Things You Learn When You Barely Survive a Motorbike Accident

I could hear a weird gurgling sound every time I tried to get air. I thought "this is it. You've done it this time."

av Damien Long as told to Jessica O’Reilly
2016 07 05, 5:30am

All illustrations by Michael Dockery

I could taste warm blood at the back of my throat. I was stumbling around the side of the road looking for my bike, telling myself I was fine. I wasn't delirious; I just didn't want to believe I was injured. I'd crashed motorbikes before and I'd always got straight back on. That's what you do—find the bike and get back on. But this time I was only wearing one boot and my helmet had come off. Also I kept falling over, which was another thing that didn't usually happen.

I lay on my back and tried to convince myself I was okay. It was freezing and pouring with rain, but my chest and stomach felt like they were on fire. Later I'd learn I'd ruptured my diaphragm, kidney, liver, and spleen. I'd broken multiple ribs and I could feel them clicking with every breath. Two ribs had pierced my right lung. Both collapsed. They were drowning in blood so I could hear a weird gurgling sound every time I tried to get air. I thought this is it. You've done it this time.

I'd always tested myself. I got kicks out of being reckless because everytime I survived, I felt like I had a purpose. Then it happened. I was caught off guard by a roundabout at 70 km/h in heavy rain.

Then they airlifted me to Westmead where my abdomen was left open in ICU for four days.

As I lay there gurgling and rasping, I remember feeling disappointed and pretty pissed off with myself. I didn't want my life to amount to dying on the roadside in the fucking rain. I wasn't happy with the life I'd lived or the person I was at 26. I wanted another chance.

The ambos took me to Bathurst hospital and put me into an induced coma. They gave me 14 blood transfusions and cut me open from sternum to groin. Six surgeons flew from Sydney and took turns stitching together my insides. Then they airlifted me to Westmead where my abdomen was left open in ICU for four days. I didn't wake up for three weeks.

When I woke up my body was completely dependent on life-support machines. I couldn't move. I couldn't speak. I was alone with my mind and all I wanted to do was sleep. I was awake for an entire week, completely zonked on drugs, but just dimly aware that I'd received the second chance I'd wished for.

As days went by they lowered my drugs and a feeling of determination seeped through me. There were issues with my injuries but I was self-assured and my mind was strong. I lay there for three more weeks, just thinking. All I had was time and I used it to come to peace with things that had happened in my life; where I'd gone wrong.

But then came a curveball. A 10-year-old boy who'd been fighting for his life after a car accident died down the hall from me. I couldn't come to terms with it. I couldn't grasp why I was alive and he wasn't. I'd spent years taking my life for granted but here I was making plans for my future. He wouldn't have a future. It's hard to explain how low I became thinking about this.

As my head gave up, so did my body. I wasn't getting any better because of an infection the doctors couldn't find. I couldn't remember what it was like to eat or drink anything. I was sick of the taste of blood, I'd had enough of shitting into a bag, and I'd absolutely had it with people from the chapel preaching to me about life and death.

The infection got worse. It was about week seven when they accidentally found it. They took me off the machines that were helping me breath and I was sent into a coughing fit that caused me to literally pop. I had to be taken into theatre so they could put my insides back in. It was a blessing in disguise because they found the infection eating out my bowels.

I was put on heavy antibiotics and the doctor warned if I coughed or sneezed again it could be the end. I didn't move an inch for two weeks. I knew this was my last chance. I focused on my breathing and that was it. I just concentrated on staying alive.

That's the one thing I took from the experience—appreciation for control of my body.

Once the infection was gone my body recovered. Ten weeks after the crash I was hobbling down the hall on a frame. The first time I got to the door and collapsed in intense pain. My torso was being held together by staples and a girdle, and slight movement put it under a lot of stress. My muscles had been destroyed when they sliced me apart to operate.

When I left hospital I concentrated on rebuilding. At first I was just rolling around on the floor, but each day I got stronger and I started getting up early to go walking. One day I'd make it to the letterbox, the next I'd get a little bit further, then I'd make it across the road, and so on.

I went back to work after five or six weeks of being discharged, which was probably too early but I was bored. I pushed myself to a point where I had enough control of my body to go back to the gym and get back on a motorbike.

That's the one thing I took from the experience—appreciation for control of my body. I feel like I have a better understanding of the strength of the human brain and the vulnerability of the human body, the way they work together. I've since read a lot about how our thoughts affect our bodies, so I try my best to control mine. I'm alive and healthy, and I like to believe I beat the odds because I thought I could.

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