In 1995 Equine Breeder Brian Rossiter’s life was drastically changed forever when a road accident almost claimed his life. “I was thirty-two and married with two children at the time,” Brian explains. “I was working on a farm in Northern Victoria. The farm spanned both sides of the Murray Valley highway and I was riding a motorbike attempting to cross to the other side, as I had done six times already that day.”
Brian “gave way” at the highway then proceeded to cross when he thought the coast was clear. However, he had failed to see the green colored Ford approaching. “A road sign had blocked my view and the color of the car blended in with the road,” Brian said. I remember rising up on the stirrups of the bike and seeing a cloud of smoke from the burning rubber when the driver hit the skids seconds before impact.”
Brian was hit on the left side with such a force that the motor of the bike was pushed out. He was flung into the windscreen of the car and then catapulted thirty meters down the road. “I wasn’t wearing a helmet, (I never did whilst working on the farm) and I landed on my head.”
Brian was knocked unconscious and the next thing he remembers is waking up face down in the gravel. “I had a mouthful of gravel and I tried to roll over, but felt an instant sensation change in my body and realized I couldn’t move.” By this stage the ambulance, police and onlookers had gathered at the scene. “I recognized a few familiar faces,” Brian continues, “and then blood started to run into my eyes. I’m cut, I’m bleeding! I said and someone replied, ‘Oh no it’s worse than that!’ It was last thing I needed to hear.”
Brian was taken by ambulance to the local hospital before being airlifted to Melbourne. He had sustained major injuries including a broken T5 vertebrae, required 150 stitches to his head, had a broken ankle and was severely grazed and bruised around the face and other parts of his body. The pressure from spinal swelling crushed Brian’s spinal cord, paralyzing him from the chest down.
“Three weeks after the accident I started to realize the possibility that I may never walk again. The doctor was telling me that no two people and their injuries are the same and it couldn’t be predicted what the outcome would be for me. I was pricked with pins in the feet daily for six weeks to see if any feeling had returned and was told that any change in my condition would be in minuscule amounts.
“I played a lot of sport before the accident and my job was very physical. To face the reality that I may never walk again left me feeling that life was so cruel and hard.” Brian was hospitalized in Melbourne for three months before returning to home to the country where he continued to make a slow and arduous recovery. Before the accident Brian couldn’t swim, but swimming therapy soon became part of his recovery regime, along with physiotherapy and acupuncture.
It was ten months before Brian could walk unaided, but damage to his muscles and nerves remains to this day. “I’m what they call an incomplete paraplegia,” Brian explains. “The muscle and nerve damage causes an abnormal sensation in my body and sends incorrect messages to the brain. I may feel like I’m standing on ice and I have to override this message from my brain and tell myself that I’m not, though my feet will be cold due to poor circulation, but not frozen as my brain would have me believe.”
It was almost a year after the accident before Brian was able to gradually ease his way back to work at the farm. “I was so fit and used to run all day at work and I enjoyed it, but my days of feeling indestructible were gone. When I started back at work I was working the phones and I had no idea what I was going to do in the long term and it was so depressing. And then my marriage (of fourteen years) broke up and I lost my kids. This sent me into a deeper depression. I was just starting to get back into life and now I was experiencing another loss,” Brian said. “I lived like a hermit for about a year and acquired a great love of whiskey. I was a mess and it was at this stage that I bottomed out and couldn’t go any lower.”
Brian said turning to the bottle seems to be the macho thing to do in our culture and he’d drink a bottle of whiskey a night and pass out. “It was escapism and numbed both my physical and emotional pain, but I soon got stuck in this cycle of drinking in an attempt to avoid confronting the pain.” After a while however, Brian realized the whiskey drinking had to stop because it wasn’t solving his problems and with dreams to aspire to he had to pull himself out of the cycle. “I started to go to the gym every morning, joined the Landcare group, met new people and got involved in things I would never have done before the accident. I have a lot more patience and tolerance now.”
Life gradually began to improve and then Brian went to France for two months to learn about artificial insemination. He returned home to a laboratory job on the farm and with his independence restored he started to get to know and like himself and develop a love of life once more. “I got addicted to traveling and traveled the world in search of the love of my life and it turned out that she was only a mile down the road all along,” Brian said smiling at his partner Kristine across the table.
Brian said, “You can wallow in self pity, but no matter what has happened to you, you can work with it. Life will go on until the day you die so you may as well be involved in it. I value my time a lot more now and am not as fanatical about work. Before the accident I thought I’d die without my work. Now I work on my life, rather than live to work.”