Meeting my family

I have heard of bed sores, but never experienced one. Trust me, it is something no one should ever experience. It crept in one night while I was asleep. It was so painful that it woke up me. I pressed the bell and asked the nurse for help, requesting for a “turn” and a back rub. (During a turn, my arms will be folded in a cross posture and 1 nurse will have to be holding my neck and head, 1 nurse will be pulling my torso towards her/him, 1 nurse will be pushing my legs away from her/him and 1 nurse will be giving me a numbing cream back rub. Yes, it takes a team to make a paralysed patient turn. I felt relatively degraded and it serves as a reminder to me that I am paralysed. So naturally, I didn’t like being turned although I still got turned because I know its good for me.)
Zac: Nurse, my back is in pain..

Nurse: Oh, I think it is the bed sore. I will just give you some pain killers

Z: Can I please be turned and get a back rub?

N: Im sorry, the turning team wont be around till 2 hours later. You will have to bear with it. Hang in there ok?

Z: Is there nothing you can do for me? Please?

N: no. But I will get you the pain killers. It should take about 15 minutes to take effect.

It seemed so long before the pain killers kicked in. It felt like there is something biting into my flesh. It felt like my back is burning. I am sinking deeper and deeper into the bed and the bed is literally ‘eating” me alive! #someone call ghostbusters.

From then on, I look forward to every single turn. I started counting time by the number of turns I have gotten and also “how long more before my next turn”.  Yes. Being flipped and toss around like a sausage became something I look forward to. It was no longer degrading or pride-hurting.
Initially, I wanted to keep the injury away from my parents. I didn’t want them to see me in such a state. I didn’t want them to see their beloved son, who was last seen healthy, fit and running marathons turned into a paralysed motionless son. Yet, I want to be in their comfort, to be pampered by them. Fortunately/unfortunately they had been informed of my accident and they immediately decided to fly in. such is the love of parents.
The day came and I knew my parents had arrived. I could sense their presence in the walkway. I could hear their footsteps, which became so distinctly familiar. Unfortunately at that point in time, I was in the crucifix position and it only made the image worse for them. I will never forget the moment when they came into the room, stood there, rushed towards me. I could only see them from the corner of my eyes because I was lying flat and I could not lift my head nor turn to see them face to face. They couldn’t hold back their tears, they wanted to hug me but they couldn’t. All they could do was to touch my hands, while I try not to scream (hypersensitive arms).  “Everything will be alright. Daddy and Mummy are here” they kept saying. I fought hard to hold back my tears. I have never, and I mean never, saw my parents so sad and helpless. I felt so useless; I felt that I had done something terribly wrong to put my parents through this ordeal. Then, I saw my other half. She was crying as well, trying not to let me see her breakdown. Then everyone left me for a while, controlled their emotions, and came back in. Nurses started explaining my conditions to my family and emotions slowly settled down as the day passes. I must say, this was the first time my parents didn’t F me at the hospital. In the past, they would always F me when i am admitted into the hospital, may it be acl tear or car crash. I would always get a good F-ing from them. This time round, I must have been in a really bad state that broke their hearts so badly that they could not bear to scold.
I have been told that I am a fighter and my determination is superb, but to me, my parents are the real deal. I believe it is much harder for them than for me. They have put in so much hope, so much attention, so much love into me and yet this all seems like it is all over. Everything became useless. I have disappointed them. Again. They are the real champions in my life. They are the real fighter. My other half is also extremely capable. She contacted my insurance company and settled all the administrations issues. I am indeed blessed.
One of the highlights I had during this period of time was me having an OD (over-dose). Somehow, I was given too much morphine, too much catecholamine  and too much concentrated oxygen which resulted in my OD. The moment I recognised something was wrong, I rang the bell to inform the nurse that I am starting to hallucinate. But it was all too late. The room was flipped, people had “cone heads” and obviously im very very happy and it felt super good and there was nothing they could do but to let the OD go away by itself. So.. I relaxed myself, drifted into this relaxed world and enjoyed myself. For the first time since the accident, everything felt so damn good and awesome. Quite an experience for me to OD. So anyways, I woke up the next day feeling smashed and the doctors took away my morphine from then on (Boooooooo….) and I welcome “pain” back into my life. A lot more pain. Somehow, i really felt i was built for this accident. The amount of pain I go through every second, every moment someone touches me is immense. Lucky for me, I have learnt to acknowledge pain, embrace it and move on with it. Thanks marathon.  
In the next few days, my parents would visit me from 9am till 7pm, keeping me company, giving me whatever massages they could, feeding me my liquid diet and also chat with me. This was where my sports science knowledge came into good use. I was able to direct my parents to give me specific massages to the main muscle groups, to keep them loose and also to move my limbs a little because I know that muscle wastage was kicking in. I needed to retain as much muscle mass as I can so that I will have sufficient strength and muscle mass to carry out my rehab. Truly, rehabilitation starts before regaining any muscle movements.
Regrettably, this was how i met my parents.

to be continued..

My Story – Days Till Family Arrives

After the first night in hospital, I was still fasting as I was waiting for my MRI scan and that only happened at 12noon. I have previously watched shows using the MRI scan numerous times but I have never done one personally before. I’m a little cluster phobic so it became quite a scary experience for me. My head was clamped in the “helmet” head lock and my neck locked due to the neck brace I was wearing (I have no idea when this was put on me). As the doctors were doing a full body MRI scan on me and I was told that it would require 20mins to complete the scan. 
 
As I was wheeled into the machine, I entered the “tunnel” and the ceiling was so close to my face. Negative emotions rushed through me. I immediately closed my eyes. Keep them shut as tightly as possible, but I would occasionally take a peek. 
#I have no damn idea when I peek when I know the ceiling height wouldn’t change. *faceplam*
Goodness, the ceiling is really so close.. feels like its gonna be collapsing on me…
Im gonna keep my freaking eyes shut for this whole procedure..
Sleep… zac.. sleep..
Morphine.. please work now…
Space out.. please…
*takes a peek
Wa lao eh… (Singaporean version of wtf)
Sleep.. sleep..
Stupid. Why I peek..
Sleep… zac.. sleep…
*beep*
Nurse: Zac, is everything ok for you inside?
Zac: yes (trying to be brave. As usual)
N: ok. Get comfortable inside. You will be staying there for quite a while..
… zzz…
Im really gonna throw up soon.. freaking scared…
*Zrooooooommmm…
 The machine started making this loud humming sound. I guess it has all started.
Dear Lord, please… let this pass quickly.. I know this has to be done for the doctors to do a better diagnosis on my conditions. So please spare me some mercy and let all these pass soon. Let me fall asleep in your comfort and let time fly by.. please..
After a while, the machine stopped humming.
Dear Lord! You are the best! That was fast!!
N: Ok Zac. The machine has finished warming up. We will start the scan now.
Seriously
….
Z: ok.
N: Remember to be as still as possible. If not, we will repeat the MRI again.
Yeah. I will be as still as a log. No way am I going to do this again!
Stay still now zac! Don’t move! Breathe slowly.. stop playing with the thumb. Relax… sleep.. close your eyes.. sleep.. but don’t move..
Side track – When I was 5, I got stuck in a tunnel at the kindergarden playground and the teachers had to save me from the tunnel. Guess that’s when this fear all started. Mind you. I wasn’t fat then. I was really thin and slim. *glares at you*
As the doctors might want to do an immediate operation on me should anything bad is shown on the MRI, my stomach had to be emptied to be put under GA.  So after my MRI, I was wheeled to this other room and it was full of female nurses and I was still on fasting status. I requested for water and was rejected initially. Eventually they gave in to my request.First sip of water after almost 24 hours!!! yeah!
#alwaysgoodwithfemales checked
Even when paralysed. doubled checked.
In that room, my hand splints were made. It was one of the most horrible experience in my life. Splints are made from melted molten hot plastic sheets that are wrapped around the arms, thus keeping the arms, hands, wrist and fingers in the desired position. My arms were still hyper-sensitive then and the touches from the nurses, plastic, pressure to wrap the mold into shape felt like the nurses shredding my arm. To make matter worse, the temperature of the melted plastic was greatly exaggerated. It felt like molten metal being poured and pressed against my shredded arms. It was hell. It was so painful, I so wanted to scream till my lunges burst. But I tried my best to hold it in.
Get a hold of yourself! A lot more challenges are about to come your way. Even harder ones, even more painful ones. Never give up. Fight this. You need to embrace this now Zac. Its time to start fighting. Do not let other sympathise you. Fight this battle strong and well. You want to get back on your feet to run another marathon, do you think its gonna be easy? Come on. FIGHT. Hold it in.

After I had my splint done, I was sent back into my Intensive Care Unit (ICU). This was the first time since the accident that I was not “high” and that I had some quiet time to finally think about some stuff. 
This is the second time I cheated death. The first time was 4 years ago where I survived a car crash that “modified” my 4 door Nissan march into a 2 door sports model. I suffered a little brain damaged, a little blood clot, suffered some memory loss, lost gross motor movement for weeks and lost some fine motor skills for about a week. I wonder what is there to life. I was once a rock and roll artist and that life seemed a little pointless after the accident. I made a career switch to studying sports science and eventually became a marathon runner. Looking at it now, it is all pointless again now. So what is life all about? What will I feel the next time I lie on the ground, looking up into the sky when I take my final few breaths? Till now, I have no exact answer.. I always say “I like to live life like today’s my last”. So if I do not wake up after this blog post, will I feel any different? I have no answer. Maybe I have been given another chance to find that out.
Anyway, back to my splints, I am supposed to be in crucified position (literally be put into a lying cross figure like how Jesus was) for 2 hours and in “normal” position for 2 hours, even when I am sleeping. This meant that the maximal hours of consecutive i would get is 2 hours. In addition, I was not allowed to have any tilt in my bed, not allowed to turn my head, not allowed to turn my body, not allowed to use a pillow. Since I was paralysed, the changing of arms position was fully dependent on nurses. All I could see was the ceiling. I couldn’t see the nurse, I couldn’t see my hands. It was quite a depressing feeling. Thankfully I remembered to count my blessings, remembered to be thankful that I am alive.
One day at a time.
One night at a time.
Do not think so far. As long as I breathe, I’m going to fight hard.
This is not the end for me. This is a new start. A new chapter to my colourful life.
Whether this is going to be a good or bad chapter depends on what I make of it.
One step at a time.
Fight on.. fight on.
I have never given up. This is not the time to start now.
My determination has no equal.
Go Zac!
After the 2nd night, I was finally officially removed from my fasting status and was able to take my first official sip of water. Although I was not briefed of my outcomes from the MRI scans, I concluded that it must have been somewhat positive because no surgery was needed. Every second that I was conscious, I did mental training to get the EMG firing and to try to delay the lost of muscle memory or neuro-connection. I imagined myself running along with my team mates. I tried to recall how the arms swung, how the legs moved, how the body made such a complicated movement looked so easy. I tried recalling how it felt to play the piano and imagined myself playing the guitar. I tried moving my right thumb and right big toe as much as possible, hoping that it might trigger my left side.
Physios came into the ICU to do a number of tests on me. Lung capacity test, sharp-blunt test, feather test (sense of touch) and was unsuccessful on numerous occasions because I was either too drugged-out (still taking my morphine) or it was too painful due to my hyper-sensitivy and it has to be aborted. As an endurance athlete, seeing my lung capacity decrease due to pain was morale-sucking. There goes my last bit of bragging rights… then I heard the emergency alarm.
Nurse: His heart rate is below 40. Crashing!
And a couple more nurses came rushing in..
only for them to realise I am in a stable state.
Nurse: Is this normal for you?
Zac: Yes…
N: Are you a runner?
Zac: Yes. I am a marathon runner.
#PROUDMOMENT
The emergency alarm kept ringing throughout the day/night and the nursing staff decided to remove the heart rate monitoring on me because 1. They believe I will not die because of heart failure 2. because the beeping was too irritating for them. From then onwards, this has been my cheap thrill to hear the emergency alarm go off. This was my positive feedback, for me to know that although I am paralysed, I am still fit and I will continue to fight this battle, through my Lord’s grace, I will fight my way back.
Lots of friends came to give me support during this tough time. Thanks to you peeps, it kept me sane, it encouraged me. I didn’t say much because I get really emotional easily. Im quite a softie. You guys are angels to me, to help remind me of the light at the end of the tunnel, to let me know I haven’t been a bad friend. Thank you. Thanks to Steph. You were the first to come. Special thanks to my supervisors Paul and Kym for being there for me, taking care of school matters, to give me a peace of mind that enabled me to focus on my recovery. Special thanks to Alex for bringing me the balloons, it really made my ceiling so much prettier. If not for the balloons, I would have stared at an empty white ceiling for 7 days (168 hours; 10080 minutes; 604800 seconds). Phil and Grace for the wonderful chocolate basket that I will mention in a much later chapter. My coach Grant came one evening to inform me that my team mates did well in the race! Positive happy news for me! Missing my team mates lots and missing the grueling session Grant provides. Hey guys, if you are reading this, work hard! Work in my share of training too! m/

Thanks for adding a smile to my ceiling Alex. Hope i didnt freak you out with my injury. Work hard and God Speed! =)
Hi. I am Zac. I am a son, Victorian, musician, sportsman, a friend to some super awesome peeps, survived a car crash, sports scientist, survived a bike accident and now a spinal patient. I live to fight for another day with my friends in our wheelchairs. Good to meet you. 
My slightly cleaned blood splattered sunnies.

To be continued..

prepared and written by Zac Leow

Day 1: Admission


When I was on my way to the hospital, I made a few attempts to move my fingers again. Every attempt was filled with mixed emotions. On one hand I wanted to try to see if I have regained hand movements; on the other hand, I did not want to know if I had lost my movements. I was in denial. I did not want to know I was paralysed. In conclusion, all my attempts ended with my worst fear. The hospitals didn’t seem to help when Sir Charles Hospital rejected my entry as they view my accident as a “trauma” case rather than “spinal” and hence, I had to take a 10 minutes detour towards royal perth hospital (RPH). Every time i was transferred from one stretcher to another bed/stretcher, the pain in my neck increased. The adrenaline was fading and i was in more pain. I took deeper breaths, grit my teeth and embraced the pain (something im really good at doing).
 
As I was transferred around RPH, being rushed from one room to the other, I felt like a piece of meat. I am so useless, I am so worthless. All achievements meant nothing at this point in time, when you are a freaking paralysed piece of meat! Doctors rushed in to give injections, nurses were asking me questions over and over again, doctors were changed a couple of times till the right one was found for my injury. Explaining the bike accident over and over again made me frustrated but that obviously did not help the situation. 

Next, I had the first sensation in “hours”. 

Both my arms started burning. They became hyper-sensitive: the weight of the blanket felt like a truck crashing my arms; the sliding of IV drips/wires across my arms felt like knife slitting me open; and touches from nurses and doctors felt like my arms being broken into pieces. When the nurse asked me to rate the pain on the scale of 0-10, 10 being pain so great like I have never experienced before, I shouted 20! I was screaming, shouting every time something touched/brushed my hands. Doctors had no choice but to pump me with morphine. 
Morphine. My goodness. What a way to start experimenting with drugs. No harm trying. Might as well die a happy man if I must. Give it to me…
After the morphine had settled in, I was sent for my CT scan. Although everything became more vague and “happy”, I was always brought back to reality when someone, some cloth, some wires made contact with my hands. The pain was truly the worst ever.
During my CT scan, I remembered reading off somewhere that the first 48 hours after an accident is most crucial in recovery. Although the movements are lacking, one should continue to think of the movement as the EMG will continue to fire. In addition, we might “forget” how to move our body after some days of inactivity, hence we have keep the neuro-pathways active and remember how to move the body. With that in mind, I removed all negative thoughts that I had regarding beg paralysed and I focused on getting the EMG and neuro-pathways working. I practiced and practiced. I tried over and over again till I finally have a slight movement in my right thumb. 

It worked! I have gotten back my right thumb! (well, sorta). 

So I started to focus on my right toe, practicing as hard as I could. At the end of the CT scan, I could wriggle (slightly) my right thumb and right toe. 

I was then sent back to the doctors and was told that I had to do a catheter to empty my bladder. 
Zac: Is the catheter the thing whereby you put a tube up my dingdong?
Nurse: Yes
Z: WHAT?! No. I am refusing it.
N: … give me a sec
Doctor: Zac, you will need to do the catheter, you have no choice.
Z: but..
D: you are now a spinal patient. You will not be able to relief yourself for now. So, you will have to do the catheter.
Z: ….. alright …
#fyi, a standard urinary catheter is 40cm.
 
And so, the procedure carried on. I drifted in and out of “dreamland” thanks to the morphine. One of the distinctive visits I remembered was from Steph and Travis. The other was from Pete and Kym. I didn’t really recall what the conversations were about though. (I vaguely remember me talking to Kym and Pete regarding school work though) In fact, I’m not certain if the visits were on the first or second day of my accident. What I knew for sure was that my girlfriend, Shina, called me later that evening when my morphine was low. I knew this because I had been repeatedly tortured by the careless nurses who continued to touch my arms. I swear I thought my arms are falling off.
Shina: are you alright
Z: … no..
S: what can I do for you?
Z: Call Bryan (my band mate) and tell him I need him here.. asap.
S:Don’t worry, everything will be alright
Z: …
#Seriously.. I have no idea. I can only try to fight another day. I dare not answer. I don’t dare to look past today.
At that point in time, I had resigned to fate that I am paralysed. I didn’t want my parents to worry. I didn’t want them to see their son in this pathetic, motionless, paralysed manner. I didn’t want Shina to come because I wasn’t sure she could handle all these. I wanted someone who I am 100% certain who could take care of himself and me. I knew I had to rely on someone for survival. I needed someone to keep me sane. I needed someone to encourage me, to “carry” me

I want to survive. I want to recover. I WILL RECOVER. I needed someone, because I had not given up. My Lord, do not forsake me just yet.

The pain never went away. In fact, it worsened. It became so significant and unbearable that doctors had to put me on catecholamine IV drip (synthesis dopamine – better known as happy effect) along with my steady dose of morphine and other mixture of pain killers being injected into me at constant time intervals. Even with all these drugs, the pain is still immense, constantly a 30/10. I didn’t get to eat or drink for the rest of the day because I had not done my MRI scan. Doctors saw no fracture in the CT scans but they had no idea what was wrong with me. So, that was a bad conclusion. Anything unknown to science is “no good”. I was in no mood to eat, but I knew I needed fuel to fight this battle. I need to prepare myself for the biggest, toughest fight of my life. I must do everything within my control to increase my chances if recovery. Even if it was 0.0001% chance.
Day 1: Drugs 1 – Zac 0
I had no real idea what else happened during my admission phase. Subconsciously, I must have worked my brain real hard: thinking of movement patterns because that very night, I dreamt of myself running. 
That feeling of freedom, that perfect running rhythm.. 
The wind in my hair…
And. 
I woke up tearing. . 
I have never missed running more. I have never missed the wind in my face so much, the strong headwind around the 300m bend at McGillivary more. 
I want to run.
I want to race again. 

Dear Lord, please let me run again. Please let me race again. I promise never ever to hold back ever again.

I want to run again…
To be continued..
I remember Tex saying then that these pictures will be good way for me to tell my story. True enough.

The accident


I was riding my push-bike (roadie) along Lemount Road when my accident happened. This is a road which I ride along every Tuesday to go for training at Challenge Stadium. After turning left into Lemount Road, my front wheel got caught into a thin gap between the drain covers and I was thrown over my handle bars. Everything happened so fast. All I saw was the drain, felt a sudden drop, then my world turned upside down and before the word “f*ck” could come out, I felt this huge impact on my head and the next thing I knew, I was lying on the ground in a really awkward position. I was breathing hard and I felt so weak. I took a couple of deep breaths and made my breathing regular. 

Ok. Breathing regular checked. 
Now its time to sit up. Sit up…. Sit up! 
Turn the body and sit up! 
Shit. I aint moving at all. 
Ok… never mind.. Move your fingers zac. 
Move it. 
Wriggle!!! 
Come on… Think harder! Try harder. 
….
Just the thumb now. Come on…… 
ok. It aint moving at all. Let’s check the toes. 
Wriggle a little.. 
come on.. 
……
move the head, turn it, come on. F*ck.
HELP!!!! Come on.. speak up. Voice out. HELP!! 
All I managed was a helpless faint sound. I felt disconnected. What seemed to be normal and easy is now all “wrong”. 
A lady was walking down the slopes, listening to her music. I tried to cry out for her over and over again, hoping that she will hear me. Blood started flowing down my face and started collecting on my sun glasses. I was helpless. I was .. paralysed. I felt so alone, I felt like my life has ended. 
I’m only 27. Is this the end for me? There are so many more things for me to do. I don’t want to die..
If I survive this.. will I be a burden to Shina and my family?
How am I going to spend the next 50 years in this state?
Why me?!
All the hours I have put into my marathon training and it all ends in 1 second. WTF!
How am I going to turn up for my best mate’s wedding? I want to be there… ….
I wasnt racing.. I wasnt fast..
I wasnt going out to play.. I was going to do my research… I have been good….
My Lord, is this your decision for me? 
I almost cried. Then I remembered Kristen Koh and her story.  
Kristen didn’t give up. I see her walking, riding to school. The story is real and alive. I won’t give up too. My lord, if this is your plan for me, please give me inner peace to deal with it. Please give me inner peace. Please allow me to know what to do from now onwards. This is the time to fight for your life Zac. Let’s fight from now on.. do not sleep. DO NOT SLEEP!
The lady finally saw me and came walking towards me. She stopped about 4 feet away from me.
L: Are you alright?
Z: no…
L: oh no..
#YEAH! OH NO! You see a man lying on the floor motionless, bleeding through his nose and head and this is what you can come up with? Seriously lady?
L: Do you want me to help?
Z: yes…
L: What so you want me to do?
Z: …. *continues to bleed and choke on my own blood
A car pulled over and a couple alighted. The guy came immediately and put his head close to my face.
G1: Hey mate, hang in there. What’s your name?
Z: Zac..
G1: Do you want me to call an ambulance?
Z: … yes …
G1: *looked at the lady* Have you called the ambulance?
L: Oh!! Ermm.. no. Should I call now?
#So feel like slapping you now…
G1: yes! Please. Since you are holding onto your phone…
G1: Zac, how did this happen?
Z: drain…
G1: I can’t hear you mate. Come again?
Z: drain.
G1: Yap ok. You take a rest.
L: What happened?
G1: He said he got hit by a train.
#I am on a bicycle path, where on earth is the train or railway mate? Grrr…
Another car pulled over and some more people gathered.
G2: What happened?
G1: He said he got hit by a train..
G2: Is he on drugs?? … or drunk?
I started praying again.. for more inner peace.
Dear Lord, I really have no idea why this happened. Please give me the faith to trust your decision. I have come to realise how fragile my life is. I would love to live, to recover, to run again. To a certain extent, luckily I’m not a good cyclist like my team mates, if not it would have been far worse. Thank you for keeping my tri team mates safe, especially James and Steph… Maybe there is a higher purpose to this.. I need to live another day… I must!
The ambulance came a while later and I allowed my body to “rest” a little more. The only few distinct moments I remembered was when the paramedics asked me who they should contact to collect my bike. “My coach. He will know everything”. At that moment I had absolute faith that my coach will make everything right. At least the administration part. I relaxed more and went into a daze….
to be continued…
 
This is the gap that almost claimed my life. wasn’t really too wide. the gap could hardly fit the roadie’s wheel.

Forewords


There are times in life whereby we ask ourselves “why” and we often look to others or even to some higher beings for answer, inspiration and motivation. I have read many biographies, articles and books to help me tide through this rough patch of mine. I was asked to share my story and experience so that I may provide yet another story to help anyone out there. Hopefully I will be of some help. As of now, I am only typing with my right hand so it’s a little tough and tiring. I will try my best to be as detail as possible. Everything here is real and the truth.Cheers.
Love,
Zac