Interview with Debra Avery – 6 weeks after the accident

Below is an interview with Debra Avery who is my sister.  Debra was recently involved in a brutal head on car collision.  She is currently recovering in New Plymouth Hospital.  You can read more details of her accident here.

I have previously broken one of my legs and know very well the pain involved  not only with the accident itself but with the subsequent operations, screws and plates and starting to weight bear (i.e walk) again.  What Debra is going through makes all that look like a scratch!

Read below to see how she is coping with her recovery, 6 weeks on from the accident.

Debra, on the 24th February 2012, you were involved in a horrific head-on collision.  What can you remember about the events leading upto the accident and the accident itself?

I can not remember anything about the accident at all. Apparently while I was in ICU I stated to my husband that I saw  a car coming towards me and I knew I was F_ _ _ _d. I can not remember this and only have odd memories of my stay in ICU. The last memory that I have of that day is when Paul [Ed’s note: Paul Avery is Debra’s husband who won the world shearing championships in  Norway in 2008] and I were at Toko School getting ready for the school gala. Paul had been asked to shear two sheep by the fundraising committee as a demonstration. Prior to their shearing, people had to pay to guess the weight of the wool once it was shorn off.

My last memory prior to the accident was securing a shearing plant up on a truck deck so that he could shear the sheep when needed(all OSH approved of course). After this apparently I drove home and collected some cup cakes that I had baked to take to school to put in the cake silent auction. I can not remember this and it was on this trip that the accident happened.

Can you give us a run down on the injuries you sustained during the accident?

Right leg – femur broken 7 times and rodded(mush as quoted by my surgeon)

Left leg – femur broken once(compound fracture) and rodded.

Left leg – knee cap(Patella) smashed and removed. Open wound where bones pierced skin, not skin grafted, doctors decided to let it heal naturally.

Between 5-8 ribs broken on right side and right lung punctured.

Head injury from impact, facial injuries – eye swollen shut, broken nose, teeth through bottom lip, bottom tooth chipped and 3 teeth numb.

The following are problems that have arisen since the accident but are directly related to it.

Bowel problems – lack of feeling/ constipation, if doesn’t resolve will be referred to general surgeon.

Memory loss and poor concentration.

Lower back pain and sciatica type pain shooting down my left leg.

Hyper granulation tissue in left knee wound – currently treated with nitrous oxide so wound not yet healed(6 weeks post accident)

What stage are you at in your recovery now?and what is the plans for repairing your legs?

My recovery has been pretty good until now. Things are progressing still or so the doctors tell me.

I spend the majority of the day in bed. In the past week I have begun to transfer myself to a wheelchair, using a banana board to lift my upper body across on. I have to have my left leg secure in a brace and it can be bent to 40 degrees. I have to manually move this leg as it currently can not move itself at all. I have been doing exercises 5 times daily and have fairly good movement with my right leg but currently am not allowed to weight bear on it at all.

I can also now transfer independently to the commode chair. This has been one of the biggest challenges for me. The total loss of privacy! It sucks, so being able to pull myself around my bed and into the toilet and then have a shower without assistance is rewarding.

Twice a day I am using the walking frame and walking about 10 meters. Sounds great, but my left leg is secure in the frame with no bend at all. I have to hold my right leg off the ground so not to weight bear(I asked the Physio to tie it up to my clothes but she said sorry we aren’t allowed to restrain patients!) I have to hop/shuffle on my left leg, all my body weight is on the handles and arm rest of the frame, as I do not put much weight on my leg yet due to the pain from the break.

Debra on life support in intensive care the day after the crash.

When do you think you may be able to walk freely again?

I would hate to predict when I can walk freely again due to the severity of both legs. Today the doctors explained to me that the left leg is only allowed to be mobilised very slowly due to the number of internal stitches and if it was bent before proper healing occurred then the stitches are likely to pull apart.

 I have yet to put any pressure on the right leg so that’s unknown.

 I have heard the time frame of a year being discussed before things are back to a comfortable standard. It’s just a wait and see game but I would imagine it will be a very long time before I and drafting sheep, walking hills spraying ragwort, sorting bulls in the yards or feeding silage to cattle from the trailer.

What is the most painful injury? And what’s the most uncomfortable or miserable thing about being bed ridden?

The most painful injury I now have has is my left leg. The break, which is just above my knee has formed callouses, which in turn then form bone. The muscles have attached themselves to this newly formed tissue and every time I bend my knee or tighten my muscles this causes the alot of pain.The knee went through hell and was washed out  3 days after my 7 hour leg reconstruction surgery. All the quad muscles have healing scar tissue from incisions, which now has to be stretched as my leg was kept straight for such a long time. I am able to bend the knee in a brace to 40 degrees. In order to do this I need to take strong pain relief 40minutes prior to exercise.

I think the most frustrating thing about being bed ridden is the unknown . I get very frustrated about why the accident occurred at all. I now get very frustrated about feeling so good yet not being able to mobilise on two useless legs. I know they will get better but to what degree no one can tell me. It will just take time and patience. When I look into the future, will I be able to do the farming duties that I have previously done – at the moment I’d say definitely not, but who knows!

What do you miss the most from your ‘normal life’ pre-Feb 24th? Has this incident changed the way you see life in anyway?

What I miss the most is the independence that I had. I never relied on anyone for anything and lived a full and active life. I made the most of every opportunity available and loved to be involved in community events. I certainly miss my family but they have been great and visit and communicate daily.

Has the accident changed the way I see life?  Not really. My motto has always been –  Live life to its fullest, love and enjoy what you do  and those around you and don’t stress about the little things. The accident has certainly given me a new respect for rural communities and how they pull together and help when situations arise.

People say you are fortunate not to have died in the crash. Do you think anything or anyone in particular saved you?

When I see the photos I don’t know how I did not die. One of those things never to be understood I guess. The doctors also say that I was lucky not to rupture my femoral artery. Considering I broke both femurs rather badly, I was double lucky there. I wouldn’t say that anything in particular saved me but I guess it wasn ‘t my time to go.

I believe in karma, so I guess what comes around goes around. By that I mean I like to get involved in things in my families lives and in the community. You get out of life what you put into it. I wonder if all the giving I have done hasn’t somehow paid off. I don’t know though and I never will.

Throughout this ordeal, the rescuers and medical staff and your family have all talked about how strong you have been both through the crash but also in you recovery stage. How do you keep your motivation and your spirits up?

Well, I have absolutely no recollection of the crash and I hope that it doesn’t return! Apparently I swore and screamed the whole time that I was trapped. I think I gave the fire brigade a hard time because I couldn’t figure out why they wouldn’t get me out of the car and unfortunately due to the head injury I guess I couldn’t remember what they told me on a regular basis.

I certainly wouldn’t say I’ve been strong the whole time. In the early stages that I can remember-week 3 I think when I was moved to ward 4, little things would get me. Like a photo or a message from the kids but on the whole, things were fine. I don’t see the point of getting upset – it only gives you a headache then they may refer me to the clinical psychologist so I like to avoid that!

Actually I can remember feeling pretty gutted one day when I’d just moved to Ward 4. I asked Mr Hadlow, my surgeon what was wrong with me and he gave me a run down. I might add he’d probably done this before but this was the first I could remember. My right leg was not in a cast or brace like the left due to it being rodded. So I was totally unaware there was a problem with it. When he told me that the right was like mush and broken 7 times my stomach kind of did a flip and wanted to vomit.

I figure there isn’t much point feeling sorry for yourself so I may as well get on with things and keep busy. I do my exercises regularly and the ward I’m in is so busy there isn’t many quiet times through the day. Grant bought me a net book and this has been so therapeutic and valuable for me. I had not had much use on face book prior to the accident but this has been great to help keep me in touch with my friends and especially my family(and keep me sane).

The Taranaki Rescue Helicopter was sent out to the crash scene to get you to hospital and the help you needed so urgently. What are your thoughts on this service?

Absolutely brilliant service that saves many lives. I think that more so rurally, this service is invaluable and an absolute necessity. Unfortunately I can’t remember any of my ride to the hospital which is probably a good thing. [Ed’s note:  The Taranaki Rescue Helicopter is also very active in saving tourist’s lives – especially those who get into difficulty climbing Mt Taranaki. John Foord’s ‘Axe on Everest 2012’ is raising money for this wonderful service, click here to learn more]

Debra thanks for answering these questions.  We are very proud of  you and the strength you have shown through this experience.  Many positive thoughts are flowing your way for your recovery.

If any readers have messages of support for Debra please feel free to add them as comments at the bottom of this post.

Posted on April 7, 2012, in Everest 2012, Interviews. Bookmark the permalink. 7 Comments.

  1. Joanne McDuff


    So good to hear that you are moving forward and managing to maintain a positive attitude. I’m not sure I (or many) would be so strong under the circumstances.
    We look forward to the next update and continue to send positive thoughts your way.

    Take care

    Jo & Chris


  2. You are amazing. Keep us all updated. We’re pulling for you.

    All the best – Lexy


  3. Hi Debra,

    We are all so proud of you on how you managed to stay so strong and positive during this crisis. You are truly an inspiration to us. We are all rooting for you.

    Love, Stephanie Rawlinson


  4. Kate (Isadora) Smith

    I am an Everest follower and two days ago I discovered your brother through his beautifully written updates re the expedition.I decided to read all his past blogs and of course I came upon your plight.Your lovely brother has managed to make me laugh and cry in the same hour. Your family sounds very much like ours.We are the older generation having four married children (three boys & a girl) with nine grandchildren. I was a physical education teacher and a very out doory person, sadly I suffered a back injury and after four failed back operations I am able to walk around the house and move all my muscles but I suffer a great deal of pain and have to take morphine each day.I know you must have a long road ahead but I feel sure you will have a happy ending and each month when you look back you will see, with the help of your loving family how much better you are than the last one.As your brother says we must live each day as if it were our last and make the best of what we have.I wish you all the best for the future and hope your brother will let us all know how you are progressing.Meanwhile I will be following Axe on his Everest trail. Kate (UK)


  5. Hi Debra,
    You don’t know me and I only know Axe a little bit from the SCC rugby section where my husband Rick played for a few years…….many years ago!
    Thank you for posting the interview…you are one tough Kiwi Bird! I am allowed to say that as I am also a New Zealander. Honestly, you are inspirational and we are very happy that you are making such great progress. Keep strong (and tough) I have no doubts with your attitude and determination, outlook on life and the obvious love of your family you will be back on your farm sooner than they all think.
    Love Susie Burridge


  6. Dear Debra, I came across this blog purely by accident and was so shocked that you have been involved in such a terrible accident. I know you are a strong person and you have such a wonderful supportive family, so we wish you well in your recovery. Your mum is a tough lady and you are made of the same stuff so hang in there and take each day as it comes. Love from Wendy and Karl-Heinz Zelt


  1. Pingback: Grant Rawlinson’s Interview with Debra – 6 weeks after the accident « Taranaki Rescue Helicopter Trust

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