By NATALIA HAWK
Ben Ross is a high-profile rugby league player who suffered an injury during a game in 2009. He was tackled and the disk of his neck exploded – so essentially, he broke his neck and was left one millimetre away from quadriplegia.
It was an incredibly hard time for him, both physically and mentally. He went through some incredibly dark days as he recovered from the injury. And the only reason he survived?
Renai Ross. His wife. She’s the woman who stuck with him through it all. I sit down with her to find out a bit more about what it’s like to support someone through such difficult times.
She takes me back to the moment when the injury happened, during a game against Penrith. His teammates fell on him and he heard a crack.
“It didn’t look like a real bad tackle, and he didn’t think it was as bad as it was, because he managed to get up,” Renai tells me. “It wasn’t until we went to the hospital and got the x-rays and Ben found out the damage that had been done and how serious it was, that it hit us both.”
It took two years for Ben to recover, and he had 3 operations on his neck. He was incredibly determined to get back on the field, but that was understandably made challenging by the extent of his injury.
“He’s such a strong man, but he lost all his muscle tone and was bed-ridden and had trouble even walking after the operation,” Renai says. “To see that happen, was very devastating. And mental health, he obviously had his ups and downs. There were periods when he thought ‘why am I doing this, is it worth it’ so there were lots of downs, but we’d just surround ourselves with positive people, we’d try and talk about it.”
Ben would snap over something little, and Renai would know that he wasn’t feeling good that day. Or he’d have a really bad week, and she’d just ride it through. “I think communicating and talking a lot about how he was feeling, that had a lot to do with it. And just listening – I didn’t always have answers for things, but just listening to how he was feeling and taking that on board,” she admits.
She says that the period of time was both incredibly emotionally draining and scary. They didn’t think his recovery period was going to take as long as it did; nobody thought it would. And yet they would continue to go back and see the doctor, and the doctor would tell them that his neck wasn’t healed. And that, understandably, was incredibly draining.
Renai was also working full-time during the period of time, which she actually credits as a benefit. “His mind off things was that I would talk about things that happened in my day, because not much would be happening in his day, and often after the operations he would be housebound. So if could just draw from my experiences throughout the day, it might be something really mundane, but it was something to talk about to take his mind off the pain and his present condition.”