Justine Payen Author
|Posted on November 20, 2017 at 8:57 PM||comments (32445)|
That’s not true – I wouldn’t strangle him. What I would do is drag him naked behind a four-stroke, 1800cc grunty motorbike by a Columbian necktie. Think that’s a bit mean and over the top? I would sing Monty Python’s Always Look on the Bright Side of Life while riding down the road. And that would only be the beginning of what would be a long period of suffering...including but not limited to potato peelers and electric sanders.
As you will have read in my previous post, on 17 October 2015 while Pierce was under his car, a meth head – I refer to as Mr F. Witt – hit the car from behind dragging Pierce down the road causing multiple injuries. This post is a snapshot into the second year of Pierce’s recovery.
The end of 2016 and into the beginning of 2017 have been big for Pierce’s recovery.
For four months ACC have been implementing a return-to-work programme. Every fortnight the number of days worked, or the number of work hours increase, until he reaches six hours a day. His permanent colouring is similar to a navy warship’s. Depending on the sunlight, of course. When the sun’s rays hit a warship just so it reminds me of the bottom of a dead beach-fire pit. Since I work for the same company where Pierce is an apprentice electrician I am able to some degree to control his workload. I tend to judge this by his colour. Grey equals jobs like test and tagging electrical appliances. Rosy pink cheeks and he gets to help rewire sockets and light switches. He is now a pro at test and tagging! I have to say the programme might have worked if it had gone at the pace of a large water snail.
Pierce’s occupational therapist is a paragon of the newly mending walking wounded. After a particularly gruelling week for Pierce she takes one look at his gun metal grey and books him into an occupational-doctor assessment. Most of Pierce’s appointments I attend, but since I have no more leave left, this one I couldn’t.
‘Mum, the doctor says if I stay working all I’ll do is work, eat and sleep. I won’t have the energy to go to the gym, do physio or have a life.’
‘Oh, wow...like you already are?’
‘Like I’m already what?’
‘Going to work, coming home, eating and going straight to bed. Jesus, you didn’t need a doctor to tell you that.’
‘Yeah, well, my OT did.’
‘Because with his report she can have a meeting with work and me and figure out what I should do.’
‘What do you want to do?’
‘I don’t know. I know I don’t want to be so tired all the time and I wanna go to the gym.’
‘Fair enough. I’ll be coming to your work meeting, so think about what it is you’d want to do if you don’t continue at work.’
So, Pierce is no longer an apprentice electrician. At a meeting following his work one – I didn’t get to attend again – between Amanda, Pierce and his ACC case manager it was decided Pierce would start studying.
‘Hi, you’ve reached the ACC advocacy line, my name is Sue. How may I help you today?’
‘Hi, Sue. I need to know if we can do anything about ACC’s two courses that’ve been offered to my son, neither of which is the one he wants to do.’
‘Sure. First off, what is your son’s name, what are the courses on offer and what’s the one he wants to do?’
‘His name is Pierce. ACC have offered him a $50 basic computer course or a forklift-driving course. The course he wants to do is Information Systems through our local tech.’
“Yes, those are the most common courses offered to people who can’t continue in pre-accident work.’
‘But, surely if Pierce was going for a career before the accident he should be able to do a course that will give him a different profession, not just a job?’
‘Unfortunately, that isn’t the case. Doing it by the book, ACC’s process is to get people back into a job; a career path isn’t a priority.’
‘So, my son who – through no fault of his own – has been in an accident that has broken his bones, scarred his flesh and at one stage had him in intensive care completely sedated, fed through a tube with a machine breathing for him, doesn’t deserve to have a career? And…there’s nothing we can do about this?’
‘I’m sorry to say there isn’t any recourse. If ACC isn’t willing to pay for the course Pierce wants to do, he’ll have to choose one they are. I realise it’s not what you want to hear and I’m sorry I couldn’t be of more help.’
‘It’s okay, Sue. You aren’t the one making stupid edicts – ACC is.’ I run my fingers through my hair and tug. ‘Thank you for your time. Goodbye.’
Don’t get me wrong, I’m in no way saying driving a forklift is a bad thing, and Pierce could have taught a basic computer course. What I am saying is: the systems, processes and care set up in this country for victims is disgustingly flawed.
But, miracles can and do happen. Two days after my call to the ACC advocacy line – when I’d run out of creative swear words for the whole situation - Amanda phoned to say ACC had reconsidered and approved payment for the Information Systems Diploma. Wow, for a petite lady Amanda must be crossed with an angry pit bull – or a stealthy panther who managed to rip the metaphorical face off the ACC rulebook.
So, with this small triumph Pierce only must deal with ongoing pain that requires strong medication to control it. Oh, yippee!
Pierce in Intensive Care
First Few Days in a Ward
Pain. The body’s primitive, instinctual reaction to something that hurts.
I can only imagine the amount of pain Pierce had and continues to suffer through. Every time I witness Pierce in agony I wanted to scoop it out of him and install it in me. Or, better yet, take even the smallest hurt from him, multiply it by one hundred and gift it back to F. Witt with a pretty blood-red ribbon tied around it.
I’ve been told that being dragged along the road, grating off skin, top layers of muscle and part of his right ankle bone creates pain similar to burn victims. Burn victims with third degree burns. Soon after moving to Northland I had a pressure cooker of pumpkin soup explode, causing steam burns on my face, arm and stomach. It stung for days after it happened, even with me having hurtled myself into an ice-cold shower. The burns covered less than five percent of my body. Pierce’s wounds covered about one-third of his body.
At the beginning it took an hour to change the dressings on each one, and it was five months before they healed enough that the dressings could stay off. The healed skin still looks almost translucent, like you are looking through cling wrap at tissue and capillaries, almost able to see the blood swishing through veins.
For several months after he was mobile again Pierce was still receiving massage, acupuncture and osteopathy to help the pain, particularly in his back, knee and peeled leg. Now he’s not having anything but medication, but that’s solely because of affordability. One hundred percent of an apprentice’s wages is under the minimum hourly rate. Eighty percent of an apprentice’s wages is Sweet Fanny Adams. Every appointment he attended came with an ACC surcharge, some as high as $42.00 a time. So now it’s only doctor’s visits, plus medication at $35.00 a trip. Pierce is essentially paying to recover. What a wonderful health-care system we have in New Zealand – it’s nearly as good as our ineffective justice system, but I’ll get to that shortly.
I can’t remember which of Pierce’s doctor visits it was, but on one of them the doctor ordered an MRI and referred him to an orthopaedic specialist to look at the increasing pain where his vertebrae had burst. So off he traipsed back to the hospital to lie in a machine that sounds like two transformer bulldozers going at it.
‘Hi Pierce, it’s nice to meet you,’ Doctor Ortho said as he shook Pierce’s hand. ‘You must be Mum,” shaking mine.
‘Yes, I’m Pierce’s mum, Justine.’
‘Nice to meet you both. Have a seat. Now, I’m going to explain what the MRI has shown, if that’s okay?’
‘That would be great, thanks.’
‘Unfortunately, the vertebrae that burst isn’t healing. The front and back of the bone is crumbling and the rest isn’t very stable. As you can see here –’ points at the lit-up MRI ‘ – the canal where the spinal cord runs through is diminished in size. This is what is causing a majority of the pain in your back and leg.’
‘Um, okay...how do we go about fixing it so Pierce isn’t constantly in pain?’
‘If you don’t mind, Pierce, I’d like to carry out a brief examination.’
‘Sure. What do you want me to do?’
‘Can you walk in a straight line from the bed towards me?’
I stare out the window at the concrete slab that is the building next door. I’d get someone creative to paint a mural on that. God… I’m glad it doesn’t smell like disinfectant here.
‘I’ll request an MRI on your knee, and sort out a referral to a doctor who specialises in knees since I specialise in spines. Take a seat again, Pierce, and we’ll discuss what we need to do.’
As Doctor Ortho told us about the spinal surgery Pierce would need, I watched Pierce’s reaction out of the corner of my eye. He went paler and swallowed three or four times when Dr O said, ‘After we stitch you up in the front we’ll flip you over and go in through the back.’
I let Pierce digest everything he’d been told and asked Dr O questions about when he envisioned the surgery would take place.
‘First we have to apply to ACC for the surgery. Then book a vascular surgeon and theatre at the hospital. You’ll remain in for about a week post-surgery.”.’
‘How long does it usually take ACC to approve applications?’
‘Four to six weeks. I’ll give you a tentative surgery date of mid to late October.’
‘Will having the cage around my vertebrae and the fusing stop the pain?’ Pierce’s eyebrow twitched and his Adam’s apple bobbed.
‘Yes, but later in life you may have to have further surgery.’
I think back to when I entered the intensive care area, after his initial eight hours of surgery, to see Pierce hooked up to machines going bleep, inflating then deflating, while above him bags of liquid dripped into tubes that ran into his arms. Picking up his hand, I just looked at his face. Taking shallow breaths to stop the burn of antiseptic up my nose very nearly brought on a panic attack. The buzzing started in my ears, then what felt like mercury came from a point deep within my brain, feeding into my arteries and flowing down my neck, shoulders and arms, chilling as it slithered. I took deeper breaths, the burning smell of antiseptic preferable.
After Pierce and I left Doctor O’s rooms, we retreated to the café for a desperately needed caffeine hit.
Pierce asked, ‘You’ll take me there and be there when I wake up, won’t you, Mum?’
‘Of course, darling. Whatever you need, I’ll do.’
‘I hate going under. I’m scared, Mum. What if something happens?’
‘I know, darling. You wouldn’t be normal if you weren’t scared. But Dr O is a fantastic surgeon, and you’ll be in a great hospital getting excellent care with great facilities so if anything did happen they’d be able to fix it immediately.’
I didn’t add I’d be shitting myself until I could walk into his room and pick up his hand, knowing the surgery was a complete success.
Approval took six weeks. We’re now near the end of November, with 9 February 2018 a tentative surgery date, still on tenterhooks. We are also awaiting the outcome of his knee MRI, and pending specialist appointment there is potentially another dreaded surgery in 2018.
Pierce waiting for a surgery
So, we come back full circle to my desire to commit grievous bodily harm against Mr F. Witt. Unlike Pierce, who’s paid in blood, the parasite who caused the accident has received no consequences for his actions.
Part of the sentence the judge handed down were reparations to be paid to Pierce by F. Witt. I want to take a moment to point out that this man is a methadone user who had double-dosed on the drug when he crashed into the back of Pierce’s car, causing his injuries. Yet the judge believed him when he said he was working for himself and could pay Pierce a hundred dollars a week.
A few months after the sentencing Pierce contacted the court to find out how long until he’d start being paid the reparations he was due, the court advised him there was an arrest warrant issued for Mr. F Witt. Apparently, he’d disappeared from the address his curfew was based on, and they believed he’d cut off his ankle bracelet – and of course he didn’t have a job.
Oh, well done, Judge, what a fucking surprise. With each subsequent phone call Pierce was told the same thing.
Then came the day a police officer rocked up to the front door with news.
Not good news though. Three charming local girls had been on a bit of a party night up and down Hikurangi, which included smashing a window on Pierce’s car and trying to jump-start it.
In the discussion about his damaged car – the officer having recognised our address and Pierce – we checked if the warrant for Mr Witt had been executed. Well, slap me with a mouldy turnip and colour me flabbergasted - there didn’t appear to be a warrant for F. Witt’s arrest currently issued. So where did it go? Did it even exist in the first place? Questions we’ll probably never get answers to. Maybe, because of our overloaded justice system, no warrant was ever issued.
Pierce’s take on it pretty much sums things up for me: ‘Nobody has actually done anything about this and it’s pissing me off. It pisses me off that the justice system here is so shit.’
I’m amazed at how Pierce has come through the last two years.
Sometimes I catch myself watching him, maybe because of a combination of awe, soul-deep relief and occasional bouts of desire to commit GBH towards the man who did this. Well… not occasional!
He’s slowly put on weight and is about sixty-two kilograms now – only eight kilograms lighter than before the accident. I remember the first time he stood up and took two steps in hospital, the shuffle of bare feet on lino and the squeak of the walker wheels. I wanted to dance, skip down the corridor and throw in a few cartwheels for good measure, even while at the back of my mind was a growing sense of distress at the possibility of him snapping in half like a twig.
Other times I watch him as a car passes by on the street outside our house where the accident happened. The tightening of his arm and leg muscles, holding of breath and unnerving immobility would put a gargoyle to shame, until the car reaches him and he recoils infinitesimally, then slowly relaxes the further down the street the car gets. Or when I’m driving and he’s in the passenger seat his knuckles are white where he’s holding the strap handle above his door, a constant tic in his jaw as I reach the speed limit.
Even with all that’s going on for Pierce, the thing that still passes through my mind is: I’m glad my beautiful boy is alive, able to walk and wasn’t brain-damaged. So many people can’t say the same about relatives taken out by drug-crazed lunatics on our roads.
Over the past year I’ve tried to go back in my mind to the day of the accident. I don’t get very far before an enormous weight sits on my chest – and it’s not Jubba, my 1,000,000 kilogram cat, looking for loving. My throat feels like it’s becoming narrower and I’m in danger of having a major panic attack full of the chunky bits that I hate. Funnily enough I don’t like dwelling on that day. The times I’ve been able to get past the anxiety, I find the rusty-nail smell of blood as Pierce oozed, dripped and spurted onto the tar seal smacks me around the nostrils, while the litany of Help me, Oh my God and Oh fuck form a similar helix in my mind. Then it’s like watching a movie playing in my head…the moment I saw him bent at a funny angle and noticed the blood pooling around the gaping wound with an unobstructed view of bone, the process of administering first aid while waiting for experts, right to the noise of the ambulance door banging shut on us and the siren that continued to reverberate around my skull until we reached the hospital.
One of the things I do battle with frequently is an almost fanatical desire to hold on tight to all of my kids when they head off in cars. Especially when a month after Pierce got out of hospital somebody crashed into his girlfriend, Brooke’s, car in exactly the same place that Pierce’s had been. After Pierce’s accident Kevin (my partner) contacted the council and suggested they put in speed bumps along our road. They never got back to him…go figure.
I’m regularly amazed and a smidge baffled that I haven’t ended up a basket case, wearing a lovely white B & D jacket and rocking in the corner singing Marianne Faithfull’s “The Ballad of Lucy Jordan” to myself in a slightly tone-deaf way. Maybe there’s hope for me yet. Either that or, I should start singing this instead:
After all of the darkness and sadness
Soon comes happiness
If I surround myself with positive things
I'll gain prosperity
I'm a survivor (what?)
I'm not gon' give up (what?)
I'm not gon' stop (what?)
I'm gon' work harder (what?)
I'm a survivor (what?)
I'm gonna make it (what?)
I will survive (what?)
Keep on survivin' (what?)
– “Survivor” by Destiny’s Child
Sometimes it can be hard to remember that our family are survivors, particularly when I wake up in the middle of the night, sweating, my heart racing, gulping enormous lungs full of air because the nightmare felt so real. I might have been careening down the side of cliff, frantically trying to catch up to my partner or one of my kids to save them from going over the edge to drop a thousand metres to diamond-and-oyster-encrusted rocks below. Or – my personal fave – I’m swimming at the beach and spot a toothy great white between me and one of my family. Just knowing a shark has me on the speed stakes is enough to give me the screaming meemees – and I don’t mean that beautifully crooned song from the eighties Auckland band of the same name.
I agree with the saying, To err is human, to forgive divine, coined by Alexander Pope(1688-1744), but since the accident I also agree with Jamie Cardinal Sin’s version: To err is human, to forgive divine, but to repeat is stupid. After altering Pierce’s life for ever, F. Witt has walked away scot free. The most disturbing thing is there’s absolutely nothing to stop him from doing it again, and next time he could kill someone – or worse, several someones.
This is something that I feel people forget when they produce inane comments like Forgive and forget, and Move on and try getting past the injustice of it all. I could describe the first time two district nurses and the ACC nurse changed his dressings, the day after he got out of hospital. That took three hours. It had already taken Pierce an hour to peel one of the dressings off the open wound on his right calf, freeing it a millimetre at a time while he alternated between crying and screaming in pain.
There was no surprise he was in so much pain – the tissue had begun to heal up through the small webbing of the non-stick dressing. The ACC nurse suggested that for the second district-nurse dressing change he use Medazolam nasal spray to forget the pain – not take the pain away, just forget it. And, oh, what a godsend that spray was. A couple of times Pierce forgot to get out of the shower, or couldn’t remember whether or not he’d used soap, and several times he fell asleep after the dressing change, possibly because of a few too many squirts.
Kudos to Pierce’s ACC nurse. She was a bright light and voice of reason in the swirling darkness that was Pierce’s recovery. She would sit at our table and ask, ‘What do you need?’ A simple question that meant so much. Every time she asked I’m not sure what stopped me from saying, ‘To turn back time to the 17 October 2015 and change what happened,’ but I managed to restrain myself. If wishes were horses, or something like that.
She truly was an angel. Ordered the dressings and medical supplies we needed. Stopped the delivery of stuff he no longer needed - as it was we ended up with boxes and boxes of excess medical supplies, even after sending a ton back. Liaised with ACC on any and all of Pierce’s needs. Organised home help so I could focus on caring for Pierce. And just having her ask about my, his and the family’s day was immeasurably important in the normalcy it gave us.
I find talking with Kevin about the accident has also helped. He said once, ‘I’ve never felt so powerless in my life. I’ve always been a believer that a situation could be fixed, or sorted. That was not the case when Pierce was hurt. All he wanted was his mum. If you hadn’t been there I don’t think I’d have made it. Probably would have gone mad or gone bush.’
It’s entirely possible that my being already a bit eccentric (crazy for you non-Aquarians), is the one thing that has kept me sane.
Lyrics to the Destiny’s Child song “Survivor”: https://play.google.com/music/preview/Triuzw6z7ighcp4jyf4nymenrka?lyrics=1&utm_source=google&utm_medium=search&utm_campaign=lyrics&pcampaignid=kp-lyrics
Alexander Pope’s idiom:
|Posted on July 31, 2017 at 4:05 AM||comments (2078)|
A Mother’s Nightmare
A cool iced drink,
a warm spring day.
Smash, metal tearing, scraping,
Name bellowed, ice explodes through veins,
pools in the heart.
Lungs desperate for air,
drums beat a steady rhythm in my ears.
I close my eyes,
catapult to that precise, catastrophic moment.
Remember the sounds of nightmares,
horror seeped in fear.
The picture and noises,
so true, so vivid.
Hieroglyphs forever engraved
on my memory.
“Stay still, love.”
“Am I going to die? I’m dying, aren’t I, Mum?”
“No, darling, you’re not dying. You’ve just been in a bad accident. Rhiannon, clean towels and the scissors from my bedroom – now, please, love. Okay, darling, can you tell me your full name and date of birth?”
“That’s it, love, and the rest.”
I know it’s a cliché to say you can’t know what it’s like till you’ve experienced it...but it’s true.
On October seventeenth 2015 around one pm, a junkie high as a drone on methadone hit the back of my son, Pierce’s, car dragging it down the road, into a tree and through the neighbours’ fence.
Unfortunately Pierce was under the car at the time.
For a novel change, our postage stamp patch of the winterless north (said tongue in cheek) was bathed in sunshine. The washing was done and hung out, the house was as clean as it was going to get – hey, don’t judge, I work full time and the last thing I fancy spending my weekends doing is cleaning. Plus that’s what you have kids for...isn’t it?
I’d just parked my butt in a deckchair, an iced coffee perspired on a small glass table to my right and my book de jour was open on my iPad.
How to explain the sound of tearing, screeching, ripping metal as it collides, crushing together? In the twelve-odd years we’d lived in Hikurangi I’ve heard that same sound, but to lesser degrees, three other times.
The first was when a Kaitaia Transport truck hit a little white Toyota I had parked out front. Next a young male hoon, lost control and ploughed into a tree, half-climbing it. Then my partner, Kevin, was backing out of the driveway and someone else (again driving too fast) clipped the back of his work vehicle.
The craziest thing though, the Whangarei District Council has never got back to us about putting in speed bumps to slow traffic on a residential street that’s used as a racing track...go figure!
With chills I remember Kevin bellowing my name and the sprint through our house to discover my son lying on the roadside, broken and bleeding.
“PHONE THE AMBULANCE!” My turn to yell.
Don’t move him. Spinal injury? Monitor breathing. Airways are clear. Major arteries bleeding? Compound fractures?
For the love of God, where’s the bloody ambulance??????
“Stay still, love, the ambulance is coming.”
When they finally arrived I handed over to the ambo officers and sent Rhiannon for my wallet and phone. Wild horses couldn’t keep me out of that ambulance.
To say the trip to hospital took hours and hours would be an understatement.
Pierce’s girlfriend, Brooke, and Violet ‑ my middle child ‑ arrived twenty minutes after we got to Accident and Emergency and I’d had a five-minute bout of hysteria.
How can you laugh in A and E? Well...first, Violet’s boyfriend fainted a minute after seeing Pierce.
“I’m in the Matrix, Mum. I’m part of the machine. It’s like a seventies trip.”
“Jesus, I don’t remember the seventies being that good, son.”
“Nurse...is my penis all right?”
“Yes, Pierce, your penis is fine.”
“Oh, thank God. I can handle anything as long as my penis is okay.”
Saying goodbye to us before he was wheeled off for x-rays for eight hours of surgery with three different surgical teams was the last Pierce spoke for two days.
He was in intensive care, sedated, tubes feeding and hydrating him, and with machines breathing for him, medicating him and monitoring everything.
Over the next five days Pierce had another four surgeries.
The list of injuries: a burst vertebrae, broken processes on at least four other vertebrae, broken left humerus, broken right femur, de-gloving (torn open wound) of the peritoneum, grated off right ankle, four fractures to his pelvis, the tendon to his left big toe torn, fractured ribs, bruising of the lungs, right leg peeled from hip to ankle front and back, abrasions to back, right shoulder, and left and right arms, plus two top teeth knocked out.
The cretin who hit Pierce went around Hikurangi telling people his victim had suffered only a broken pelvis and would be back at work in a week or two. It was in fact four weeks before he even came out of hospital, with nearly two of these spent in ICU, and then started many months of healing at home.
Dressing changes were excruciating and barely managed with nitrous oxide ‑ in hospital, that is. Unfortunately district nurses aren’t allowed to carry nitrous oxide, so people with extensive injuries like Pierce’s get to have something like midazolam nasal spray which doesn’t help with the pain, just makes you forget as you suffer through the agony.
At 70kg and 178cm tall, twenty three-year-old Pierce had been fit and active, with not a bean of fat on him. By the time he left hospital he was 50kg wringing wet.
The first dressing change Pierce had at home took over two hours and there were three district nurses doing it. He ended up removing the dressing on his right calf himself, a millimetre at a time to minimise the pain. It was about twenty-five centimetres long and twelve in the widest part. It took a long time because the tissue had healed through the dressing.
For the first three months he had a cocktail of medication to help with pain, with sleeping, with eating, with all bodily functions – oh, and did I mention the pain?
After the first attempt at a shower and subsequent passing out we gave that a long miss and stuck to sponge baths for the next six weeks.
Pierce’s ACC case manager was awesome. He came to the hospital and house, and basically helped in every way we could think of ‑ as well as some we hadn’t.
Though ACC has been a fantastic help, this past year has still been financially difficult for Pierce and our family. When you take into account an apprentice electrician’s wage isn’t a lot to start with, eighty percent of that is sweet fanny adams. Every doctor, osteo and outside agency visit carries a surcharge. So far in our experience it ranges from thirty to forty dollars. An example: as Pierce starts back at work he has to get a medical certificate every two weeks, to make sure his body is coping with the gradual return to duties. The surcharge is thirty-two dollars. If he has an osteo or acupuncture appointment for pain it’s another forty dollars. So the week costs him seventy-two dollars of non-refundable surcharge. And the list goes on.
The company Pierce and I work for have been incredible. They allowed me to drop back to half days so I could care for Pierce and they held Pierce’s apprenticeship open until he was physically able to return. But I don’t have any annual leave left and we live pay cheque to pay cheque - I know most people do but when you are caring for a sick or injured person it’s just another added stress.
It’s really hard to put into words what that caring process involves. Coordinating doctor visits, hospital check-ups, district nurse calls three times a week, plus other appointments with dietitians, occupational therapists and physiotherapists. Making sure medications don’t run out and are reduced when the time was right. Bedding changed every couple of days. Copious amounts of washing done. And stay as positive and upbeat as is humanly possibly while watching your child suffer more pain than you’d wish on your worst enemy.
Thankfully the nastiest of it lasted only four months.
There were two more surgeries. One was a fairly minor one ‑ in and out in a day. The other, reasonably major, had him back in hospital for another week.
My brain remembers the first couple of months of hideous images, sounds, panic and sheer terror, but must have reached an ‘I can take no more’ limit because the rest’s a blank. Or maybe watching the pain Pierce was in one day simply matched the next.
“Mum, why me? Why did this happen to me?”
How, in all the layers and levels of hell, can you answer that question? I still don’t know. All I could think of when Pierce asked me that particular question was Eric Idol’s song, Always Look on the Bright Side of Life, that plays at the end of Monty Python’s movie Life of Brian. At least Pierce was alive, without brain damage or a permanent spinal injury.
Intermingled through this fun time was the legal coming and goings.
There were two charges brought against Mr F Witt: Careless Driving Causing Injury and a category three driving offence of Driving Under the Influence of Controlled Drugs Causing Injury. This second one carried a maximum penalty of five years in prison or a twenty-thousand-dollar fine. He pleaded guilty to the first charge, not guilty to the second.
Soon after the plea hearing the court liaison contacted us to say the Police Prosecutor was planning on dropping the Driving Under the Influence charge because it had taken seven attempts to get blood at the police station before they took him to the hospital where they finally got a sample.
In my opinion – which sadly doesn’t count for much – he should have been hooked up to an IV line, blood syphoned off, and it given away free to local vampires or to poison rats.
We met with the Chief Police Prosecutor for clarification and were told that yes, they were going to ask to have the charge dropped.
“But I don’t understand. Did the blood test not show he had a large amount of drugs in his system?”
“Yes, it did.”
“So, because of the number of times the nurse attempted to take the blood with no luck, the police have to drop the charge?”
“That is correct.”
“Out of curiosity, why was the speed Mr. F Witt was going at not reported in the serious crash unit’s report?”
“I’m not sure. You’d need to ask that question to the sergeant at the Kamo police station.”
Why would we bother? Obviously pushing a car parked with the brake on one-hundred-plus metres down the road and through a fence doesn’t warrant calculations being made. Because if they had, these combined with the attending constable’s record that the initial speed was in excess of seventy kilometres per hour in a fifty km area could have had Mr F Witt charged with dangerous driving. Um, surely two plus two still equals four? Or not!
The first sentencing date the twat didn’t even turn up. The excuse emailed to the judge was his car had broken down in Auckland.
WTF! How has he still got his licence?
Apparently when you hit someone you don’t automatically lose it for the rest of your life. In fact, you don’t lose your licence until after you’ve been to court, and only then if the judge hands it down as a sentence.
A warrant was issued for his arrest. He turned up in Pukekohe Court asking for the hearing to be in Auckland since he’d moved down there. The court said yeah, nah.
Over several weeks and with help from myself and a lady from victim support, Pierce wrote a victim impact statement that was sent to court for the sentencing hearing. I procrastinated a fair amount over this because every time I tried to help Pierce I’d have a lump lodge in my throat, a burning, prickling feeling behind my eyes, and an almost uncontrollable urge to wail, stamp my feet and bury my head in the sand. After a few aborted goes we managed to produce something legible.
This is his statement:
My name is Pierce Harris and I am 23 years old.
I would like to tell you that I have just had a great summer, going to the beach with my girlfriend, having a beer with my mates on hot summer evenings. I would like to tell you that I have just started my three-year apprenticeship and am looking forward to beginning a new stage of my life, becoming independent, having a career and making it in this world on my own terms.
But that is not my story. My story changed in a split second, but the consequences will haunt me for the rest of my life.
I remember lying on the road seeing my blood pouring out from my mouth, I remember thinking I was going to die. Until the ambulance arrived I was in so much pain and felt terrified. Having Ketamine frightened me. It was the scariest experience of my life.
I was in the ICU. Not able to move due to the high doses of medication, it made me think I may never move again. Every sheet change and dressing change was agony. I’d given up on life and at times I didn’t want to live and sometimes wished I hadn’t.
Every day had brought me challenge after challenge, and I never knew if I’d have the strength to overcome them. I could not eat and sleep, and dressing changes brought with them indescribable pain. And I hadn’t even left the hospital yet.
Now I am at home, it is almost as the day-to-day reality of the accident has set in. The pain continues every time I have a dressing change and water hits my wounds. I hate looking in the mirror at my missing front teeth. It’s made me feel self-conscious. It was hard to eat when the feeding tube was removed. I have to pay thousands of dollars to get my teeth fixed before ACC will pay for implants, as well as paying for half of the cost of the denture. This upsets me because I don’t have the money to get all of the work done.
The most upsetting part of my injuries has been having a colostomy bag. Not having any control over my bowels is disturbingly weird and uncomfortable. I will be thankful when it is reversed, though the hospital has said it could be up to another four months away. I have found it completely traumatising and have found it difficult to do everyday things. Now that I’m getting better I want to go out and see my friends but am constantly aware of it. I have lost my appetite and have gone from being a fit and healthy person to losing over 20kgs because of the accident. I wasn’t very big to start with and so now look gaunt.
Putting aside the medical issues I deal with each day, my apprenticeship has been put on hold. What was going to take me three years, will now take four and I need to pay a lot of money to get back in the programme.
Today at my latest orthopaedic visit at Whangarei Hospital, I was told by the doctor that I will never be able to wakeboard or snowboard ever again, or any other sport like it. The burst vertebrae in my spine would not tolerate a fall without the potential for me to become paralysed. These are sports I love to do every year and it has made me depressed knowing I’ll never be able to do them again.
It’s hard knowing how it’s affected my family. Seeing my mum, stepdad and sisters struggle with nightmares, constantly worrying about me and having to carry out my basic needs has left me upset and feeling powerless.
This is my reality, my story. It is not what I would want for anyone. I should be enjoying my life, my friends, my job. But instead I am struggling and feel like I am playing catch-up with my life.
I have had no contact from the person who did this. It hurts to think they did not admit to being responsible for this when it first happened. I am angry to think that he does not seem to care what happened to me, as he didn’t even have the decency to apologise. But now he can read this. He knows my story and I hope very much that he realises the true impact of his actions on another human being. At the very least I would like compensation for the money I need to fix my teeth and keep my position in my apprenticeship. Currently this stands at $x.
I would also like compensation for doctor visits, prescriptions to be issued, and petrol costs for trips to the doctor, dentist and hospital. These are all things I’ve had to pay out for because of the accident. Currently this stands at $x.
The next sentencing hearing Mr F Witt fronted up half an hour late. That day we had Judge M, who basically said he wouldn’t accept the DUI charge being dropped because Mr F Witt had absolutely failed the roadside impairment test. Yay him! Pierce, Kevin, Rhiannon, Brooke and I were shown to an interview room by the Court Liaison Officer.
“Okay, the judge has asked me to speak to you about where we go from here. We can either go ahead with the one charge he pleaded guilty to, Careless Driving Causing Injury, and Judge M will sentence Mr F Witt today, or we can return for another case hearing where the charges will be looked at again.”
“So there’s a good chance he could be charged with something he’ll actually go to jail for if we wait?”
“There is that chance, yes.”
“If we go ahead today, the most he could get is three months in prison and six months’ loss of license?”
“The man was off his scone ‑ he shouldn’t get to walk away with a telling off. It’s taken nine months to get here. We can wait a bit longer.”
So another hearing date was set.
We didn’t have to attend this one, which was a good thing because I was really low on annual leave.
The long and short of it was, they dropped the Careless Driving Causing Injury charge, which carried a maximum penalty of three months in prison and six months’ loss of license. And, from memory, changed the second charge to Aggravated Careless Driving Causing Injury (maximum prison term of three years or maximum fine of $10,000). He pleaded guilty, and we did a little dance.
Another sentencing date was set.
We arrived in good form. This charge also carried a possible year’s loss of license. I had high hopes the judge would bend him over and give him the reaming he deserved. Or maybe he’d be hung, drawn and quartered; better yet, the stocks. But...at a push some jail time would be juuussst barely satisfactory.
A judge from Auckland was on the bench. There was lots of toing and froing between him, the defence lawyer and the defendant.
“Your Honour, Mr F Witt is currently working and has offered to pay reparations of $50.00 per week.”
Rubbish. Who in their right mind would employ a junkie who double doses his methadone on Saturdays???
“In that case he can have three months’ supervision with curfew nine pm to six am, nine months’ wearing an ankle bracelet and loss of license for twelve months, and pay $100.00 per week in reparations.”
OMG...in other words, hold out your wrist while I slap it soundly with a wet bus ticket!
Justice had been served and somewhere in the process we’d missed the entrée, main course and dessert, skipping straight to the cheese and flaming crackers.
I left the court disillusioned to say the least.
What a major let-down the justice system is for victims. With any luck karma will be what eventually obtains justice for Pierce, and with continuing good fortune we’ll get to hear of it. The reason I say this is Mr F Witt lied about having a job (oh, big surprise). He did it so the judge would be lenient and he’d stay out of prison.
Sadly, there is nothing in Mr F Witt’s sentence that will stop him from doing it all again, and the next time it may even be fatal.
For an added bonus at the writing of this Mr F Witt hasn’t paid Pierce a red cent of those reparations.
A few days ago it was the year anniversary of the accident. We had home-made burgers for dinner and sat around the table talking about normal, everyday things.
All I can ever hope for is that my family all get to live happy, healthy lives full of love and joy.
And that this is the first and last horrific accident that any of us ever have to deal with. Like never, never, never again.
I can honestly say I’m exhausted and in desperate need of a month’s holiday. A holiday where the only thing I need to think about is ‘What’s for lunch?’ or ‘When does the masseur arrive?” Actually, come to think of it everyone in my family could do with a holiday ‑ especially Pierce. So I’ll keep wishing upon the first star I see in the night sky. Because, just sometimes, wishes do come true.
© Justine M Payen 2017