'Steely Dad' walks with a squeak despite panel beating

HELEN HARVEY
Last updated 05:00 12/06/2014
nevil
ANDY JACKSON/Fairfax NZ

SPINE OF STEEL: Nevil Topliss.

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Nevil Topliss reckons if anyone runs over him while he is out walking they will get a puncture from the 850mm steel rods in his back.

He has about 40 of the rods, which have effectively created a new spine.

"The surgeon disabled my spine, all it does now is carry my spinal cord. When I walk I squeak."

The rods aren't heavy, but "it feels odd", Topliss, 64, said.

"I can't lean up against a hard chair or a wall and lying flat on the bed is nigh on impossible. I lie flat with a pillow so my head is kind of up off the bed. I always end up on my side."

Topliss, who damaged his back on an oil rig, underwent an extremely rare spinal operation in May, 2012.

"The pain after the operation was shocking. It was hideous," he said.

He took his first steps with a walking frame about a week later, and a week after that he was back in New Plymouth.

"It was a hard road. I was in bed for about two months. Then I'd get up and stroll around and then I got walking again."

But then in March he bent over to pick up an empty plastic bucket and "ouch". "I felt like someone had banged me in the middle of my back with a pick handle."

A rod had broken, so it was back to Auckland for a seven-hour operation and a "bit of panel beating".

Now, he is almost pain-free and is off the drugs.

Until he became "Steely Dad", as his daughters call him, he had been getting around on the scooter for about five years.

"I hated it, but I couldn't walk two houses down the street. My life was just nothing," he said.

Topliss hurt his back at work on an oil rig lifting heavy 80, 90 and 100kg objects and over time it got worse. In the end he couldn't work, walked bent over and was taking strong painkillers three or four times a day, all sorts of "high end" drugs to keep the pain at bay.

Then he went to a course run by ACC on how to live with chronic pain, that he said saved his life.

"If it wasn't for the ACC I reckon I would have topped myself.

"The pain specialists taught me to understand it," he said."It was like I was in a fairytale land all the time.

"I'd get up in the morning and take a handful of painkillers."

He had young daughters and wanted to be a dad they were proud of, not one who sat on his butt all day doing nothing, he said.

Then his wife, Lyn, got cancer.

She came through it, but it made him realise there were people worse off than him.

"Their lives are on the line. I could hide behind this cloud and shut myself away, but when she got sick it put me on a different path."

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- Taranaki Daily News

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