Still paying the price

(Photo: Gerald Wilkie next to Percy Pillai, AWU OHS Officer)         

Gerald Wilkie still has trouble sleeping sometimes because of the nightmares. They’ve plagued him since the day seven years ago when he had to tear his own arm off to save his life.

It was 17 May 2007 and he’d started work early at a rock-crushing plant at Laverton. It was a day like so many others, but it wasn’t too much later that changed. He was dragged into a conveyor belt, and the story of his actions as he realised he was “looking death in the face” is extraordinary.

Presented with the option of living or not, he broke his arm and then wiggled it back and forth until it tore off, before walking 90 metres or so to turn off the belt. He then used his mobile phone to ring his manager and ask for an ambulance, before walking back to pick up his arm. The damage was too great for it to be reattached. 

He spent a couple of weeks in hospital, and many more in rehab as he came to terms with life without his right arm. In the years since that dreadful day, life has been a struggle.

“The accident was the easy part,” Gerald said.

“Life now is difficult, very difficult. I have a lot of pain still, it’s chronic. I still suffer post-traumatic stress, and I have nightmares, terrible nightmares. It all adds to fatigue. There’s a snowball effect,” Gerald said.

“It’s a constant struggle. One hurdle after another, after another, it’s never ending.”

The impact has spread far beyond him, and that is something of which he is critically aware. His three adult children were deeply impacted, as was his wife and his marriage. No-one close to him was spared the pain of his shocking injuries.

“For my family it’s had a deep impact. It has definitely affected not just me, but everyone around me, that’s for sure. Just in general, I have noticed that a lot of people seem to distance themselves from me.,” he said.

These days if he sees someone attempting to take a shortcut, or any sort of risk, his stress levels shoot up immediately.

“I panic. I get anxious when I see the potential for someone wrecking their life. It is extremely confronting,” he said.

 “If it’s not guarded, don’t go near it. Stay away from machines that don’t have guarding,” he said.

“It might be difficult to do sometimes, but you have to speak up and just have to make sure you don’t take the risk. After all, what’s more important than your life?”

The AWU has been there for him every step of the way and for that he is very grateful. Nothing will bring back what he used to have, and while life is often full of uncertainty, he is sure of one thing – “you have to Guard It or Ban It”.