In my twenties I pushed my body to the limit many times over. I thought nothing of doing 2 hr swims in the early mornings, 3 hr cycles over lunch times and hour long runs in the evenings. Weekend cycles were typically much longer, up to 10 hours, but my body held out; and I bounced back quickly from injury.
That is until a speeding, drunken container truck driver smashed into me while I was out cycle training for SA triathlon Champs.
When the truck connected my back wheel my body instantly
accelerated forward, while my head whipped back so fast and so far that 2 of my neck vertebrae, C3 and C7, were fractured. My spinal cord was so severely damaged at the C3 level that it shut down my breathing response and paralysed my whole body.
A fraction of an instant later the truck smashed into my right leg and pushed me into my handlebars with such force that 6 of my ribs were fractured. The broken ribs ripped my left lung and diaphragm, which resulted in massive internal bleeding.
I somersaulted over the handlebars and slammed onto the tarmac on the back of my bare head and upper back. The impact was such that my brain sustained severe bruising and shearing injuries and 3 of my back vertebrae sustained compression fractures
Then I surfed on my back, which ripped most of the skin, and sizable portions of flesh, off my upper back and buttocks, until I came to rest 33 meters from the point of impact. I should have been dead and would have been dead in less than 15 minutes lying there on the side of the road unable to breathe, but God had another plan.
An ambulance arrived within 6 minutes, gave me oxygen and rushed me to Tygerberg Hospital. By this stage I had slipped into a coma, dropping from 9 to 6 on the Glasgow coma scale. The Glasgow coma scale is a test to measure your motor responses, verbal responses and eye blink responses.
This scale goes from 15, indicating normal responses, to 3 when you are not responding at all, i.e. either in a vegetative state or dead; 8 or below indicates a comatose state.
The trauma doctors were surprised to find that my heart rate and blood pressure were in the normal range despite only having one lung and about half my body blood. A good indication of how conditioned my body was from all the endurance training. Secondary signs of shock were revealed by my dilated pupils and a blood infusion was initiated.
That Sunday night I received 29 units (~14 liters) of blood. Considering we only have 5-7 liters of
blood in our whole body, my entire blood supply was replaced more than twice over in a matter of hours.
Because the blood was still pouring out of my punctured lung and diaphragm I had to undergo an emergency thoracotomy to try and stem the bleeding. A very traumatic operation; my chest was cut open and my ribs pulled apart to sew up my lung and diaphragm through the gaping hole.
Another dangerous complication was my smashed right leg developing compartment syndrome. The soft tissue swelled up to such an extent that it blocked off my circulation and also started crushing my leg nerves. The pressure was relieved via a fasciotomy, cutting through all 4 leg compartments in my calf on both sides from top to bottom.
Three days and 60 liters of donor blood later, my blood still wouldn’t clot. I had contracted Disseminated Intravascular Coagulation from all the donor blood. My blood was clotting everywhere and anywhere using up all the clotting factors in the process and leaving none for wound healing. On top of that my right leg turned septic and poisoned my blood.
There was some good news, though. My blood started clotting before I needed another operation and I briefly regained consciousness and smiled at my mom.
Ominously I did not move a single muscle when I woke up and I soon lapsed back into a coma.
On Thursday, following cat scans of my brain and spinal cord, my parents were confronted with the horrific news that I was paralysed from the neck down and had severe brain injuries.
Bolts were drilled into my skull and weights attached to stabilise my neck.
On Friday more of my right leg turned gangrenous and an amputation was contemplated. Despite all the setbacks, though, I amazed everybody when I opened my eyes and asked for water.
On Sunday, a week after the accident, mom remarked in her diary that I looked just like my old self.
Although still in an extremely critical condition and unable to move a single muscle below my neck, there were positives. My blood had clotted, I was awake and able to communicate.
On Monday I was back under the knife to cut away more dead tissue on my right leg, but the septicaemia just got worse.
My parents recieved the dreaded call 12 days after my accident; permission to amputate.