|Wesser and mates: Surreal experience after a visit to Colonial War Memorial Hospital (below) for appendicitis.|
"Outside the room where Wesser lay, bashing victims - including many women - lay on yellow blood-stained mattresses. Nearby, a man with one leg moaned and hunched forward while suffering stomach pains himself. Four dead bodies came into the hospital in the five hours or so that MacDougall and Cross stayed with their friend. 'It was just surreal".
April 03, 2012
By Glenn Jackson
Rhys Wesser was rushed to hospital in Fiji in the early hours of his birthday on Saturday, wondering if he was about to die, but it would not be the closest that a group of retired NRL players came to death during their trip to the island paradise.
As Wesser, the former Penrith and South Sydney fullback, lay on a bed surrounded by domestic violence victims waiting for treatment, Adam MacDougall went outside the dilapidated Colonial War Memorial Hospital for air.
A white taxi pulled up with two passengers inside, only one of whom was alive. A distressed woman motioned for MacDougall to help her, so the former Newcastle premiership winner leaned in to pull the man - who at that stage he thought was alive - out of the back seat of the cab.
The man was stiff like cardboard, wrapped in a sarong to his neck, and his eyes were open. ''He's no good,'' the taxi driver said.
''I picked him up to lift him out,'' MacDougall said. ''When I realised he was [deceased], it's human instinct, I sort of freaked out a bit.''
MacDougall and Wesser had been in Fiji, along with former Melbourne and Manly prop Matt Cross, as part of a visit through the NRL's Ambassador Program. They encountered floods, hurricane and cyclone warnings and airport chaos as they became stranded in the country, along with hundreds of other Australian tourists.
It was not the junket some might have expected but it would be rewarding nonetheless.
Wesser had started to feel unwell early on Friday, the day after the group's arrival, but the pain worsened during a dinner that night. His stomach felt bloated, but when he returned to his room he had throbbing pains. At 10pm, he spent 20 minutes on the treadmill and rode about 10 kilometres on the stationary bike, hoping that would ease the pain. It didn't.
He said he felt like he was being stabbed in the stomach. He showered and tried to sleep but the pain became more intense. He lay there for an hour, curled up on a bed in his hotel room in Suva, wondering whether he should risk a hospital visit in a country he did not know.
''I was thinking, is it appendicitis, is my stomach bleeding?'' Wesser said.
Eventually, he phoned MacDougall in his room just after midnight. MacDougall went to Wesser's room, thinking it was his idea of a joke, and was confronted by the Queenslander doubling over with pain, grabbing the right side of his body and saying he couldn't breathe.
MacDougall called reception and ordered a taxi, then phoned Cross, who had been joined by his wife Jodie, the NRL's community relations manager and the liaison for the trip.
''He said it was the worst pain he'd ever been in,'' MacDougall said. ''Whilst I was trying to remain upbeat, part of me was panicking, thinking: 'This is bad'.''
MacDougall and Cross took Wesser to the foyer. Wesser, a player renowned for his speed, was in so much pain that it took him five minutes to walk 200 metres. MacDougall asked the driver to take them to the nearest hospital, and the driver responded: ''He's f---ed.''
The frantic nature of the situation caused MacDougall to even seek advice from the makeshift ambulance driver. ''His organ's stuffed,'' the driver said. ''Operation.''
The taxi driver was good for something, though. He sped through red lights, flashed his lights and overtook cars illegally, and got the trio to the hospital in about half the usual time.
''I was terrified,'' Wesser said. ''I didn't know what was going to happen, whether they were going to cut me open. When the taxi driver pulled up, and we saw this random building, I've said to myself: 'This could be it for me.' I could walk in here and I won't be walking out.''
MacDougall offered the taxi driver a tip to help them communicate with the local medical authorities. Fortunately, there were rugby league fans among them, and Wesser was taken to the front of a long queue. Wesser was given morphine for the pain.
Quite early, doctors spoke of cutting him open; they said they would ready theatre. MacDougall had to convince them not to rush to take Wesser's appendix out.
Outside the room where Wesser lay, bashing victims - including many women - lay on yellow blood-stained mattresses. Nearby, a man with one leg moaned and hunched forward while suffering stomach pains himself. Four dead bodies came into the hospital in the five hours or so that MacDougall and Cross stayed with their friend.
''It was just surreal,'' Cross said.
As part of the Ambassadors Program, through the NRL's One Community, the players had been in Fiji to spend time in schools, teaching local children the basics of football and staying healthy. There were unexpected turns, yet they spread the message even amid the death and destruction.
They posed for photographs with police, security, doctors and nurses, and other tourists stranded with them - on April Fool's Day - at Nadi International Airport.
When they saw the flood-ravaged country, after Wesser was discharged - diagnosed with a stomach ulcer - from the plane which ultimately took the group from Suva to Nadi, they knew that the pain and suffering was being repeated everywhere.
When they returned to Sydney yesterday, via Auckland, they were exhausted and rattled, but amid all the dramas of the group's three days in Fiji, not one of the ex-players regretted going.
|The NRL players waiting to leave Fiji|