The event that I am going to tell you about changed my life, both physically and mentally.
Here it is the full story which is a partial rewrite of a post I published way back in the second month of this blog.
On Friday the 17th August 2007, I volunteered to spend the day working at the Collingwood Children’s Farm.
The place I work for let each staff member take one day a year as volunteer leave, so that you can participate in community volunteer work. I believe that this has two purposes, one, to boost staff morale and enhances team-building, and the other enhances the company’s standing in the community. From my point of view, it is usually just plain fun.
I arrived in my hybrid car at about [8:30] am, did a quick tour of the chickens and community vegetable gardens on my way to the main building. Some of the vegetables were huge! I had never seen Savoy Cabbages so large. They must have been fertilising them with Giant’s poo or something like that!
My friend and I were early, so we had a coffee in the open air cafe. It was a lovely setting. You could hear the goats, chickens and ducks doing their thing. It took me right back to when I was a child growing up on the dairy farm in Loxton North, South Australia. So many memories came flooding back from all those years ago.
The rest of the volunteer team arrived at nine o’clock. There were eight of us all up. We met the lady who allocated the work and she gave us the briefing for the day. In the morning we were to weed the orchard and in the afternoon feed the animals. We all grabbed the gardening tools necessary for weeding, hoes, wheelbarrows, rakes, buckets etc. and we headed over to the orchard.
We received yet another briefing regarding what weeds to pull out and what to leave alone. I learnt that dock relieves the pain caused by stinging nettles. As Shakespeare might have said, “To weed, or not to weed, that is the question”.
One botany lesson later, we got stuck into the weeding. We began to get down on our knees and pulled out at least 20 wheelbarrow loads of weeds. Some of the weeds went to the ducks and chickens as food, some for the goats, and most of them were dumped on the compost heap. I was running wheelbarrows mostly, but did about 30 minutes of weeding to begin with. We managed to knock it over by about 1130, so we decided to go to the pub for lunch.
We returned to the farm after lunch and met up with the farm lady again. She was impressed that we had finished the orchard so quickly, but soon got us started on feeding the large animals. We loaded up a cart with about six bales of hay and proceeded down the shared bicycle track to where the animals lived. I am not sure of the order, but we fed horses, cows, sheep and goats.
I was told to enter the goat enclosure as the feeder was way on the other side of the paddock. A few of us volunteered to carry hay down to the feeder and I decided to grab most of a bale, which was quite heavy, and proceeded to run, as most of the goats were chasing me! I was especially wary of this three legged nanny goat who had her eyes on the hay I was holding. Not a good move as you will see.
We moved onto the other animals and threw the hay to some of them. We then went back to the main building where the ladies fed the lambs and a calf with big bottles. They gulped it down in no time flat. We also watched a cow being milked with a very cheeky cat trying to abscond some of the fresh milk. There were about ten primary school kids at the farm all learning how it worked. I still think that some kids thought that milk comes from bottles or cartons, instead of cows! At least they know better now.
It all went downhill from here.
As it was nearly the end of the day, and time for the photoshoot, we all gathered to pose. I remember a large twinge and a bit of pain in my lower back as I sat down. I didn’t think much of it at the time as I thought it was nothing to worry about.
After the happy snaps, we all said our goodbyes and headed home for the weekend. It had been a really educational and fun day.
However, as I was driving home, I started to feel intense pain in the area around my lower back. After about 20 minutes the pain began to travel down to my buttocks on both sides then down to the back of my knees. I even loosened my belt, thinking it may be too tight.
By the time I arrived home an hour later, I was in excruciating pain. I managed to take some pain relief, then laid down. I thought that I had pulled a muscle or something simple like that and that the pain would subside in the morning. But alas, it was not to be that simple.
The pain persisted all weekend and I spent it in bed trying to recover. I found that if I attempted to sit, the pain increased, however if I stood or laid down, it abated slightly.
On the Monday morning I managed to drag myself down to my GP, Dr Spence, and he quickly diagnosed “Discogenic back pain”. Apparently I managed to get a bulging disc that was pressing on the nerves that travel down the legs. It was the three legged goat who was the culprit!
Dr Spence signed me off work for one week and said it should heal fairly quickly. So after six months, one CT scan, one MRI scan, bi-weekly visits to Physiotherapy, many acupuncture sessions and 4 specialist visits later, I was diagnosed with a L5/S1 disk bulge with tears in the disc lining. And OMG, the pain! It was unbearable most of the time. It was like having a four foot toothache from my lower back all the way to my big toes. However, Dr Spence continued to look after me, and helped me get through the really low times. Great bloke.
I couldn’t drive a car for more than 10 minutes without pain, and stupidly I worked part time from the second week of the injury. Upon reflection, I should not have worked for at least six months. I don’t remember much about the work that I attempted to do because I was always high on painkillers.
So I bit the bullet and began to utilise Public Transport in earnest. Why did I not use PT earlier! There were no traffic jams, I could stand comfortably or sit a little while, and I managed to get to the office with a small amount of pain, and all in less time it took to travel in by car. Not only did I lowered my carbon footprint by not driving, I was less stressed by the trip.
|Resting during my long recovery, and zonked out with drugs.|
Even though this was a physical setback in my journey of a sustainable lifestyle, it did not affected me too much mentally. Sure, I got frustrated, but knew my limitations pretty quickly if I attempted to do something stupid. Pain was a great de-motivator at times.
I even remember one time that I actually crawled to the veggie patch when I was in excruciating pain to do a spot of weeding. Early on, I was quite stubborn, but soon learnt to let go.
During the 18 months of part time work, I must have read about every book in the Melton Library, covering subjects like Climate change, Organic gardening, Peak oil, sustainable living, and how to preserve food. I think that I read about 100 books during my recovery, at the pace of nearly two a week.
|Now you know why I know so much about preserving!|
All in all, it kept me sane, kept my mind off the injury, taught me to slow down, and learnt not to get frustrated when things didn’t go my way.
You know, I do believe he was right! It has often be said that through adversity comes clarity and purpose.
Because of my injury, and spending the majority of my time at home flat on my back during the first year of recovery, I became very close and in tune with Kim and all the kids. I became aware of my surroundings, I now live in the moment. I treasure the gifts that nature give us all, and have figured out what my purpose is in life. It took many long hours flat on my back to work out that this what I needed to do in my life and that I need to share it with as many other like minded people as I could.
|My favourite recovery couch. This is where I first learnt about peak oil!|
I believe that if I didn’t have this life changing injury, I may not have started this blog. The mind boggles at the mere thought of not having all of you sharing my journey with me is unfathomable. ;-).
Did you know that the first six months worth of this blog was actually hand written with a pencil into a little A5 notebook whilst I rested on my back? I then typed each post in 10 minutes bursts at my computer whilst high as a kite on pain relief. Hell, it was painful, but I persevered because I need to tell my story.
After the initial 18 months recovery and three additional relapses, it took me a further year of rehabilitation via occupational therapy and lots of special core body strength exercises to recover to a state (about 95% recovered) that I am at today. As I am much more active, I find that I only need to visit the gym fortnightly to keep those core muscles strong. Gardening and bike riding does wonders for my fitness. I have been relatively pain free since mid 2010.
So there you have it. Now you know the full story of why I am like I am. The back injury taught me many valuable life lessons, and made me a better man. All I needed was time to reassess everything, which in the end I certainly had in abundance. Being on ones back for such a long time gives you that time in droves.
Has anyone else had a life changing injury that at the time felt devastating, but upon recovery you found that it was a change for the better? Have many of you learnt to slow down and discover the power and clarity that goes with that slowing down?