By Kathy Forsyth at the Whakatane Beacon
Kelsey Waghorn says she has an incredible support system in her partner, family, friends and therapists, and leans on them a lot.
The 26-year-old White Island tour guide suffered full thickness burns to 45 per cent of her body from the eruption on December 9 last year and had undergone numerous skin grafts, often sharing her progress on Instagram.
The Whakatane Beacon's Kathy Forsyth asked her how her recovery was going.
Q: How far have you come in terms of your recovery this year? And what are you still facing?
A: I've made huge improvements in my strength, coordination, range of motion and balance, which has made me a lot more independent since I was discharged mid-February.
I'm driving myself to appointments, and rarely need assistance now, which has been a huge boost for me mentally. In all honesty, if you'd told me in January that my Waikato plastic surgeons had to double check whether my hands were grafted or not, I would have laughed you out the door.
But all of my grafts have healed remarkably well, and as the red/purple/black colour comes out of them, it does get hard to tell. Even my donor sites are settling down.
I'm still trying to get more range of motion out of my right hand, but it's coming along slowly, and we're hoping I can get near full range back – if not full range.
I'm really struggling in the heat, and I still have to be super careful– my grafts are still very fragile, and knocking into things, or even too much pressure on joints from the compression garments, can cause holes – and I'm so over bandages.
Q: Besides the physical injuries you suffered, there has obviously also been an emotional and mental impact. How have you coped with this and how do you go about healing this sort of impact?
Mentally, I still have a long way to go.
I have an incredible support system in my partner, family, friends and therapists, and I lean on them a lot. When I don't want to be around anyone, though, I either try to distract myself by going for a walk with the dogs or reading – when that fails, I just curl up on the couch and cry.
These wounds will take years to heal, and unfortunately, sometimes I just need to ride out the dark days, knowing I won't always feel like this.
Q: What has it been like for you dealing with all the attention? You are fielding other local, national, and international, media attention. What has this been like, how have you managed to deal with this?
A: It's been a bit weird, and sometimes invasive – especially all the really early ones to my family right after the eruption.
We've had someone recently just show up at mum and dads place looking for me, which was not on, and makes me feel vulnerable and head-hunted. I actually don't feel safe going out on my own anymore.
On the whole, though, people have been incredibly lovely and kind to me. A lot are just generally curious as to how the body heals after something like what I've been through – which is fair enough because it is fascinating what the body can come out the other side of. I've even had a lot of people say that by seeing my story and scars, it's helped them realise their scars aren't something to hide or be ashamed of.
Though I never set out for that kind of response, it's been so wonderful, and I've been in contact with some incredible humans – including medical staff all around New Zealand that were part of looking after us once we were shipped out to regional burns units.
It's been so good to be able to thank them, and also for them to see one of us recovering well.
Q: December 9 will be a day marked down in our history; how will you spend this day?
A: I'm going to spend the day with my family, friends and White Island Tours staff who were there on the day or worked with Hayden and I in the past. It's going to be really nice – and really sad, talking about all the memories we have of Hayden, Tipene and Whakaari.
Q: Can you tell me anything about the day you were rescued, what are your main memories of that day?
A: My main memories of the day are just sheer shock. At the time, and even on the way back to the mainland, I didn't think – or register, my injuries were as bad as what they turned out to be once I was properly assessed in Hutt Hospital.
The rest starts to get a bit jumpy after that because I was given some strong pain relief on the ride home. The only thing I remember from Whakatane A&E is telling the staff not to let my family in to see me until they'd got my pain under control.