What happens when . . .

Host: Abingdon Downs Station
Written by Renee Kohler – Station Hand, Abingdon Downs Station.

Renee wrote another blog about her recent surgery on her leg. There are significant medical disadvantages of living remotely but our bush doctors and nurses are always wonderful and supportive.

Editors note: This blog contains graphic images of a leg wound, which some readers may find confronting.

We live risky lives doing this cattle station business, but do any of us really have an action plan for when or if things go wrong? I know I didn’t, it actually never even crossed my mind! There are so many terrible stories we hear of on quite a regular basis, but I suppose I just had it in my mind that nothing would really ever happen to me. So in my case “what happens when” . . . Mum, wife, house keeper, chef, school teacher, husbands offsider gets hurt? Well here’s my story.

My husband Jason and I are the clerk of the course each year at our local races, which involves us riding our horses around to the barriers with the race horses and leading them if need be. There were only five races and out of those I only had to lead three horses. I do remember being knocked in the leg by one while we were going around the track on the lead but I can’t really say I thought too much about it. So the races went off without a hitch and we loaded our horses and went home.

The next day the outside of my calf was pretty sore. That night the pain and swelling started to get worse but I was sure it would be better come morning. Next day I was still in pain and a burning sensation started shooting down my leg. But, it was our last week of school holidays and I had a list a metre long of things I wanted to do before I started back in the schoolroom with our daughter. However that night, well it cut the cake, the only thing I could do to stop a bit of the pain was to run a very light trickle of cold water over my leg. It was on fire!

Next morning I asked Jason to take me into the local hospital (120km away) to get it checked out, what a drive that was. Jason did tell me to pack a bag just in case, but I wouldn’t be in it . . . I was going home afterwards! Well the nurse dosed me up on morphine and called the doctor from the clinic to come and have a look. One look from her and it was diagnosed as “compartment syndrome” and I needed to be flown out ASAP or I would risk losing my leg.

This created all kinds of problems, not just for me!  My husband would now be the prime carer of two small children. He would now become the “Mum, wife, house keeper, chef, school teacher, and his own offsider”! I didn’t pack a bag because I thought I would just be going home so while I was waiting at the hospital for my flight out Jason had to drag our two children around the women’s wear department to get me a set of clothes.

Care Flight flew me the 400km from Hughenden to Townsville and once I got to the hospital everyone is going on about this compartment syndrome and now foot drop . . . What is this? Compartment syndrome normally happens with a huge trauma . . . not mine, I only got a bump in the leg. It’s when too much pressure builds up within the muscle compartment and stops the flow of blood to and from the affected tissue.

5-1-care-flight-who-flew-me-to-townsville-copyCare Flight who flew me to Townsville.

5-2-compartment-syndrome-copyCompartment Syndrome.

So I got monitored for 24 hours before the doctors decided to do a pressure test on my leg which wasn’t pleasant at all. It was after they saw that the pressure was sky high I was told that I was going in to have fasciotomy surgery, where they put two big cuts downs either side of my calf muscle and leave them open until the pressure goes down while being hooked to a vacuum machine to keep infection out and drain excess fluid.

So I was meant to go back in two days later for it to get closed up but unfortunately other emergencies came up and I missed my turn. This went on for five days, which meant five days of fasting being ready for surgery . . . I was so hungry! I wasn’t even allowed my morning coffees. I thought I would leave hospital with a supermodel’s body! Anyway they say “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” and I’m sure of that now!

5-3-they-cut-my-legs-to-relive-the-pressure-copyThey cut my legs to relive the pressure.

5-4-after-surgery-copyAfter Surgery.

During this whole ordeal my husband and two children had driven the 120km back to our home to get organised to make the trip to Townsville.  He had to wait a couple of days as we had cattle buyers due to turn up and have a look around (which they never showed up anyway). He had to pack bags for the kids and for both of us. I don’t even know if he knew where the kids undies were but he must have found them! He then had to organise helpers, mainly neighbours, to do water runs, start pumps, check cattle and feed animals. Once all this was done he was able to make the 500km drive to Townsville with the kids to be with me.

When he got to Townsville he had to find accommodation for himself and the kids, as well as my parents who were flying up from Brisbane to help look after our little ones. This turned out to be interesting as it was the V8 supercar weekend in Townsville and all the prices for hotels and apartments were through the roof or booked out. He ended up getting an extremely overpriced apartment for the first four days which then dropped down to a more acceptable rate for what it was. Then the cost of food on top of accommodation made it all a rather costly experience.

When I was finally released from hospital I was really keen to get back home as I had about 10 days to wait before my follow-up appointment. I hate being away from home. It was just my luck that it had rained quite heavily at home while we were away and, as we live on black soil country, it was way too boggy for us to get home. So we spent the next 10 days in Townsville holed up in a hotel room waiting for my appointment. I couldn’t do anything and the kids were getting frustrated. There is definitely a medical disadvantage of living remotely.

So now I’m back in one piece, still very sore and my foot has kept the foot drop. The nerves have been damaged and I have lost use of the front muscle in my leg which pulls your foot up. After eight days in hospital and three weeks away from home I now walk a bit funny and I have some serious scars! Hopefully with time and persistence my foot will work a bit better otherwise I have to have more operations to move muscles and tendons, which I am a bit skeptical about.

We had to rely hugely on our wonderful neighbours to look after the property and all the animals while we were away, so without them I don’t really know what would have happened.  I also have to thank all our family and friends who were there for not only me but for my family. Also, our employers who look after us so well and were nothing but understanding and wonderful.

So moral of the story is, look after yourself and don’t try and be a hero. If it’s hurting more than you think it should be, don’t muck around go and get it looked at. Also might be handy to have a little bit of a safety net just in case something like this happens to you, I’m glad I had that at least! And don’t make enemies with your neighbours as you never know what’s around the corner, one day you might just need to lean on them for a while.

This is how I get around now . . . the black tape holds my foot straight and the white elastic around my foot helps lift it up!

5-5-at-home-copyAt home.