Death and Baywatch. Two opposites that don't attract. But as strange as it may seem, those two words met in one of many thoughts of Matthew, during the potential final moments of his life. And before you assume he was picturing half naked lifeguards running in slow-motion across a beach on a nice summer's day, allow me to put it in to context.
Matthew has been a close friend and you could easily say, a family member for as long as my memory serves me. He has always been and continues to be a consistent and reliable character. You see, Matthew is the guy that gets things done and will always give support when and where ever he can. After spending two years in Japan teaching English, Matthew returned home to New Zealand to help on the family farm, growing and selling animal feed. The time spent in Japan definitely played a part in how he would serve his community, now being able to teach Japanese at the local high school and starting a Taiko (Japanese drumming) group. Matthew had always believed in the idea of a safe and friendly community, and these were all efforts to give back to a place he called home. Raised with the stance of working for what you want, and make do with the resources available.
Small successes make up the larger than life character that Matthew has and this would prove vital in the life or death situation he had no idea was coming his way. Committing most of his time now to the family business, Matthew had a solid routine. Early mornings and hard work is what you could expect in a family run business and nothing less. This was a no brainer for Matthew, loyalty and love most likely being the motivation.
Life has its ways of changing over night. One minute is enough time to change every remaining day of the rest of your life. Three years since Matthews accident I was extremely curious about how such a traumatic event never defeated my good friend.
June the 12th 2014 around 11:30 am Matthew lost his left leg in an accident that occurred on his family farm. His leg was ripped off in the most horrific manner when it got pulled in to a Pit Auger (a Pit Auger is like a large horizontal drill that moves wet grain from the the edge of a pit in to the centre where it goes to get dried out). On this day Matthew changed the usual procedure, underestimating the potential dangers of anything going wrong, which is exactly what happened. As Mathew stood on a wooden board that covers the Pit Auger with only a gap big enough for the grain to fall in, and only minutes until Matthew was meant to be finishing up with his task in the pit, Matthew felt his leg being tugged at. In a state of denial, he did not want to believe what was happening in failed attempts to free his leg.
Matthew quotes, "As my leg was being pulled in I felt the most excruciating pain come over my entire body, from head to toe travelling through every organ in my body. I don't believe it is possible to be in more pain than I felt that day. As the pain intensified I began to do what I class as my death scream. Short high pitched screams. I looked up thinking, shit the Auger is still on. Once again I tried to free my leg, no longer screaming, just trying to get out by pushing off a vertical wall with my other foot. As I done this, my right foot began to be pulled in to the Auger which made me panic more, because I believed it could pull my whole body through, lucky for me I had slip on steel cap boots so I freed my right foot by pulling it out of the shoe all together. Once I freed my right foot I felt a tug on my left foot and after that I knew I was free. I had no idea what had happened, but I knew I was free. I quickly moved myself to safety but was still unaware until I looked down at my leg and could only see the tibia bone. My foot was gone. Once I realised what had happened I went in to shock and my leg started convulsing, I was feeling no pain, just an eerie feeling as I looked at my foot thinking, this is it; no one knows I’m here, I’m going to die today. My leg continued to bleed and there was no way I could get out of the pit on my own. I thought to myself I'm not ready to die, I have too much I still need to do. The second these thoughts left my mind, one of the workers on the farm found me in the pit, and as my co-worker observed the scene, which I can only imagine looked like a horror scene, he then waved his arms in the air and said; OH SHIT! I said to him, bro I’m dying. NO YOU'RE NOT, was the response as he bolted for the emergency kill switch to turn off the machine that took my foot. He rushed back to the pit to put a tornacade on my leg, I had no idea why he was doing this because it hadn’t yet registered that I had lost half of my lower leg. Amongst the chaos of the situation, I could see two men running over dressed in orange jumpsuits. I couldn’t help but think of the TV series Baywatch as they ran towards me. They were from Transfeild and just happened to be working across the road when they had heard my screams and rushed to investigate. As they pulled me from the pit I could see the blood from my leg running down the concrete pit, everyone was in panic as more people rushed to my aid. It was 45 minutes before an ambulance made it to me, I can only imagine how scary it was for all the people that helped me that day”.
Now three years on from the accident as a close friend to Matthew I think back to the day when I first heard the news, I lived in Melbourne and hearing this news, I felt helpless but relived that my friend was still alive, Matthew shared videos on Facebook from his hospital bed smiling and even laughing, he was more concerned about the scare everyone must have felt as they heard the news, typical Matthew, reassuring everyone that he was in good spirits, tough days were definitely to come we all knew it, perhaps Matthew never knew how hard it would be, dealing with phantom pains, learning to walk again with a prosthetic limb, showering, overcoming the trauma, but one thing was for sure as Matthew woke in his hospital bed, he was so happy to be alive.
Impressed is an understatement of how I feel about my friend Matthew who faced each challenge that came his way, I asked Matthew, “What has changed about your life since before you had this accident?” his response, “Nothing, I still have my drumming group, I still work on the farm, I can walk, everything is the same.” I know Matthew enough to know it wasn’t as easy as he made it sound but his optimism was incredible, his drive to live was far more then just breathing.
Trauma is a battle that Matthew had to face as he went through his recovery process. When asked the question, "Why did you go back to the business that took your leg?“, Matthew answered, “Im not going to lose a leg to the business and just walk away.” What an inspiration. Matthew was asked by the Hamilton New Zealand limb centre to provide a photo of himself in his work environment to display on the wall, and lucky for me, I was the first person to pop into his head to ask to capture this image. Whilst driving to the farm where Matthew worked, the original expectation was for Matthew to be wearing some smart casual clothes that were nice and presentable, but when I arrived I found Matthew busy at work, dirty from head to toe from the labours of his busy day. This was the Mathew I wanted people to see, Hard working and committed, a real human being, and this is exactly why the Hamilton limb centre requested a photo of Matthew in his work environment. They wanted someone who had the power and will to inspire, and relatable to amputee’s. Matthews story really is an inspiration to everyone, and I believe this is what Helen Keller meant when she Quoted, “Although the world is full of suffering, it is also full of the overcoming of it.”