I was a heavy transport driver for a New Plymouth agricultural company. Usually I drove long-haul, but I’d been working locally that day.
I got back to the yard about half past four and stopped by the wash bay to have a yarn with a mate who was washing his loader.
After a few minutes I moved away, heading for my ute, and pulled out my phone to clock off.
As I did so I felt the loader hit me from behind, knocking me backwards off my feet. I fell into the loader bucket, hitting my head on the back of it and knocking myself out.
The loader driver couldn’t see me – didn’t even know he’d hit me – so he just kept on driving. I’ve been told it was only when the guys in the yard started screaming at him that he realized I was in the bucket.
The first thing I knew, two workmates were dragging me out of the bucket. I don’t think they realized I’d been knocked out because I was coming round by then.
I didn’t realize anything serious had happened either. I just got into my ute and drove to the office to tell my boss what had happened.
Turned out he’d seen some of it and reckoned it was me being stupid, lying in the bucket to get a ride, but I said, no, I’d been hit.
I live 20km from the yard so he offered to have someone drive me home, but I said no, no, I’m good as gold. But what he should have done was take the bloody keys and call an ambulance.
I don’t remember driving home, but my wife saw me staggering around when I got there. I told her what had happened and she went off her tree. She rushed me straight up to A&E.
I had a CT scan and they found two brain bleeds – one at the back where my head had hit the bucket, and one at the front.
At first they were going to fly me to Wellington, but then decided to just keep an eye on me for a while. As it happened, things stabilized a bit, and after about five days I was able to go home.
I didn’t comprehend much at all for quite a while – even after I came home. I was just in another universe really.
But I do remember at one point the doctor got really close to my face, told me what had happened with the brain bleeds, and said that if it had gone just another millimeter I’d have been in really big trouble. That hit home a bit.
The headaches were really bad, and I had tinnitus as well – just ringing like 10,000 grasshoppers in my head. I had that for quite a while. And loss of balance too, sensitivity to noise and glare – all the stuff that goes with head injuries.
Over time those have mostly settled down, but my sense of smell and taste have gone for good.
When I first said I couldn’t taste or smell the food in hospital they thought it was Covid, but when no symptoms developed they realised it was the brain injury.
It’s something I have to live with, but it’s still hard. I used to really enjoy the smell of bacon and eggs cooking.
One of my knees had been starting to go before this happened so when the loader hit me just above that knee it finished me off. I had to have a knee replacement, but it took another 12 or 18 months to get that done.
I also had whiplash, which has caused some ongoing problems, and I must have wrenched my back as well, because in the last two years I’ve had major back problems.
I took a shit load of tablets. And I spent a lot of time in bed.
I’d get up and walk around for a bit, then get back into bed again. It went on like that for probably three weeks or more.
My wife does in-home child care, so my youngest daughter chucked her job and came up here to help look after me.
It didn’t really sink in until quite a bit later.
It was probably about six weeks after my accident that we were just sitting down talking and I started panicking. Everything hit the fan a bit after that.
The next time I went to the concussion clinic I told them my brain was fried and I needed to talk to a therapist. They put me onto a really good one, and after a couple of sessions he diagnosed PTSD.
Understanding what was happening to me helped. And the therapist also explained the trigger points – the things I had to try and avoid.
Even now, if there’s a loud noise behind me I just freeze, and if there’s a loader or a digger working near me, I have to turn around and watch it. I can never turn my back on it.
Returning to work
I couldn’t go back to work for at least six months because I’d been forbidden to drive for that long, but it wasn’t an issue because I couldn’t do much at that time anyway.
As time went by I thought I’d better try to get fit again, so I started walking. The first time I got about 30 metres and couldn’t walk any further. It took me probably two-and-a-half months to walk to the end of our street – and it’s only 300 metres. I wasn’t allowed to walk alone, but all the kids were good about that.
There were times I thought shit, am I going to be able to drive a truck again? But after about nine months I thought yeah, now’s the time to do something.
I went to another local company, Whitaker Civil Engineering, and they’ve been amazing.
I explained what had happened and what I could do, and the project manager Chris Lane put me on a return-to-work programme, starting with a few hours a day and gradually increasing.
After about five or six weeks I was back on full time hours.
I just drive round town now, in a little six-wheeler 20 tonne truck, and it’s good.
I have to be careful climbing ladders, avoid heavy lifting, and can’t just spring up on the truck like I used to.
And although my concentration’s good now, I still struggle with short-term memory. But if I forget what the next job is I just text Chris to find out.
I also have a bit of road rage now, which never used to happen before. That’s a complete personality change, which is very hard for my wife and kids too. When things upset me I’ve just got to tell myself to let it go. This isn’t who I used to be, and that gets me.
It’s been hard on all the family. I’ve seen how hard it’s been on my wife – she was pretty distressed, but Donna and the kids have just done everything they could for me.
I like my job, and hopefully I’ll get another couple of years there before I start slowing down a bit.
Outside of work I’ve always done a lot of hunting with the kids. I couldn’t do that for a long time, but I’m back into it now, which is good.
And I can kick a ball with the grandkids or take them fishing, so I’m close to being where I want to be. There are things to look forward to.