Workers – many of them still in their hi-viz vests – had taken a couple of hours out of their working day to gather at Tai Poutini Polytechnic’s School of Scaffolding for the afternoon session.
Rhett's introduction was low-key, discussing his former life – as a policeman, antiques dealer, runner, karate enthusiast, and refurbisher of houses – and how, for six years until July 30 2004, he worked as a hammer-hand on residential building sites, “then I went to work one day and never came home.”
It wasn’t a big dramatic fall that broke his neck – just a tumble from two unsecured planks resting on deck framing, only 2.2 metres from the ground. “I landed directly on top of my head. I remember seeing my feet pointing up at the sky, and the tools falling out of my apron. And I heard the crunch as my neck broke.”
As Rhett lay on the ground, summoning energy to call for help, he felt a tingling sensation go through his body and realised he was paralysed. He spent two weeks in intensive care, six months in the Otara Spinal Unit and two-and-a-half years in a home for the elderly, but has moved into his own specially designed house, where he has caregivers in constant attendance 24/7. The four caregivers working a 24/7 roster, are at massive cost, which comes from ACC levies.
Extensive tendon surgery has given him enough movement in his right hand to feed himself, control a wheelchair, clean his own teeth, brush his own hair and shave. Everything else – including showering and toileting – must be done for him.
I was born and raised in Whangarei leaving school in 1968 after the 6th form. I worked locally for a while I joined the Forestry Service in 1970 working as a hunter on animal control in the Kaimai Ranges and on Raoul Island. In 1973 I joined the NZ Police and served 20 years, being invalided out with an injury sustained while arresting a violent offender...