Challenge to recover – a true test of mettle
Confrontation is nothing new to New Plymouth Police Sergeant George White, but a near-fatal cycle accident and the subsequent challenge to recover have been a true test of his mettle.
Aged 48, George was at peak performance in cycling circles and extremely fit. His training schedule saw him ride some 600 kilometres each week, as well as work out at the gym, hike the mountains and trails of Taranaki and participate in search and rescue training.
With 28 years of policing under his belt, including five peacekeeping missions to Bougainville, the Solomon Islands and East Timor, George has seen and experienced some extremely difficult situations. Rehabilitation from serious injury however has been the most difficult.
George was sprinting to the finish of the 2011 Lion Foundation Wellington to Auckland Cycle Challenge when a bike in front hit the kerb and a pile-up occurred. George was flung from his bike, hitting the road hard. The peddle of another bike struck the base of his skull, knocking him unconscious.
The ambulance crew registered George as 3 on the Glasgow Coma Scale, meaning he was in a state of potentially permanent deep unconsciousness (severe <8, minor >13, normal 15). A tracheotomy was performed and George was taken to Waikato Hospital where CT and MRI scans confirmed a fracture in the occipital bone on the right side going down to the skull base, a large epidural haematoma, a subarachnoid haematoma, a thin subdural haematoma on the right side and contusions within the frontal lobes. He also had a fractured rib and scapula.
He was taken straight to theatre for a bifrontal supratentorial occipital craniectomy, a right occipital craniectomy and evacuation of an extradural haematoma. An intracranial pressure bolt was inserted to control pressure build-up.
“The days after the accident were fuzzy. I had lost my memory and my balance, had difficulty concentrating and was worried about what my life would be like in the future. It was a very difficult time and it was the people who came to see me who got me through it. Family, friends and colleagues who visited and sent their best wishes kept me going. In fact, the first person I saw when I woke from the coma was Rosa, the new baby of a colleague. That was a very special moment.”
Once stabilised, George was transferred to ABI Rehabilitation in Auckland.
“I received the best care possible from health professionals and it did not cost me or my family a thing – New Zealanders are lucky compared with people from other countries. The care and attention they gave made me feel special and I often asked myself if I deserved it. In some ways I felt obligated to do my level best to get better.”
After three months George was back on his feet and getting about using Nordic walking poles, which he preferred to walking sticks, but he was unhappy.
“The staff and people there were really great, but I was so far away from home. It was too far for people to travel to visit me and I missed being in my own community.
“I was disappointed by the restrictions I was placed under. I knew it was for my own safety and wellbeing, but I wanted to get back to normality and to have more say in my progress. I kept pushing to do things for myself and being told that I was not ready yet. It was frustrating for us all.”
According to George, when you have a long way to go it is not the major milestones, but the little things, that are most important to recovery.
“You need to be able to do the small things – these are the things that make you feel more in control. I love good coffee, and for me being able to walk down the street by myself to get what I wanted was important. It’s about helping people to help themselves.”
Being part of normal life was so important to George that he asked ACC to help. Discharge home was not an option for him at this time, but it was identified by ACC that he could continue with his active rehabilitation at the Omahanui Special Care Unit in New Plymouth. George’s wife Janine went and had a look at the facility and was convinced that this was where he should be, hence the transfer to New Plymouth and closer to home.
“ACC was great. They listened to what I wanted and understood why the move was important to me. After discussing my case with the specialists they transferred me to the Omahanui Special Care, funded my transport and continued my care with no problems at all. It felt so much better being able to see people I knew, and eventually to get back out into the community.”
According to ACC support coordinator Glynis Mossman, George needed little motivation – if anything he frequently needed to be reminded of the less obvious cognitive impacts that can result from a head injury (such as psychological, emotional and behavioural complications) and be encouraged not to push too hard too soon.
“His physical recovery has been supported by his fitness and mental determination. However, there is much more to recovering from an accident that includes a head injury.
“It sometimes takes much longer for the brain to heal and this is something that cannot be pushed or overlooked. George has come a long way in 16 months, but we have to be sure that we give him the time he needs and support him all the way – no matter how long the journey.”
George was eager to get back to work, but he was still suffering from fatigue and concentration lapses and was unable to drive. ACC worked with the New Zealand Police Human Resources department and with the Area Commander to get him back part time, supporting his colleagues and promoting, of all things, cycle safety.
“I love being back at work again. As I spend a lot of time walking I meet up with people and get to have a good chat and find out what is going on around town. A lot of money and time has been spent on my rehabilitation and I think ‘why throw it away?’. Working gives me a sense of purpose. I like to think I can contribute in some way.”
Another goal he has set is to get back to a level of fitness with which he is happy. “I have accepted that I might not ever be as fit as I was before the accident – maintaining that level of fitness is a fairly selfish pastime – but you do have to push yourself, set challenges even as you accept a change in lifestyle and allow progress to dictate the pace of your recovery.”
“I am very grateful to everyone who has helped me, particularly the professionals who listened to me and were willing to throw away the book occasionally and give me some freedom and control. I am also extremely lucky to have an employer who has made it possible for me to get back to work, and colleagues who accept me and make me feel welcome. And I am also very thankful for the wonderful system we have in ACC, and the great people who worked with me and coordinated my care.”
Published 01/10/2012Share this