Tackling the challenges that began with a white-tail spider bite

Sometimes, little things can create big changes. For Rod Hollow from Tallong in the NSW Southern Tablelands, it was a white-tail spider that began the chain of events which changed his life.

This October is Mental Health Month with this year's theme being 'Share the Journey'. In this story, Rod, a farmer all his life, shares his story of perseverance and recovery.

Rod was in and out of hospital for six months because of a spider bite. Not long after, he had a routine procedure which punctured his bowel.

It was a week before the error was discovered and the repair operation nearly cost him his life. Afterwards, Rod was quarantined and isolated in hospital for 10 weeks, required a colostomy bag for 18 months and developed ongoing hernias.

The change of health and pace of life had a dramatic affect on Rod's hips and he was then scheduled for a double hip replacement.

Over 10 years, Rod had 17 operations.

Rod struggled to accept his misfortunes: being in a coma, nearly losing his leg, then his life. Simply, losing time. Very quickly he had gone from being an active person on the land to, "just a sick person," unable to do anything. His feeling of uselessness was intense, particularly on the farm which he ran with his brother.

Following the frequent advice to rest made Rod feel like he was doing the wrong thing. He felt strange being unproductive, especially when it meant he had no income.

Although his wife was still working, the drop in income and increase in health expenses meant that money was tight. As their savings dropped, Rod felt further guilt when they began to sell assets.

Rod would try to "pull his weight," but this delayed his recovery further. He couldn't keep up with the work, he lost his licence to operate machinery, and the mental impact started to take over.

Uncharacteristically, Rod began taking his frustrations out on the people around him, and hating himself for it. His wife struggled to deal with someone who was bitter and humourless, and not the husband she knew.

Rod didn't realise that the anger he felt, the negative talk he used and his own irritation, were signs that he was depressed. He felt that after all his struggles, he should just be grateful to be alive.

Rod hated the situation, but had to accept help and depend on others. It challenged his idea of masculinity and increased his feeling of uselessness. In retrospect, he thinks that accepting help probably made him a better man.

You don't realise so many people are willing to give you a hand - that they want to give you a hand

Rod Hollow

Rod's wife was his main support and helped him focus on his recovery. His extended family were another help. One family member advocated for Rod's early release from hospital after 10 weeks by providing home care and organising nursing to manage his colostomy bag.

The regular and familiar contact was helpful, in a situation that could really challenge one's confidence and independence.

Rod acknowledges that he learnt a lot about himself and grew as a person through these difficult experiences. He learnt that he's not Superman, but he is stubborn. He had to learn to accept peoples' offers of help.

"You don't realise so many people are willing to give you a hand - that they want to give you a hand," Rod said.

"If you couldn't help, you wouldn't help and it's learning that others are thinking the same."

Rod is most proud of the last six months. He has accepted that he can't do what he used to and has embraced his new life and new opportunities.

He swims every morning and has returned to playing golf. He joined a local choir and began art classes, activities which he would have never contemplated before.

Rod is a part of the Bundanoon Men at Shop group which gets him involved in the community.

He is still working out what the future holds for him, but for now he's enjoying his new life. He rode a long and rocky road but he eventually found his way.

  • Rod's story is a part of the Tackling the Challenge Project, a collection of local men's stories. If you have a story to share, please contact Brendan Bennett at brendan.bennett@health.nsw.gov.au or on 8738 5983. Further support can be provided by a GP or health professional. You can also contact Lifeline on 13 11 14 or at www.lifeline.org.au
This story The life-changing journey that all began with a spider bite first appeared on Southern Highland News.