During a shocking workplace accident in 2007, Gerald Wilkie was forced to do something that no one should ever have to contemplate – decide between life and limb.
The father-of-three was working as a leading hand at a Victorian recycling business when his glove got caught in the conveyor belt of the rock crushing machine he was operating. His hand and arm were dragged into the crusher and he had to fight furiously to stop the rest of his body from being sucked in as well.
The terrible workplace injury that changed his life
It was 17 May 2007. Gerald’s life flashed before his eyes as he searched for an emergency switch to halt the machine. When that failed, he realised that to survive, his only option was to use his body weight to break his arm and then use a jagged bone to cut the muscle and tear his arm off.
Still in shock and full of adrenaline, he then walked 90 metres around the other side of the machine and used his foot to kick on the emergency switch. While continuing to stem the uncontrollable bleeding, he got his mobile phone out of his pocket and telephoned his manager to call an ambulance.
Paramedics arrived soon after and Gerald was rushed to The Alfred hospital for emergency surgery. He was placed in an induced coma and once he was well enough to be discharged, he endured months of rehabilitation to get used to life without a major limb.
Returning to work became problematic due to his balance problems, and the limited roles he could fulfil. When post-traumatic stress set in, he was unable to return to work at all.
Workcover fight was as bad as losing a limb
Gerald admits that he thought the worst of his workplace injury nightmare was over when he woke up alive in hospital. But he soon realised that the battle with his workcover insurer was going to be much harder than losing his arm.
It took the insurer five years to agree to modify Gerald’s manual car to an automatic to give him back some independence. And 10 years on, he is still fighting to get a prosthetic limb to help get some normality back in his life.
Sadly, Gerald’s experience mirrors that of many of our clients who have been injured at work through no fault of their own who have had to fight their way through the workers’ compensation system. He went from being a very trustful and compliant person to someone understandably angry about the way he was treated, which included being put under surveillance by the workcover insurer.
PODCAST: Choosing between life and limb – Gerald Wilkie
“I was looking death right in the face and I thought I’ve got to get out of here,” Gerald Wilkie recalls of the day he was forced to decide between life and limb. In the Fighting For Fair podcast, he bravely recounts the terrifying moment his arm got caught in the machine, before detailing the aftermath and his fight to return to work.
Listen to the podcast below, or subscribe on iTunes.