By Matt Male
WHEN your wife tells you to sit down and have some dinner, you do it.
But on the night of Monday, October 16 when Coral Donat left her husband Rodney to do just that at their farm in Mirboo, he ended up in hospital.
Rodney wanted to keep on working. At 6pm, he decided he wouldn’t microwave his dinner and instead got on his motorbike and made his way through four sets of gates to a tree that had fallen down in a gully.
Chainsaw in hand and boots on, he slowly made his way down the steep gully.
Rodney cut off a few tree limbs, with the intention of placing them around the stump and then having a fire another day to get rid of the tree.
On about the fourth cutting, a branch about four inches thick fell off and rolled towards him.
Rodney instinctively got out of the way, but fell backwards and resembled a ball going down a hill picking up pace before his head slammed into the flat land at the bottom of the gully.
He lied there for a minute.
“The first thing I thought was ‘I’m alive’ but I was also sh***ing myself,” he recalls, sitting at his Wonthaggi property’s kitchen table with a neck brace.
When he landed on the flat land, he heard a whip crack. But it wasn’t a whip, it was his neck.
“I moved my fingers and toes and I knew because I could move the end of my limbs, I wasn’t paralysed.”
Rodney gripped his hair with one hand to stabilise his head, stopping it from flopping around.
He didn’t have his mobile with him – not that it would have mattered, there’s no reception on their Mirboo farm.
The Angus beef farmer crawled back up the hill and grabbed his chainsaw. In immense pain which he would later describe as the worst in his life, Rodney got back on the motorbike and made his way home, having to hop off and on the bike with a broken neck opening and closing the four sets of gates.
“One paddock had hay in it, so I had to make sure that was locked up otherwise the cows would get in there.”
No-one lives near their Mirboo farm. “I could’ve tooted as much as I could and no-one would have heard me.”
He left the motorbike out the front of his house and slowly walked inside searching for his mobile phone. They don’t have a landline.
He connected the mobile to an antenna – otherwise they don’t get reception – and called his wife Coral.
“It was pointless her coming out because she was 72km away at our farm in Wonthaggi.
“I didn’t have time to say ‘I love you’ or anything. I expected the worst.”
Coral called their neighbour Steve while Rodney was on the phone to triple zero, but slurring his words, he wasn’t much use to the operator.
“I saw these lights coming up the driveway and Steve rushed in and took over the call [to triple zero].”
Rodney would later give Steve a bottle of wine for his help in saving his life.
Rodney was falling in and out of consciousness. The ambulance soon arrived and with no helicopter available, paramedics spent an hour stabilising Rodney for the drive to Latrobe Regional Hospital.
More than eight weeks later and Rodney is doing well. He’s got a soft neck brace wrapped around the broken area.
“It only comes off when I have a shower and I have to look straight ahead and just focus on something, otherwise my neck just flops around.”
A recent scan showed no evidence of brain damage. Apart from his neck, he’s got a few scabs on his arms and left leg.
For the first five weeks following the incident, he was wearing a tight neck brace.
It’s difficult to imagine what it feels like having a neck brace on, but Rodney says he averaged one and a half hour’s sleep a night.
“One of the doctors told me if I had another similar incident without the neck brace, I’d be paralysed.
“So it’s a necessary evil but you have to do it.”
He spent six weeks at Latrobe and St Vincent’s Private Hospital, and is also doing rehab at South Eastern Private Hospital.
Neurosurgeon Mr Tiew Han has been working with Rodney to get him back to full health.
Rodney sees Mr Han as such a hero that he’s also the wallpaper on his mobile.
Rodney returned home two weeks ago, to the delight of his Kelpie ‘Lucky’, glad to see his owner out of hospital.
“He was all over me like a rash,” Rodney says.
And he can’t thank his wife Coral enough for her help.
“I didn’t save my life, she did.”
Coral’s been busy running the three farms, spanning more than 600 acres, since Rodney had his accident and while also helping him out with everyday tasks.
“I should’ve just been inside eating tea,” Rodney says.
“But I just thought ‘I’ve got to go out there and cut this tree up’.
“It could’ve been put off until the next day, but I just thought it had to be done today.
“I think it’s so important for people to know that you can put things off, rather than rush them.”