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Sunday 4 December 2016

'It was a hellish experience': Tullamore Show chairman on rebuilding his life after a farm accident

Published 10/08/2016 | 02:30

Rodney Cox’s life was thrown into turmoil after his knee was smashed by a kick from a cow. Photo: James Flynn
Rodney Cox’s life was thrown into turmoil after his knee was smashed by a kick from a cow. Photo: James Flynn
Rodney Cox's wife Sandy, daughter Lesley and son Craig have taken over day-to-day running of the farm while he recovers his mobility. Photo: James Flynn

He thought he was invincible. But on a summer day last July, one sudden kick from a cow turned Rodney Cox's world into a "hellish nightmare".

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The beef and tillage farmer was scanning cows on his farm in Killeigh, Co Offaly, when, he says, "the next minute the very last cow ran out by me and hit me a kick".

The father of two fell to the ground thinking, "ah, I'll be grand in the morning" - but little did he know that it would take him a full year to get back on his feet.

The blow smashed all the ligaments in his knee, broke two bones into bits, and caused a serious blood clot that many doctors refused to operate on.

Rodney Cox's wife Sandy, daughter Lesley and son Craig have taken over day-to-day running of the farm while he recovers his mobility. Photo: James Flynn
Rodney Cox's wife Sandy, daughter Lesley and son Craig have taken over day-to-day running of the farm while he recovers his mobility. Photo: James Flynn

Although Rodney, chairman of the Tullamore Show, finally underwent an operation to mend his knee two weeks ago, his road to recovery has changed his outlook on farm safety, prevention and after-care, forever.

"It was my first farm accident. I regularly got cuts and bruises, minor things, but that was the most serious incident. I never thought that anything like that could ever happen to me," he said.

At 55 years old, his age was also an issue when it came to treatment options.

"I would have read a lot about these things happening, but I was so happy farming and being out on the land that I felt I was invincible. I was in and out under things and up and down ladders, I'd never bat an eyelid. I was taking stupid risks," he said.

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Rodney has always been hugely involved in judging and competing at the National Ploughing Championships and the Tullamore Show. Although promoting farm safety has been central to their mandates, he says you don't realise the impact until an accident hits home.

"Farming is a moving target and we are going to have accidents. Of course it's good to promote safety, but inevitably, by it's own definition, accidents are going to happen and we need to have proper structures in place for when they do," he said.

"What killed me altogether was realising that there is nothing out there in terms of after-care. So many people are left maimed, with huge problems and huge disabilities, and the whole thing is a massive shock to them. Yes, there is a lot of goodwill and people are sympathetic, but at the end of the day, there is little or no support for you, and that has been the most difficult part," he told the Farming Independent.

Rodney, who is in the final year of his tenure as chairman of the Tullamore Show, says the constant support from his family, friends and colleagues has pulled him through many sleepless nights over the last 12 months, including a brief period spent in a wheelchair.

"Now and again you would look at it terribly negative and you'd be looking at something to be done, ploughing or whatever, and crops to be sold, and you're not fit to get up and do it. My wife Sandy, son Craig and daughter Lesley have sacrificed an awful lot to keep the farm and everything going," he said.

"My son is a teacher in a local school and he has a big interest in the farm. I don't know what I'd have done without him," he said. "I've been unbelievably lucky, but I can't even imagine the people out there who are not married and have no family structure around them to ease the blow," he said.

Despite his immobility, Rodney still had inspection dates to meet, fields to plough, crops to harvest, cows to calve and sales to make.

"You're paying bills for the previous year when you were fit and well, but now you're paying bills for when you're not actually functioning and dependent on others, you can't even get up and drive to get help. The Government and our farming organisations should be able to assist you through it," he said.

"Some people will make concessions and they are lovely, but there should be something there in the Irish Farmers' Association and Teagasc that pushes this, because your heart is your mouth when you've nothing," he said, highlighting the need for counselling services for farmers dealing with a farm-related injury.

"You want to protect your spouse because it's frightening enough to deal with the accident without having to deal with all the implications of it. You don't want to be a burden on them," he said.

"I'm only going to be a few more months and I'll be grand, but for someone who is stuck in this situation for the rest of their life, I don't know how they cope, I take my hat off to them and their strength," he said.

The passionate farmer described recently-announced Government cuts to farm safety initiatives by 38pc as "unjustifiable".

"It's ridiculous, instead of cutting funding by almost half, they should be pumping that money into after-care because it's so simple for it to happen. No matter what safety features I could have put in place, gates, crushes or barriers, she was going to kick me no matter what," he said.

He says the experience has changed his perspective on how he will farm in the months and years ahead.

He promises to exercise more caution, take less risks and make subtle changes to his farmyard that will put less pressure on his injury.

However, wild boars couldn't keep Rodney from the Tullamore Show and the National Ploughing Championships this year.

"I missed the ploughing last year because of my injury and I'm going to go stone mad if I miss it again, so I just have to be sensible between now and then," he said.

"It's all part of the nightmare of being injured, not knowing when you'll be fully back to yourself," he said.

Rodney is also eternally grateful to his colleagues at the Tullamore Show who ensured his involvement in plans for this weekend's festivities by holding their committee meetings around his kitchen table in recent months.

"They allowed me to be as involved as I can and that helped me through. I couldn't move at all and I was very grateful to them that they took the time to come out here. When you are four years as a chairperson of anything you want to keep the show going and see it to an end," he said.

He is also "very proud" of his daughter Lesley, who has taken charge of the farm inventors competition.

"I ran it for years, but she was perfect for taking over, she's always had an inquisitive mind and inventors are a lovely bunch of people, they are unique. She has brought the competition further than I ever did and when I'm fit and well I'll be back involved again," he said.

Rodney's personal journey has also allowed him to contribute more to the farm safety side of the one-day agriculture and livestock show, which is celebrating its 25th year.

"I've had a big input on the farm safety side, the HSA and FBD and farm relief are putting on a showcase at the show and we have them in a prominent area, and we will give them all the support we can because personally I know how important it is," he said.

Although specialists advised Rodney that he may not be fully fit to farm until December, he's hopeful to be back out fixing machines, topping crops and feeding his suckers earlier.

"The specialists tell me I won't be back on my feet until Christmas, but I can't deal with that. In my head I'm hoping it will be three months. Other experts have suggested that I give up farming and find another profession that suits my injury," he said. "The doctors say I will always be very vulnerable and that the next hit will destroy me, but I'm not going to give up farming, how can I? It's my whole way of life," he said.

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