The Skiing Accident with Unbelievably Unfortunate Consequences

I should apologise for the lack of posts since the Olympics. I treated it as almost a bit of a break from social media, however my sporting career has taken many turns and changes since then! All very positive with many promising gains up until now. I will write another blog in the coming days to explain what exactly I have been up to, however now there are more urgent matters to write about.

Nationals Quarter final. Photo Cred: Bring Into Being

Nationals Quarter final. Photo Cred: Bring Into Being

Unfortunately during the National Sprint Championships I had a major accident which not only withdrew me from the race, but has seriously impacted my health and preparations for the coming European winter. It was the semi-finals of the freestyle sprint. The pack was tight and through a fast section of the course I clipped skis with another skier and fell in the path of the skier behind me. With no-where to go, he ran straight into me, however unlike most cross country skiing crashes, the consequences were far more dangerous. It was almost like slow-motion as I saw the ski go straight into the top of my chest. I knew that I had been hit hard, however as I tried to get up, I felt burst of air gurgling from where the ski had hit. I immediately knew what that meant but couldn’t quite believe it. As I began to cough, more air could be heard passing through my chest and suddenly I went into panic with an overwhelming inability to breath. The response from fellow athletes, spectators, and organisers was amazingly quick and I really need to thank all of those who were first at the scene. Mark Pollock and Ben Derrick did an amazing job to calm me down which in my mind was what saved me from passing out. Amazingly Bob Dunn was watching the race and as a qualified trauma doctor I feel incredibly lucky and grateful for all he did for me that day. Peter Dewez, was also very quickly at the scene and offered a huge amount of assistance to both me and Simon. Without their help, I may be far worse off right now.

I really need to clarify that this is the kind of accident where it was no-ones fault. In close racing, all it takes is for skis to clip at the wrong time and you can be thrown to the ground instantly. We gave each other room, it was just unfortunate timing. For the skier behind me, Simon Hammer from Switzerland, I feel incredibly sorry for. He was also heavily injured and bleeding from the nose and other abrasions on his face. He had no-where to go and no time to avoid me so it was definitely not something he should feel guilty about. He was also treated at Falls Creek Medical but in true kindness and sportsmanship he would not leave until they let him in to see me and make sure sure I was doing ok. That meant so much to me.

The response by the Ski Patrol felt like an agonisingly long time, but in actual fact 3 units were on site within minutes! I was then taken on the special ski-doo sled down to the Falls Creek Medical Centre. Upon arriving, Bob Dunn was there to help and carry out the medical checks and procedures. I’m not sure what the chances are, but unluckily the ski had managed to penetrate between my ribs, punctured through the chest cavity and into my right lung causing it to quickly collapse. With a strong dose of various drugs an emergency chest tube was put in place to stabilise me. The drugs put me in a different world but I was still conscious for the whole procedure and was one of the toughest things I have ever been through. My brother Ewan and Diane Phillips were there to comfort me and I’m so glad they were as I would not have dealt with such a traumatic procedure otherwise. I was then flown by helicopter to the Alfred Hospital in Melbourne where I was handed over to their Trauma Team

Chest Tube

Chest Tube

My mum had straight away driven from Cobram so almost immediately she and my girlfriend Teresa were there. Even in my groggy state it was hard not to find the humour in it, it was planned for me to introduce Teresa to my parents the following weekend at the Hoppet. Instead there I was all drugged up barely able to see straight on a hospital bed saying ‘Mum, this is Teresa!’! Dad was in Sydney at the time, however drove straight down to Melbourne that night to see me and experienced the same ‘not ideal’ introduction…

The original plan was to see if the first tube would do the job of holding the lung in place to let it heal naturally. The way the ‘chest tube’ works is that it is connected to suction which essentially creates negative pressure in the chest and that’s what holds the lung in place. Unfortunately on the Wednesday 4 days after the accident, the seal began to leak allowing air to travel back into my chest cavity. With increasing levels of pain, my lung then began to collapse until finally when I was changing positions to try and find more comfort, the tube half slipped out leaving me in shear agony. I never even imagine pain could be so fierce. It was beyond screaming or crying, I couldn’t even look at Teresa or hold her hand as she tried to comfort me as concentrating on getting through each breath was all that I could manage. My chest began to cramp and everytime it did, it would cave in completely not allowing me to breath. I was then taken to emergency where the last thing I remember is the doctors moving me causing me to cramp again but this time it wouldn’t release.

This was by far the most traumatic experience of my life and was far worse than the original accident. Another tube was put in place, however when I came to my senses once again, I was physically, mentally and emotionally cooked. My brother was the first to come into the room to see me and all I could do was cry. As Teresa and the rest of my family also came in to see me I couldn’t stop for quite some time. Although it may sound stupid in retrospect, right there and then when my chest wouldn’t stop cramping in more agony than possibly imaginable I genuinely thought they were my last few seconds of life. That experience has without a doubt had its effects.

The second tube was bigger, positioned much deeper into my chest and had three inlets throughout the chest cavity. It was unbearably uncomfortable at first and for the first day and a half, I couldn’t even stand up. This tube was in place until that Sunday, 8 days after the accident where they tested twice to see if the lung had sealed. Unfortunately I found myself devastated each time. I then went in for surgery the next day for which I was incredibly nervous for. I didn’t know how much pain I would be dealing with when I woke up, however I was very happy to find it was minimal compared with the previous ordeal!

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The Surgery went very well and turns out it was entirely necessary. The ski created a hole which was around 1cm long and 2cm deep into the lung. I sit here now in the same hospital bed 12 days after the accident and now I am waiting for the 3rd chest tube to complete its work by draining the remaining fluid and air from my chest. The prediction is that I will have the tube out either on Thursday afternoon or Friday and should be out of the hospital by Saturday or Sunday if all goes well.

I have been limited by the small length of this suction tube confining me to the inside of this small area in my ward. I have a tube stuck in my chest, it hurts to breath whilst moving and standing up is a painful challenge. I can feel myself wasting away and therefore should feeling like the most depressed and lost sole around, but somehow I find myself always smiling thinking positively about the future and even laughing!! I owe this mostly all to Teresa who, just like Dad, has been here with me everyday with me. There I have to say that my family, Teresa and coach Mattias have been amazing through this period and that along with so many visits and kind messages from fellow athletes and friends have been what has gotten me through this horrible experience.

Photo Cred: Jimmy Miller

Photo Cred: Jimmy Miller

I’m sorry for the lack of proper updates up until now, however I have only just felt up to getting all my thoughts into writing. I will keep you all regularly updated on my progress. Finally I feel like I am on the home stretch!! Its a long road ahead, but I’ll make it.