One of my selfish and internal fears I had as a wife of a new quadriplegic was the idea of never seeing my Australian family again. Travelling to and from Australia with kids had always presented its challenges, but adding a quadriplegic to the mix was more than I thought I could handle…
“Arriving at Sargood after 18 hours of flying and 24 hours of travelling was surreal –– calm, peaceful and bright with energy. We were greeted with warm hearts and open hands to help…” Cassy Campbell.
The experience that each and every family endures after a spinal cord injury is unique in every way. One of the first things you start to learn while in ICU, the trauma ward and then finally rehab, is that no two injuries are the same. When you look around you, nothing makes sense. The guy next door breaks his C3 and walks out. The lady through the curtain breaks her lumbar and is complete and unable to move from the injury down. Before it happens to your family, you have no idea what injury level is, the incomplete or complete status, and what ASEA scores mean. You look for hope in every twitch of muscle and nerve, hoping it’s the start of something returning, only to find out it’s a spasm. But as time goes on we all face the stark reality of the injuries and what it will mean for the life our family will live from now on. Everything you did as a family changes drastically including travel and time away from home.
One of my selfish and internal fears I had as a wife of a new quadriplegic was the idea of never seeing my Australian family again. Travelling to and from Australia with kids had always presented its challenges, but adding a quadriplegic to the mix was more than I thought I could handle. We can’t afford full time caregiving for me to leave for the two weeks I would need to see my family. Booking accommodation and travelling locally had taught me a few things already about the challenges of travelling with a spinal cord injury. The questions raced through my mind… how can we fly that far without risking a pressure sore? What if the accommodation wasn’t suitable? How can I enjoy the holiday if I’m on deck caregiving for the entire trip while we leave behind our caregivers who give me breaks at home? As a homesick Australian who needed my family more than ever after this accident, I was feeling depressed and without options.
In July of 2017, I was beginning to break under the financial and emotional stress of two and a half years’ of caregiving, damage control for my family and learning to be there for my best friend in a totally different way. I needed to go home to my family, one way or another. I needed to be surrounded by the love only my own family and my mum could provide. I found some cheap flights and decided the rest would have to fall into place as we booked and planned in the coming months. I hadn’t done the math about how much it would cost to stay in various accommodation styles. Air BnB, hotels, borrowed friends places… but none of it was affordable or suitable for our needs for a month. What had I done!? Booked tickets and not able to afford to actually pay for the extensive accommodation requirements we needed to be safe and comfortable with Forrest’s injury. One of the decisions that every family makes in our home province is holidays or wheelchairs and adaptive devices? Our province in Canada gives no aid for equipment, therapy or wheelchairs so it’s often our financial priority to keep Forrest in good equipment so he can be comfortable and increasingly independent.
When talking to my mum about my options she mentioned a new place opening in Collaroy for spinal cord injury folk to stay and play. I had never heard of place a like this before. The idea of a purpose designed complex with surfing or snorkelling was intriguing to me. I’ll admit I wasn’t sure whether we could afford Sargood either but I enquired anyway. Through the enormously generous funding program offered at Sargood, things came together for us on this trip.
As we left Canada and boarded the plane, I felt for the first time that I didn’t have to worry about the place were sleeping next. It was made just for us and we were confident for the first time ever about leaving the security of our comfortable and adapted home. It’s a fear that I believe most people with spinal cord injury feel when they leave home — an undeniable anxiety of giving up all of their hard work and independence when they travel.
Arriving at Sargood after 18 hours of flying and 24 hours of travelling was surreal –– calm, peaceful and bright with energy. We were greeted with warm hearts and open hands to help. To be honest, it was difficult for me as a mum, wife, caregiver and stubbornly independent woman to accept the wonderful help that was being offered. Forrest was exhausted and I was just happy to be home on Collaroy Beach; a very special place to me already. Collaroy was a second home to me as a child – where my grandmother taught me to swim in the kids’ pool and loved to take us when she lived at Collaroy Plateau. We were home and we could finally relax after two and a half years of adjusting to our new world.
The building and location was breathtaking with gorgeous views in every direction. The community kitchen was ideal in its design and community feel. The rooms were modern, comfortable and spacious with automation of all of the essential amenities. From adjustable height kitchen tops, adjustable beds for easy transfer and care, automated windows and blinds, and doors with easy opening features. All of the things we lose when we travel were here, allowing us to live as if we were in our adapted home but it was way nicer!
What an amazing concept!
We took a day to adjust and they had us signed up for a swimming session in the pool. Swimming had not been an option for us in the preceding 12 months as our local and only pool had no wheelchair access after the parking lot to entrance ramp was condemned as unsafe. This was really exciting for us and nerve wracking at the same time. So the time came and we met Seb and Sally. Seb was a bright, young guy with a gentle energy that immediately instilled a sense of confidence that everything was going to be great. It’s hard to describe how good it is to not have to constantly explain, educate and direct people on how best to handle Forrest and his injury. Everything we usually have to go over, Seb went over with us. Wow. That meant the world to us. He got it — all of it without us having to explain anything.
Seb, Anthony and Sally became our crew for the coming weeks. Swimming went well so surfing was next. Forrest was pumped to give it a try and it was all he had been thinking about for months since we booked. We arrived at the beach and nerves were palpable on our end but we knew it was all going to be fine.
Forrest went out with Seb on the jet-propelled board and caught his first wave. The look on his face was magical and it was all too much for me. I broke down in tears of happiness and I couldn’t stop crying. These were my first tears of joy since this crazy part of our life started.
We have invested every emotional penny we had to recovery and to get to this point in the game. We were finally living again not just recovering. We could just be…. relaxed, free, us again as a family without the stresses of the unpredictability that comes with disabled travel.
Over the next 10 days, we and our children met other courageous and brave families who were experiencing their own realities and life with a spinal cord injury. We felt normal for once and part of a new family. I’m not going to call it a new normal, because life with a SCI is far from normal, but we felt understood and didn’t need to explain things to those around us.
To all of the tireless work that goes into creating this space and for the efforts that went into saving the land, fund-raising, designing and building this heavenly place, we are forever grateful. Sargood is filled with caring and loving professionals who genuinely care about the guests and their lives.
Knowing we can come to this special place means that coming home for me is a reality and not just a fear. Home is not place but a feeling you have when you’ve arrived at a place of peace.
Thank you Sargood… your impact on our life will last eternally.