You get pretty stoked when you beat an All Black captain at tennis. The All Blacks are one of the most feared teams in the world, and rightfully so; our national rugby team has dominated the sport for the last 65 years.
To be fair, this one isn’t at his peak. At 86, John Tanner is one of the oldest All Blacks still alive. But he’s still a competitor. Like any great captain, John quickly figures out your weaknesses – any time you get out of position on court he’ll send a pinpoint scorcher down the line. You have to take your chances, stay on your toes, and go for the drop shot as much as possible. If your hips were as bad as his, you can bet he’d do the same.
A wisdom tooth infection from Mexico came back to haunt with a vengeance last month. The tooth was removed here in the Gold Coast in a painless but rather brutish operation; even the surgeon’s assistant, surely an experienced witness to the battle of man vs mouth, had to look away for minutes at a time.
In a stroke of bad luck, the swelling and trismus (reduced jaw movement) returned in March. I was rushed into emergency surgery at the local hospital upon arrival – an abscess was dangerously close to my airway, and growing by the hour – and wouldn’t wake up from the operation and subsequent induced coma for the next 24 hours.
Almost 200,000 people have watched two videos of my dive to the sea floor on the Pacific Island of Niue in 2010 (you can watch them here and here if you like). I had no idea until a dive buddy asked if he could license the footage to a Discovery Channel subsidiary a couple of months ago.
The migrating humpback whales were so close that day that you could feel the deep vibrato of their calls resonating in your chest and fins on the descents. As David Attenborough might say, it is quite spectacular to be alone in thought, ‘flying’ through the water in a silence only broken by a song more felt than heard, from some of Earth’s largest and most magnificent creatures.
Unfortunately I ran out of air on the ascent, passed out briefly on the surface, and in the process sparked some sort of online outrage. Matt Baker, a YouTube member from the Unites States since 7 April 2012, tells me: “maby next tiem ur dumb hillbilly ass wont wake up.” I’d like to say the footage is going to appear on Blue Planet - but I’m told it’s going to be on Seconds from Disaster instead.
The doctors had to get pin-hole camera into my trachea (throat) through my smaller-than-pin-hole right nostril, because my mouth wouldn’t open wide enough to intubate me in the standard fashion. The lead surgeon chipped away like a lead digger in The Great Escape. Although I was locally anesthetised, the forced creaking and thonking sounded and felt like half an hour of getting punched in the face.
I woke up a couple of times after they finally put me under, utterly confused and undersedated: the ICU nurses told me that I had needed 150 times more sedative than some patients. I remember feeling like I was in a red-lit photography room as I switched in and out of consciousness. With a breathing tube in my throat, unable to speak, and seeing shapes and colours rather than faces and forms, the only way I could communicate was by grabbing a doctor’s pen and chart, scribbling on it (‘WTF?!’ and ‘I need: books, magazines, etc’) and gesturing at the tube.
When someone did yank the tube out the next morning, my previously suppressed cough reflex kicked in to expel the built up mucus. I was weak, and it felt like I was drowning. I thought at that moment that I was going to die.
The staff in the intensive care unit have a wicked sense of humour, but one doctor just seemed out of touch. He came up two or three times while I was in ICU wanting to talk to me about my previous history of deep vein thrombosis, a serious condition no doubt, but one completely unrelated to the infection and hospitalisation. “This is serious”, he would say to me, “I mean we’re talking about some serious stuff here”. Alright man I thought to myself. I’ve got two IVs pumping antibiotics into my hands, I’m getting fed through a tube in my nose, I’m coming off some fairly heavy drugs and I’m peeing into a bag as we speak. I hear what you’re saying but I’ve got some other stuff on my mind at the moment.
The hospital discharged me after two nights in ICU and five days total. It was at times terrifying and painful, but at others pretty entertaining. I’m very grateful to the staff at Southport Hospital in Surfer’s Paradise. But I hope to never see them ever again.