Jeff’s journey – learning to navigate life on one foot!

A self-confessed ‘car nut’ and competitive driver in the Aussie Racing Cars series, our Director Jeff Watters has experienced a fair share of dramatic crashes, but when he slipped into his Lycra for a bicycle ride along the Main Yarra trail, he could never have expected to be dragging himself across the tracks with a broken ankle and a train coming – like something out of a movie…

But it wasn’t just the shock and physical injury Jeff had to deal with in the aftermath, but the realisation that despite having worked in an industry that supports people who rely on wheelchairs to get around, he didn’t completely understand what it was really like to go about his day-to-day life with limited mobility – until now!

We interviewed Jeff about his experience and asked him to share some of the learnings that will no doubt be used to help provide even better care and services to Automobility clients in future.

Q: Tell us where and how you broke your ankle?

A: Two days before my birthday, the weather was perfect for a few hours of cycling, and I headed off on the Main Yarra trail – thinking a detour to Diamond Creek would make a nice change. The cycle path crosses the train line in Eltham, where the pedestrian “safety” gates close automatically – and close they did, right on my rear bike wheel promptly dumping me on the train tracks with a broken ankle and a train coming! I managed to drag myself off the tracks and rang an ambulance.

Q: Tell us about the injury?

A: My fibula was broken, talus dislocated, deltoid ligament ruptured, and I had bruising on my tibia. I got a green whistle and a ride in an ambulance to the Austin Hospital where I received an emergency ORIF procedure on my ankle – putting several screws, pins and a plate in my ankle.) The short-term prognosis was at least 6 weeks non-weight bearing (in a cast for 2 weeks then a boot) and providing the surgeon is satisfied with the healing, I can slowly introduce weight bearing and commence a rehab process.

Q: What have been the biggest day-to-day challenges?

1. Getting comfortable – the first week post-surgery was just plain uncomfortable, with pain from the injury and surgery making it difficult to get comfortable. Sleep happened in increments and moving off the couch only happened when necessary.

2. Moving around – Crutches are not a natural mobility device and take time to become competent using them. I’ll become the world hopscotch champion or a flamingo because there’s been a lot of hopping around and standing on one foot. It doesn’t matter where you put crutches, they end up in the way or out of reach.

  • At work, I’ve been using a power wheelchair to get around, but this presents another raft of issues. For a start, my office was upstairs – my new temporary office is now downstairs.
  • Getting into cars/ buildings/ bathrooms/ just about everywhere is inconvenient and awkward.

3. Eating & drinking – it’s easy to do too much of both while immobile, so I’ve been super careful with my food intake. I discovered that I can’t carry a plate of food nor carry any open drink in a cup while on crutches. I do a lot of cooking in our house, so that’s presented plenty of challenges too. I’ve become the master of playing snakes and ladders in the kitchen – getting an item out of the fridge and putting it on the bench opposite, then moving past that item and picking the item up to move it further along the bench, until eventually it gets to the cook top. Necessity is the master of invention and I’m way too stubborn to ask my very patient wife for even more help!

4. Showering – a frame and shower chair work well for showering, but I still can’t reach the towel rail, so I still need my wife to pass me a towel. In the early days, slipping on the wet surfaces was a real risk while transferring. With practice and as my recovery has progressed, the risks seem to have eased.

5. Getting dressed – it’s been a nightmare getting clothes from the wardrobe, so my wife has become my butler too. Long pants and a boot/ cast are not compatible so, my wife cranked out the sewing machine and hey presto; an invention of ‘short longs’ – one short leg, one long leg!

6. Pets – we have an older deerhound (a big placid dog like a long-haired greyhound) and we recently got another deerhound puppy. Pets do not understand mobility and are likely to cause an incident.

7. Independence – I’m not a complete control freak but I do like doing things my way and in my time. Not anymore, I’m just a dependant now, relying on others to help with a multitude of business and personal tasks. Even just carrying things is a challenge – you either need to put it in your pocket, your mouth or hope you can hold it in 2 fingers so you can still use the crutches!

What have you discovered about yourself and the world?

Q: What have you discovered about yourself and the world?

  • I thought I had a pretty good understanding of the needs of people with reduced mobility – but I realised that I had a very limited amount of knowledge.
  • Everything takes longer; from the moment you get out of bed in the morning until the moment you go to bed at night.
  • Outward opening doors are only helpful if you’re going out, coming in with crutches or a wheelchair is awkward. Door closers, as a concept are great for keeping doors closed but,
  • Office/ shop layouts – you can’t always stand beside a desk/ counter or reach things at certain heights.
  • Most people are awesome – so many people offered to help, and this has restored my faith in humankind. Most people are patient & understanding. The RUOK? factor also kicked in with many people ensuring that I’m both physically and psychologically ok (and I am).
  • My wife, Fran has been awesome! I really don’t know how I can ever thank her for all the support she’s given me through this very trying time – not to mention the scare I gave her in the first place.
  • The time it takes to break something is instantaneous, the recovery time is much longer – so be careful!

What does this mean for Automobility clients and why should they care?

I’ve had quite a few of our clients call and give me a welfare check – it is nice to know people care. At Automobility, we are committed to our clients and their needs as part of our Customer Oriented core value so getting a better understanding of their daily challenges will help us with our product development. We’re in the process of office renovations, one thing is for certain, the offices will be practically accessible, not just compliance accessible!

Here at Automobility, Enabling Life’s Journey is our primary goal, and through our wheelchair accessible vehicles (WAV’s) and ongoing support we aim to provide our clients with greater freedom, independence, and accessibility to be able to enjoy an active, healthy and fulfilling life.

Looking for a wheelchair converted vehicle that’s just right for you? Call our friendly and supportive team on 1300 660 773 for a FREE COVID-safe consultation and demonstration session, in person on online. We can even come to you!

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