The Farm in Diggers Valley

The week beginning 21st of March.
Sunday the 22nd of March
weeds in the Middle Back

The Middle Back paddock has a large population of Sedge plants (the little green clumps in the distance) which I have every intention of killing, one day. I've had a good go at it once already, but it's a tedious, time consuming job, and I got busy doing more interesting things and never got back to do any more.

Stephan has been killing the gorse (dead bushes in the foreground), but that requires a different approach, so the two cannot be done at the same time, nor with the same herbicide.

The sedge spreads, is a very coarse grass the cattle will eat, but not in great quantities - probably only enough to carry the seed around so it can establish in other places.

Wednesday the 25th

I've been taking things quietly for the last week and am still feeling groggy, so we took me to the doctor this afternoon. I am to expect to feel like this for two to four weeks from the time of the head injury, although some people feel the effects for less or more time. I am advised to get lots of rest and avoid stress.

Thursday the 26th

I needed to get the financial accounts done, so was quietly working on that task this afternoon while Stephan took Mauro, our increasingly unwelcome houseguest, to help him collect some of the stacked firewood from around the farm. Mauro suddenly appeared at the back door, which signalled something was not right, told me Stephan said not to panic, which was even more alarming, knowing Stephan's approach to personal destruction, but that he had hurt himself under the firewood trailer. I took the cellphone and rode out to see what had happened. (Mauro's reports of anything were regularly a long way from reliable, so I didn't know if I was dealing with impending death or a splinter.)

Stephan was hunched and leaning against a bank near the tractor, unable to breathe easily, and obviously badly hurt. I'm pretty good in emergencies, but still one is bound to be flustered. He said he could get into the ute for me to drive him out, but then I got it stuck on some slippery grass - not seriously, but it would have required some bouncing around to get out again - and I could see that driving him anywhere was going to be problematic and possibly not the wisest option, so I left him and rode back to a point where I knew the cellphone would work and called for an ambulance. The emergency services people having worked out our location and dispatched an ambulance, I went back to Stephan, "heart in mouth", unsure what state he'd be in by then. I unstuck the ute, put him in again and slowly drove back along the track, until the bouncing became too much for him to bear. I sent Mauro out to the front gates to wait for and direct the ambulance, and Stephan and I stopped and worked out what to do next. He was able to walk a little, so we hobbled along and over the stream, until he had to stop, and so we waited there for twenty minutes or so, until the ambulance appeared along the track. I thought of the camera for the first time, on the table at home, but an ambulance isn't the sort of thing anyone ever wants to see on a farm track, so I'll leave that to your imagination.

The ambulance driver was obviously very nervous about our track, with all it's newly spread river gravel, including some sizeable boulders, but I'd watched William drive along that part of the track the other day in a car, so knew she could do it if she were careful. (One might think it would be reasonable for a rural area to be equipped with an ambulance with enough clearance beneath to go a little way off a paved road!)

The St John's women put Stephan into the ambulance and checked him over. We took off his huge boots and socks and they shut the doors and drove away. I went back to the tractor with Mauro to get the chainsaw and some tools which needed to be out of any rain, and we drove home where I hurriedly fed the poultry, thought of all the things I might want to have with me over the next few hours, told Mauro to pack a bag for a night in town and off we went.

At Kaitaia Hospital's Emergency department Stephan was surrounded by three doctors, a radiologist, three nurses, two of the ambulance staff and some machines which go ping. They had done some preliminary x-rays to see what they could discover about his internal injuries. There seemed to be blood all over the place, but all of it had come from the needles they kept poking into him to pump other fluids in, including an enormous amount of Morphine, so that he was quite unable to make much sense at all whenever anyone asked him anything. I ended up filling in forms and answering questions and trying to explain what had happened - and even I didn't quite get the detail right, as it turned out.

At around 7pm Stephan was loaded into another ambulance to go to Whangarei Hospital, because there was nobody available to do an ultrasound scan of his spleen, about which there was some concern due to Stephan's ongoing indication of intense pain in that region of his torso. I could have gone down with him, but they were sending a nurse in the ambulance to keep him topped up with Morphine, and it was possible he might be sent back again and that there might not be room in that ambulance for me, so I'd be stuck in Whangarei! Besides which the pigs hadn't been attended to and the cow would need to be milked in the morning ...

In Whangarei the doctors determined that there were no life-threatening internal injuries, and that he had cracked only his sixth rib. They kept him in a ward overnight, pending decisions the following day.

firewood trailer

Stephan and Mauro had been travelling down a hillside with the loaded firewood trailer when one of its tyres popped. It would have been dangerous to stop on the slope, so Stephan waited until they reached the bottom of the hill before stopping and parking the tractor. At that point he decided to take the tractor home to collect a spare wheel he thought might fit, so disconnected the trailer, then changed his mind and walked home to get the ute instead.

There are lots of things people do on farms which create lucky escapes, leaving us wiping our brows and thanking our gods or good luck that some small thing didn't happen which would have tipped the balance between ongoing well-being and major injury or death. Sometimes a distraction will allow the progression from a safe moment to a dangerous one, similar in risk to driving distractedly and drifting across the centre line into the path of oncoming traffic.

Stephan, today, was distracted. When he returned to the trailer with the jack and possible replacement wheel for the trailer, he didn't reconnect the trailer to the tractor, he didn't even lower the front of the trailer on its jockey wheel, before getting underneath the trailer to put the jack in place ready to lift the trailer. Because he's right handed, he crawled in behind the wheel to place the jack. For some reason, possibly the placing of the jack, the trailer pivoted backwards on the wheel as he was about to come back out, coming down on top of him, not with a great rush, but with such weight that it was relentlessly crushing. He says he could not breathe at that point and uttered, at least in his mind, that catchall phrase for such moments when things have gone horribly wrong, "oh bugger".

The trailer had come down on the back of his left upper arm, compressing his chest. Fortunately Stephan maintained his presence of mind and is ridiculously strong, so that he somehow managed to push back against the increasing weight bearing down on him and scrabbled his way out from beneath the trailer. Had he not acted quickly, he'd have been stuck and by the time Mauro had come back to me for help, it would have been too late. It would have required someone to operate the jack to lift the back of the trailer, or the tractor to push the front of the trailer down, to get Stephan out, had he not managed to do it himself. I swung on the draw-bar when I took these pictures and the trailer didn't move a bit.

firewood trailer firewood trailer

The inset pliers in my hand are there to give some idea of the tightness of the spot Stephan was in. If I'd been in that gap it would have squashed me and Stephan's a much larger body.

firewood trailer

The load of Kanuka, which has been drying in stacks on the hillside for over a year, ready to burn hotly during the winter. It's very dense and heavy wood, so the weight of it at the back of the trailer at that angle is significant.

Friday the 27th

I had an awful morning. Having had a sleepless night I awoke with a thumping headache, Imagen was uncooperative when I milked her, a pig launched himself over the top of the fence at me when I went to feed them and I had to run away - I don't trust anything with four legs and testicles at the moment. Everything Stephan has been in the middle of doing, but hasn't yet finished, became problematic and here was I, the fittest of the two of us, with a foggy head and everything to take care of on my own.

I do know that there are many people who would happily have helped had I asked, and I would have done so had things not been in the process of resolving themselves quite quickly. But getting someone she doesn't know to milk Imagen, or feed the crazy pigs who had gone short of feed yesterday and were overly anxious about getting hold of anything on offer today, would have been a bit much to ask, when a slow and steady approach got the jobs done.

I waited anxiously to hear whether or not Whangarei Hospital would transfer Stephan back to Kaitaia. Our generally very good health system has this particular flaw: they'll cart people off out of our community to the centre where the specialist teams and equipment reside, and then they'll quite often discharge the patients from there and abdicate any responsibility for getting said patients back to the initial place of admission. I've always thought that part of the system stank, but have fortunately never had to deal with it in person. Today it made me very nervous, because I really can't drive that far in my current groggy-headed state. And Stephan doesn't even have a shirt or shoes with him!

In the end the hospital decided to transfer Stephan, in an ambulance, back to Kaitaia. I think he would have been severely uncomfortable if forced to sit up for the two hour journey in a car, so it was the only sensible decision - but that wouldn't necessarily have settled the point.

We are both enormously grateful to the St John Ambulance crews who were involved in this incident, as well as all the very caring medical staff with whom we both dealt in the hospital system. Thanks also to our friends and family who were so supportive and ready to come to our assistance whenever we asked.