30 September 2021

By Dominic Freestone.

Image: Dom with his friend Vanessa (right) at an art gallery.

It has been such a difficult year for so many people. COVID-19 has changed our world and many of us long to return to the life we remember. We miss swimming at the beach, we miss our friends, we miss traveling to places near and far and we miss our freedom and independence.

My name is Dom and for me, lockdown started 16 years ago.

I want to take you back to 2005. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire was showing at the cinema. I was a 23-year-old Ground Support Equipment Fitting Engineer, serving in the Royal Australian Air Force. My life had a clear direction and purpose.

One particularly hot summer day I was swimming with friends. It was like so many insignificant summers days prior, though this was to be one of the most pivotal days of my life.

I had spent the day with friends swimming at the Hume Weir Dam in Albury, Wodonga. It was getting late and we were making plans to leave when I decided to go for a final swim. I dived into the gloomy water but misjudged the depth and hit something hard and unforgiving. It forced my head toward my body, shattering most of the vertebra in my neck and sending shards of broken bone into my spinal cord. This one last swim paralysed me instantly.

The next year of my life was spent in hospital and rehab where I would learn how to live life as a quadriplegic.

What they couldn’t teach me was how socially isolating it can be to live with disability.

I thought I was heading home to my normal life, the reality, unfortunately for me, was that I was about to start my life in lockdown.

I now need to be home at 8pm to meet the nurse who helps me into bed each night, so late nights are a thing of the past. The nurse then returns at 7am to get me up; a 2-hour procedure. This happens every day of the year. The beach, a place I once felt so at home, was now completely inaccessible to me.

I had no job and no hobbies that I enjoyed doing, due to my now limited movement. My life was waking up, watching day-time TV and waiting for the nurse to return to put me back into bed. It would be 6 years before I left the house independently and bought something from the shops. A newspaper if you were wondering.

Image: Dom wearing a purple shirt and blue pants, next to his late dog Rizzo.

Playing football was out. In fact, most sports were now a spectator only activity. Bush walks gone. Late nights with friends, nope. Nanna naps, hard to do in my wheelchair. Walking the dog, well poo is impossible to pick up but still doable as long as you’re prepared for some dirty looks. Swimming, still doable but requires much assistance and takes the best part of a day to accomplish. Anyway, you get the picture.

My life is now significantly different. I have a job at Life Without Barriers I enjoy that utilises my new skills as a graphic designer, but when COVID-19 lockdown hit in 2020, I feel everyone got a taste of what life may be like as a disabled or elderly person.

It puts lockdown in a whole new light.

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