Saturday, January 29, 2011


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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  1. I will have to tell Angelo ( the PTA) that you renamed him Sergio...what a hoot! I will blame it on your PTA, as memory for names is always tricky in those early days.... :-) Ann

  2. He know about me calling him Sergio as I called him that when I came back to Cavit for a visit. I can't believe I did it again! Lets blam it on the PTA :)