Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Super Yachts - Dock Walking, Day Working and Job Offer

Apart from a broken toe, my time in Antibes couldn’t have gone any better. It took me three days of dock walking to find ongoing day work and within 2 weeks I was offered a month trail for a permanent position.

Dock walking never really bothered me but most people you talk to hate it. As the name suggests you walk around a dock asking each boat if they have permanent positions or need day workers? I went in with the mentality that 90% of boats wouldn’t have any work and expected to get rejected. I considered a lead, advice or ‘we might need a day worker in a few days’ a positive and left a bit more pumped.

To start with I didn’t have a clue and would approach every boat that looked a decent size. Towards the end, I had figured out the size of boat that I wanted to work on and only approached boats around that size. The best bit of advice I got was from someone staying in my crew house that said when you approach a boat you need to sell yourself as chances are they will scan your CV and only remember what you tell them. I trialed this advice and my approaches improved 100%. In day one, I approached each boat thinking I don’t want to take up much of their time, by day three I was having decent conversations with the crew even if there was no work going. I approached one boat where two guys were chatting at the end of the passerelle and asked to speak with the mate. As they saw me approaching one guy started walking up the passerelle onto the boat. I started my pitch to the deckhand that was still on the dock and when I mentioned my time on Lord Nelson the guy that had walked back onto the boat stopped to listen to what I was saying. By the end of my pitch he was standing back on the dock asking me questions. He was the first mate, who on the bigger boats is in charge of hiring all deck crew. As it turned out I never heard anything from that boat but the experience will always stick with me and prove to me that you have to sell yourself.

Suakin in Beaulieu Sur Mer shipyard.
My day working gig was secured on day three. I started early morning dock walking in Antibes, and decided to hit every super yacht in Port Vauban. I approached one boat and was having a decent chat with the deckhand even though I knew there was no chance of work. At the end of the conversation I shook his hand and approached another boat. I turned around and the deckhand was running towards me to saying that his captain was on the phone to another captain that may need a day worker. He told me the boat is in Beaulieu Sur Mer shipyard, which was about four stops from Monaco on the train, given the captain, Pete’s mobile number and told to give him a call. I instead of calling him I decided to catch the train to Beaulieu Sur Mer, find the shipyard and chat to the captain in person. Fortunately I found the shipyard easily and somehow managed to get in. Looking back it was a stroke of luck getting in as the gate is always locked and you need to know the pin code to get in. I met with the Pete who told me he may need some help next week and would give me a call to let me know when.

Dock walking in Beaulieu Sur Mer
I spent the rest of the afternoon dock walking in Beaulieu Sur Mer and Monaco. I didn’t have much luck in Beaulieu Sur Mer as the boats were smaller, and mainly French owned, so were staying in France for the winter and finishing up for the season. My dock walking in Monaco however was very fruitful. The dock was packed with lots of sexy looking super yachts all getting ready for the Monaco Boat show. All of my approaches went really well, and I had good conversations with the crew. I was really impressed with Monaco, the place gave the impression of wealth and looked exclusive. I turned into a geeky tourist and took pictures of the boats and F1 track. I even stopped to take a photograph of the start finish line, which is ridiculous when you think I now have a picture of a busy road, with a start finish line painted on. By the end of the day I felt knackered as I’d covered a serious amount of dock miles. I was waiting for the train at Monte Carlo when I got a phone call from Pete, saying that he’d changed his mind and he needed me tomorrow morning at 8. It’s hard to put the feeling into words but a huge weight had been lifted off my shoulders and I was over the moon. As I’d arrived in Beaulieu Sur Mer I had a call from a captain in Antibes that needed a day worker that afternoon. I was pretty bummed to have to turn down the work but this news had more than made up for it.

I really enjoyed my first day on Suakin and loved the fact the work was active, outside and in the sun. I spent the day painting shackles on an anchor chain so they knew how much chain was still in the water when it was coming back in. Around 3pm Pete asked me if I could work tomorrow and before going home the first mate told me I would be needed next week too. I was very happy as a week’s work would pay for two weeks food and accommodation, meaning I can stay in Antibes, debt free while looking for a permanent position.

In the end I worked nine awesome days on Suakin and took part in numerous jobs, included painting the anchor chain, ballast and fresh water tanks, polishing, treating metal, hosing down, and helping to leave and enter berths. Working in the tanks was an experience that I’m not sure if I enjoyed or not. It’s bloody hot in there and there isn’t much room to move around but I enjoyed the challenge. All I can say is it’s a good job I’m flexible.

I had only worked there four days when an anchor fell on my foot, breaking my little toe. The anchor chain was nearly up but had a twist in it so I shouted up to get them to stop pulling the chain in. I walked round the front of the anchor to untwist the chain when it fell over landing on my foot. I’m not sure why it fell but the anchor had been standing all day so I think my message didn’t get through to stop the chain and the movement knocked it over. When you need to, you can move fast. My reflexes moved my foot from under the anchor before I felt pain but unfortunately my reflexes weren’t fast enough. At first I pulled the macho card, and told myself it had only grazed me and tried to walk it off. I carried on working and got the anchor fully up before looking at my foot. It had ballooned like it belonged to professor clump and was blue. Pete and his fiancée Sarah, took me to get it x-rayed. I was told that my little toe was broken but as long as I kept my weight off it, would be okay to work. Pete suggested we get a second opinion from a doctor. Throughout the whole appointment the doctor spoke to Sarah in French, whilst I sat on the bed. I didn’t understand a word but knew it wasn’t good news. He told Sarah my toe needed a pin, I needed crutches and should definitely not work. I was devastated and thought my dream was over. I couldn’t believe it as everything had been going so well and was now thinking I would have to spend winter in England thinking about what could have been.

Pete told me he would have a word with Ralph, the boats manager before we done anything rash. That evening he called to say Ralph would be round tomorrow morning at 9:30 to take me to the boats doctor for a third opinion. Ralph said the doctor we were seeing was his personal doctor that looks after all his family and was very good. The doctor took a look at the x-ray, told me to get rid of the crutches as they are dangerous, wrote a prescription for some tablets to reduce the swelling and bruising, strapped my toe up to the ankle and said I could go back to work tomorrow. I found the whole thing quite comical and was relieved that I could go back to work. My toe never caused me pain or affected my work, and by the end of the first day I could keep up with everyone’s walking pace.

My first trip on a super yacht was an hour’s motor from Beaulieu Sur Mer to Antibes, and I enjoyed every minute of it. Looking back at the coastline, the windy Riviera road and the red terracotta roof tops was an awesome sight. I’ve always enjoyed the sun reflecting off the water but the deep blue Mediterranean Sea and being on a super yacht made it even better. I regretted not bringing my camera but I told myself that I would have many more opportunities to take photographs of stunning coast lines and life at sea.

Suakin arrived in Antibes Friday afternoon and I was offered a month’s trial on the Monday. I was given the weekend off and as my foot wasn’t causing me any pain or to limp, I went dock walking in Cannes and Antibes. Whilst dock walking on Saturday I spoke to the first mate of a boat called Clifford II, which ironically, was berthed three boats down from Suakin in Antibes. The first mate, Josh told me that they were unsure what they were doing for the winter and they might be looking for a deckhand. He said they may be heading to the Caribbean or staying in Antibes for the winter and going to a shipyard for a couple of months. Either way they were hoping to find out within the week. I wasn’t expecting anything to come of it but on my way home from work on Monday, Josh said that he was hoping to catch me and could I have a word with the captain? They told me the boat would be staying in Antibes for the winter, going to a shipyard for some major work and they needed a deckhand. The captain, Bob, talked about the career opportunities and the possibility of doing more certificates. Josh told me he had worked for the owners for four years and said they were really nice people to work for.

I imagined that if I was offered a job, I would be extremely excited and would struggle to control my emotions but I stayed very calm and took in all the details. That evening my mind raced and I didn’t know what to do. I was encouraged to hear that Josh had stuck around for four years and believed him when he said the owners are nice people to work for. Bob’s talk about starting a career on the boat also appealed to me but I had my heart set on travelling somewhere hot. The next day after work, Bob showed me round the boat. I was really impressed and fell in love with her. She looked impressive from the dock but as soon as I saw the interior, jacuzzi and deck furnishings, I thought, this boat is sexy. Everything was perfect apart from staying in Antibes for the winter. In the end I thought, what’s my rush, there will be plenty more Caribbean seasons and I can’t turn down a position with a future. The size of the boat and amount of crew is perfect, it’s modern, stylish and super sexy. I accepted Bob’s offer and started work the following Friday.  I am now looking forward to learning the boat and my job well during the shipyard period and should hit the ground running when the Mediterranean season starts again next March / April.

Ever since my accident I hate the word lucky. I worked bloody hard for this opportunity and believe you get out of life what you put in. Everything I did in Antibes was geared towards find a job. My days off from Suakin were spent dock walking for permanent positions, I asked lots of questions and knocked on many doors. Countless people have told me, finding a job in yachting is all about being in the right place at the right time. This saying is spot on and sums it up much better than being lucky.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Afan Forrest

We finally arrived in Cymeer after just over 5 hours of travelling. Apart from the time, and a few numb asses the journey wasn’t that bad and fairly comfortable. Dad had made a make shift seat out of two pieces of ply leaning up against the cab, cushioned with sun bed mattresses. We were armed with iPods, speakers and a laptop for in cab entertainment but unfortunately could only just hear them over the noise of the engine. After only being able to hear 2 of every 5 words spoken the laptop died three quarters of the way through Hall Pass just as it was getting good. Disappointingly we missed the hot Aussie get her tits out, gutted

Mrs Williams who owned the cottages must have heard the van pull in as moments later she was there to welcome and show us around the cottage. Downstairs was made up of a front room and a kitchen with a dining table in the middle. It was obvious that most of the tenants were mountaineer bikers as the inner cushions under the covers on the sofa were wrapped in plastic bags. Upstairs was consisted of two rooms of bunks and a toilet. Dad and Martin shared the smaller room with two bunks and Andy, Mike, Tom and I took the soon to be windy four bunk room. I was impressed with the cottage; it felt homely and had everything you needed. Downstairs had a cozy feel to it and was just big enough for six. Dinner time was a bit of a squeeze and a little like playing twister when struggling to stretching from left leg green to right arm blue.

Shortly after we arrived Mike got on with the dinner, while us others unpacked the van. I was hungry anyway so smelling the food cooking didn’t help matters and by the time the prawns, in chilli sauce with a side of salad was ready, I was ravenous. To satisfy my hunger I got stuck into the prawns a little too enthusiastically and probably should have saved a little more room for the steak. I didn’t really care though as one of my plans for this holiday was to enjoy the food and fill my boots each meal and I’d without doubt started the way I meant to go on. For mains we were served a massive door stop steak with dauphinoise potatoes, and a mix of onion, mushroom and tomatoes in steak juice. It was my kind of meal; rich, meaty and absolutely divine. To be honest I was done three quarters of the way through my steak but managed to push on through and was very happy when Mike mentioned carrot cake for dessert. My greed wanted the cake but I was more than satisfied after the feast so Mike suggestion gave me a good excuse to be greedy.

To my surprise I woke naturally at 7am and was ready for the day. Everyone was up an hour or so later and to Andy’s disbelief Mike got cracking on a fry up. Both he and Dad said they couldn’t eat anything more but as soon as it was on the table they both changed their mind. We were soon made aware of what was to be a cooking time headache as the smoke alarm rang its heart out. It was so bad that someone had to constantly be upstairs as it went off every 30 seconds even with all the windows open.

The breakfast made getting out on the bikes much harder. To be honest the weather didn’t help as it was raining on and off and was grey and miserable. An hour or so later we were finally on our way to tackle a ride named ‘Whites Level’. The start of the ride was only a mile or so from the cottage, on a path about 2 or 3 bike widths wide running alongside the valley. The air was fresh, the path was scenic and the only noise was made by us. I really enjoy getting away from the hustle and bustle, being in a natural environment and giving my lungs a good workout.
I found the riding much harder than I expected and struggled throughout the ride. I had only been going a couple of minutes when I rode off the trail and had to dump the bike before riding down the hill leading into the valley. To stop motorbikes riding the trails, sty’s are put up that are just wide enough to fit a mountain bike through. After going through a sty, I lazily got back onto my bike and pushed off before getting properly set. By the time I had my feet on the pedals I was needing to pick my way through the rocky terrain and still off balance I had no chance and rode off the trail at a right angle. This wasn’t the best of starts but put it down to a lack of concentrating and tried again.

The bottom line was that I just wasn’t used to riding the terrain and it was much harder and technical to what I’m used to. While riding you have to pick your line through rocks, tree roots and over slabs while keeping to the trail which is only 3 feet wide. At slow speed my balance on the bike isn’t what it used to be, chuck in constantly bashing your pedals on rocks, while riding up hill and the space restriction of the trial and I was all over the place and had to keep putting my foot down.

As the ride went on I got more disgusted with my riding and started to get frustrated. I wasn’t able to keep up with Martin and Andy up hill because I kept having to put my foot down and get restarted again, and I wasn’t able to stay with the pace going back down. I told myself that it was because I had to take it easy as I didn’t want to fall off and hit my head again but the truth was that I’d lost my bottle. I realised this when I actually felt scared while riding a down hill section and had pushed my bike on three separate occasions. This is something I’ve never done before, previously the scarier and more dangerous the trail became the more enjoyment I got out of it.

After my realisation I decided that I should just enjoy the ride, take it at my own pace and hope that I could improve. I didn’t want to put a downer on the trip just because I couldn’t keep up with the pace and decided to just enjoy the social side of the ride. I was trying my best to stay positive but my head was dropping and I struggled to let it go. Tom told me that I should be happy that after just 7 months I was able to do this kind of riding and it shows how far I’ve come. I knew he was right but my competitiveness was getting the better of me and it was frustrating when I know how I used to ride.

My frustration soon ended when we rode past Dad with his bike upside down on the side of the trial. Tom and I stopped to see what was wrong. His front brake had seized up and was stuck on. He was in a right mood and was throwing his toys out of the pram, saying that he hates this fucking place, every time he comes it’s fucking raining and he’s never coming again. We were on the final stretch of the ride so he wheeled his bike down on the back wheel while Tom and I rode off highly amused. Dad finally got to the bottom and was looking at his brakes when the banter started. Martin was joking how this trip was the best he’s had in Wales, I was telling Dad that he should maintain his bike better and Andy was taking the piss when the camera came out.

We got home cleaned the bikes and spent the rest of the afternoon down the pub. On the way home we saw a kids climbing along a roof and hanging off the side of the clock tower. Extreme climbing must be rife in Cymmer as earlier in the day we had seen some lads climbing along a railing to a block of flats. The flats were conveniently built right next to the valley. For dinner Mike was making a chicken curry with all the trimmings including samosas, onion bhajis, home made sag paneer, and a spicy chick pea dish. The flavours were intense and it was a top curry. I was really happy as the dinners seemed to be getting better and better.

Again I was up and ready to go at 7am. After all the food I’d eaten, I felt full but hungry. I guess my body is in the habit of getting fed in the morning so it was telling me I was hungry when really I wasn’t. Again all that went out the window when the fry up was put on the table.

Today we were going to tackle the Wall and after if our legs felt okay ride Whites Level again. I knew that after riding the Wall everyone would be pumped then half way round Whites Level the legs would go and the ride would drag. First though we had to get off the sofa and on to the bikes, which was made harder as the cottage didn’t have a dryer or anywhere to hang the clothes. We did our best hanging them in the garage but as we were happy lounging on the sofa after another big breakfast, it was hard enough to get up without the thought of putting on damp clothes.

As Andy had set the pace yesterday we let him lead on the first climb. My riding had improved loads and although I still needed to put my foot out, it happened a lot less frequent and I felt more in control. Even though my riding had improved I still preferred Whites Level to the Wall because a lot of the climbs were on fire road and seemed really long. All the climbs on Whites Level take place on the trail so you need to concentrate and pick your line. When climbing fire roads they’re flat so you don’t have to concentrate and can look further ahead of you. The combination of not having to concentrate and being able to see how much more hill you have left to climb make the climbs seems longer and bring more attention to the strain of your legs.

The Wall’s down hill sections weren’t as steep as Whites Level and were more cross country so gave me chance to feel more comfortable on the bike and build up my confidence. I discovered that I rode the trails better if I broke less as it was easier to ride over the terrain at speed. By breaking less I could hold my speed which meant I didn’t need to pedal as much and could stand up more. This helps with your balance as your body acts like a spring to soak up the rocky terrain and puts you in a better position to deal with the technicality of the riding. The final two downhill sections of the Wall were good fun and the steepest. My riding had improved so much that I was able to keep with Dad on the down hill and pull away from the others. Before I knew it the wall was over and as predicted everyone was pumped and eager to ride Whites Level again. We stopped off at the cottage between rides to let Mike know what we were doing, fill our camelbaks up and eat some chocolate. Within 30 minutes we were riding on the path alongside the valley to the start of Whites Level.

The terrain of Whites Level was much rockier and technical than that of the Wall and I could see why I had struggled so much yesterday. The first climb was also longer and harder than I remembered but I still preferred it to the fire road climbs of the Wall. Tom and Andy were struggling with having already ridden the Wall and now attacking the steeper Whites Level. Even when coming down hill you don’t have a chance to rest as the trail is so bumpy your legs are working to set the rest of your body while trying to soften the impacts of the terrain. Unfortunately it was Andy’s turn to get frustrated as he wasn’t happy with his riding.  I was feeling good as my fitness is still fairly strong and as I was so pleased with the improvement of my riding, I was on a high and eager to improve some more. I was now at the front with Martin climbing the hills and at the front with Dad coming back down.


video

On one of downhill sections Dad could hear someone behind him and shouted out to see who it was. As I was getting better at judging my braking I would catch Dad up loads coming into the corner but lose him a little on the flat as I wasn’t pedalling as hard. On the next downhill section Dad could hear I was right on his back wheel and let me past. Yesterday I had to push my bike over two sections as I didn’t fancy the look of riding it but today I went down with minimal hesitation. At the end of the trail Dad congratulated me and welcomed me back. I couldn’t believe the improvement I’d made. I knew I was capable of riding better but I didn’t think it would happen so quickly.  

On the ride back I speed off back to the cottage so that when they returned four cold Stella’s were waiting to be drunk. Tom said he thought I was up to something and Dad had slated me for speeding off but they were all glad that I had when they were drinking the Stella. 

That evening I felt superb, my legs were tingling and felt tired and heavy from the ride and I was looking forward to chilling out and not moving in front of the TV. Mike had saved the best for last and made a Sunday roast with belly of pork and apple and rhubarb crumble for dessert. I can’t remember the last time I’ve enjoyed a roast so much, it was heavenly. Shortly after dessert I said I needed a comfy seat and headed to the sofa to veg out. To Martins delight everyone followed so he helped himself to the left over crumble. Mike said his eye lit up when he saw everyone get up and the crumble was in his bowl in a flash.

The evening went just as I wanted it to, I didn’t move from the couch because a), my legs just wanted to be lazy and b), I was so full that I couldn’t have moved even if I wanted to. Its days like these that make a mountain biking holiday worth the effort keep you coming back for more. There was talk of Tom, Andy and I fitting a quick ride in on the Monday before leaving but in the morning no one could be bothered. It’s probably for the best that we didn’t go as we left on a high and wanting more. All in all I had a fantastic weekend and enjoyed every minute of it. Lots of things happened on the trip that will have us reminiscing for year to come. I think the fondest memory will be of Mike and his culinary delights.

Click here to view more pictures.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Sailing Courses

I was off to the Isle of Wight to take my STCW95 (Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping) VHF Radio (Very High Frequency Radio) and Power Boat Level II certificates so I would qualify to work on super yachts.

Before leaving, Mum asked if I was excited about my courses and the truth is I wasn’t. I need to sit them before being allowed to work on a super yacht and I viewed them as something that needed to be done. I was looking forward to getting out of Maidstone and seeing somewhere new but I certainly wasn’t excited. The trouble is since getting back from New Zealand I haven’t had any commitments or things I’ve needed to do so I’ve gotten complacent and a bit lazy.

I caught the train to Southampton and then a Ferry to Cowes. I was nearing the end of my current book The Game and was engrossed in that so the train journey passed fairly quickly and before I knew it, I was on the ferry heading for Cowes. Before boarding the ferry I thought to myself that I should have a look around and I take in the sights as I’ve never been to the Isle of Wight before. Unfortunately the view from the ferry wasn’t great as the weather was overcast and as is it was approaching early evening time the backdrop looked grey and moody so I gave in.

The first person I saw on the Isle of Wight was Ben, who I’d met when working for Explore NZ. He worked on the America’s Cup boats and as soon as I saw him, I remembered him saying he was heading to the UK to spend the summer sailing. I couldn’t believe I’d bumped into him and thought to myself what a small world. We swapped numbers and said we’d meet one evening for a beer, unfortunately that didn’t happen. He txt me that evening but as I was starting the course tomorrow I wanted to be on form and when I txt him on Friday night he was in London, visiting a friend.

The cottages (from the brown door to the water's edge).
They look much better in the photo.
On arrival my first impressions of the cottages weren’t great. From the outside they looked dirty, a little run down and in need of a lick of paint. The accommodation was okay and would do the job for the week, I mean all you need is a bed, shower and somewhere to cook and the cottages ticked all three boxes but my expectations from the pictures and descriptions on the website weren’t met.

No one was about so I decided to have a little look around and walked along the sea front to the esplanade. I was shocked at how many pubs I passed on my way. Cowes is a pretty small place, I only walked for about 10 minutes but saw at least as many pubs. During my walk I got a call from my parents and Granny. It’s the first time I’ve been away since my accident and returning home so anticipated a few calls. After them both calling at least three or four times during my trip (8 days) I smiled to myself and thought do they realise I’m a 27 year old man? At least my trip to Cowes let them get used to me being away again because they aren’t going to be able to call every day when I’m at sea!

VHF Radio.

The course didn’t start until 10am so was nice and relaxed. We all meet in the outside court yard then went up to the class room. There were about 12 people taking the course. 5 of them had been in Cowes for 6 weeks sitting other certificates; there was a group of ex army guys that were going into marine security to combat the threat of pirates on container ships and one other fella who wanted to pick up some yachting work before joining the Navy. I really didn’t understand why the guy who was joining the Navy was paying for these certificates as the Navy finance you to do more in depth training than we were doing, still, each to their own.

The courtyard.
Our teacher, Angus was a lively fellow who had a strong enthusiasm for sailing and in particular the radio. He told us lots of humorous stories relating to the radio that happened while he was out sailing. We covered a fair bit of information and most of the sailing related theory went over my head. The army guys were used to using radio’s so only needed to learn the bits related to the marine industry and the 5 that had been here for 6 weeks seemed to take things on board especially the sailing theory better than I. You never know they may have been thinking the same. My trouble wasn’t taking notes while listening to Angus but I found it impossible to try and memorise the key points whilst the class continued. Fortunately Angus told us that although we had to sit a test, he had never had anyone fail and the exam wasn’t taken in strict exam conditions. This relaxed me and I stopped worrying about taking too many notes and just listened to what he had to say. At times I relaxed a little too much and caught my self tuning out and starting to drift off.

As soon as the exam paper was handed out my mind went blank and I thought here we go. I tried to relax and flicked through the questions until I saw one that I definitely knew the answer to and started from there. In the end it all came back to me and I found the exam fairly easy and straight forward. After Angus had marked my paper he told me to look at question 5 again, no wonder he has never had anyone fail the exam before.

Elementary First Aid.


This was the first day of the STCW95 course so we had 6 or 7 new faces join the group. Our group was pretty cool, it was made up of people in their early twenties right up to late thirties possibly even early forties and from all different backgrounds. I no longer felt like the only one struggling to grasp all the sailing terminology so was much happier.

The class room.
Our teacher, again was very good and even pulled out a bag of jelly babies and chocolate biscuits (and told us to get stuck in) when talking about Diabetes and the need of an instant sugar hit. He worked as an on call helicopter medic for the oil rigs and earned £800 a day! He was very eccentric and made a few comments including sticking chocolate bars in inappropriate places and having allergies when PVC touched his mouth that made me wonder about his sexuality.

The course was more in depth than I imagined, covered a lot of topics and I found it really interesting. This time we were given a course book to take away that covered all the topics. I felt much happier that we had the book as it meant I could pay more attention to the lecture and read up on the subject on my own time. I was determined to pay attention and get as much out of this course as I could as I think having a decent knowledge of first aid is a good life skill to have.

At the end of the class we had another exam, this time he didn’t tell us if we had answered questions incorrectly but did allow us to use the course book to answer the questions.

Sea Survival.

I was really looking forward to this part of the course as it was practical and sounded good fun. The course was taken by Richie and Richie, both ex Navy and now working as fire fighters.

For the first half of the day we were in the class room covering theory. After lunch we were taken to the local swimming baths and had to prove that we could swim two laps of the pool in overalls. I decided to dive into to the pool and instantly didn’t feel right. I felt disorientated and had a slight head ache but didn’t think anything of it and started swimming. As I was turning round for my second lap I twigged that the reason I wasn’t feeling too good was the impact of the water on my head. This brought back the reality that I’m still healing and need to slow down a little and be more cautious. 

A life raft. The inside is blue to boost morale.
After the swim we was taught how to enter the water wearing a life jacket, learnt how to keep the group together in the water while being able to swim and how to fend of sharks. If you notice sharks whilst in the water you are supposed to form a circle facing outwards, link arms and kick your legs. The shadow from everyone joint in a circle and the noise from the splash will hopefully make the shark think whatever’s above is bigger than them and scares them off. Hopefully I’ll never need to try this technique out.


We then got two life rafts out, had to get on board without any help (which is trickier that it sounds), learnt how to flip it over if it’s blown on its side and piled in and had a little chat about sea survival. To finish the day we paired off into two groups, entered the water in our life jackets, swam two lengths in a line connected together and then enter the rafts. Richie and Richie whispered to people to act as if they were unconscious at different points to see how the group would react and if the casualties were rescued.

I didn’t enjoy the day as much as what I thought I would. Ever since my accident I’ve felt the cold considerably more and was uncomfortably cold in the pool, which ruined the day for me. I was also a little concerned about my head after the dive and I didn’t feel comfortable in the raft with everyone piling in and swinging their arms and legs everywhere, as I was worried I’d get a whack to the head.

Personal Safety and Social Responsibility.

This part of the course was supposed to be the worst because it was so boring, but I actually enjoyed the class and found it interesting. I learnt a lot and it made me realise that you need to have your wits about you. I was always a little naïve when thinking about working on a super yacht and only thought about the travel and life in the sun. This class made me realise that going to sea can be dangerous and made me aware of what can happen. 

Fire Prevention & Fire Fighting.

The fire fighting part of the course is covered over two days. We started the first day in the class room and learnt about different types of fire and how to tackle them. The theory side only lasted a few hours and then we jumped on the bus and drove to the fire station.

We got kitted up then had a go using fire extinguishers. When putting out a fire you don’t aim the extinguisher right at the fire, you’re supposed direct the hose at a backboard or shoot up into the air so that fluid splashes or drops onto the fire. We were also shown what happens when you use water to try and extinguish a fire caused by burning liquids, the result was frightening.

We then broke into two groups, my group was shown how to set up the breathing apparatus (BA) and put it on. I was surprised that fire fighters rely on verbal communication and don’t know hand signals for back up. I suppose that when you’re fighting a fire it’s dark and smoky so you won’t be able to see hand signals. Before going home we were shown around hot house where tomorrow we would be fighting a real fire.

The next day my group was shown how to set the hose up, do the fireman shuffle, how to move around a burning building and open doors. Everyone’s coordination when doing the fireman’s shuffle was awful. You have to put your weight on your back foot while stamping your front foot on the ground to make sure it will take your weight then shuffle forward and repeat. While doing this you have to move your arm from the top of your head to the front of your face in a circular motion, with the back of your hand facing out to protect you from falling debris.

The Hot House.
Once we had practised all the theory it was time to go in. While we were waiting to enter the hot house I felt slightly nervous but as soon as I was in the front door, instinct took over and I was too focused on the job at hand to be nervous. We had to navigate our way around the outside wall and through two rooms until we got to the hose that was coiled up at the top of the stairs. The room was pitch black and I kept tripping over the hose on the way to the top of the stairs. I was number 3 so my job was feeding the hose from the coil and around the corner in the stairs. When we reached the fire, Richie talked to us about what to look for and told us again how to fight a fire. We all had a go at cooling the gases around the ceiling and the door frame and fighting the fire back to its origin. We couldn’t extinguish the fire completely as it had to keep going so four more groups could experience the hot house.

Before leaving the hot house we had to work our way back up the stairs coiling the hose back at the top ready for the next group. Someone accidentally kicked the branch on and water started spraying out. I found this funny as we couldn’t see anything and didn’t know where the branch was. Richie wasn’t so amused as the more water that was sprayed in the hot room the hotter it would get through out the day.

Power Boat Level II
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As the STWC95 course finished yesterday most people had gone home and only Dave and I was left. We were joined on the course by another guy who had previously done the course and wanted to do it again as a refresher. We started off in the class room to cover a little bit of theory then we changed into wet weather gear and headed out to the rib. The rib was much bigger than I expected, had four seats, enough room to fit 6 people comfortably in behind the seats and two outboard motors. The weather was miserable and I had to squint so I could see where I was going through the rain. Even though it was cold and wet I loved driving around on the rib and it reminded me how much I enjoy being on the water and how badly I want to work on a super yacht.

Resisting the urge to go for a joy ride.
Fortunately the bad weather cleared up and was actually sunny the following day. Dave needed a passport picture for his power boat license so we planned a journey to Portsmouth in our theory class and practised a few man over board techniques on the way. The most important thing to remember when collecting an overboard passenger is to turn the motors off before you get to them so the propeller doesn’t chop off any limbs!

The navigation side of things was pretty easy and I now know how to follow the bouys to where I need to get to. We also got to practice the using the radio as we had to ask the harbour master for permission to cross the channel and to berth temporally in Portsmouth Harbour.

On the way home I drove the whole way, and had to restrict my self from doing 360’s and generally messing around. I had to be a good boy with the teacher sitting behind me and it took all my will power as the boat can turn on a six pence and has some serious power so is just asking to be taken for a joy ride.

I really enjoyed my time in Cowes and the courses, more importantly I’ve got my drive back to get on a super yacht. I learnt a lot and I can see why you need to have the certificate before being allowed to work at sea. I definitely feel more competent, aware of the risks and confident. All I need now is a job.

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Sunday, June 12, 2011

6 Months On

Looking back it seems like a long time ago since my accident and 6 months has flown, though at the time the month I spent in rehab felt like a month! Don’t get me wrong the time didn’t drag but I had a lot of time to think and I guess being so focused on getting better and what needed improving made the time move slower.  My memory has conveniently forgotten the hard times, but I still remember thinking I never want to feel like this again and have to go through a similar situation.

I’ve come along way since feeling constantly tired, grumpy and the sensation of having a permanent haze slowing my brain from digesting and acting upon any information. At this moment, I feel fantastic. I’m definitely recapturing the old me and my previous personality. I’m surprised that my personality has taken the longest to heal and I still think I have a way to go. Every time I’ve made big improvements I remember thinking, I’m nearly there. Funnily enough 6 months on and I’m still thinking the same, all I say is long may the improvements keep coming.

It didn’t take me long to until I was living what I would call a ‘normal life’. With in 3 months of the accident I was back to full time work, regularly working out at the gym and being able to comfortably fit things in like food shopping. After about 5 months I finally let go of my afternoon rest. To start with it was hard work but I knew I didn’t really need it and my body was getting addicted to the rests. I could have stopped the whole rest saga after 4 months but I stupidly reintroduced it as I was having a bad week. Never mind, we live and learn.

Since leaving New Zealand and returning home to my family, I’ve made huge improvements. I think it’s because I’ve been able to relax and not worry about commitments like work or fitting things in. My fatigue has totally cleared up and I can now stay out clubbing until the early hours of the morning. It is a little weird not drinking but I’m getting used to it and actually quite enjoy it. You pick up on a whole lot more being sober, especially female attention :) Initially I used to feel a little self conscious when dancing and struggled to let my self go but to be honest dancing was never my strong point. Fortunately, each time I go out, letting go and relaxing gets easier and easier and it won’t be long until I even notice a difference.

I’ve also decided to take up mountain biking again. Initially I wouldn’t entertain the idea as like I’ve said I never want to go through the situation again and wasn’t prepared to do anything that increased the chances of me having another brain injury in the 2 year recovery period. Riding again has been a bonus and it’s forced my brain to improve how it deals with processing at speed. I no longer ride like the maniac I used to, racing everyone and pulling out all the stops to win or doing things that people said I couldn’t. Now I just ride for the social side and plod along with in my limits. I am getting quicker down hill but I’m well within my comfort zone.  One day riding home from my mates on the path I fell off and it shock me up big time. I wasn’t confident bumping up an angled curb so slammed my brakes on, but hit the curb before I stopped, washing out my front wheel. Initially my pride was all that was hurt; I felt an idiot and quickly got back on my bike. Shortly after picking myself up the adrenaline wore off, my arms and legs turned to jelly and the crash started playing on my mind. I did however get to see how your body does a great job of protecting the head.

Another thing I’ve done that may not seem the most sensible thing, is occasional labouring for my Dad. He owns a felt roofing company so I’m up and down the ladder with 40kg rolls of felt on my shoulder or hot cans of bitumen in my hand. At first my footing was a little shaky but each trip up the ladder and every day I worked the job got easier and my balance steadier. The work hit me hard though, and after the first two days I was in bed by 8:30. I honestly can’t remember ever feeling so tired after a day of doing something, I was wiped out.  The one thing I’ve learnt from this recovery process is you have to keep pushing yourself and it’s surprising how quickly the body improves. If I didn’t work with Dad or ride my bike again my brain wouldn’t have been forced to deal with the new situations and the improvements wouldn’t have been made.

Well that’s all my news and the last I will write on the subject. Hopefully my recovery will keep going from strength to strength and the plan is to return stronger than I was before my accident. I’ve got no doubt that will happen.

If anyone is reading this blog after a recent brain injury or knows someone who’s had one, you do improve and things do get better. You may not believe me when everything is a struggle and the recovery seems like a long rocky road but it’ll happen. The advice I would give is stay positive, know you will recover and constantly push yourself. You’re the only one who knows how you’re feeling so trust your judgement, if you’re happy you can move to the next level do it.    

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Dubai

The 20 hour flight to Dubai was painless and past by pretty quick. As it turns out I sat next to a woman who's brother in law is a skipper on a super yacht so I gave her my details and she said she would pass them on.

The walk from the plane to customs in Terminal 3 is really long and feels like you’re walking for ever. Luckily, there was hardly a queue at immigration so with in 5 minutes I had my passport stamped, collected my bag and was waiting for Iain outside.

A few weeks before my flight, Iain emailed saying ‘Matty, you'll have to let me know how big your bags are so I know whether to pick you up in the Hummer or the Porsche’. I thought he was having a laugh and talking in hypothetical dreamland but as we approached a Hummer he slowed down and opened the boot. I started laughing and said ‘I suppose you have a Porsche sitting at home’ he smiled and nodded his head.

The layout and style of Dubai reminded me of Vegas. Although Dubai is nothing like Vegas in the fact that alcohol and gambling are illegal, both Cities’ are situated in the middle of a dessert and built along a strip. All the buildings are modern, tall and built of glass. They are very impressive but leave Dubai feeling a little cold with no sense of history or culture.

The balcony
Iain and Becky’s apartment is really nice. The area was called the Palm and had been reclaimed from the sea in the shape of a palm of a palm tree. The apartment block backed onto the beach and from the living room you could look out onto the sea. We sat out on the balcony for a few hours and caught up. I loved the idea that everyday before work they could do this and chill with breakfast – it seemed to me like an ideal lifestyle.

I hadn’t managed to sleep on the plane so when Becky and Iain went to work, I had a cheeky hour kip on the sofa. As soon as I lied down and stretched my legs, I knew I was going to fall asleep. It was tough getting up when my alarm went off but I knew that if I would have stayed, jet lag would have kicked in and ruined my time in Dubai.

Jon and Cherisse were also staying with Iain and Becky. The four of us had meet in Australia at the good old Palladium Apartments, 9 years ago. We caught up for a little while in the apartment then headed off to the beach to carry on the conversation and sunbath.

The weather was overcast but you could see the sun trying to shine through the clouds and it was bloody hot. The Beach was a private beach for all the residents so nice and quiet and the sea was a striking light blue and very appealing. Jon made me laugh slagging a big muscled poser who was baby oiled up and kept checking out his arms, pecks and abs as the lapped the beach. It was good to catch up and we had a nice relaxing day lying in the sun and having a good old chat.

The Porsche
After work, Hirdy called from the car park and took me for a spin in his Porsche. The car used to be owned by the Porsche dealers manager so it was fitted with all the extras. In the shade it looked black but when the sun shone on the paint it turned a dark brown. With the dark creme interior and the 911 wheels the car looked the bollocks. My favourite extra was the sports exhaust. The car was very quick and stuck to the road like glue but the exhaust made the car sound fast, meaty and as though it meant business. Cars don’t normally do it for me but this thing was lovely and by the time we got back I could definitely see myself driving one.


Me, Becky, Cherisse and John in front of the Burj Al Arab
 In the evening we went to Bar Zen for a few drinks then to the Meat Company for dinner. Bar Zen was a stylish but relaxed bar, that backed onto a man made canal. The complex was trying to create a Venice theme and gave people rides along the canal on gondola style boats. The Meat Company was just around the corner from Bar Zen in the same complex. As the name suggests the Meat Company served up big meaty dishes, which was great news for me and I really enjoyed my meal. By the time I got home and into bed it was nearly 1am, which was 9am Auckland time so I had, had a big day. I was happy that I’d managed to adjust to Dubai time so well and been able to enjoy the evening without being too tired.

Iain and Becky have Friday and Saturday’s off work so the four of us chilled out at the beach the next day. The sky wasn’t as overcast as yesterday and it felt much hotter. The temperature was just about right, any hotter and it would have been too much. In the afternoon Becky’s friends, Neil and Toni arrived from the Maldives for the last leg off their honeymoon. We had lunch together and spent the rest of the day at the beach. In the evening we went to the Mirage hotel to the Jetty Bar and had a meal at the Beach and Bar Grill. I really enjoyed the Jetty Bar and it reminded of Ibiza. It was on the sea front, full of comfortable wicker sofa’s and played chilled tunes. Again the place was really stylish and had a good vibe to it. The Beach Bar and Grill was only a short walk away and our table over looked the sea. The setting was idyllic and the food was first-class. The complex appeared high end and posh but the atmosphere was relaxed and chilled out, it was superb.   


Inside the Jetty Bar

Saturday morning was Jon and Cher’s last. It was really good to catch up and I was glad I got to spend time with them and Iain and Becky in Dubai. I like the fact that we’ve always made the effort to see each other since Australia and have meet up in all over the England and now abroad.

After Jon and Cher left, Iain and I played Fifa on the PS3 for about 3 hours to Becky’s bewilderment. Girls just don’t understand the importance of boy’s toys and the enjoyment they bring. In the end Becky hurried us out the door as Iain wanted to take me on a whistle stop tour of Dubai in the Porsche before meeting Neil and Toni at their hotel. First stop was Dubai Creek, which is a natural sea water inlet that cuts through the centre of the city. We visited the port where the QE2 is now moored, drove past Union Square to see the largest flag pole in the world when it was built in 2001 and stopped off at Jumeirah Beach, Dubai’s main public beach. Finally we stood at the foot of the Burj Khalifa, which is the tallest man made structure ever built before spending the afternoon at the Palace Hotel with Neil and Toni by the pool. It was quality pulling up to the front of the hotel, handing the keys to the valet staff and walking straight in. I’ve never done anything like that before and I loved getting out of a convertible Porsche and having the other guests looking at us.

After spending 21 months backpacking it was nice to experience the finer side of life and sample what you can do when you have money. Dubai was a great way to round of my travels and get in some relaxation and sun before going home. It was great to spend time with Iain, Becky, John and Cherrise, reminiscing about Australia and catching up. I’m really pleased that over the past 9 years we’ve always made the effort to see each other and can always pick up where we left off.

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Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Leaving Rehab and Mum and Dad Arriving

 I was discharged from rehab on 15th January 2011, exactly 5 weeks after my accident. On the drive home on of my careers couldn’t believe I had gone through Cavit in just over 4 weeks and told me that the average stay is around 3 months.   
I was really excited about going home and getting back on with my life. That evening we had organized a welcome home BBQ and invited all my mates from the hostel. It was a good turn out and a really good evening. Half way through I said a few words and thanked everyone for all they had done during my time in hospital and Cavit. Between them they had been fantastic - I had a visitor every day I was in hospital and for the first couple of weeks in rehab. Cavit used to say I was the most popular patient on campus as I had so many visitors. I can’t thank everyone enough. It made my day seeing them, they all made my recovery so much happier and pleasant and their visits really meant a lot to me. When bad things happen in your life you realize how kind people can be and appreciate the little things they do that make such a big difference.
On the Monday I went with Lee and Wayne to pick my car up from a garage on Waiheke Island. I let the guys borrow my car over Christmas and New Years and unfortunately the clutch died on them while they were spending Christmas on the Island. I thought that when I left Cavit, my recovery was nearly complete and I would be getting my life back together and doing normal everyday things in no time. This wasn’t the case and the three days I had been home had hit me hard. I enjoyed the day at Waiheke with Lee and Wayne but I was so tired and had to keep having rests to reenergize and get me through the day. The pace of the real world was hitting me hard!
On Tuesday Mum arrived from England. Before leaving she told me not to worry about picking her up from the airport and that she would get a taxi. When I told Hayley and Stacey about this, they weren’t having any of it and Hayley insisted on picking Mum up. I was really looking forward to seeing Mum but was hoping that she wouldn’t cry at the airport and luckily she didn’t. As they hadn’t seen me since the accident, Mum and Dad could only build a mental image of how I was doing from Cavit reports and how I sounded on the phone. Mum explained that Dad had told her to be strong and make sure she didn’t cry even if I had a limp or couldn’t tighten my lips properly and had a slight dribble. I done neither, so instead of crying Mum gave me her suitcase and let me take it back to the car.

Our first picture togther.

It was great seeing her again and that evening we jut caught up. The next day I took Mum to an Internet café so she could let everyone know that she’d arrived and showed her the Viaduct. The Viaduct was re-vamped for the America’s Cup in 2000 and is now one of the main places in Auckland to eat, grab a coffee or have a drink. All the restaurants, bars and café’s sit on the waters edge around the harbour. The place is full with super yachts, pleasure yachts and racing yachts and when the sun’s out it’s a great place to relax, unwind and look at all the wealth on display. The Viaducts had an impact on Mum for sure. She would often stop when we was in town to relax with a pot of tea.
Tommy really wanted to meet Mum and had organized dinner at the local curry house, Bollywood so everyone from the hostel could meet her.  Mum was also keen to meet everyone, in particular Hayley, Karen, Stacey and Tommy as she had lots contact with them in the first few weeks of my injury. Again it was a massive turnout and a very good evening. Bollywood make a nice curry but unfortunately with big tables the service is really slow. We didn’t get to eat until 8:30 and we booked our table for 7:00. Luckily I had, had a rest before leaving home but by the end of the night I was shattered and ready for bed. 

Meal at Bollywood
I took Mum to Cavit so she could have a look at the place. She enjoyed looking around and meeting everyone that was involved in my rehabilitation but it made her sad seeing how bad some people’s injuries were. She said she was glad she went but was pleased to leave as being there made her think about what could have been.

Probably the best day that I spent with Mum was a Full Day Sailing trip that work runs. We spent the day on a Pride of Auckland yacht and sailed to Waiheke and back. Mum thoroughly enjoyed herself and loved the trip. She had a go at helming the yacht and being the skipper but you could tell by the look on her face she was nervous and not enjoying being in control. Sailing on the Waitemata Harbour is stunning, and allows you to take in with a lot of Auckland’s landmarks from the water. We were lucky with the weather and spent the afternoon in the sun, which makes sailing so much more of a pleasure. 
Sailing with Pride of Auckland

Before Mum came, I didn’t think having her around would make my life that much easier. I was very wrong! It’s was the little things she done that made a big difference like helping with the cooking and washing up, she took control when our washing machine brook and we had to use the launderette and she chased up my ACC case manager when she forgot to pay my bills. Mum also got my arse into gear and helped me find a GP, arrange a dentist appointment and get to an eye examination appointment. These appointments were necessary and I had to get them done to move forward with other aspects of my recovery. I hated having to go to them and I always felt grumpy and short tempered because I didn’t want to make the effort. I would have only done the important things if she wasn’t here and it would have taken me much longer.

In the three weeks that Mum lived with me before Dad arrived she got to experience Auckland life. Generally I wasn’t really up to much and got tired quickly. We still got out every day, done a few jobs and walked around but I could only last three or four hours before getting tired and needing to relax at home.  We had a few fun days out like a trip up the Sky Tower with Hayley and Karen, a day at Mission Bay with Jen, Niamh and Irish Tommy, a shopping spree on Queen Street and a day at Takapuna for Aisling’s Birthday. Unfortunately the weather was pretty hit and miss so we didn’t do many day trips, which was a shame.  
Looking down on the Viaduct from the Sky Tower

Mum told me that she planned on taking me home after their holiday but once she had meet my friends and seen the things I had going for me, she was happy for me to stay. She would have had a fight on her hands as I had no intention of going home - the idea hadn’t even entered my head. I wasn’t going to let my injury stop me from finishing what I’ve started and following through with what I wanted to achieve. Leaving would have filled my trip with bad memories and I would have felt as though I’d given up and left with my tail between my legs. When I looked back at my time in New Zealand, I would have just remembered my accident and not all the amazing things I’ve experienced and I didn’t want that.

Aisling's Birthday at Takapuna

Just before Dad arrived I felt the worse I’ve felt since the accident, possibly even my life. The lad’s friends from Ireland were staying with us and they were truly in holiday mode. During their stay they showed little respect for my injury and didn’t give my recovery a second thought. They would stay in the house till gone 1:30am before heading out into town while I was in the next room trying sleep. I really needed my sleep and if I didn’t get enough it totally ruined the following day. One Friday and Sunday night I only get 3 hours sleep and was in pieces by Monday.

I saw Peter getting out of bed in the middle of the afternoon and he asked how I was doing, I responded angrily and he muttered something under his breath. I’m normally quite good with my emotions but I lost the plot! I felt like punching and kicking a hole in the wall, so went outside to calm down.  I saw all their empty beer bottles on the table, this made me even angrier and I really had to stop myself from throwing the table over and smashing the bottles on the floor. I was really losing it and started hyperventilating.

Mum came round the corner and I told her that I had to get away from the house. I felt as if I was breaking down and could cry at any minute. All I wanted to do was sleep but my mind was raging, I was shaking and wanted to lash out. If I shut my eye’s the day light caused my eye lids to bounce on my eye balls. It felt good to rest them but the constant bouncing was so uncomfortable that I was better off with them open.

One of the Irish boys, Tommy came up to the launderette and said that he had heard that I wasn’t getting much sleep. I don’t think he wasn’t prepared for the answer he got. He looked very guilty and apologized. To his credit it took guts confronting the situation, it showed character and I respect him for it. He was the only one that ever had the guts to say anything, the others knew they were keeping me up but just looked sheepish, slopped away and never mentioned it.

I had wanted to wait until all my housemates were together before telling them how they were making me feel but after how I reacted to Peter, I couldn’t face all of them and remain calm. I decided just to talk to Jen and Niamh as they took the lease out on the house. When I got back, I had a chat with them and told them how I felt. The girls said they had no idea and looked very guilty and up set. I explained that I knew they are travelling and want to be able to relax in their home but I just couldn’t cope. I said that it must also be hard for them living with me and my injury and that I would move out if they had a problem with keeping the noise down. They told me not to be ridiculous and I could tell by their faces they were sincere and upset with how I was feeling. The girls have been great since my accident and really kind. For girls that have only known me a couple of weeks before my accident, they couldn’t have done any more, been kinder or spared more of their time so their reaction didn’t surprise me and I knew they meant what they said.

The sign worked, it was just too small
Dad arrived early morning on 8th February. He had told Mum that he wanted us to make signs for him as he had lost so much weight that he was worried we may not recognize him and leave him stranded at the airport. We made signs but Dad was disappointed they weren’t bigger, which is typical of him J Little did he know that I had wanted to wear the bright coloured wigs that we wore at Aisling’s Birthday so he should count himself lucky and be pleased with the small signs.

It was great to see Dad and both of them together. On the way home I had so much to say, my brain couldn’t process my thoughts quick enough and I was left feeling cloudy and worn out. Shortly after unpacking the luggage, Mum wanted to show Dad the Viaduct. She says it was for him but really she just wanted another excuse to go! After our coffee I took them both to my work so they could meet my manager, Alyson and the rest of the Explore NZ crew. I think this was a bit much for Dad after the flight as he was quite knackered and he probably just wanted to chill out.  In the evening we put had a BBQ at the house and made Dad the chef. I don’t think he minded but made out in a joking way that he did. On reflection Mum and I didn’t really take Dad’s jet lag into consideration and the poor guy hit the ground running. It was another good evening but the flight and an active day had taken its toll on Dad and by 8 o’clock he was falling asleep in his chair outside.

Mecca, Mum's favourite Viaduct café

Dad was only in Auckland for two days before we started our holiday. We had planned to visit Lynn and Gill in the Bay of Islands and spend a few days in Rotorua and the Coromandel. Lynn and Gill have been good friends with my Granny and Granddad for decades and Dad has known them since he was a kid. He hasn’t seen them for a good few years so was really looking forward to spending some time with them and seeing where they lived. He was surprised that Mum and I hadn’t visited sooner so I could rest up and recover. In hindsight this would have been a good idea but all I was thinking about was getting my life back to normal and as I’ve already mentioned, I thought it would have been easier than it was. 

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Saturday, January 29, 2011

Rehab

I was admitted to Cavit ABI for residential rehabilitation on the 16th December as it was unsafe for me to return home due to me being in post traumatic amnesia (PTA) and because the severity of my accident required intense rehab.

I arrived by ambulance around lunch time. As I was lifted out of the ambulance I remember being told that I had fallen off a wall and would be staying at Cavit for the next few months to be rehabilitated. I’m not sure if I was told or I made the memory up but I remember being told that I would make a full recovery and be able to return to everyday life. Whether I had made it up or not, there was no doubt in my mind that I would make a full recovery and would soon enough be back to my old self.

During my time in rehab, I never felt sorry for my self or wondered why the accident had happened to me. I stayed positive and focused on how I could improve. I didn’t think about what could have happened or ifs and buts as my situation was the reality and all that mattered. You can’t change the past so why bother letting it get to you? You can control the present and how you want it to turn out, and that’s what I focused on.

The staff was very good. They gave me lots of information to read and were always giving advice and educating me on the injury. I took on board and followed every bit of advice I got. Some may say I that I followed it a little too strictly, but all I cared about was getting back to my old way of life as quickly as possible. I wanted to be better then, I didn't want to wait 6 months.

House 1&2
For the first week I lived in house 1&2. Most patients started in house 1&2 and as they improve, move around the complex before being discharged. Fatigue was a major issue for me and initially I would need to rest at least twice a day for between an hour and an hour and a half. Even with the rests I constantly felt tired and it didn’t take a lot to make me short tempered and grumpy. When I went from sitting or lying to standing I would feel light headed and dizzy. My speech was slurred and I repeated myself as my short term memory was very bad. I knew what was happening but was very confused and mentally slow. My brain took a long time to process things, which left me feeling like I had a constant layer of fog or cloudiness in my mind. Physically I had a right sided weakness and all kind of balance and coordination issues. I was unsteady on my feet and would often bump into things on my right side. My mood was very dependent on how tired I was feeling. When I started to get tired all my negative affects would start to show. I had to learn to look for the warning signs that I was starting to get tired and go and have a rest. It took me a while to learn these but looking back they were very easy to spot. 

Stacey and Hayley were visiting when I had my first physio session booked. Stacey was trying to get me ready and told me to put my shoes on. I just looked at my shoe then looked at her for help. She encouraged me to put them on myself so I looked at Hayley for help. Stacey cut in and said “Come on Matt, you can put them on yourself. Go and get them and put them on” Hayley felt sorry for me and went to help me but Stacey stopped her and said “He has to learn to do things for himself”. I begrudgingly put my shoes on and was more than capable. My first lesson, cheers Stacey.

The gym
I have no memory of the session but the girls tell me that I had to put my hands in a box and without looking, squeeze the shapes to identify them and say whether they were soft or hard. To test my memory after the session Ann, my physio asked me if I could remember my way back to the house. It was only 20 metres from the gym but nothing looked familiar and I ended up walking round the whole complex. Hayley felt sorry for me and tried giving me hints but I still didn’t have a clue so Ann, gave in and showed me the way.  


It wasn’t long before I was going to the gym twice a day. I had been told that some of the neurons that carried messages throughout my body had died because of the impact of the fall. I was told that it is possible for my brain to make new pathways but because they aren’t as direct my brain has to work harder, which is why I get tired. They told me the more that I used these new pathways the stronger they would become and the more control I would have over movements. I had always enjoyed going to the gym before my accident but now with my new found knowledge they couldn’t keep me away.

I spent most of my time in house 1&2 in my room lying on my bed. I wasn’t being anti social but I had no interest in the other patients and preferred my own company. Let’s be honest the conversation wouldn’t have been very good and none of us would have been able to remember what was said after an hour. From reading my report I get the feeling that the staff was concerned about me not interacting with other patients. What seemed to have saved me was that when my friends came to visit I was straight out of my room, alert and full of life. It makes me laugh that they have actually noted I seemed much more alert and happy when I had female visitors.

I had lots of visitors throughout the day and evening and started to earn the reputation of being the most popular patient on campus. My housemates, Jen and Niamh visited me everyday for the first two weeks after my accident. Jen say’s her favourite memory of me was about three or four days after the accident. She says I wasn’t making much sense, was very confused but knew all about my accident. I was telling them a story about sharing a chair lift up the mountain with an American guy, who kept calling American Football, football. I apparently said to them “Why was that idiot calling it football? Football in England is the only sport where only your feet touch the ball and not your hands. I think he is the one with the brain injury.”

Tommy, the good fella, still brought me food when he visited. I told him that I had never had a burger from Burger Fuel so on one visit he brought me one, unfortunately I can’t remember eating it. Damo, had brought me a Nuts magazine. One day I was having a read and needed the toilet. I left the magazine cover down in a tented position so that I didn’t loose the page I was on. It just so happens that the page I was on had a picture of a girl with her tits out and when I came back from the toilet the magazine had been closed and put on my bed side table. I felt like I was 12 again and had been caught looking at a porno by my Mum. I had a little laugh to myself, found the page I was on and continued reading.

So far my recovery was going better than expected and I was moved to House 10. Usually after house 1&2 patients would stay in one or two more houses before being moved on to one of the final housing situations, but my progress had lead the staff to believe I was ready for final step. This was great news and I was very excited.

House 10
The set up is similar to a flatting situation to resemble living at home. We had to cook for ourselves, do the cleaning, food shopping, clothes washing etc. I was one of three patients and shared the house with Paul and Seth. Paul, was a race horse trainer who fell off a horse and was kicked in the back of the head, Seth was in a head on car accident and had to be cut from the wreck. Both of them were in their late 30’s, relaxed and easy to get on with. I was now expected to be self sufficient which meant asking the house keeper for my medication twice a day and to meet all appointments with out being reminded. Obviously the house keeper was there to make sure we didn’t forget but the idea was to prove you were ready to return home.

Just after moving in Jen, told me that I had better cut my hair and have a shave because I was starting to look a mess. I started to shave my head and stubble but left massive patches everywhere. I found it hard to grip the clippers comfortably and wasn’t very thorough. Jen was in disbelief when I looked at her and asked if I looked better. She wasn’t sure if I was serious or having a laugh. When she realised I was serious she had to finish the job for me.

House 10 was really where I started to take control of my recovery. I read that the brain not only needs to be worked physically but also mentally to strengthen the new pathways. I brought puzzle books with crosswords, word searches and Sudoku and I kept a daily diary of what I did and how I felt after to look patterns. I used to work my brain to the max. Some days it would go totally fuzzy and cloudy and feel like it couldn’t process any more information. I didn’t make a habit of working it that hard but I used to like the feeling because I knew I was pushing it. My recovery was all that mattered and I would make sure I worked out both mentally and physically before I let my self relax or watch the T.V.

The Cavit grounds
During my reading about brain injuries, I stumbled across one document that scared the crap out of me. I don’t believe in feeling sorry for yourself or dwelling on things, but this was hard to shake. I read that some people can never fully get rid of the fatigue and it was with them for life. The document went on to say that everyone was different. Some were able to do a full days work and feel fine but struggle after doing extra’s like mowing the lawn. Others could just about do a full days work then would have to return home for a rest and not be able to do much else in the evening. As my fatigue was the biggest issue and I still needed to rest twice a day for 30 – 40 minutes, I feared that it wouldn’t totally clear up. As I used to be so active and was always out and about doing things the thought of not being able to really scared me. My friends used to say “you’ll be okay, it’ll clear, you’ll see”. I knew they were only being positive and trying to reassure me but I used to think how do you know? How can you say it will be okay? I’m the one facing this problem and it may not be okay. I may not be able to ride my bike like I used to, go for a run or do things at the same pace. This really played on my mind but I didn’t let myself think about for longer than a day. To take my mind off it, I stayed positive and focused on my training program. I used to think I could trick my brain into thinking this is the kind of work it would have to do everyday so it had better get used to it.

If my friends hadn’t seen me for a few days, they always commented that I was doing much better. I used to think they were just being polite and didn’t take much notice but when I started noticing the improvements, I felt much happier, more positive and focused. From day one I’ve always had good insight into my injury. I knew what my problems were and as they started to improve I would focus on the next issue. I was a work in progress and nothing was going to stop me from making a full recovery.

My parents used to speak to me everyday on the phone and they could tell how I was feeling by my voice. I had started to ask questions about home, the accident and early days in hospital. I couldn’t remember any thing about hospital and as my parents explained, the gravity of the situation started to sink in. When I was first admitted to Cavit I didn’t understand what all the fuss was about. I knew I had a brain injury but thought my fall was pretty tame. My memory only really started around 10 days after the accident, when I was able to go to physio and hold conversations. I had no idea how bad I was after waking up from the coma. The more questions I asked the more I understood. After leaving rehab, PC Keith told me he didn’t think I was going to make it through the night and before leaving NZ, Lee, Tommy and Wayne said they didn’t think I would be watching football round their flat having a laugh again. 

Sergio and I
Sergio, one of the physio’s used to run a sports group once a week. The first sports group I went on Sergio, took Seth and I to a track and field stadium. We left Sergio for dead and he wasn’t able to keep up. We ran 5 laps of the 400m track with out stopping, Sergio only managed one. We then ran up and down the stairs from the car park onto the track 3 times followed by one last lap of the track as quick as we could. At the time I had only just started to jog and my muscles couldn’t accelerate into a sprint but my fitness was still there. It took a lot of concentration when placing my feet on the steps and on the way down my speed reduced considerably so that I didn’t trip or stumble. After the session I felt really good. It was by far the most exercise I’d done and was happy with my fitness and full of optimism that I would return to my old lifestyle. I loved the trip so much that I asked Sergio to inform me whenever he had a sports group arranged. I only had two weeks left in Cavit but I managed to fit in two, 1.5k walks round Cascades park in the Waitakere Ranges, a two on two basket ball game and a swimming trip to Westwaves Lap Pools. Seth had requested the basket ball match as I used to play. I found it very hard to judge the speed of the ball and had to wait for the ball to reach me before catching it. Every time I ran after the ball I felt like I was going to fall over and my marking skills were shocking. The guy on Sergio’s team suffered a minor brain injury and was only in Cavit for a week or so. He often stole the ball when I was dribbling and he was able to find acres of space with my slack marking. Seth and I won in the end and our fitness showed as we played on together while Sergio rested and the other chap smoked.

Overall I enjoyed my time at Cavit. Obviously I would have preferred not to have needed the rehabilitation but the staff couldn’t have done anymore and I knew I was in the right place to recover.

People tell me that I am lucky to have recovered so well and with out any lasting damage. I don’t think I am lucky. My injury was what it was. I could have fallen off the wall and ended up with cuts and bruises, I am also fully aware that I could now be paralyzed or be sitting in a wheelchair brain dead. That didn’t happen, I suffered a brain injury and I have recovered. I think the reason why I recovered so well is because I put so much time and effort into my rehab and I looked to the positives of my situation. I believe that I am reaping the benefits for living a healthy lifestyle. Although the accident happened when I was drunk, I don’t drink that often, I’ve been going to the gym regularly for the last 6 years, I take an interest in my diet which, has been very good for the last 3 years and I am very active. I would say that I am fortunate that I didn’t suffer more severe injuries but as I said at the beginning of this blog, "You can’t change the past so why bother letting it get to you? You can control the present and how you want it to turn out".

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