An accident during a motorbike ride with mates has left Peter Carter in a wheelchair. Despite what he has been through, his humour and positivity shines through. He has shared his story as friends rally to support the family with fundraising events. KATRINA LOVELL reports.
Peter Carter knew there was something wrong when he tried to get himself up off the ground after falling off his motorbike.
“When I went to get myself up, of course, I couldn’t. I realised I’d broken my back,” he said.
Peter was three days into a motorbike ride through Victoria’s high country with five mates when he lost control of his Triumph Thruxton 900 on a sharp bend and crashed into bushes near Powers Lookout.
He was told that if he hadn’t landed where he did he may have ended up going over a cliff – not that Peter saw a cliff or knows how close he actually came.
After five months in hospital and rehabilitation, Peter returned to Warrnambool last week for the first time since his accident on April 9.
Friends have rallied behind the Allansford postie with work colleague Trish Graham organising a four-day fundraising walk next month which culminates at the town’s hotel where another friend has organised an auction and entertainment on October 28.
Peter and his wife Anna, a hairdresser in Allansford, have lived in the town for 20 years and between them know pretty much everybody.
April 9 was cold with pelting rain and hail and, even though he was riding with five others, at the time of the accident he was far enough in front that they all rode past the scene of the accident unaware there had even been a crash.
“It was cold, wet, horrible and the police told me it was a black spot. There’d been many car and bike accidents at the same spot,” Peter said.
About 3.30pm, the front of Peter’s bike slipped on a yellow line and even though he was able to regain control he was headed straight into the bush.
“I was doing about 80km/h (in a 100km/h zone) and I got the bike down to about 60 but that didn’t matter, I was in the bush.”
Peter managed to push the bike away so it wouldn’t fall on him when he landed. The next thing he remembers is being on the ground, unable to move.
“When I realised I broke my back I didn’t have much time to think about it because I could hear cars and I thought to myself, ‘hang on I’m in the bush, I’m lost’,” he said.
He’s not sure how long he was there before an off-duty paramedic found him – maybe five to 10 minutes.
Peter believes the lights from the bike must have attracted the attention of the paramedic.
“No one saw it (the accident) happen and they (his mates) passed me where I went off the road, so they obviously didn’t see the bike or me and I didn’t hear them either,” Peter said. “The thought is that I did knock myself out.
“It wasn’t such a horrible crash it was just bad luck. I must have hit a rock or tree. It was just the high speed and belted the right spot.”
It wasn’t such a horrible crash it was just bad luck. I must have hit a rock or tree
Peter was flown to The Alfred where he underwent surgery to fix the T2 to T5 on the back of his spine, and he is now paralysed from under the chest down.
“I think one of the vertebrae in back went into my spinal cord. It split in half and one of the pieces went into the spinal cord. I don’t know whether it severed it or not, I think it probably did,” he said.
“There was nothing else wrong with me, except that I’d broken my back and snapped about five or six ribs – one had gone through my lung – and that was it, oh and also a blood nose.”
Even though the accident took away Peter’s ability to walk, it didn’t take away his sense of humour and positivity.
“You’ve got to be funny about it,” he said. “Sure I’d love to walk, that’d be fun. But it’s happened.
“There’s two ways you can look at this, you can accept it and get into what you can do or you can roll over and die.
“It’s pretty hard, especially at the start. Don’t worry, I’ve had a cry now and then. It really is something that is hard to take in the first few weeks – better not to think about it.”
Peter has only been home a short time and has already sensed how different it is here compared to the four months he spent at the Royal Talbot Rehabilitation Centre.
“You live in a bubble at Talbot and everyone is the same and it’s so easy to accept it,” he said of the centre where he spent every day with 20 other people who had injuries ranging from quadriplegia to paraplegia.
“That makes it real easy and they’re all looked after and nurses waiting on you hand and foot and it’s so easy to do exactly what you want and then you come home.
“I realised pretty quickly that I’m going to have a lot of time on my hands.”
He said he planned to get a licence and get back to work – either paid or voluntary – as soon as he can. “I’m not sitting in here doing nothing,” he said. “It’s hard enough to get a job when you can walk. I’m 56, I’ve seen people that are 40 and quite able and still can’t get a job.”
Even before the accident Peter was outspoken about road safety issues, campaigning to get the Garabaldi Lane/Princes Highway intersection at Allansford fixed which has since happened while he was in rehab.
“This is a weird whack in my life, I never thought this would happen,” said Peter, a motorbike enthusiast who has owned many bikes since he first started riding at 15.
“I ride a bike every day of my life, I’m a postie.
“I’ve been around a lot of other corners that were sharper than that. It was an accident, that’s it, bad luck.”
Peter hoped to keep in contact with the friends he’s made at Royal Talbot – a place where he spent many hours mentoring other patients. He said the staff at Royal Talbot were fantastic, but his sense of humour shines through when he describes life at the rehab centre. “You get up. It’s like Groundhog day every day. You don’t go anywhere and you do the same thing everyday. You get everything set up, you go to a place to eat. It is like soft division in prison,” he said with a laugh. “It’s a bubble and you’ve got to get out of it.”
He has recently successfully ventured out to some big shopping centres. “Ninety nine per cent of people are pretty good. If you focus on the people that are bad it makes everyone think that everybody’s bad, but it’s not true,” he said.
“Look at the things people are doing for me, and I don’t know half of them. It uplifts you, and you also think ‘do I deserve it? I just had a bloody accident for God’s sake.
“It makes me feel a bit humble about the whole thing. It’s really nice.”
Trish Graham, husband Wayne, friend Fae Williamson and her husband Mark will start the fundraising walk from Inverleigh on October 25, clocking 40 to 50 kilometres a day on their journey to Allansford.
The pair are no strangers to long walks, having taken part in a number of half marathons and other walk-running events. “We’ve been walking together for three or four years now.”
Trish, also a recreational motorcyle enthusiast, said Peter’s accident really hit home. “He’s so positive,” she said. “They’re such a lovely family. He’s an amazing fella. It’s such a huge adjustment and I just thought it’d be nice to help them out in some way. “
A Go Fund Me page has been set up and there have been fundraising tins placed in businesses around Warrnambool.
“People are amazing,” Peter said, admitting he would probably shed a tear or two when he turns up to the fundraising event at Allansford Pub on October 28.
The family paid tribute to Ben Dimwoodie – who was on the bike trip with Peter - and the Rangers soccer team who have taken Peter’s son Sean to games and training, something Peter’s wife wasn’t able to do because every weekend she would drive to Melbourne.
Peter and his family have moved into a rental property in Warrnambool while TAC renovates their Allansford home over the next two or three months. “Everyone hates their rego don’t they, but when something like this happens, you don’t mind that you’ve paid your rego,” he said.
The renovations will make his own home safer for Peter. He had only been back in Warrnambool two-and-a-half days when his wheelchair flipped when he was trying to negotiate a door runner.
He was home alone because he doesn’t want his wife to quit the job she loves.
“I just flipped the thing right over me and hit my head on the bed,” he said.
“I didn’t hurt myself too much. I was lucky. Strapped in with a wheelchair on the top of me.”
Peter was able to unstrap himself and get the wheelchair off him but he was unable to move. “When you’re lying on the ground, you know what dead weight is. You just can’t move,” he said.
“I just laid there, nothing I can do.Three quarters of your body just won’t move and give you a helping hand.
“I was just lucky I had my phone with me and I rang a mate who come and got me.”
As a result of the accident, Peter has lost the use of his stomach muscles.
And while it is common to get spasms in your legs after an injury like Peter’s, sometimes he can wiggle the toes on one of his feet.
“It’s only every now and then, but I can stop and start it. It is a thing I’ve got control of. To do it it must be a nerve thing,” he said
“It’s good to have you’re fingers crossed but it’s only a little bit of movement, nothing to jump up and down about it.
“Most doctors will say there’s no hope. They’re covering their butt a bit, they don’t want to tell you ‘yeah you probably will’. I pretty well decided it is what it is.”