I think the brain's the most amazing thing; when you're really well you don't think about it but when you're injured and you're starting to recover you think, 'Wow, words just come out of my head'Libby Mourik
As one who valued education, Elizabeth (Libby) Mourik would expect to keep on learning.
But how to speak, read and write would not have been among the anticipated lessons.
Yet that has been Mrs Mourik's experience since October 4, 2015, when a two-second incident nearly claimed her life then and has affected every day since.
During a morning walk at Baranduda, she took a couple of steps off the path to look at something and unknowingly stood on a brown snake, which bit her four times.
The bite directly into a vein caused most damage, leading to about two months in hospital for treatment and rehabilitation.
Mrs Mourik, who now lives in Wooragee with her husband Pieter, spoke to The Border Mail this week about her journey back from a time when she could say only three words - yes, no and thank-you.
Such a state would seem unthinkable to those who knew her background in adult literacy and public speaking, service that received, to her initial disbelief, an Order of Australia Medal last month.
"When you start anything, whatever it is, you're doing it with an interest, a drive, a passion," she said.
"You don't even think of any rewards at all."
Arriving in Albury-Wodonga from South Australia with her first husband and three children in 1978, Mrs Mourik helped hundreds of people improve their language and numeracy skills through her teaching role at Albury TAFE.
Her students included trade apprentices, women wishing to enter the workforce, Indigenous students, refugees and migrants, with the growing demand leading her to campaign, successfully, for increased funding and staff numbers.
"After 25 years at TAFE, I had six full-time teachers and 14 part-time teachers," Mrs Mourik said.
"We were like a happy family, sharing ideals."
IN OTHER NEWS:
Teaching continues to be part of her ongoing recovery as Mrs Mourik, 73, tutors at Charles Sturt University.
"Together we are like companions because they're learning as well as I am and it really works really well," she said.
After the snake had bitten, Dr Mourik, a retired obstetrician and gynaecologist, and others nearby raced his wife to Wodonga hospital and let staff know they were coming.
"I said, 'You'll be right, give you some antivenom, you'll be home in four hours'," Dr Mourik said.
"And when she got there, she totally collapsed, unconscious, two hours in resuscitation, then ambulance on a ventilator to Albury ICU for 12 days, on a ventilator for the first four.
"Normally you don't get symptoms in 10 minutes, but it was straight into the ankle vein.
"She had a totally unclottable system, she was like a haemophiliac, her whole body was black.
"As the anaesthetist said, she was lucky to survive that one because it was the most severe bite in 40 years in Albury-Wodonga."
Mrs Mourik remembers nothing of this time but now realises her narrow escape.
"I was carking it," she said matter-of-factly.
She has just a single memory from Albury hospital, where she received treatment first in intensive care and then in the medical ward.
"I can remember a man was this side and a nurse was that side," she said.
"Turns out it was a rehab person and Pieter, walking me just down the hall."
Further recall came back during six weeks at Wodonga hospital's new rehabilitation unit.
"I remember waking up, that's what it felt like," Mrs Mourik said.
"I could hear all this noise. I knew I was in a hospital, I wasn't upset about that.
"I could understand stuff, but I didn't know about anything else, it was so strange."
Scans showed she had suffered strokes, which paralysed the right side of her body, and also aphasia, a language impairment that affects speech and the ability to read or write.
Dr Mourik said many facts went missing back then.
"She didn't know her name, my name, kids' names, didn't know where she lived," he said.
Other issues have included not being able to make a cup of tea, needing to be talked through every step of getting her breakfast and struggling to identify the right number or name on a phone.
Improvement came, but the tertiary level teacher and experienced Toastmaster still finds herself having to learn things she had once taught, such as how to use a computer.
"Some things I remembered, but other things not, for example, I'll trim up a photo, great, but I won't necessarily know what to do with it afterwards," Mrs Mourik said.
Since her illness she and Dr Mourik, her partner for 20 years, have built and moved into their present home on 40 hectares at Wooragee, designed to be energy efficient, sustainable and fire resistant - with a snake proof fence included.
Dr Mourik noted his wife had worked on a floor plan when she still couldn't read or write and drew her wish for a Hills Hoist clothesline when the words wouldn't come.
"She's very determined," he said. "She's now touch typing, so that's all coming back, but she works four or five hours a day learning words."
Recipes could prove difficult to follow earlier in her recovery, but this week Mrs Mourik made Anzac biscuits, much appreciated, for The Border Mail's visit.
While grateful for the support of family and friends, and simply being alive, she admits adjusting to her changed circumstances can be a challenge.
"The only thing that frustrates me is no one's here, say, Pieter's working, and I just need someone to help me do one little thing, but I can't," she said.
Physically, there's still dizziness and vision problems, with Mrs Mourik unable to drive.
When she struggled to remember anything of her past life, her mother showed her a book of old newspaper clippings that pointed to key aspects of her teaching career.
Border Mail articles from the 1980s reported on Mrs Mourik, then Elizabeth McKie, becoming a full-time literacy and numeracy teacher at Albury TAFE and launching a new course on work and education opportunities for women.
One piece by journalist Tony Wright describes Mrs Mourik's community radio program where she and a friend read The Border Mail aloud to help listeners following the pages at home improve their literacy.
"To our knowledge, this sort of thing hasn't been done before," she told Wright at the time. "By listening to the radio, we feel the students can concentrate entirely on the words in front of them.
"The idea is to help people understand that print has meaning."
Mrs Mourik remembered episodes of the Radio Ettamogah show had been taped and sent to Melbourne and Tasmania.
"I thought that was pretty cool, that it had been taken up by some other people," she said.
Once she opened up the clippings book and saw parts of her history, Mrs Mourik thought, "Wow, that's right".
"And the memories just keep flooding in and then you remember more because it's like a trigger," she said this week.
"I think the brain's the most amazing thing; when you're really well you don't think about it, but when you're injured and you're starting to recover you think, 'Wow, words just come out of my head'.
"Yesterday I was writing and a word popped into my head and I thought, 'I haven't even thought about that word for a long time'.
"It's all happening, that's what exciting."