They gave me a number for Dunedin Hospital to call. He had a broken neck and was in an induced coma was all I could find out. He was in intensive care. Second vertebrae – the hangman’s break they said.
Jane, my partner then, was amazing. She dropped everything and held my hand and we flew down.
Walked in to the IC unit and there he was – my boy with a halo screwed into his skull holding his neck and spine together, in a coma hooked up to every life support system there was. The doctors said there was a high possibility of brain damage and his ability to walk was unknown.
In that first 24 hours I just sat there waiting for them to bring him to.
Initially he didn’t know who I was. Then once they pulled a few more devices off him the nurse asked him who I was, he said – “You’re my dad”.
Janey flew back to Wellington and I settled in for as long as it took. Michelle, Ang’s mother, was on holiday in Vietnam and was having trouble getting back to NZ.
He was a few days in intensive care then they moved him down to the wards.
I was pretty lost. I called an old friend, Ron Kjestrup and he and his wife Spike put me up in their flat above the Octagon – for weeks on end. I’d go in and just sit with him and talk from 7am till 11pm.
One morning I came in and the nurses were all upset – in the night he had tried to unscrew the bolts that held the halo into his head. I watched the surgeon retighten them. Agonizing.
A police officer took me to the scene of the crash. Ang had been driving uphill in wet conditions with a friend. He started to aquaplane onto the wrong side and overcorrected, smashing into a culvert on the left side of the road. He showed me the car – hard to believe anyone surviving it. Vicky, his passenger was unscathed. No alcohol involved, no charges laid.
Ang was in the final stages of his degree in Sports Science at Otago. The end of the varsity year – one by one his student friends were leaving town.
The morning we tried to get him to walk I will never forget. There wasn’t a dry eye on the ward as he took those first steps. I was on one side of him and a nurse on the other then he feigned a fall. I panicked and he said “Gotcha Jon” – he was getting his sense of humour back.
Michelle arrived from Vietnam and joined us. He was improving daily and was sent to the Isis facility up the hill, a secure rehab unit. It seemed like we were there forever trying to prove his brain was fine. Eventually they let us take him back to Wellington, to a worse place in the Hutt.
Ang turned thirty last month after climbing to Mt Everest base camp.
I love him too.