Looking Back and Thinking

This is a post-script to Mr Stothart’s original encounter, as he is today – October 1998.

As I was recovering from GB I was called on a few times to comfort people who were similarly afflicted and on one occasion I talked my way into Intensive Care at Wellington Hospital even though I didn't know the patient.  When I got inside I discovered that there were two patients. One a 14 year old gymnast who recovered as quickly as she had gone down. The other person made me want to weep. She had just given birth and GB had invaded her muscles of breathing requiring her to chat to me through a tube coming out of her throat. On top of all that trauma, her partner had walked out on her while she was in intensive care. Just talking to these people and others I was introduced to, letting them know that I had been where they were and that I was on the road to recovery seemed to give them hope. In fact it took me about five years to regain most of my strength. I never gave up hope and my neurologist was a constant source of information and encouragement. He always discussed with me my medication and how we should eventually wean ourselves off it.      

I recall being interviewed for an executive director's position of a large organisation while I was regaining my strength and one of the people on the panel said "Bob, we know that you have been ill. Can you convince us that you are well enough to do this job?" By way of reply I said that I had taken up my position in physical education again, I had rejoined Ski Patrol, I had climbed Mt Ruapehu, I played regular vigorous badminton and I was going to go on when the questioner said, "I think we've heard enough Bob," I got the job. Realistically, I never regained full strength and my measure for this is my golf handicap. Before GB I was on a low handicap (not single figures but almost) post GB I have struggled to stay in the high teens. I'm not complaining because I have gone on to hold senior positions in organisations, to travel, tramp, ski, write, to drive all over New Zealand and to learn new skills. Grip strength is OK but not wonderful so I compensate with wheels on suitcases and other helpful devices. By and large, I behave as if I had never been afflicted.

While I was in recovery, I spent about three months of my sabbatical leave in Australia. I had been taken off my medication but I knew that I had deteriorated over those three months as I was able to carry my suitcases into Australia but I had real problems when it came time to move on. The next part of my leave was spent in Canada and I was able to convince a doctor there to put me back on medication until I got home to see my neurologist. It was a little frightening but I continued to improve with the care of medical services.

My time in the land of people with a disability has sharpened my appreciation for people who for whatever reason, slip below the norm of robust good health. My wheelchair experience showed me a whole new world that now makes me sensitive to issues of access and transport. While I felt sorry for myself, I rejoice that I have made a good recovery and that I know things that most 'ordinary' people will never know.

When I was a child, an aunt of mine had a calendar on the wall of her kitchen, which read "I had no shoes and I complained until I met a man with no feet." That message sustained me through the darker times. My family were wonderful, considerate supporters. I tried to live as close to 'normal' as possible and the family fitted their busy lives around me. I was very fortunate to be working in a university at the time that I started to deteriorate as I was able to gain access to up to date information from medical journals and I could keep myself informed about this unusual condition. The Internet didn't exist back then but it's a wonderful source of information now. I needed to know what was happening to me and my colleagues and my neurologist understood this need and helped me to gather the necessary publications.

I'm predominantly retired now, although I chair the Wellington Division of the Cancer Society, I do occasional work for the NZ Qualifications Authority and I chair the Sport, Fitness and Recreation Industry Training Organisation. I also find time for golf, skiing, writing, international travel and to indulge my four active grandchildren.

There is abundant life after GB.