This wasn’t the first trip we’d made to New Zealand, the first visit was ten years ago. It was funny really, our son Matt had been on a rather late ’finding yourself’ journey with his best friend Drew. They’d left it till they were both in their late twenties, Matt being the oldest by ten months. I don’t know who first mooted the idea of a year-long journey round Australia, but it’s the thing to do these days, so back in 1997 off they went. They sent us photographs that made our hair curl, difficult in my case as I have very little left, even less now. They related adventures about herding beasts on a huge cattle station, going to a rodeo, feeding crocodiles in the Adelaide River in what seemed like little more than a small dinghy. All manner of seemingly frightening but obviously exciting activities were being relayed to us. At the end however, Drew came home from their final leg in New Zealand, and Matt stayed behind. He’d met and fallen in love with a young woman and just didn’t want to leave her. Anyway, long story short, he did eventually make his way home, for just two months, and then went back…to live. My wife, Daphne, and I received a phone call in late December 2002 to the effect that if we wanted to be at our son’s wedding we would need to be in New Zealand by March 1st 2003. It was said in a kind and jokey way, but my boy was serious, as serious as I’d ever known him be. We duly arrived and had a wonderful welcome from Matt and all his friends, and attended a beautiful wedding on a beach under a clear blue sky. The bride was delivered by motor launch, and everything was fabulous. We’ve visited most years since, and are almost treated like locals in the Bay of Islands where Matt and his wife Vickie, and their son Damian live.
Fast forward to February 4th 2013. Daphne and I were just rising, it was nearly eight o’clock, when the phone rang. A phone call can change everything in just a matter of moments. It did. Our son we were told, had been in a major traffic accident and was as we were talking, being airlifted to Auckland City Hospital. He’d already been airlifted to a hospital nearer, but they weren’t confident that they could deal with his internal injuries, hence the further trip to Auckland. We were immediately into fight and flight mode at the same time. We had to fight our inner desires to keep going over the potential outcome and wear ourselves into the ground with worry, and we had to get a flight…and fast. I’m thankful for the Internet in many ways, I use it for many useful things. But I was never more thankful than that morning when I was able to go online and book a flight, almost immediately. We couldn’t get a flight for a fortnight with Singapore Air, who we normally fly with, but fortunately I was able to book a flight with Air New Zealand. A trip that we would normally plan over a few months, was planned and executed in a week. We landed in Auckland on February 12th where we were met by Vickie and Pam, who’s a wonderful friend, and almost a mother to Vickie. Pam also left her car at our disposal for most of our stay, she’s just like that. We were then taken to see Matt at Auckland City Hospital.
During the previous week when we’d been preparing to fly over Matt had had several operations. The voluntary Fire Service in Kerikeri had done a fantastic job in getting him out of his truck, he’d had to be cut out of his double-cab pickup, but it was believed he’d perforated his duodenum. That was the reason he was flown on to Auckland. There was also the matter of the compound fracture of his right femur, his shattered knee, and the top of his tibia broken away from the rest of it and being pulled away by the ligaments, as well as a damaged shoulder and bruised ribs etc. The surgeons at Auckland CH put the leg into a metal frame while they worked on the duodenum, it was fortunately a bruise and after some days of resting it, Matt was taken to surgery again for the nine hour operation to repair his leg. The tibia was re-glued and screwed together, the knee was totally rebuilt, and a titanium rod was used to re-join the femur. Matt now has a scar at the top of his right buttock where the rod was inserted…awesome!! His right leg is covered in scars actually.
When we first set eyes on Matt I remember thinking how frail he looked, I should point out that he is six feet four inches tall and wouldn’t look out of place on a rugby pitch normally. He was clearly in such pain, he was using a morphine self-injector tube and was getting a lot of other painkillers too. I never heard him complain once, but I was shocked to the core to see him like that. He’s forty four years old, he could have been ten, it didn’t matter, he was our son and we’d had to come just to hold him and to help in any way we could, and know he’d be alright.
Since then Matt’s made amazing progress. He’s not wearing the brace that was helping him to bend his knee, the surgeon chose to let him decide for himself when he felt he could bend his leg and he’s been able to do just that. If he goes round any shops, such as in Auckland where Matt and Vickie spent the day after we said our goodbyes at the airport, he hires a wheelchair to make it a little less painful. It will probably be twelve months, maybe more, before my son’s leg is properly healed. It may never be as good as it was before this horrendous crash. Daphne and I are just grateful that he wasn’t hurt even worse, and that he’s getting better all the time, and that on his own admission he’s been lucky. He’ll have scars to talk about for years to come.
Matt’s New Zealand family and friends, and the people he works for have been incredibly supportive, and his workmates have been absolutely fantastic. They’ll look after him and Vickie till we go again – preferably after a more leisurely planning time.