On October 26th 2009 I returned home from a conference to find two ambulances on the street and my father, Dennis (aged 59), lying in a pool of blood on our driveway. Dad had fallen 3 metres off a ladder while connecting power on our roof. My husband was there, quite obviously distraught, and the ambulance officers were working on Dad, who was conscious, but writhing in pain. My Mum arrived soon after, and we were told Dad would be taken to the Royal Adelaide Hospital and that we were to follow. To this day, I do not remember driving to the hospital.

In the emergency room, my family waited anxiously for news, while comforting each other. A doctor soon came in to inform us that Dad had been given some drugs to relax him, and that he would be moved to the ICU [Intensive Care Unit] upstairs. My family and I rushed to the ICU to see Dad only to wait, yet again. After a few hours, we were allowed to see him in pairs. Even though I had seen Dad on the driveway hours earlier, covered in blood, nothing prepared me for what I saw when I walked into that ICU room. Dad was attached to every tube and machine possible, lying still on a bed in the middle of the room and large, black bruises had started to form on his face, not to mention the swollen eye where he hit the ground.

Over the next few days, the enormity of the situation soon came to realisation when the ICU doctors spoke with Mum about what they had discovered. Dad had 11 broken ribs, a dislocated shoulder, fractured skull, and a head injury, with a possible brain injury. They said it would take weeks to discover the full extent of his injuries due to swelling and the drugs he was on.

Dad stayed in the ICU for almost 3 weeks, coming in and out of the drugs, opening his eyes slightly, and waving his arms. The doctors then talked to us about moving Dad into a brain injury ward, which sounded quite promising. During this whole time, the family gathered around Mum for support, offering to cook dinners, drive places, shop etc. I moved in with Mum for a while, simply because I couldn’t bare to be at my house, where Dad had fallen. My brother went over to my house and washed the blood stain off the driveway, but to this day, the outline is still there.

Over a period of 6 weeks in the brain injury ward, a number of events occurred – some positive, some negative. Dad was being fed intravenously, and managed to pull the tube out a record 9 times. He developed urosepsis from a catheter and went backwards in his recover (to this day we believe this infection caused more damage to his brain). As he began physical therapy to walk again, he fell over while tied to a chair and broke his nose. We were given updates by a neurologist about the ‘outcome’ of Dad’s injuries, and how life may be like for him. Mum and I learnt a lot about nursing and how to care for Dad.

Dad was to be moved to Hampstead Rehabilitation Centre for the next stage of his recovery. As Dad recovered slowly, it was obvious that certain mannerisms and behaviours he had before the accident were still there, however his speech, mobility, memory and eyesight were seriously affected. He could not remember the accident at all, and could only listen to us as we told him about what happened. Dad stayed in Hampstead for another 4 weeks, doing daily physical therapy, speech therapy and counseling with Mum. He made it quite clear that all he wanted was to be at home, in his own bed. He continues to suffer depression to this day, and feels useless as his driver’s licence was suspended after the accident, and he feels like he lost all his independence, having to now rely on Mum. Over the coming months, Dad continued with therapy from home, and he started doing things he had always done: wood turning, fixing things, cooking the BBQ, babysitting grandchildren etc. Dad also attended the brain injury unit at Felixstow for about 4 months where he attended more physical therapy, speech, counseling and occupational therapy.

It has been 15 months since his accident, and although he still suffers from sleepiness, low self-confidence and speech difficulties, he is on track to getting his driver’s licence back, he played cricket with his grandchildren on the weekend, he has turned pens and bowls on his wood lathe, and he is re-learning how much fun life can be. Just last night, Mum and Dad came over for tea and we played games on the Nintendo Wii, which is supporting Dad’s balance and coordination in therapy.

Amy Hamlyn