Learning hand controls
My injury happened on 26 March 2014 when I was shot in a front yard in Merrylands. The bullet entered my spine and now I am paraplegic.
After spending time at the Intensive Care Unit at Westmead Hospital I was transferred over to the Royal North Shore Hospital Spinal Ward for nine weeks. I transferred to Royal Rehab for rehabilitation in its Spinal Unit at the end of June 2014.
After 30 years driving road trains, trailers and prime movers around Australia, I thought that it was not going to happen anymore. With the help of Royal Rehab Driver Training, Assessment and Rehab I spoke to SCIA (Spinal Cord Injuries Australia) and applied for a grant to get the ball rolling for the assessment. So basically I had to be assessed by one of the occupational therapists and driving instructors to assess my coordination, balance and eye sight. To go from a road-train licence to a class C vehicle was pretty daunting but they made the transition so much simpler.
I did that assessment and they took me out for a drive towards Putney and down to Kissing Point Wharf down by Parramatta River. I was driving for five minutes and thought… this is different. I had to learn to use hand controls: push down for a brake and pull up for acceleration. After about five minutes of this the transition was easy. The instructor Chris said I was pretty good and asked me to drive on Victoria Road. It was a bit daunting but with the professionalism and help they gave me, driving was quite simple. We went out for about an hour or so on that initial assessment.
Afterwards I did about four more lessons and went over to Five Dock Roads and Maritime Services to do my test. I had John as my instructor who was professional and explained things well and trained me for being in control of the vehicle for the test. I now have my licence.
The whole idea of getting back to driving is to get back a degree of normality and independence. Once you are back on the road you still can contribute to society in small ways by driving or doing volunteer work. Driving gives you independence and a degree of normality, albeit different.
I purchased a 2012 sports station wagon and had that modified by PME (Problem Management Engineering) at Hornsby. I have the push-pull hand controls that was funded by SCIA. I also had a Wymo (a lift for the manual wheelchair) put on the roof because of my age and conditions of my shoulder. When I transfer into the driver’s seat from the manual chair, there is a little crane that comes down to hook onto the wheelchair and whack it on the roof… making it easy.
Listen to Graeme the day he passed his driving test! (interviewed by Chris Smith on 2GB 873AM)