Chapter 454

13 Nov

Pivotal moments. When they are happening, you don’t necessarily think to yourself, “Hello, pivotal moment alert”, but as past events become distilled into that narrative entitled Life So Far, they stand out, like chapter headings in a novel. Looking back, I can instantly recall a few classics from my own story: Chapter 8: The Day Dad Bought me my First Harmonia; Chapter 17: The Day I Nearly Cut my Tongue in Half and Blamed it on the Boy Sitting Next to Me; Chapter 421: The Day Jess Walked into the Workshop at the Christmas Decorations Factory.  

At the time, the significance of such an event is often drowned out by the everyday minutiae occurring around it. When I first me Anthony, I was newly married, newly emigrated and disconcertingly jobless. Fed up with the haphazard nature of agency work, but patently unqualified for anything else, I had found Anthony’s details on my agency’s list of ‘permanent clients’. Greatly appealing was the word ‘permanent’, as was the job’s location, one suburb across from my own. Everything else about this assignment was frankly terrifying. The list of medical issues in Anthony’s care plan ran on for pages: C1 quadriplegia, total paralysis from the neck down, unable to breath independently, permanent tracheostomy, unable to regulate own temperature, one kidney etc etc… In what I now understand to be a typically pathology-focussed medical summary, barely any mention was made of Anthony’s personality, personal life…personal strengths. I was very, very close to bailing out on our meet-and-greet session, partly because I felt I would be dangerously out of my depth, and partly because, if all you saw of Anthony was his care plan, you’d be forgiven for thinking that his quality of life must be non-existent. How pivotally wrong you would be.

For Anthony, there was no doubting it when the most pivotal moment of his life came along. At the age of 6, he was hit by a car whilst walking home from school. This was more than the start of a new chapter; it was the beginning of a whole new book, for him and for his family. His is a narrative in which Bad Luck and Good Luck constantly jostle for dominance. It’s bad luck to be hit by a car and to injure your spine at the highest possible level. And yet, if this is to happen, it is remarkably fortunate that it happens to happen outside a healthcare centre and that a doctor, seeing the immediate aftermath and instantly sensing the seriousness, commences CPR straight away. With a C1 injury, you stop breathing. If deprived of oxygen for more than 3 minutes, your brain becomes permanently damaged, which is why so few survive suffering this “hangman’s” injury. From the moment of impact until this very day, more than 30 years later, Anthony has not taken a single breath unaided. In this 30-year relay-race, with that doctor firing us out of the starting blocks, one person has passed the baton of respiratory responsibility to the next in an unbroken chain, and despite some fumbles, it has never been dropped.

It is also decidedly lucky to be equipped with an innate temperament of boundless positivity, and to be born into the kind of family who will fight tooth-and-nail on your behalf, endure years of sleepless nights and endless days in court to get you the things you need to thrive, and to instil in you an extraordinary sense of self-efficacy and resilience. Victimhood is not in Anthony’s repertoire of attitudes.

When I arrived for my interview, Anthony was still being positioned in his chair, but told me to go through and wait for him in his study. Shortly afterwards he joined me and we chatted, me sitting slightly awkwardly in what I think was a child’s rocking chair, him looming above me on his magnificent mobile throne. It wasn’t the longest conversation ever, but we covered a lot of ground, jumping from one topic to the next… did I like music? Yes. Had I ever worked with a phrenic nerve pacer? No. Would I be available to come on a trip to South Africa? Huh?? 

“He’s amazing”, I said to Jess on the phone afterwards. “We’re the same age, we have a lot in common. I’m going to give it a go”.

Nearly 5 years later, gazing through the wide lens of hindsight, it’s easy to see that had I not met this man, the very idea of a career in nursing would never have occurred to me. Suddenly, I found myself working side-by-side with nurses and learning, in the most practical fashion, about anatomy and pathophysiology, ventilation and perfusion, the internal logic and special quirks of the human nervous system, as well as the fine art of Keeping Someone Alive. Before long, the clinical side of things had transitioned from being frightening to fascinating, and learning all this stuff whilst caring for someone so downright enthusiastic about life was transformative for me. As I began my formal nursing training, I continued to have lightbulb moments, as a new concept learnt in class would suddenly cast light on a previously opaque idiosyncrasy of Anth’s condition. I clearly remember, for example, the day I learnt about the meandering miracle that is the vagus nerve…

“Anth! I now know why you can’t breath, but you can digest food! It all makes sense. You’re TEXTBOOK!”

“Tell me, Henry!”

“Well, there’s this nerve…”


The trip to South Africa was more than just a passing comment. The practicalities (health insurance, equipment hire, 24-hour staffing etc etc) and expenses (wages, flights, accommodation, film crew (!)) involved in such a trip had taken years to iron out. Indeed, a sizeable chunk of the funding came from Anthony himself, who, a couple of years previously, had entered the TV quiz show Millionaire Hotseat and bagged himself a cool $50,000. Drop into this video at 8 minutes to see him clean up. It’s pretty epic:

So I came on board at just the right time and it was during this trip – this exhausting, life-affirming trip – with myself as the only non-nurse amongst 5 staff, that the cogs really started to whirr. And now, years later, with my Masters of Nursing Science all wrapped up and a dream nursing role awaiting me in the new year, I find myself working my last few shifts with Anthony. I’ve been just one of many hundreds of carers who have passed a period of time in his company. I hope I’ve done my small part in keeping him moving on his already remarkable trajectory, but for me, Chapter 454: The Day I Met Anthony, was one that pivoted me off on a new, exciting heading, and for that, Anth, I’d like to say: thanks mate.


*                 *                *


Briefly, in other news… back to things Nepalese. Do you remember I mentioned about that 14 year old girl, Samjana, who we brought down the mountain to hospital? She had a huge necrotic wound burrowing into her heal and a worrying growth at the base of her spine. Well, thanks to the donations that have come in, she has successfully undergone surgery, with no less than three surgeons in attendance. They removed a pretty enormous and angry-looking tumour from her spine and we are currently awaiting biopsy results to learn more about it. Raj and Kushab were with her beforehand and afterwards, and they report that she is recovering well. We are hopeful at this stage that she may not have to lose the foot, which is a far more optimistic prospect than she was facing a couple of weeks ago. There is still a long road ahead for Samjana, and financial assistance is sorely needed for whatever happens next, so if you feel like helping out, you can do so here:


In less than a week now Jess and I will be jumping aboard our budget airline flight to Sri Lanka, where a wedding and other adventures, no doubt, await. I’ll be reporting back.

Thanks Legends,


Hen x




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