By Stan Stewart
Disasters can happen without warning. As part of my job, I was delivering minutes of a meeting. It required me to walk down a steep, paved drive. What I hadn’t noticed was an overhanging olive tree that had been dropping olives. Stepping on them, it was as though ball bearings were under my feet. Whoosh! The next thing I was flat on my back. I felt no pain, but looking at my feet I could see my right foot was at right angles to its normal position.
The ambulance staff who attended me were wonderful. But in the Emergency Ward I was shocked to find that my supposed doctors, two of them, were (in my opinion) high school students. I guessed that they were on a look-and- learn first-aid excursion. One of them said to me, “We must straighten your foot immediately. You have a badly broken ankle. So that you won’t feel any pain, we will give you a strong pain killer.” By this time, my wife and two other female friends were at my bedside. The drug not only eliminated pain but also loosened inhibitions. Later, they told me that during the procedure, in a loud voice I called out many swear words that they had never heard me use. Coming down from my drugged high was interesting. I had a pleasant floating sensation and briefly wondered if I was in heaven. Then as my vision cleared, I saw my wife and our two friends at the foot of the bed. They were all making sympathetic sounds. For a moment I thought, “I am not in heaven. I’m in hell”.
For three months I was recovering at home. Most of this time, as I couldn’t manage the stairs, I had a bed in the lounge room. A friend gave me a large mug with a bicycle bell attached on the top. The idea was that when I needed help I would ring the bell. It didn’t work. The problem was that my wife absolutely rejected the concept of coming in response to the ringing of a bell. No joking! She hated that cup and what it stood for. After a short while, the cup with the bell disappeared. It has never been seen since.
This personal disaster put my life on hold for almost four months. It created inconvenience and disruption for me, my work and for my family. But it was not all loss. One great thing came out of it that impacts my life and will do so for as long as I live. In fact, it will extend the life I live. I was a cupboard smoker (secret smoker) – not heavy but regular. This was known to my family but hidden from others. Bed ridden and forced to rely on help, I had the smoking craving. However, I was not allowed to smoke in the lounge where I was stuck. A family member to whom I complained said, “Why not give up smoking? Now is a perfect opportunity.” The idea never crossed my mind. However, it was something I wanted to do and at various times, I had tried without success. Now, my unexpected personal ‘disaster’ created a life situation in which many different forces made what seemed previously impossible, possible. I thought I could be successful. And I was!
Living in Brisbane at this summer time, I feel oppressed by the tropical atmosphere. Daily I read of the unprecedented rains In parts of the North island which seem to be going on forever. Through the news media, I saw the results of Auckland and the Coromandel never before experiencing such non-stop rain. Whitianga, the community in which I so much want to live, is largely cut off by road. Future hopes and plans must now be revised. The disastrous rains have created a new reality. Hope for many things planned seem gone – or has it.
In this context I have been thinking of the great personal benefit that came out of my disaster. Could it be possible that a different carved future for our town and district might emerge? As I see it, Whitianga, Mercury bay and most of the Coromandel was on track to grow and grow. What would that mean? More housing estates, more shopping precincts, more tourist attractions, more traffic and so on ad Infinitum – forever and ever. But, what now?
Maybe, another view of approaching the future is possible? Something we had not previously thought? Disaster has disrupted our steady-as-she-goes, more-of-the-same assumptions. At least our washed-away roads giv us time to re-think what our future could be like. Our community is intelligent, innovative, and energetic. Is there another vision out there somewhere?