I was involved in a fatal car crash


Photo: Carles Allende

On August 24 last year, I was involved in a fatal rollover in Alice Springs. I had been working in Aboriginal communities as a nurse with the trachoma (eye disease) program.

I had met Simon and we were going away for our first weekend together. I had returned to Melbourne, but flew back to Alice to meet him and head up the Stuart Highway to Katherine. We were going to visit the hot springs. He was 45 and I was 46, and both of us were separated with children.

The Nissan Navara was packed with champagne, olives and overnight bags. It was mildly warm so I wound down my window as we headed out of Alice.

As we chatted about 10 kilometres out of Alice, a road train came into sight. Simon joked about my hatred of them.


The road was now straight and Simon started to pass it. I asked him how he was going to do it. We were towing a car on a tandem trailer and it felt heavy.

We got halfway past the road train when Simon said, ''Shit.'' We swerved off the highway. I blacked out as we tumbled in the air, rolling over and over with the trailer and car behind us. We had clipped the road train with the trailer. I woke upright, Simon's eyes rolled back. He did not survive. I screamed as I was pulled through the window of the car. My left arm lay limp, barely pulsating. It had fallen through the open window.

Admitted to Alice Springs Hospital, I was sent to theatre to clean the arm. I was then flown to the Royal Adelaide Hospital trauma unit. They told me they weren't sure if the arm could be saved. They would need to take grafts from my legs. I had beautiful long, slender legs. I told the surgeons to cut my arm off and leave my legs alone. They refused to do that. The operation took 17 hours.

I spent three weeks at the Royal Adelaide, with family and friends visiting. The stay was like a nightmare. I was admitted to the trauma unit, an old ward not dissimilar to the wards I trained on as a nurse 25 years ago at the Alfred Hospital in Melbourne.

My friends said I was confused for the first week. My head had hit the side of the car when we rolled. I kept telling the doctors they had the wrong Rosemary Thomas. There was another Rosemary Thomas in Alice Springs. I told them to check the medical notes, that they'd made a mistake.

The nights were the worst.

My friends and family had gone back to their hotels, the nursing staff were busy and I was lying alone with a mangled left arm; legs bandaged like a mummy. I would wake in the middle of the night with my heart racing, sweating and almost vomiting. How was I going to cope? After 10 days I was allowed to sit out of bed. It was the first step to recovery. The next day I stood up with the physio and then took steps down the ward. I was soon able to get to the lower floors in a wheelchair for my first latte in weeks. Then came my first shower sitting on a shower chair.

I cried a lot, with the door shut and under the covers. At times the tears just fell, pouring down my face until there were no more. Sometimes they still do.

The surgeons were blunt, they had to be. They would bring teams of doctors and medical students into my room and talk about me. I wanted to tell them that I really didn't want to be there and I did have a name. The nurses were kinder. They told me I would get over this. I didn't believe them. They told me they'd seen worse. The pastoral care worker was my saviour. She understood and gave me books about other people in similar situations who did recover. She would say a prayer. I'm not terribly religious, but it helped. I have kept in touch and hope it's a career I might pursue one day.

Insisting I wanted to leave, I halved the estimated time I was supposed to stay. Back in Melbourne, I have had a long road to recovery with two further operations and a titanium elbow. I lost a friend, my work, tennis, swimming and was told by the surgeons that this would be a life-changing event. That's stating the obvious.

With much help from friends, family; hand therapy, doctors and counselling, I am getting better, close to 12 months on.

My arm will never be the same; my gorgeous legs are scarred for life, but if I dress to hide them, no one knows. My five-year-old boy said the other day: ''Your legs are looking much better, mummy. When will you have a new arm?''

Spirituality has benefited the recovery, not feeling sorry for myself.

Does everything happen for a reason? I'm not sure. But what helps? Spending time in the countryside, reading at coffee shops, long, brisk walks and the belief that we are not immune from tragedy. It was just my turn.

Lifeline: 13 11 14