A spinal cord injury, resulting in paralysis, is severe and harsh for the entire family unit, not only the injured person.
A while back I asked my beloved brother, Trent, whom I adore, to write about the impact my spinal cord injury had on him as my brother.
He shares his personal story – and brutal truth. This is his account.
Raw. Unedited. Written by Trent Sinclair.
When asked to put my feelings and experiences in words, I realized how emotional and difficult it is to do.
Let me start by describing my relationship with my sister prior to the tragic and life changing day.
Tracy and I were, in my opinion, very close. I always admired her sporting abilities and achievements. She was always above average in all she attempted. She was an excellent teacher and mother. She was a friend and a sister.
One may ask why on earth did you write the above as if in the past and as if she’s not around anymore?
Well the truth is that once you read on, you will learn that my respect and feelings towards Tracy have gone from a high level to a painfully high level?
The day of the accident.
On this day Tracy and her family, and Monica (my wife) and myself were traveling back from our respective holiday destinations. When in Middleburg I recall Radio Jacaranda warning motorists that there was serious traffic congestion around Belfast and Machadodorp? I prepared myself for a busy and slow trip home? Strangely enough we got through this section fairly quickly. It was late afternoon when we got home.
As always, when I did long road trips I phoned my parents to tell them we have arrived home safely. Yes you all know how parents are? Always worried? Well, rightfully so on this day.
When chatting to my mom she expressed concern that she hadn’t heard from Tracy yet. I still reassured her and even laughed it off, as there was heavy traffic for Tracy to move through.
The dreaded phone call
As Monica and I started to relax after unpacking, the phone rang. It was my mom sounding extremely stressed out. She battled to make sense and all I could decipher was that Tracy, Craig and Chad had been involved in a car accident. This sent a cold shiver down my spine! Again, I remember telling my mom not to worry, until we had all the details. With all due respect, please understand that when I say our mother is queen of stress, then I mean it!
I was about to phone Tracy’s mobile, and our phone rang again. It was Craig on the other side. He sounded only slightly stressed and started to explain what had happened. I recall interrupting him, and asking to chat to my sister, as I could hear Chad crying in the background.
The bazaar and confusing thing was that I spoke to Tracy and she sounded calm and reassured me that she was fine. She still said she has very little pain, and was waiting for the ambulance to arrive shortly. She cut me short and said she has to attend to Chad as he was stressed out.
Craig came on again and told me that they are “shaken but not stirred”. As the seconds ticked by, I tried to picture the accident scene. Each flash picture was changed by the next as the verbal and background audio was transmitted through the receiver.
As Craig was communicating I heard vehicles, doors opening, Chad crying, people calling Rocky (Tracy’s staffie) and a babble of other sounds I couldn’t separate.
This all seemed minutes long, but in reality it was probably only 1min in total. Once I put the phone down the full reality and visions hit me. I panicked as I had just lost contact with Tracy and the situation.
It was then when I phoned my parents back. By now my poor mom had no choice but to let my dad take over. Between my dad, Craig’s dad and myself, we had managed to put enough information together to work out a recovery and assistance plan.
My dad said he and Craig’s father would come from Nelspruit and head towards Standerton. I said I would do the same from Lydenburg.
After phoning my director to ask permission to go, I asked Monica to pack an overnight bag. I jumped into the shower to try freshening up; I am not the most confidant nocturnal driver, especially after our 6-hour trip from Rustenburg.
While I was in the shower the phone went again? I could her Monica crying and felt my heart rate race. She said that it looks like Tracy’s neck was broken?? All I could remember was that I convinced myself that they must be mistaken? After all I had just spoken to Tracy and she personally assured me she was “fine”.
Car trip to Standerton.
With horrific visions and stressful thoughts racing through my mind, Monica and I climbed into my pick –up and started the dash for Standerton. My mind was so focused on getting there; I honestly don’t recall much of the trip. The so-called traffic congestion and potholes were mysteriously nonexistent. The only memory of the trip was the odd phone call snapping me out my trance. The calls were my mom and family giving their support. Monica and I went straight to the local hospital where my father and Craig and Tracy were. Well at least I thought so.
Walking into the waiting room I saw how pale Craig was. My father and George were trying to comfort or distract Chad from us as Craig walked toward us. This sounded alarms off, as this could only be bad news. Craig looked like he was in a trance, as he broke down and said he was sorry. He explained that Tracy had broken her neck and was airlifted to the Eugene Marais hospital.
I then walked over to my father; he was gray in complexion and was sobbing. This was bad as he is a hard man and never shows much emotion. We both hugged each other and began to sob. I was so pleased and extremely surprised to see how unscathed Chad was. At 10 months old you are weak and vulnerable! This little fellow had angels on his side.
Not much was said after this, as there was too much confusion and disbelief. We decided that my father and George would take Chad and Rocky back to Nelspruit. Monica, Craig and myself would head towards the Eugene Marais, and I had no idea where it was. Craig said he knew where it was, Pretoria. We squeezed into the front of my pick – up (small van), and headed out. This part of the trip seemed like an eternity. When you sit three up front in a pick – up you will understand how small this space is, when three adults sit shoulder to shoulder, and as hard as you try not to cry and sob, you are spontaneously affected when one starts the reaction. Between the sobbing, Craig tried to explain what happened. Somehow we all still tried to convince each other that all would be well. Little did we know.
Making sense of it.
While driving I started to process the information received so far. I recall when speaking to Tracy on the mobile, at the scene, she said she was fine with no pain. She clearly said she couldn’t feel her legs. Somehow in the heat of it I chose to ignore this important clue. I also assumed she was holding the phone on her own. Even when speaking to Craig at the scene, it sounded like Chad was been held and comforted by Tracy. NOW IT STRUCK ME, TRACY’S NECK MUST BE BROKEN.
Craig still had hope that this would be mended.
Eugene Marais and Pretoria.
We arrived at the hospital after 1am in the morning. We were told to wait for the duty specialist. I can’t recall whether he spoke to us separately or together. But the message was clear; Tracy was critical and was in theatre. We stayed for what seemed like an eternity, before we were told that she was stable and would only be able to see her later that morning. Craig had two close friends in town, so we decided to ask for a place to sleep. Sleep was not really what happened, as we were all over tired and stressed. We left at about 7.30am to go back to the Hospital.
Twist in the tale.
It was at this stage I was starting to ask questions: WHY? HOW? WHAT NOW? I was angry and frustrated. The place we slept at was an up market, secure complex. Yet when I got to my vehicle I was shocked to find the vehicle had been broken into. For a brief moment I forgot about Tracy and her predicament. I instinctively tried to gather evidence and take stock of what was stolen. I climbed the wall and followed the worn path in a neighboring river area. It was here where I found most of my cassettes, old photos and I.D. book. How dare someone do this to me at a time like this? What more could go wrong? These were all frustrating question that ran through my mind.
I was faced with a harsher reality, my sister, lying in hospital fighting for her life. What was I thinking? How dare I waste time on such trivial things as some materialistic item stolen from my car?
This twist would be major factor later, as I will explain!
Back to the issue on hand
On returning with Monica and Craig to the hospital, we discovered that not much had changed. Tracy was still critical and there was no good news about her neck. My parents arrived that morning, as did Craig’s parents. What good actors we had all become! We all convinced each other that all would be well. Tracy would be some super human and come out of this o.k. People sat around and tried to make idol conversation. It was very awkward.
To see Tracy with a tube stuffed down her throat was just too much for me. I tried to go into that room as little as possible. I guess not been the most optimistic guy around, I choked and panicked.
The day in the hospital was a blur to me, memories came and went. People from all over came to try give their support. All I wanted was doctor’s answers and explanations on how we can fix this.
As I mention, the day/s in the waiting room was all blocked out of my mind. The only memories that would stay, were the painful medical facts. By now I was really angry, frustrated and even resentful to the people that had a part in this tragedy, whether directly or in directly.
Who could I blame, where would I get answers, who would take responsibility and what next?
It was then when amongst all the emotions and activity I recall the doctors calling Craig aside. They were going through x-rays. This again pushed my adrenaline levels into the red. I noticed Craig turn from pale to white. What was the doctor possibly explaining that we never already knew?
It was then when the door opened and the doctor called my father, Monica and myself closer.
We were seated in the cubical/room and with Craig sobbing and shaking his head in denial, we all knew we were about to find out the worst.
The doctor interpreted the x-rays one at a time and explained the severity of the break. He explained what the operation had achieved on Tracy’s neck and the reasoning behind it.
When I saw an x-ray clearly showing the break in the vertebra and the thin spinal cord damage, I realized this was it! No man would be able to mend this.
To top this all we were explained explicitly how Tracy’s life would change, including ours.
Long road to recovery.
After the initial shock and acceptance of the fate of my sister, and after she was weaned off the respirator, we had to return to work. Our employers were unbelievably understanding and supportive with the news of my sister. We had unlimited time off to visit Tracy in Pretoria.
Most weekends we went up to visit Tracy. This again was very hard for me.
People would be quick to judge me on what I am about to say. But then, they were either never in my shoes or too embarrassed to come out with the truth. I would in my heart want to visit Tracy as often as possible, but in my mind I was not sure if I wanted too. I was not sure what to say or do. And most of all it frustrated to see her like this.
It took months of hard work for Tracy to get through the rehabilitation. She would weep on the phone and tell me she would better off dead. Now you please tell me how to respond in a positive way to that, especially when a small part of you at this stage wondered why she was put in this cruel situation? Maybe she was right? Was this not better for her?
Yes, you read this correctly! There were times when I agreed with Tracy’s feelings. I am honest and human!
I have never been a religious person. But somehow Monica convinced me to try doing this right and getting support from someone that could help.
Desperate and with a lot of doubt in my mind we made an appointment with our local Methodist priest. That night prior to our meeting with our priest I was thrown another “curved ball”.
My great friend Craig Schutte had tragically lost his sister in a bazaar accident, about a month before Tracy’s accident. Never having this experience before it was difficult to console and support him through this difficult time. Now he had barely got over his sisters loss (not that you ever do), when I had to phone him and tell him my sister was fighting for her life.
I told him how angry I was that someone had broken into my car and stolen stuff.
Craig went quiet and gave a nervous laugh. Confused at his reaction I asked for an explanation. He never told me this but when down in Cape Town preparing to cremate his sister, and lay her to rest. He also had mysteriously similar happenings to him.
Let me remind you what happened to me that first night in Pretoria.
My vehicle was broken into, things were removed, things casually sorted through on a bushy trail close by. I discovered this the next day.
Craig’s vehicle was broken into the day before his sister’s funeral, the hand -made box to hold his sisters ashes was removed. The next day the box was discovered by his sister’s Fiancé on a bushy trail close by.
So, one could understand that this for me was too much of a coincidence. What was the message in this?
I guess I still haven’t worked this out.
Reality sets in!
Well, after a long period, Tracy returned home. This was the first step and proof of her remarkable tenacity. She had worked hard to be back home! We were all excited and willing to support. We all had convinced ourselves that we would be there unconditionally.
Seeing Tracy at home was yet another reality check no one can prepare for. You soon realize that without the professional help from the nurses, you are not equipped to deal with this drastic change.
I would often find myself hanging back in hope that someone else would assist before I did. This was not because I was lazy or resentful. This was because I was nervous and unaccustomed to dealing with someone that couldn’t move, feed herself or go to the toilet by herself, in short a Quadriplegic!
This was something you only learn how to deal with in good time!
Thanks For Angels.
Tracy with time became amazingly independent in her own way. She has trained help that take all pressures of her personal and daily routines from the family.
The most amazing and touching thing to see, was that certain friends of hers were there for her physically, financially and spiritually. There were times that I felt left out and wished I could offer more.
Tracy would often say that she never wants to be a burden to her family or friends. This would never be, as she was would never expect or demand any assistance from them. She would make use of her caregivers. Tracy must be the most selfless individual I know. You would never feel obliged to help or assist. There are times I feel guilty that I don’t do more. Then there are times I feel thankful she doesn’t expect more.
Moment of truth.
To have a family member in this situation is not easy. It’s not something you wish on your enemy. It takes time to adapt to. The sooner you accept the fact and get on with this, the better. You may think you are on your own, and there may be times you are not sure where to get help. It is then when you will be surprised how supportive people can be. You should never be embarrassed or shy to ask for help. People generally all want to assist, but it’s human nature to pull back. I should know this, I did this many times. Tracy has raised her child Chad into a fine, normal boy. I still see visions of Chad at the age of 2, offering his mom chips at a braai, when everyone else neglected to do so. The power of words and speech is often over looked as an important tool in education. Trac being a teacher realized this and in my opinion perfected this. It still amazes me how strong she is. Sure she has her moments, wouldn’t you? Our relationship hasn’t changed a bit. We still snap at each other, we still laugh at each other and still love each other. I never feel embarrassed by her presence. I only see my sister, a mother and an inspiration to the world. I am still angry and frustrated with the whole situation, but never resentful or embarrassed to have my sister back. I am thankful she is alive, even though she’s not quite kicking.
She is my spiritual hero.
My dearest Trent, I will never stop loving you. Thank you for being in my life and for everything that you mean to me. Thank you for sharing your beautiful wife, Monica and your two gorgeous daughters, Bianca and Simone, with me. Love you all.