He heals horses with exceptional skill, yet this counted for nought at 2 am, when Ian Nielsen shuddered violently, almost levitating from his bed.
In peril, he sweated until the morning when an ambulance whisked him off to hospital where he stayed overnight, only to be misdiagnosed and sent home with Panadeine Forte. Two days later a helicopter flew the veterinarian to Alexandra Hospital in Brisbane where doctors only just saved his life.
He suspects switching arthritis medication ruptured an ulcer, causing his stomach wall to leak ingestive acid into his abdominal space.
“I really should have been dead, there was no coming back from where I was,” he said. “They said to Trish (his wife) I had a 40 per cent chance of survival, I think that’s medic speak for none.’’
Dr Nielsen has spent eight years recovering from his ordeal by challenging western medicine and finally, painfully, getting enough feeling back into his fingers to write a book, “Still Here” that will be launched soon.
Years earlier he had sold the Canberra Veterinary Hospital and family home in Deakin and moved to a new practice and cattle enterprise at Rowes Lagoon on the Federal Highway near Collector.
A drought and two disastrous property deals had left him broke by September, 2008, when his stomach erupted like a volcano. He and Trish had travelled up north to support their daughter who was about to have a baby.
“We went there to be the grandparent help, and finished being the grandparents from hell because I beat her into the hospital by a day and I was in there while she was having a baby.”
Dr Nielsen has no memory of the helicopter flight to Brisbane. Every organ began to shut down bit by bit, including his brain. “The final nasty is DIC, disseminating intravascular coagulation, the body is like a tree starved of water and dropping the end of limbs, trying to hold the heart of the tree together,” Dr Nielsen said.
Clots formed all over him. His fingers, toes, nose, ears and brain were deteriorating. His heart had multiple mini attacks. For two years he was without his short term memory.
Earning a living was a battle. “I was as weak as, I think most people that saw me would rather I wasn’t working on their horse because I looked more of a risk than their horse did.”
After nine months his health plateaued. He sued the hospital that misdiagnosed him, settling out of court and agreeing not to mention the town or hospital in which his ordeal occurred.
Eventually he sold Rowes Lagoon, bought a home in Goulburn, where in 2012 he started going to the gym, and looking for different paths to nerve endings. The large animal vet reflected on the Chinese who performed caesarian sections to remove calves from cows.
“It flies in the face of what we know about standard western neurology,” he said. “If you understand that story, then it opens up a lot of the so-called parallel, quasi medical areas.
“I wanted to get out of that belief that if you cut a nerve that’s the end of the story. If we can bypass it and get up to the brain, then I can still challenge the brain somehow or other to respond.”
He wanted to exploit the peripheral part of each organ that had not given way to the severe loss of oxygen. “How do we get these little cells going? Well I thought the only challenge that I could get those cells to bud and grow was to repeat that shock, and not kill them,” he said.
“That was the hypothesis. So I went to the gym and spoke to Karen Waters at Goulburn Physiotherapy. I wanted to take this way past where the average joe goes to in the gym, and want to push past my maximum heart rate at least once if not twice every session.
“Bit by bit I unfolded the science behind it. I told her my intention was to work on my heart and brain in particular and peripheral nerves.
“I threatened my body each time by taking the exercise program to the point of being almost ridiculous. I would go to maximum heart rate and then I would push past it and have a flat out 30 seconds over maximum heart rate.”
Eventually he retrieved cardiac muscle and brain functions.
Before recovering, his vocabulary was minimal, as he found once when asked for as many words beginning with C. “I was so embarrassed. In two minutes I got six words starting with C.”
A member of the Black Mountain Rowing Club, the 73 year-old now rises at 4.30am in Goulburn to be on Lake Burley Griffin by 7am. Dr Nielsen is back, alive and energised.
Captions: Top, Ian Nielsen on the water at Lake Burley Griffin. Photo: Rodney Palmer.
Above, Ian Nielsen in his office in Goulburn. Photo: John Thistleton.