Concussed cricketer couldn't sleep 'with pain shooting through eyes'
Cricket was an irrelevance. Sam Harper couldn't sleep. He couldn't walk. He could barely talk. All taken away.
The Victoria wicketkeeper remembers very little about the day it occurred. A bit about the morning, but nothing after the incident.
It took the diminutive gloveman more than a week to take a look at what had happened. It was day two of a Sheffield Shield game at Adelaide Oval in February, and South Australian batsman Jake Lehmann looked to whip a ball through the leg side from spinner Jon Holland, inadvertently striking Harper's head with his bat. Harper was wearing a helmet, but was down for the count.
It was a moment that altered the next two months of the 20-year-old's life. He spent three weeks in an Adelaide hospital. One teammate who visited him in hospital described the scene as "scary," with Harper – looking white – "just lying in the bed with drips and tubes in him".
Harper's description of the experience is equally disturbing. "I can remember not sleeping, getting woken up every half an hour in pain," he said.
"Pain shooting straight through your eyes, straight through the back of your head. Just could not even get close to feeling well in the back of the head. That translated down through your body, because you just lost all motion and sense through your body."
Sam's father Bryan – a teacher at Forrest Hill College – ventured to Adelaide to be with his son, having been told by the school's principal, the father of Sam's girlfriend, to take as much leave as he needed.
"There was a couple of weeks there where there was a nurse sitting there 24-7 right through the night sleeping," Sam said.
"For the initial two weeks, the pain in my head, the chances of going to sleep were impossible. Probably in that time, the actual game of cricket became pretty irrelevant. You just take for granted how you enjoy health every day."
Eventually Bryan encouraged his son to watch what had happened. "That was a probably a big thing for dad. I'd been in hospital for a week or two, and things were starting to get a little bit more positive, and dad said 'probably a good thing if you actually watch the footage, watch it and see what happens, see what everyone's talking about.'
"It was actually a little bit confronting to watch at first but I was pretty happy to watch it and move on."
Back in Melbourne, Harper turned his attention to recovery. He visited an Epworth clinic for eight weeks, practising mental and physical exercises. There were throwdowns with former Victorian coach Greg Shipperd, and trips to the park, painful at first as he readjusted to light.
"I knew that when I went outside I was going to feel crap, but the more I did it, the more I exposed my brain to it, the more I told myself, 'This is normal' then eventually became what I was used to again."
He always had faith that he would come good, having been told that by doctors. "But it's one thing to hear it. But when you're experiencing not walking and talking properly, you can hear whatever you want, but unless you actually get back walking and talking .., 99.9 per cent of me believed that, but there's always that little 1 per cent that's going, what happens if this actually doesn't get any better?"
Sam got back though. He's playing for Victoria in the JLT one-day series, and having missed last summer's Shield triumph is keen to get his hands on some silverware.
He can't speak highly enough of the support of both Cricket Victoria and the SACA. Last month he caught up with Lehmann, which in Harper's mind put an end to an unfortunate chapter .
He won't be changing his game either. "I made sure before pre-season started I got in the machines and faced bouncers, I pretty much just eradicated that within the first couple of weeks," he said.
"To be honest, because it was such a freak accident, I wasn't really going to change the way I was going to bat, and it wasn't going to change the way I was going to keep."
But there are changes he is happy with – the introduction of concussion substitutes and the decision to allow replacement fielders to keep. It is especially pertinent given the controversy which followed Harper's injury, when the Redbacks denied Victoria's request for Harper to be replaced. The match's first-class status would have been in doubt had that occurred.
Harper had been concussed before, and like close friend and fellow Bushranger Will Pucovski – also a victim of concussion – is more susceptible to another incident.
But that's not enough to turn him away from the game. "Cricket's my dream," Harper said. "Cricket's always been what I want to do. If I get injured playing what I love and doing my passion, I'm not fussed."
- The Age