Merv Neil chose his own Christmas present this year – returning to work as a firefighter.
Neil, who suffered burns to 71 per cent of his body in the Icepak Coolstore explosion on April 5, 2008, at Tamahere celebrated his first day back on full duties on Christmas Day.
His goal has always been to return to work, but it’s been a long haul, reported the Waikato Times.
He spent 10 weeks in a coma at Middlemore Hospital after suffering burns to both arms, legs, all of his back, bottom and right side of his head.
His body swelled so much, medical staff had to cut the inside of his legs and arms and pulled all his fingernails off.
Sight partially lost in both eyes is restoring naturally and the burns to his body have healed well after the wearing of pressure garments for 15 months. The scars are red, but not raised, and his hair is growing through in some areas.
His skin tears easier than normal, so he has take it easy when pottering around at home, fixing cars or building trailers. “To be fair, there hasn’t been too many down days. It’s been a pretty positive run, really,” he said.
“I’ve had so much encouragement from all the (Waikato) hospital staff – if you want to try (and recover) they will back you to the hilt and will go the extra step for you … the Fire Service have been nothing short of outstanding.”
He’s been so keen to get back to work, fire services bosses had to remind him it wouldn’t happen overnight.
“They said let’s hit this thing walking not running. Let’s get everything right rather than trip up half way through.”
January was the beginning stages of his getting back on the truck when he started light duties. Then about six weeks ago he started shadowing his Brown Watch crew; on observation only.
Now, he’s back to normal and he just can’t hide his excitement.
He’s had obstacles, the main ones how his body would deal with heat and dealing with the nerve damage done to his legs. As for returning to work on Christmas Day?
“It’s been a good Christmas present to myself,” Mr Neil said. “I don’t care about stat days, I’ve been off long enough.”
It’s been 993 days to be exact and he’s been counting.
While it means he can move on professionally, he will never forget what he’s been through and how lucky he’s been.
“It will be good to get back to the way it was … going through what’s happened, it’s something you certainly reflect on, probably more now than what I used to; how lucky you can be to have a second chance at life. You don’t realise how quickly things can be taken away from you.”
(Photo: Peter Drury, Waikato Times)