"Being reliant on other people does not mean that I’m weak..."
Queensland Teachers' Journal, Vol 127 No 2, 11 March 2022, page no.21
In 2020, QTU Lead Union Rep Adriaan Greyling had an accident that left him paralysed from the waist down. Here he recounts his long journey back.
My name is Adriaan. I’m a teacher at Barcaldine Prep-12 State School.
Originally from South Africa, I moved to England, where I stayed for 10 years, and finally made my way here in 2009.
I’ve always been active, doing a variety of sports and other activities. My most recent hobbies included rugby union refereeing, rock climbing and volunteering in the SES.
In September 2020, I had a rock-climbing accident. I fell 18 meters from the top of the rocks. I broke a total of 11 ribs, fractured my right scapula (shoulder) and, most important of all, I broke my back at T8 (thoracic – pretty much the middle of my back).
I was flown from Aramac to the Princess Alexandria Hospital in Brisbane, where I’ve undergone surgery to screw two titanium rods in my spine to support the exploded vertebrae.
What that means is that I don’t have any feeling or movement from my waist down.
This in itself is a huge challenge, and there were days when I felt like giving up. I couldn’t do things for myself and had to rely on others to help with almost everything.
A lot of times when I was just lying in bed unable to get up, I would just cry uncontrollably. Frustration, and consequently anger and resentment, were daily occurrences.
Fortunately, I had my sister in Brisbane, who came and visited almost every day. Unfortunately, my kids were still in Barcaldine, and I couldn’t see them – more frustration and more crying.
About a week after the accident came the realisation that the damage was permanent.
I was faced with 2 options:
- Keep to myself and cry and resent the fact that I’m a paraplegic, or
- Keep fighting and do the best I can.
I did not want other people, and especially my kids, to see, or even think, that I was weak!
I started with very small daily challenges for myself. Simple little things, like putting my hand on my head.
My mental attitude started to change, and suddenly I started to realise that I’m not alone. I started to see the support I was getting from my family. I had visitors and friends from Rugby Australia, the State Emergency Services, and from a range of organisations that I’m associated with.
It was mind-blowing to see how I’ve touched lives and how other people perceived me, even though I was now a cripple!
I started to get help from peer supporters and mental health professionals, and still do. It really was a question of getting my head in the right space and changing my thinking.
I still face daily challenges, from crossing roads and reaching the products I want in IGA, to cooking, brushing my teeth, and even getting in and out of the car.
Every now and again my wheels get stuck, and because of momentum I fall out of the wheelchair. Unfortunately, I can’t get back into it by myself and must rely on the help of others.
I have learned over time that I have to ask for and accept help when I can’t do things for myself. But being reliant on other people does not mean that I’m weak.
Since my return to Barcaldine, I have been trying to get back to as normal a life as I can. I still teach. I still volunteer in the SES as local controller. And I still try to give to the community and other organisations, like doing the Great Cycle Challenge to help those less fortunate than me – “paying it forward!”