Jono | Paparangi, Wellington

“I work in the freezing works in Wellington, which, as any freezing worker would tell you, is a laborious, dirty, hard job, very physical. Look at my hand. I’ve only got three fingers and a thumb.

I’ve been working in the freezing works for 10 years. Around about seven years ago, give or take, I was involved in an accident at work, which after 12 months of treatment and therapy, resulted in my finger being removed. The initial accident, though small, created a huge problem. My hand became infected. I underwent around six operations to try and save my hand, but when the disease entered into my bone structure, it got to the point where they couldn’t save much of my hand. I had a choice of either losing the finger or losing half my hand. Both had their ups and downs. I chose the loss of my finger, and the suffering of constant phantom pain, which I was warned would happen, and so after all these years, it still aches. It still feels like it’s there, and being a boner and machine-operator in my job requires the strength of both hands, and I’ve had to overcome the pain to continue working. I’m lucky. I come from a family that doesn’t believe in giving up easily. We’re survivors in our family. That’s how we were taught, and we’ve been taught to do what you need to do in order to get ahead, and so it took a long time of therapy, ongoing hospital visits, being on portable machines to constantly pour medication into my body, to help enhance the healing. This required a huge amount of time off work, which really bothered me because I like to work. It was a challenge overcoming the loss of a limb. In my culture, to opt to have a part of you taken away is not a thing we take lightly. From a spiritual basis, from kaupapa Māori, tikanga Māori, we value our body. So, to have even just a finger taken off was a big decision for me. One that didn’t come easily, but I had very little choice. At the end of the day, if I wanted to continue in my job. So, that was a challenge that I overcame over a couple of years of constant medication, so on and so forth. I was lucky my job was supportive. Obviously, we have a great medical team that exists in New Zealand.

I don’t believe in giving up on things easily. It was a challenge, no doubt. I’ve learned that I can overcome even the most traumatic experiences, a) because of our upbringing. My mother taught all of our family to be independent, to be survivors, and to do what you need to do in order to go forward. In our family we’re taught to reflect on the past, but not live it, and so having the loss of my finger and the nerve damage which is consequential to that, because most this hand is actually numb, I have learned to adapt. I think that’s important in this day and age, adaptability, survivability, and to get on with life. You only have one of it, and you might as well live it to the best of our ability, and I don’t believe in something like this being a stopper, going forward.

I come from Ngāti Porou, which is on the Eastern sea border of the East Coast. My family come from the area of Ruatōria. I was born in Gisborne, and brought up back home. We moved to Wellington in the very early ‘70s, and I would spend six months in Wellington, six months back home doing my schooling, but for all intents and purposes, I call Wellington home. I visit my tribal region infrequently, to say the least, but Wellington has been my home for a long time, many years, and I’ve travelled all around the country for work and holidays, but Wellington is where it is.”

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