With Katherine undergoing Emergency Surgery in Melbourne, my husband, Nevil, and I left our jobs, four other children and the family farm, threw a few clothes in a bag and boarded the plane. While I stayed on, Nevil was forced to return home, torn between where he wanted to be and where he felt he should be. But life still needed to go on and we still had four other children, who were dealing with the shock and grief as much as we were? There were lighter moments: our bunch of farm kids spent the Easter break in a tiny unit in the middle of Melbourne, just so we could be together. We hunted for Easter Eggs in the bushes out the back and we had a ball!
For months, my life and loyalties were torn between a hospital bed in Melbourne and a grieving, confused family back home on the farm. At times, the guilt, loneliness and isolation were almost unbearable. At home, Nevil and the kids got through their days the best way they could.
But we were the lucky ones. At home, neighbours helped out in every way imaginable. In hospital as Katherine adjusted to her paraplegia she was fortunate to have a room constantly full of visiting family and friends.
As days turned to weeks then months we noticed that many of her fellow patients were from rural areas but had few visitors. For them, family members were were too far away, unable to visit regularly, unable to leave animals untended at home, unable to leave children, unable to leave their jobs. As a result, some patients experienced isolation, loneliness, anger and frustration.
It soon became obvious to us that a city hospital is not equipped to cater for many of the needs of rural patients. Too often, we found ourselves misunderstood and alone in a sea of well-meaning but unaware professionals. At such a critical time, our rural community and lifestyle was so important but so far away. If we found it hard, how much harder must it be for others?….
When I flipped the tractor onto its roof, the damaged tractor was the least of my problems, Not even my injuries, that left me a quadriplegic, were the worst of it.
I hated the Hospital and the rehabilitation. In fact, I hated life. At times I wanted to die. But this was just the beginning. Long periods away from wife and daughter put unnecessary pressure on our relationship. Hurried decisions and well-meaning but ill-informed advice led the way to disposal of stock, equipment and property, closing doors and opportunities that could have returned me to at least a part of the life I loved. The gap between who I used to be and who I had become grew wider by the day, with no one who could step back, assess, understand and help from the perspective of a farmer.
What did I become? A farmer separated from the land and all that I knew and loved. My marriage disintegrated, as the pressure became too great for all of us.
The hospital and rehabilitation experience was a lonely and terrifying one for Alan and his family. While professional, medical and nursing staff tended well to his physical needs, there was no understanding of the importance of his emotional needs and therefore his frustrations – his need for open spaces, his connection to the land, his animals, his rural community. If an organisation like Rural Help @ Hand had been there, his burden may have been eased.