seven now, he plays baseball and I go to all his games.
In early 2010 I found an opportunity to turn my accident into a positive, by becoming a presenter for the SEAT workplace injury prevention program. I share my story and the importance of safety in the workplace, to hopefully prevent others from having something like this happen to them. It’s great because it gets me out meeting people and everywhere I go, I see the impact I’m making. The typical audience at one of these sessions will be about 100 guys on a building site, and I’ll have all of their attention. I always get a good reaction because I’m just like them – that makes a difference, for sure.
Things might have seemed grim when I first sustained my injury and was stuck in hospital, but now I know there is a life out there. The first 12 months are the hardest, but once you get your head around it, life gets better. I read Sucking the Marrow Out Of Life by John McLean when I first got home from hospital. He was struck down by a truck driver whilst on his bike training for a triathlon. He sustained T12 paraplegia just like me, and is just so positive. That book really changed things for me – I’m not much of a reader but I couldn’t put it down. Now I know there are plenty of opportunities for me, and life isn’t over just because I have a spinal cord injury. No chance.