Here, Matt, 46, tells the story in his own words.
W￼ith each step up the mountain, my head cleared. Shame those clouds aren’t! I thought, gazing skywards.
Just back from visiting a friend in Newcastle, my legs needed a stretch after five hours on the train. Living in the Blue Mountains, a hike was always the answer.Just past 5pm in late October, daylight saving meant the sun wouldn’t set until after 7 o’clock. I’ve got plenty of time, I assured myself, checking my phone. I’d been up to this particular peak before, finishing the loop in about 90 minutes. And my mobile had 25 per cent battery – more than enough juice to keep my torch going if it did get dark.
Muscles burning, I scaled the steep climb in an hour. Perching on a rock, I soaked in the valley view, as the sun steadily dipped lower. As it was overcast, it got dark far quicker than usual. I better get going, I decided, pulling on my backpack and checking my phone again. Somehow, I was already down to five per cent battery! It had been chewed up way faster than I expected. But that was okay – the descent only took 25 minutes. I’d gone 50 metres when a fallen tree blocked my path. On the way up, I’d climbed over it without a problem, so I heaved myself up again.
Hitting the ground on the other side, I took a few more steps, before tripping on a branch. Cartwheeling, my body was flung down, down, down… Smashing my temple on a boulder, I plunged into what felt like a prickly blackberry bush. Dazed, I rubbed my head. Oh that’s not good, I fretted, as my hand came away, covered in blood. Then, reaching up to my neck, I felt something jagged and hard. It’s a stick! I realised, stunned. And it was protruding at least 15cm out of my neck!
I need to get it out! I decided on autopilot. Hands shooting back up to my neck, I probed carefully with my fingers. Gripping the end of the stick, I gave it a tug, but it was lodged tight. That’s not going to move! I thought, swallowing with fear. As I did, the foreign body bobbed up and down in symphony with my Adam’s apple. Strangely, my neck wasn’t bleeding, though. Moving my fingertips slowly, I could feel the outline of the rough branch pressed against my swollen skin. I’d nearly been speared right through – like a human kebab! I really need to get help, I thought, desperately. I’d lost my bag in the fall, but thankfully my phone was still in my pocket. Grabbing it to call Triple-0, I could see that the screen was pitch black. ‘It’s dead...’ I whispered, the realisation socking me in the gut.
The bush is usually my happy place. Now, the dense foliage seemed to close in menacingly around me as the light quickly faded. Having tumbled off the track, I was completely lost. Standing up, I tried to push my way through the thick brush, but I tripped again. I don’t want to make it worse! I thought, distressed. ‘Just keep going down,’ I coached myself, trying to calm my ragged breath. But with obstacles at every turn, I kept slipping, sliding, tripping and tumbling. ‘Please can I get out of here?’ I pleaded to the universe. What if I never make it to the bottom? I worried.
A couple of hours later, I finally burst into a clearing that I recognised. If I kept pushing on just a little, I’d reach the road. My filthy hoodie was ripped and I had a bloody branch in my neck, but I didn’t think twice before knocking on the first door that I came across. ‘Sorry to disturb you, but can you please call me an ambulance?’ I asked the man who answered. ‘Oh!’ he said, visibly shocked, as his daughter ran to get me a chair. Seeing his reaction, I knew I was in a bad way, but I tried to stay calm. ‘I thought you were playing a prank!’ he said as we waited for paramedics. Halloween was only a few days away!
Snapping a photo of my injuries, he tilted the screen so I could see. How the hell did it get in there?! I wondered, looking at the two prongs jutting from my flesh. Rushed to hospital, I was wheeled straight into theatre for a two-hour operation. Coming to, the stick was gone and a huge bandage was wrapped around my neck. ‘You were really lucky,’ the doctor said, shaking his head. It turns out, the stick had narrowly missed my voice box and an artery.‘You could’ve died on that hill,’ he added.
Incredibly, I was discharged that same day with a scar that stretched from ear to ear. After breaking the news to my mum, Kate, she gave me a telling off. ‘Matt, let someone know where you’re going next time!’ she scolded, hugging me tight. At Christmas, my sister Annemarie handed me a voucher for a camping store. ‘You obviously like bush walking!’ she joked.
Five months on, I’ve been back up the mountain with daylight to spare and a fully charged phone. I’ll never make that mistake again!
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