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Byron Shire
July 4, 2022

Learning to live again

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Daniel Ridgley Hewitt… a connection to Byron’s natural environment has played an important part in his recovery. Photo Sarah Mackie

On July 2 this yearI fell through a skylight in a roof in Byron’s industrial estate, plummeting six metres onto concrete. I have no recollection of the fall but can remember being on the roof beforehand. I also have little recollection of the month spent in a Brisbane hospital thanks to that magic morphine they provide – not to mention two weeks in a coma.

As a result of my fall I received: two broken wrists – both needed a metal plate surgically attached due to the severity of the fracture; a fractured elbow, reattached with surgical wire to hold the bones together; a fractured hip, neck (C7) and skull (near the eye); and a brain haemorrhage in the left side of my head – similar to a mild stroke. All of which has resulted in a temporary loss of independence

Just prior to the incident I had started a business in photography and picture framing, bought a new car, started planning an exhibition and felt my life was on track and heading in a good direction. Just two days before my world came crashing down onto concrete I wrote a blog: titled ‘Life is serious and then you die’. I realised during a time of connection/contemplation with nature that life is a funny, light-hearted, simple joke and all I needed to be joyful and abundant was to drop the burden of the serious mind. I feel I subconsciously suspected something big was going to happen and I feel lucky I was in the right state of mind for it.

Acceptance of ‘what is’ saved my life. Throughout my dreams while in the coma I came upon bad situations, like losing my identity and having to work in India or not being able to pick up a surfboard at the beach because it was too heavy and my arm hurt. Fortunately I had the conscious awareness of acceptance during my dreaming. Instead of going into reaction and resistance against the unwanted situation I fully embraced the moment and accepted my position. For instance, I was bummed about not being able to surf but happily sat on the beach anyway. I feel this acceptance lessened the extent of my brain injury and made the transition to my current situation easy and flowing. Normally in dreams I would go into resistance and have horrible nightmares and night terrors. Since the accident I have slept the best sleeps of my life.

However, I’m not perfect and couldn’t accept everything. After I awoke from the coma, I persistently tried to get out of bed and leave for Byron. I was so determined I thought only of returning to Byron Bay, back to friends, family and beautiful nature. My family and nurses actually had to restrain me from falling and hurting myself. I felt extremely determined and tried to trick my family into taking me away. I must have been delusional. I said to mum, ‘look over there’, and when she looked I tried to escape out of my hospital bed. I was constantly saying ‘let’s go’ and spelling ‘G O’.

The hospital is a very strange place and definitely does not remind me of home. I felt like a fish out of water. I found it particularly hard to be around the air conditioning, TVs, blank walls and a room full of strangers with their own private battles. The hospital felt depressing at times. I was surrounded by other brain-injury patients who seemed to have more damage than I had. I felt grateful for my recovery but sad to see their challenge.

Dad would cook me breakfast, lunch and dinner because he thought the hospital food was bad for me and I needed wholesome food and nutrients. The most exciting part of my day was when Mum, Dad and my brothers were visiting. When they weren’t there, I felt like sleeping was the next best option.

I felt so fine in hospital, I thought I was ready to return to ‘normal’ life as soon as possible and that not much was wrong with me. The morphine they were feeding me was a large contributor to this feeling.

While I was staying in the brain-injury unit at Princess Alexandra Hospital, Dad and I were plotting how I could get out of the hospital for the weekend to visit Byron Bay. The nurses said I wasn’t allowed to leave for more than a day, between 9am and 5pm. Plus, I had to have someone with me the whole time. I was determined to get away from the hospital for the weekend!

Dad came to the hospital one Friday morning and said, ‘I have a plan! I’m getting you out of here, I’m making you an outpatient.’

I immediately became excited and wanted to hear more of this new plan. After an hour we had talked with the doctor and dad signed my release papers saying that the hospital was not liable for me and did not recommend I leave. I felt free and excited to return to Byron and wondered what life would be like now.

Coming home was different from what I had imagined. It takes me extra time to do normal things and some of my normal life (surfing, driving, working, cooking and photography) have not been possible. I feel like I’m in another world sometimes with the loss of my main activities and a new perception of life (realising how quickly we can disappear). Luckily I have great friends and family who have been really supportive and helping me feel ‘normal’. Sometimes I feel like nothing has changed, but deep inside I know my perception of life has altered.

I had to return to the hospital as an outpatient to see doctors, get check-ups and do exercises. I had a feeling that my right wrist was fractured, as it felt painful when under pressure and so I insisted on an x-ray. Eight weeks after the incident, I discovered through the new x-rays that my wrist was badly fractured and required surgery to break and reset the bones. The best option was to have the surgeon cut open my wrist, crack the fracture with a hammer and chisel, screw on a T-shaped metal plate and stitch the incision back together. As you can imagine, I was uneasy about the procedure but I had both a general and a local anaesthetic and woke up in a hospital bed with a cast on (by then a familiar situation). For the next week I had sky-high highs from the morphine tablets prescribed for pain and then devastating low times once I stopped taking the morphine.

The nature of Byron Bay has played a huge role in my healing process. Every day I walk to the beach and witness the sunrise and listen to the many beautiful birds celebrating a new day in life. After meditation, yoga and breathing exercises I invigorate my day with a quick swim in the ocean. I imagined this routine while in hospital and was part of my motivation to leave hospital and return home to Byron Bay.

Currently I am in rehabilitation, living in Byron, and every day I grow stronger.

I am very thankful for everyone who helped me, supported and prayed for me during this drastic change in my life. I feel the support and prayers I received saved my life and touched my soul. I awoke from the coma feeling motivated to return to life and pass on the blessings that I have received.


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1 COMMENT

  1. Amazing story mate, thankyou so much for sharing that!

    It puts into perspective my worries as I sit here in my horrible Melbourne corporate office job wondering how to change my life.

    Thankyou for the inspiration and for your amazing strength and outlook and good luck with your recovery!

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