Taree’s Paul Greene has a new perspective on life. He truly understands just how fragile the line between life and death is.
“These days I open my eyes and the rest of the world is easy,” Paul says.
He credits his very existence to the Westpac Rescue Helicopter Service, who airlifted him out of difficult terrain following a motorbike accident.
“Without those guys, I wouldn’t be here. No chance,” he says.
On May 19, 2016, Paul and his mate Richard were taking a leisurely mid-week trip on their adventure motorcycles out past Wingham, over the hills to Gloucester. After taking a break at Gloucester, they headed to Curricabark – in the mountains halfway between Gloucester and Nowendoc.
“We were headed toward Nowendoc to meet up with some other guys, and it’s a fair climb from the back of Gloucester up through the hills and dales all over the place. It’s fairly high up, I think it’s about 900 metres up and of course the scenery is quite amazing,” Paul says.
It was taking a brief look at the scenery that altered the course of his life. Doing only 10 kilometres along the dirt road, and Richard a couple of kilometres up the road in front of him, Paul looked to the left to admire the view.
“The next thing I know, bang, I was heading towards the ground. There was a rut across the centre of the road, and the front wheel caught this rut and took the bike straight out from under me before I could do anything about it.”
Paul heard his ribs cracking as he hit the ground and he passed out. He woke up not knowing how long he had been laying there.
“I couldn’t breathe from the impact and the shock, and trying to get the helmet off. I saw the motorbike was on its side with the engine running and I managed to somehow crawl myself over to the bike and switch the engine off,” Paul said.
“Of course, we were out in the middle of nowhere, and if anybody had driven on the road since 1843 I’d be really surprised! I managed, thankfully, to get my helmet open and my lungs started to work, but I was in a world of pain, of course.”
It is the sound of angel’s wings when you hear the helicopter coming.Paul Greene
Paul had what is called a flailed chest. He had three ribs at the front broken, and the same three ribs at the back broken. He also had another five broken ribs. Some of the ribs had been broken by his mobile phone, which was in his pocket, the others were sustained by the impact with the ground.
Richard called back via his bike’s radio to check on his mate, as was their usual procedure, and became worried when he had no response. He came back down the mountain from the Curricabark fire tower to find Paul in the middle of the road.
Richard went back up the mountain to try and get mobile phone reception, but there was none. He made his way back down to Paul, and called mayday on his bike radio. Two young men working on fences about 20 kilometres away heard the distress call and contacted Richard. On their way to the site, they ran into a mailman who visited farmhouses in an attempt to find someone with a working landline to call 000.
“By that time Richard and I are sitting up there going ‘what’s going on’. The other guys arrived, and they all took turns in resting my head and doing what they possibly could,” Paul says.
“We were waiting and waiting and then the helicopter came over and we said, ‘oh, thank God for that!’ but it wasn’t them. It was a cropduster.
“Not long after that the Gloucester ambulance arrived and almost at the same time the helicopter did.
“It is the sound of angel’s wings when you hear the helicopter coming. I was up there about three and a half hours going into a fair amount of shock and dehydration and hypertension and all sorts of weird things, but thanks to those guys… the ambulance ride back down there would have killed me, just from the vibrations and everything else. And that’s why they called the choppers.”
Paul was airlifted to John Hunter Hospital in Newcastle, where he spent two weeks. A day and a half after arriving at the hospital his lung collapsed and he nearly died. He was also suffering from concussion.
“They said I was 30 seconds away from being on complete life support,” he said.
Two years later, Paul is still recuperating. He has limited movement in his arm, and is finding Chinese medicine and treatments more effective than traditional western methods. Paul, and his wife Kate, both suffer from PTSD as a result of the accident and the ensuing problems in hospital.
Now, Paul is a member of the service’s Rescue Club, lending his support to the organisation by talking to people. His most recent talk was at Wingham High School’s T20 Charity Shield match fundraising for the Westpac Rescue Helicopter Service.
“Since the accident we’ve been down to the Westpac helicopter base a couple of times. You’re indebted to them, and they make you feel like they owe you!” Paul says.
“They’re just an incredible organisation. They really, really are. No-one pays for any of their services. You go down there cap in hand, so to speak, and they make you feel like kings.
“Without this service I wouldn’t be here, I’ve got no doubt about in my mind at all.”