Why do bad things happen to good people?

On Friday night I returned home to Taranaki in New Zealand to visit my family for the weekend.  It was a whirlwind visit to say goodbye before leaving for Everest in 30 days time.

My mother picked me up from the airport and drove me home.  As we reached home and I walked in the door to greet my father, he in turn greeted us with the news that my older sister Debra had just been in a car accident.  What? Where? When? How? Is she ok? A thousand questions, no answers…

We immediately drove to the police station in Stratford to try and learn exactly what had happened to her.  The policeman who had attended the accident scene by chance had just returned to the station.  He updated us what he knew.  Debra had just been involved in a serious head on collision.  She was trapped in her car.  She had to be cut from the car by the fire dept.  She was badly injured.  She was being flown to New Plymouth hospital by the emergency rescue helicopter. She was lucky to be alive.

She was lucky.  I kept repeating these words over and over as Mum and I drove to the hospital.  Each time I repeated them, a wave of relief rolled over me.  As we walked into the emergency department and were shown into Debra’s bed, any feelings that she was lucky immediately dissolved.  Lying on the bed was a broken and shattered human being.   Not any human being but my sister.   Who had nursed me as a child.  Who had come to visit and console me when I first went to boarding school and was crying with home sickness.  Who let me drive her car before I ever had a driver’s license.  Who had us to her place for every Christmas.  Who made me godfather of her daughter.

The extent of Debra’s horrific injuries became apparent as the anesthetist prepared to sedate her for emergency surgery.  Two broken femur’s,  a compound fracture of her tibia, punctured lungs, multiple broken ribs,  concussion, dried blood caked her face, eye swollen shut, a knee joint completely smashed into a raw open bloody pulp, massive internal bleeding, and whatever else had happened to her internally which we could not yet tell.  How could I say she was lucky to be lying there in this state?  Sure she did not die in the crash, however to say she was lucky seemed abhorrent.

Debra nursing me when I am 2.5 months old. My other sister Helen on the left.

Debra is the second oldest in our family of four children.  Trained as a nurse, married with three beautiful children, Debra has devoted her life to caring for her family and to caring for others.  At the time of her accident she was delivering cakes she had baked to her daughter’s school so they could sell them to raise funds.  She was less than 2km from her home.  On a stretch of road she had driven daily for many years.    As a farmer’s wife, working all day on the farm or in the woolshed, cooking and preparing meals for multitudes of family members and farm workers, caring for children and taking them to and from school/ activities, equally adept in a school committee meeting, handling a chainsaw,  on the tennis court, in a nurses uniform, or preparing the most beautiful food you could imagine, she is one of the good people in the world.  She definitely did not deserve this.

As she was wheeled away into the operating room,  she briefly focused and recognized her family. “oh – there is a an email on my computer with a scholarship form I need to fill in for you” she whispered through her swollen lips.  Even in this state, her body broken and bleeding,  Debra was still thinking of others.

I sat with Mum, her husband Paul and children, Johanna and David while she was operated on.  I watched their shocked and  pale faces.  They acted incredibly bravely, Debra would have been proud of them.  I could not help but think that the one person most cutout to handle this situation, the one person who would take control of everyone and know exactly what to do, was Debra herself.

I feel so extremely sorry for Debra.  A sorry so deep it is physically painful.  Like someone is reaching into my chest and trying to tear out my heart.  All our family and Debra’s friends who are old enough to comprehend the situation feel the same.

The next day I visited the accident scene with my mother.  I needed to see the site.  I needed to understand what had happened.  I needed to see her car.  I wanted to talk to the emergency personnel involved who had performed such a wonderful job to save her.  I drove along the road just as she would have driven.  I took photo’s and video’s and replayed them over and over.  I needed to try and work out how and why this had happened.   It left me angry.   Not with anyone in particular. But with life and its outcomes.

We returned to hospital to visit Debra in the intensive care ward.  She was on life support.  Her two femurs had been set with steel rods.  Her knee cap had to be removed completely as it was smashed  into so many tiny pieces.  She had needed three blood transfusions.  But she was alive.  All afternoon and into the evening  we sat with her as she drifted in and out of consciousness.  Her friends started calling and phones were ringing non-stop.  I was eventually  left alone with her for a brief period.  As she lay there, the ward suddenly went quiet, and the last rays of the sun briefly shone on her face.  She looked beautiful and peaceful lying there in her drug induced sleep.  I have never felt so proud of her in all my life.  For the person she is, for the life she has lead, for her strength.  My challenge of climbing Everest, something which had previously loomed so large in my life suddenly seemed so pathetic compared to the challenge she is battling and the courage she is displaying.

I said goodbye to Debra tonight as I left fly back to Singapore.  I kissed her forehead as she lay asleep then turned and walked quickly out of the intensive care ward without looking back.  It was awful leaving, like I was running away.  I felt guilty and terribly sad.  I don’t think Debra would have left me in the same circumstance.

I still struggle to understand why this happened.  Many people are.  The famous mountaineer Edward Whymper once said:  “Climb if you will, but remember that courage and strength are naught without prudence, and that a momentary negligence may destroy the happiness of a lifetime. Do nothing in haste, look well to each step, and from the beginning think what may be the end”.  I think this also applies to life in general.   Because life is definitely not fair.   And we must savor and appreciate the time we have with our friends, sisters, brothers, fathers, mothers, children, husbands and wives.  For at anytime, an act so simple as driving down the road to deliver a cake, can be the end.

I wish to acknowledge the wonderful work of the Toko and Stratford volunteer fire brigade services, the ambulance staff, the emergency helicopter crew, the police, and the numerous bystanders who all helped out at the accident scene to save Debra’s life.

Posted on February 27, 2012, in Accidents, Everest 2012. Bookmark the permalink. 53 Comments.

  1. Holy cow Grant, so sorry to hear. If there’s anything you wnat me to do let me know, you know I’m not far from the hospital here in NP.


  2. My dear friend Grant, I can fully sympathise and understand where you are at, I went through a similar experience when my parents were tragically killed in a car accident back in 1994. I hope and pray Debra fights through to recovery. I guess this gives yet another inspiration for your pending Everest climb, do it for Debra! Thinking of you and praying for you at this time.

    Mark Peters


  3. Hi Granto,
    How are u holding up? Will keep Debra in our prayers. By the way you described her…she’ll surely be strong and determine to make a full recovery. It’ll take a long rehab period to walk again but I know she can do it…all nurses are tough!
    Hugs to u, Mo


  4. Mate so sorry to hear about your sister, I hope she makes a full recovery I know what your going through its horrible to have family in hospital and you feel helpless, I can only hope she makes a full recovery and will bounce back she sounds like a wonderful person. Lots of love mate



  5. Dear Grant, What can we say? Thank you for sharing your thoughts with us, I for one was very touched by the love and respect you have for your sister. Hang in there and I wish Debra a speedy recovery! She knows, I’m sure that she has a fantastic family backing her!


  6. Hi Axe

    Really sorry to hear about your sisters accident – I hope she makes a full recovery mate.

    All the best.



  7. Grant, I was just about to email you re: guests for your March 7th talk when I saw this post in my inbox. Sending you and your family lots of love and well wishes. Thank you for sharing this with your blog followers. What a terrible and unbelievable shock. It is the raw emotion shown and care you have for your family that makes you the wonderful person you are. If your sister is anything like you (and I know she is), she’s a fighter and will get through this. Keep us updated. See you soon in Singapore. Lots of love, Philippa and Blair


  8. Granty Boo

    So sorry to hear about Debra’s accident and her horrific injuries, but thankful she is alive.
    Please pass on our love and best wishes to your Mum and Dad and of course to Paul and family.

    Love to all



  9. Ngaire, Jack, Tony, Helen & Grant, Our hearts and love go out to you all. Even though we have been in touch earlier, Grant, your graphic blog has moved me to write in response. I sit here now,with tearful eyes recalling the wonderful times we have shared with each of you and of course Debra too . What a great lady she has grown into and we know in our hearts with your support she will meet her latest challenge in life too. You all are a remarkable family and I would like to think we know you as well as anyone .Grant when you have finished mountaineering turn your hand to literature you sure have a future there. Be assured our hearts and thoughts are with you as always but even a little closer at this time. All our love Gay & Don


  10. Sorry to hear your awful news Axe, I’m sure Debra would want you to go on with your Everest conquest.

    I do wish her a speedy recovery



  11. Axe
    Thinking of you and your family. Big hugs and kisses
    The Shortys xxx


  12. Dreadful news, Axe – thinking of you and your family. Climb the big mountain for Debra and get back safely.

    All the best,



  13. Tragic news. My thoughts go out to you and your family. I am sure Debra will want you to get to the top of Everest and return safely.
    All the best


  14. Axe, I was deeply moved by your heartfelt blog about the tragic news of your sister. I just want to say that having read the comments from your friends, I can only concur. No doubt, Debra has your tenacity and strength of fortitude to make a complete recovery from this horrific ordeal. Experience tells me that life deals blows more often than not to strengthen our resolve to get things done. We’re not always aware at the time of such tragedy and trauma that we usually evolve with greatly strengthened character. My thoughts are with you
    and your family. Very best wishes for a successfu summit attempt.Will be with you all the way up AND down! –xRay .


  15. Wow, sorry to hear the news Grant. What a lovely tribute above. My thoughts are with you and the family.


  16. Grant
    Sorry to hear this bad news about your sister, I was very moved by your thoughtful words and story. My thoughts are with you and your family having met most of them I could picture them in my head reading this. It is a terrible thing to happen at any time but I’m sure it made you stronger being with them at this very sad and emotional time.

    Take care on Everest and take thought from your wise words and comments of some of the great people you have met over the years. Remember life is more important than a mountain and life can be taken from us at any time. Look forward to catching up for beer when you “knock the bastard off”.

    Brad & Kate Sydney


  17. John & Laureen McElroy

    What lovely words you have for your sister, Debra.
    Have spoken to Ngaire, & it was good to here Debra was now stable.
    Debra will have some challenges in the weeks ahead, however in true Rawlinson tradition, we know she will make a good recovery.

    Our best wishes to you Grant & Stephanie, to Jack &Ngairie, Tony,Helen & familys.

    Special thoughts to Paul, & family.

    We offer our home to all family members, whether for a bed, or just a freshen up, we are only a few minutes from the hospital.

    Kindest regards to all,

    John & Laureen McElroy.

    Phone 067587787


  18. Hi Grant,

    Thank you for your report on Debra. I was shocked when my Mum called me to inform me of this very bad news. My best wishes go to Debra and I am thinking of the whole Rawlinson family and Avery family at this time. I know that Debra is a fighter and got a massive heart so if anyone is going to recover fully then this will Debra.

    You may of possibly met me when I was little. Debra used to work for my parents Duncan and Sandra Blue when they were Shearing contractors (Paul did to).

    Three weeks ago I helped Debra and the kids in the support crew for Paul in the Coast to Coast as I live in Christchurch nowadays. We were sitting on the side of the river bank waiting for Paul on the Kayak leg. Debra said that you were going to climb Everest. All the best, you will do awesome. Paul did so well in the Coast to Coast I am so proud of him.

    Take care, all the best.

    Kind regards



    • Hello Nicola, I don’t recall you personally but I definitely recall your parents! Thanks for the message also – I have relayed it to Mum to pass to Debra. She will definitely like to here these nice messages of support. Hope to meet you in person one day, I was actually in ChCh two weeks ago walking around the centre city and I also feel sorry for you people living there. You also have a ‘mountain to climb’ in the re-build of the city. All the best and thanks again! Regards, Grant


  19. Rossco (Toko Fire Brigade)

    Hi Axe, I was one of the guy’s that helped your Sister out of the car, and believe me she was far too strong and stubborn to let this get in the way for too long. I was holding her hand before she went into the chopper, and she’s one strong bugger! wishing her and all of you the best wishes during the recovery.


    • Hi Rossco, Thanks for the note and also a huge thanks for helping out at the scene. You guys did a great job. Please pass our heartfelt thanks onto the rest of the Toko fire crew also on behalf of the Avery and Rawlinson family.


  20. Dear Grant,

    Sorry to hear that! I remember her giving me rugs to clean my shoes after the farm tour. Indeed she was caring otherwise she shouldn’t have noticed my shoes!! Well I have no words to express how I felt reading it. I always believe and preach that every bad thing happens in our life for a good reason! And I always say to myself that this bad thing has happened to me but it could have been worse. Well it is easy to say than to endure the difficult time! I hope and pray that she will recover sooner than expected and will be stronger when she is back in action.

    Take care and good luck with your climbing the highest peak in the world.




  21. Hi Grant

    I have known Debra for a few years through our girls’ rep hockey. My husband was the Consultant Orthopaedic surgeon who spent the night fixing her up. I popped in and said hello to her when I was up at the hospital yesterday. She is looking really well, sitting up and chatting etc. I said to her that she was lucky as I don’t usually let my husband stay out all night with a woman!



  22. Was a bad bad accident and john and I are so sorry to hear it was Debra. the community is doing their bit, baking and cooking for the family. She has such huge support. I heard last, that she was getting a wheelchair with wheels! so seems like good progess which is great to hear.


  23. I cant find adequate words to express my feelings of absolute amazement at what an incredibly strong, close family you are. Life is put into perspective – I shall live for today, learn from yesterday & hope for tomorrow. Families like yours, make our world a better place.


  24. reading this was up lifting as I to come from the Naki hope all goes well with your sister Debra and hope your climb went awesomely 🙂 thanks for sharing your story ..


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