Fighting for life again


Two weeks ago we woke to a 40 degree celsius day. Now for me that doesn’t matter to me much, as a training day is a training day. The alarm rang out with the tune of Jimmy Barnes “No Second Prize” I Jumped out of bed, grabbed my 30kg backpack and headed up towards the hills. Half way through the climbing i realised i had forgotten my camelback water supply (it was still sitting in the fridge at home). So i shrugged my shoulders and just powered on. Three hours later i was home, still having not sipped any fluids.

I looked at the lawns. (the five days of rain had made them around two foot high… ) Now we live on around two thousand square metres of land and i got the bright idea to mow it. Now not forgetting the temperature was still 40 degrees, I mowed the lawns. It took over three hours. I struggled with the high grass, every movement of the mower was a battle from start to finish, but i ended up getting it done.

The time was now 3pm, and almost time for my martial arts class to begin. So I headed inside to have a quick hot shower before the class arrived. I need to emphasise the HOT part of the shower. I stepped under the water and in an instant it hit me… a strange feeling inside my head. now i know my body incredibly well and in a flash i knew this was very very bad.

I was light headed, i had three distinct pains inside my head. I quickly turned off the shower and dried myself off and put my karate Gi (Uniform) on. At that moment my son Macyn called out to tell me some of the students had arrived early. So i headed out to look for the keys which are attached to a red keyring, but i couldn’t see them. I turned to Macyn to ask if he had seen them… but as i started to ask, nothing came out. I tried to utter some words, but i made no sense, i stuttered and my mouth just wouldn’t work at all. i soon realised I had lost all power of speech. So i grabbed up my car keys and signalled to him. Then i said… “r-r-r-red…r-r-r-r-red…red ones…” I couldn’t believe it, what was happening to me?

I soon found the keys and headed out to teach the class. I had no idea of how I would do this with no ability to speak to them. Luckily i have always been a very physical teacher and i shift and guide students via the old ways. So there is not always a requirement to speak. It was frightening, but i did all the exercises and combat work with them throughout the lesson. By the ned of class my speech was starting to return, so i said goodbye to the class and headed inside.

I sat down at my computer for a moment to read some emails. i looked at what someone had written to me, i thought, “whats wrong with this person, i cant read any thing they’ve written, its all garble!” Then the reality hit… it was me. I couldn’t comprehend what was written. this wasn’t good.

Now being a typical male i wasn’t going to mention anything to anyone, i was going to let it rectify itself. You see the same thing had happened to me back in 2010 when i was training incredibly hard for Mad Max Fury Road. i had finished a three hour training session, i jumped onto the rowing mating and smashed out 55 minutes of high level cardio. As soon as i finished a friend of mine approached and asked me a question about the film, but i couldn’t answer him, i tried but couldn’t find the words. In the end i pretended to be puffed and signalled to him that i would be back. I went home instead and never mentioned it.This situation felt the same. So i figured id just let it ride. My wife Debbie was in Sydney for the night with Maya staying at my parent’s house.

So it was a boys night for myself and Macyn. Then Debbie called and i decided to tell her what happened, reinforcing the fact that i was okay now. But that wasn’t good enough for her. She called my film colleague and incredibly talented doctor mate Prateek. He instantly rang me and said “i don’t want to alarm you, but if you don’t go to hospital tonight, you might die.” I thought he was joking at first, but something in his voice told me otherwise. He told me a loss of speech is a brain related issue and i needed to get my things and go now. So i headed in for an MRI and they found out i had in fact suffered a stroke which had affected three sections of my brain. Now in film, for some reason I strangely have an entire network of doctors around me. Doctors who loved the creativity of film so they left their profession and became film makers.

So this is how the night unfolded. Prateek called Dr George Miller, George called his brother John (a leading sports doctor) who in turn called another friend of theirs, an ex Wallaby international Rugby Union player (now a leading professor of Neurology), then they had the MRI results sent to them.

When I arrived at Royal North Shore Hospital I was sent directly to emergency. When the Neurologist came in I was armed with questions and information. George had sent me an entire list of tests he said i needed to get done, Prateek called the Hospital’s neurologist and ran through the procedures and tests they were going to put me through and then they all spoke to me. To top it off, Prateek’s wife Smita is a specialist doctor in her own right as are most of Prateek’s family.

This team of friends armed me with the knowledge and confidence to push through. I will never be able to repay them for the kindness and friendship shown to me through this time, but they have me as a friend for the rest of their lives, and someone who will be there for them regardless of what happens.

Its funny how a life experience like this makes you forget all that you thought was important. No titles, championship or film accolades ever entered my mind. All i could think about was “how do i get better for my wife and kids?” “what will they do if I don’t make it, what if I’m never the same again?”

In my head right then and there i made a decision to get through this for them. Then i thought, “If i do, i will cherish every moment with them and make my life all it can be for them.”  And so it began.

At the start of the week after the first MRI, my brain had 3 definite stroke injuries, after the 5th day and more tests than i ever want to have again, the doctors came to tell me that all the scars had disappeared. Now I’m not sure how, but i can tell you this, Nothing was going to get in the way of me getting better and i would let nothing break my resolve.

The next day I headed out of hospital  with my life’s purpose clearer than ever. I realised that the most important thing to me outside of my family was my ability to speak and my need to change lives.  It has given my quest a giant leap forward and my path is now clearer than ever.

So if life has you down and you think its just not worthwhile, i will tell you this… I have felt the utter joy of success and the devastating lows of incredible loss and pain… and now i have also clung on to a life i almost lost, and i can say unquestionably, you have a journey here, you have a purpose… its your job to find it, harness it and ride it… and if you feel you don’t have any worth… let me clear that up for you… YOU DO!!!

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