Jerett Rushton has agreed to meet at a restaurant in Oxford and when I arrive just before ten o’clock to claim a table near the back of the room, the restaurant is empty but for a table of four young men.
When the waitress arrives with one menu, I tell her I’m expecting someone.
“Are you waiting for Jerett Rushton?” one of the young men at the other table asks and I nod. He gets up and walks across the room to join me.
Given what I know of the extent of his injuries from a hit-and-run accident less than 18 months ago, I was not expecting him to be walking at all, let alone without any visible limp.
“I wasn’t supposed to walk for a year,” Jerett tells me.
He isn’t the bionic man now but the 25-year-old has made a remarkable recovery since that horrific accident on September 22, 2013.
At two o’clock in the morning, Jerett was walking along Upper Main Street in Oxford, heading to the motel where he’d booked a room for the night because he knew he’d be drinking at a party. The last thing he remembers is seeing the Subway sign and thinking a sub would be good.
He was hit from behind and dragged 50 feet. The driver of the car that hit him took off but the car behind stopped to help.
“I remember a little bit about being on the ground,” says Jerett. “I couldn’t get up and couldn’t figure out why. Then I blacked out.”
After initially being taken to the hospital in Truro, Jerett woke up later the same day, a Sunday, in intensive care in Halifax.
“There wasn’t too much that wasn’t broken,” Jerett says in his mellow, un-ironic way. “My big thing when I woke up in hospital was relief that I didn’t lose any teeth.”
His neck was broken in two spots, his right arm was broken and the nerves severed, his left wrist was broken and so was his left leg. Both ankles were broken and his left foot was crushed.
“They took me into surgery and they put the halo on,” he explains. “The halo was to hold my neck straight, to keep me from moving. To do that, they screwed holes in my head.”
The holes are in four places on his head. The two that are visible are small, deep scars on his forehead that he sees every time he looks in the mirror.
“My arm was pulp so they had to stick a bar in. I have a bar in my left leg and two screws in each ankle. I had rods through my foot to hold my foot together.”
But miraculously there was no head injury and he didn’t lose any limbs.
“That was my first question, besides the teeth,” he says. “I asked if they had to cut anything off and they said no.”
He also knew he wasn’t paralyzed because he could move his fingers and feel his toes.
|Submitted by his family: September 2013|
For the first few weeks in hospital in Halifax, Jerett says he did little else but sleep. Family and friends were a constant presence at his bedside.
“They were there all the time,” says Jerett. “I know it was hard on them, guaranteed it was. They tried to keep someone with me all the time in Halifax; when they moved me to Springhill, it was pretty near every day I had someone there with me.”
The move to the rehab centre at the hospital in Springhill happened in October and that’s when Jerett got to work on regaining mobility in his left leg and right hand.
“They said age was my best ally. They weren’t expecting me to walk for a year; I was walking in four months. Where the nerves were severed in my right arm, I couldn’t move my hand. Right-handed,” he points out. “I think that frustrated me the most. It bugged me enough that I stuck with the physio quite a bit. They said if I worked at it, I would get it back and I wanted it back.”
His right hand is “perfect,” he says, making and releasing a fist. “It might not be as strong as it was but it’s about as good as it’s going to get.”
In February 2014, six months after the accident, Jerett was discharged and he returned to the home he shares with a friend in Pugwash Junction.
“I still can’t work,” he says. “My legs aren’t able to do it. I can’t do long periods of standing. And at this time of year, everything hurts. I never thought the weather could have an effect but yeah, it does.”
There’s no jumping out of bed first thing in the morning for Jerett. He has to move his ankles and do some stretches before he goes to bed and before he gets out of bed.
“My ankles and leg are the only thing that bother me. My neck bothers me most of the time but I just deal with that,” he says.
For Jerett, the mental part is the hardest.
“Everyone said I had a great attitude in the hospital. Afterwards, sitting home not doing anything, that bothered me. There was a lot of time to think. ‘If this didn’t happen…’ I still speak with a woman in Amherst every so often, just to talk stuff out,” he says. “Everything was broken and I could work to fix that but the head stuff I have trouble with. I have anxiety issues now.”
Jerett isn’t struggling financially yet, “but it’s going to come here shortly,” he admits. “I get a percentage of lost wages through the driver’s insurance.”
Family and friends held a fundraiser for him in Oxford six weeks after the accident. It’s not often we find out how the donations benefit the recipient but Jerett says the money has made a huge difference.
“I feel lucky to be here. I wouldn’t have made it as far without everybody and their support. Friends, family, the people at the hospitals. Even those who donated at the benefit dance; I’d be broke right now if it wasn’t for that. I appreciate it so much. ”
He also wouldn’t be able to drive.
“The car I had at the time of the accident was a standard so I had to get another car because my shifting leg is the bad one and my shifting arm was broken. I had to sell it and get another one,”Jerett explains. “I think I started driving again in May after leaving the hospital in February. It was the money raised through the benefit dance that allowed me to get a good, reliable car. I still had to do lots of travelling for appointments. The benefit dance is still helping me.”
Speaking of driving, what happened to the driver of the car that mowed Jerett down, changing the rest of this young man’s life?
The driver pleaded guilty to two charges, impaired driving causing bodily harm and not rendering assistance, and was sentenced to six years in jail.
“It could have been more,” Jerett says.
And then he can’t answer more questions on that subject. Of everything – the accident, the injuries, his future – being the victim of impaired driving is what makes this quiet young man even quieter.
“It’s hard to talk about.”
He’d rather talk about his future which presents its own set of challenges.
“Being a labourer is something I always did because I was good at it and I liked it but I probably won’t be able to do it again,” he says.
So Jerett must return to school. Once he completes the upgrade of some high school courses, he’s hoping to go to college this coming September.
“I have it narrowed down to three ideas: plumbing, electronic technician or an aircraft mechanic. It still involves a little bit of labour but I’d rather not sit behind a desk all day. If I can get a bit of both in, that won’t be too bad.”
Jerett admits he was never great at school and if he gets accepted, he’ll have to come up with the money to pay for college but what choice does he have? He’s only 25 and definitely not a quitter.
“Family and friends have told me that if I got through what I did, I could pretty much do anything but I don’t think quite the same way. I was never much for school but in order to survive, I have to make a change.”