LIFE IN LIMBO: Wodonga man awaits surgery decision to fix neck injury

Paul Ryan with x-rays from the surgery performed on his neck after the accident. Picture: DAVID THORPE
Paul Ryan with x-rays from the surgery performed on his neck after the accident. Picture: DAVID THORPE
While Paul Ryan waits for an answer he has to sleep in this position to stop pain. Picture: DAVID THORPE

While Paul Ryan waits for an answer he has to sleep in this position to stop pain. Picture: DAVID THORPE

PAUL Ryan piles up pillows in the corner of a worn couch in the lounge room of his Wodonga home, preparing for another night sitting upright and fighting for sleep.

Mr Ryan has slept in his bed three times in the past nine months after he woke up in June feeling like his right arm was on fire.

The 38-year-old cannot work as the branch manager at labour hire company Skilled; nor can he ride his beloved motorbikes or play guitar, let alone complete the simple task of turning his head.

Nineteen years ago, Mr Ryan came off his motorbike at Orbost when he came around a bend and swerved to avoid a van that had stopped on the road after a crash.

Mr Ryan has been waiting since August for the Transport and Accident Commission to decide whether he can be covered for life-changing surgery.

He is in limbo; he cannot claim insurance while he waits and whether the commission’s answer is yes or no, he cannot be put on a hospital waiting list for surgery without a response.

Mr Ryan has used up his leave entitlements and he has spent his savings to pay for his mortgage, bills, pain-killing medication and day-to-day expenses.

“I’m at the stage where I’ve got to start liquidating my assets,” he said.

“I’m not seeking compensation. All I want to do is get back to work, to get back to normal.”

Those who witnessed Mr Ryan’s accident said he went over the handle bars of his motorcycle and slid on his head for several metres.

He said the treatment he received at hospital was inadequate — there were no X-rays and when he discharged himself, he didn’t have voluntary use of his left arm.

“At the time I never considered there’d be spinal injuries,” Mr Ryan said.

He believes the pain that woke him on the Queen’s Birthday holiday last year was the result of injuries he suffered during the crash; and the head of St Vincent’s Hospital surgical department had confirmed that in a letter to the Transport and Accident Commission.

Mr Ryan’s C6 and C7 discs at the base of his neck are damaged and squeezing the nerve that runs down his right arm.

On a normal day, the pain is a constant ache and on a bad day, it feels like his arm is on fire.

A cortisone injection into the nerve root last year, aimed at giving sufferers relief for up to five years, gave Mr Ryan relief for just three days.

The surgery he needs will clean out the fragments of bones in his neck and an artificial disc will be inserted to give the nerve the space it needs.

He hopes media coverage will prompt the TAC to give him an answer.

“It has got beyond a joke that it would take nine months to get a response,” he said.

“The injury is threatening my livelihood, but if this injury threatened my life, what then? I thank God that I’m left-handed.”

A commission spokesman said Mr Ryan’s claim had not been processed until a formal surgery request was submitted six weeks ago.

The request was submitted after two MIRs, the failed cortisone treatment and consultation with a surgeon, which all took some time.

Mr Ryan’s general practitioner had requested his claim be reactivated in August.

“As soon as the formal surgery request was submitted, the matter was elevated to a clinical panel as a time critical application,” the spokesman said.

He said the panel heard the matter last month and a decision was pending as they awaited further advice.

“As Mr Ryan’s accident took place 19 years ago, the TAC must go back and examine all available information relating to the crash,” the spokesman said.

“We understand this is a frustrating delay for Mr Ryan, but we must follow this process to determine any link between his current condition and the accident.”

Mr Ryan said the commission would not give him a time frame on receiving an answer.

“I cannot afford to wait for them to review information that they were provided with months ago,” he said.