I woke up in the morning and there was a different nurse there, as the shift had changed. At one stage there must have been about fifteen consultants around the foot of the bed, looking at the leeches and what they were doing. The leeches were being used to suck the blood that was coming from the flap. The young nurse was nervous with all the consultants around her, and you could see her hand shaking. As she picked up the leech she was shaking more, and another nurse who was talking to me at the time, seen the leech shake, screamed and ran out of the room. I had a great laugh at this. That afternoon, I went back for an operation to stop the bleeding. Every morning, the consultants would look at my leg and make comments. The flap started to decay, and I had to go for a second operation. The second piece of muscle had to be taken from the thigh and put over the flap at the shin. Thankfully this worked.
I got on very well with all the consultants and I looked forward to their visits every morning. One visit that sticks out happened the week after the second flap operation. A consultant came into the room and started sniffing the air, I asked if he had a cold and he replied: “I think the operation is a success as I can’t smell any decaying flesh.” I had not smelled anything, as I was living with it all the time. On the day I was to come home, I noticed a piece of steel in my leg and I asked one of the nurses to pull it out. A consultant arrived later with big pliers and pulled out the staple.
I lay on my back in the hospital from October until Christmas, if I had to sit out in the chair; I had to be lifted with a crane out of the bed and lifted with the crane from the chair to get back into the bed. I got home on the 23rd of December that year. All I could do was move from the bed; to the wheelchair; to the couch. I was warned when I got home not to go back into the farmyard where the accident happened, as it could trigger flashbacks, and depression could set in. The first day home, I went back into the farmyard. If I could have walked around the yard that evening I would have, but I was not able to put the weight on the right leg even with crutches. Thank God I do not get flashbacks, not even to this day. The evening of the accident I made peace with myself on route to the hospital, if that makes sense. I knew that if I started blaming myself or anyone else, that I could slip into a dark place. I wanted my family and anyone that came to see me, to know that I was still the same I wanted them to know my head was in the right place.
While at home, moving around the house on the wheelchair took some getting used to. I had to sleep downstairs and I was tired a lot, so, I would sleep in the middle of the day. The hardest thing I found was the phantom pain, suffering pain in a leg that was not there. This only lasted for a couple of mounts and now I do not get that pain, but it was awful.
Around the middle of February, I got into the National Rehabilitation Hospital in Dublin. I spent sixteen-weeks learning how to walk again. The first prosthetic-leg was not great. I was not happy with the lack of comfort and by the next Christmas, I was on my second leg. This one was easier to walk around on. Now, it was not the prostatic leg that was slowing me down, it was the damage to the good leg. The right leg (the good leg), I could not stand on for more than a few minutes at a time. Long walks were out, and the rough ground was hard on the leg. The bones in the right ankle were fused together. One of the hardest things to do, even to this day, is to put on a pair of wellingtons. Walking down a slope can be a problem also. Stairs were not easy to come down as I was afraid, I thought I would fall forward.
While in the NRH I had to learn to drive again too, as I could not get insured until I could prove I could manage an automatic car. Thankfully, I could do this with relative ease. The insurance companies even asked if I needed an adaptation to drive the tractor, which I did not. The tractor I have has an electric shuttle and it allows me to change the gears without clutching the tractor. The hardest thing with the tractor is attaching an implement, as I do not have the inching ability to reverse into the implement. Once the implement is on, I can go about my work. It’s my sons that attach the implements for me now. Feeding the cattle became hard because I was afraid when the kids were helping, I was not in full control of the tractor and I was afraid that I would impale one of them. So, after that winter the loader was sold off and I bought a small teleporter which made the work safer and faster around the farm.
While I was in the hospital, I was lucky that the farm was taken care of by my very supportive neighbours. I did not get home from the HRH until the middle of June. That year I ploughed about ten acres of ground to reseed, I tilled and sowed the seed myself. The building contracting was finished for me as I did not have the balance. Even the case-digger I had, became dangerous to operate. When I would spin around in the seat to work the back actor, my leg would move the levers and I was afraid that someone would get hurt. The machine had to be sold, and I was sorry to see it go.
The evening of the accident, when my wife came into the farmyard, I asked how the leg looked and she replied: “It’s not that bad” and then I got an ear full straight away. She was thinking of who was going to pay the bills. No will made, what was going to happen? She was panicking.
I had just turned forty-two, six-weeks before the accident. I was still a young man. I had two bank accounts operating, one for the farm and the other for the building contracting. The bank that I had the farm account with told us that my personal accident insurance would cover some of the bills that were due, and the rest could wait until I came back fit. Jean, my wife, informed them that it could be a while and they were okay with that. However, when Jean told the other bank that I used for the building contracting, the story of what happened, the manager said I would have to lose two legs to collect on the personal accident insurance policy that I had with them. Make sure you read the fine print folks.
At home, I made calls to Social Welfare and to Revenue, looking for some form of incapacity benefit, only to be told that if I had a PAYE job for four-years, then I would have enough stamps up to get something. So, if you are self-employed, as farmers are, and if you get hurt, there is nothing there for you. I couldn’t work the farm to its full potential, so the income was not coming in the way it should have been. It was a tough time in every sense.
So, how has all this changed my life? Well, in 2014 I went back to college to get a degree in Health and Safety. I would like to thank all my lectures as I had a great time in college and I graduated in 2016. What I found best about this, was that no one could say that I did not have the qualifications to talk about farm safety. Not alone do I have the qualifications, I have the scars to show what I went through as well. Where I find this great, is when I am out on a site and catch someone taking a shortcut. When I pull them up on their infraction, they know that I not doing it just because it says so in a book.
In 2017, I was asked to give talks at the Ploughing Championships on the HSA stand. I wear a pair of shorts to show-off the legs. The prosthetic leg is not foamed out, it looks like a metal bar. The other leg swells as the day goes on. I get infections in the right leg from time-to-time, and this must be cured by intravenous antibiotics which is a hospital stay of four to fourteen days and in the last year, I have been admitted six different times for this reason. I get tired in the middle of the day now, and this is a direct result of the accident. I’m lucky I am alive and here to tell the tail. I have a newfound passion and appreciation for safety. I would not wish this on anyone so stay safe out there and don’t take any short-cuts where health and safety are concerned.
Bridge Street, Strokestown, Co. Roscommon
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