‘The Ninja’ returns home with a vow to keep on punching By Tanya Fry

A young Hawk and his hero — Cebby meets Hawthorn legend Cyril Rioli last year.

A young Hawk and his hero — Cebby meets Hawthorn legend Cyril Rioli last year.

December 7, 2018. Cebby is sitting in a wheelchair. We are on our front porch eating my mum’s homemade meat pie left on our doorstep earlier. After 120 days in the Royal Children’s Hospital, we have just got home and I am appreciating the roses in our garden that have bloomed while we have been away. Cebby can’t see them or smell them but he can taste the meat pie and feel the breeze. “This is heaven,” he says. “It is so good to be home.”

It is good to be home. Our lives changed for ever on August 10, 2018. It was a fairly normal day. I had dropped Cebby off to school that morning. I had the flu and so was under blankets on the sofa watching the movie The Cup, about jockey Damien Oliver. In the movie Damien’s brother has just fallen and died. I am sobbing just as Cebby’s school calls. 

“There’s been an accident,” she says. “Paramedics are here. We are not sure what has happened. The principal is heading over there now.” I grab my nearest shoes and drive to the school, fast.

The elation’s obvious as Tanya and Cebby leave the Royal Children’s Hospital after 120 days.

The elation’s obvious as Tanya and Cebby leave the Royal Children’s Hospital after 120 days.

Nearing the school it is obvious where I need to go. There are fire trucks, police, paramedics and ambulances. I sprint past them all towards a big shed. When I get there I see Cebby. He is lying on the concrete shirtless. His school shoes are still on his feet and they don’t move. Paramedics are working on him. He is breathing, they say. No, I’m not allowed to hold his hand. I look up at the 6m skylight he fell through at lunchtime. It is high, really high. I worry he has broken his neck or back. A policeman drives me to the oval where a chopper is waiting. I take my seat and then Cebby is carefully placed in front of me. It is a sunny day.

The chopper lands at the Royal Children’s Hospital and we make our arrival through the roof. Nurses and surgeons are yelling, running, rushing, kind of like on TV. I’m ushered to a small room and a tiny woman — the brain surgeon who will operate — talks calmly. She says what has happened to Cebby and what they will do in the operation and what might happen. I hear words like “severe”, “bleeding in the brain”, “he might not survive”. She is calm and emotionless while talking. I am not calm. I can tell I am not calm because people are holding down my arms. Someone is making weird, loud noises and I realise it’s me. Then a social worker who talks too fast takes me to a room where I wait for hours.

Cebby is swollen beyond recognition. There are tubes in his mouth, up his nose, in his arms. His head has a bandage on it that says “no bone”. The room is full of machinery all attached to Ceb. I learn quickly what each machine does and what each alarm sounds like. There is a Codman in his brain that measures brain swelling. The monitor that detects the swelling levels dominates my days for weeks. A nurse gives me a date and says if he reaches this day he should survive. “You look like a puffer fish, Ceb,” she says gently. The nurses tell me it’s 5am and I should get some sleep. I look at them like they are insane. But eventually I go, and then come back at 6am.

“You are in hell right now,” a nurse tells me. I appreciate her honesty and imagine a doormat at the ward entry that says, “Welcome to hell”. Five days later Cebby turns 14 while he is in a coma. At 7am I imagine him unwrapping his present at home — a beautiful blue surfboard. 

The days go fast and slow at the same time. Mel, one of his ICU nurses, calls Cebby “miracle boy”.  But most call him “the ninja” because he constantly pulls off his ECG dots, IV drip and nasal gastric tube. His hands are bandaged but this doesn’t stop him. He uses his teeth to unravel the bandages. A pile of bandages is often left on his chest within seconds. The bandages look like boxing wraps and in his half-sleep he knows this and constantly spars the air above him.

Cebby still plans to ride the surfboard he got for his 14th birthday.

Cebby still plans to ride the surfboard he got for his 14th birthday.

We need to wake him up; he’s been under too long, they say. They prepare me for an ugly wake-up scene. He will be a different boy, they say. His breathing tubes are taken out and he coughs. “Good cough, Cebby,” I say. “Thank you,” he says. “Love you. My head hurts.” I see the head doctor from the corner of my eye throw up her arms in shock and say, “I’ll never believe another MRI again.”

A week later he has his second operation to fix the many fractures in his face and eye socket and put his skull back on. “Cebby can’t see,” he said to me one day.

There has been no crying or anger. There have been milestones fought and won. He is learning to navigate the world in the dark and is doing so with his typical humour and wisdom. There are many battles ahead to be fought but the one thing I know is Cebby will keep on punching.

Thank you to our wonderful community that has shown kindness and love. Special thanks to Mornington Peninsula Foundation, Bahas in Rye and Karen Catalucci Boxing for holding fundraisers; Jodie Hornsby for setting up the Go Fund Me page even when I said no; Cheryl Beattie from the Music Industry for writing a song about Cebby and giving the gift of a music scholarship; Jasmine Murray for checking in daily on our bird, Keats; the students at Dromana Secondary College who busked and baked to raise money for Ceb; my parents for looking after Early, our beloved kelpie; my brother for his love and support; our wonderful neighbours, Geoff and Linda, and my dear friend Tammy whose many visits to the hospital kept me nourished and sane. 

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