If Dawn Fricker had ignored her worsening headache one night in May,
and gone to bed instead of hospital, she wouldn't be here to tell the tale.
Simple as that, say the doctors and staff at Belmont Hospital who worked tirelessly to resuscitate the veteran hospital volunteer and stem a bleed in her brain. She was then taken to the nearby John Hunter Hospital for emergency surgery to remove part of her skull and relieve pressure on her brain.
The Lake Macquarie woman had concealed the injuries on the side of her face from a fall on the back patio from her husband Bill when he returned late in the afternoon from a day of bowls.
She made him a coffee and then dinner, all the while keeping her face turned away so he couldn't see the grazes and start worrying.
"I was silly really," she says. "And I didn't even think to call an Ambulance. It didn't seem that serious."
Fortunately, Dawn became alarmed by the mounting pain in her head and asked Bill to take her to the Emergency Department (ED) at the nearby hospital.
Walking through the doors later that night was familiar enough. Dawn has worked at the hospital's kiosk as a member of the Hospital Auxiliary for close to 20 years.
So were some of the staff, including security and hospital assistant Phil Smith, who wheeled her down the corridor for scans.
After that moment, she remembers nothing of the next five or so days. Only now is the seriousness of her condition and how lucky she was to have survived really sinking in.
Bill didn't think she would survive the short trip in a specialist retrieval vehicle, let alone the surgery at John Hunter Hospital, where neurologists and a surgical team were waiting to perform the life-saving craniotomy.
In the ED at Belmont, Dr Eric Pelichowski wasn't sure either.
"For us there is sometimes a big question mark at the end when a patient leaves – we don't really know what the outcome will be," he explains.
"Lucky for Dawn the bleed was slow and it gave us enough time to do something."
Luck sometimes plays a role in these things, he says.
Not to mention skill.
Lucky for Dawn she was in the right place at the right time.
The "something" included scans and tests that confirmed that the internal bleeding was continuing. The team set to work intubating the now-unconscious Dawn, regulating her breathing before it was too late, administering drugs to block the effect of her blood-thinning medication, and liaising with the team at John Hunter about the escalating situation.
"Three nurses, two doctors and they never stopped," recalls Bill.
Once at the Local Health District's major trauma hospital, Dawn was taken straight to surgery. There followed days in the Intensive Care Unit and neurological wards as she recovered. Three weeks later after swelling had sufficiently subsided she was back in hospital for further surgery to reinsert the part of her skull that had been removed and stored.
"I am so very lucky," says Dawn. "Having such wonderful staff at both hospitals – I cannot thank all involved enough for saving my life.
"And Phil, the security guard, was a wonderful support for my husband. He contacted our son Mark, and waited with Bill for him to arrive."
Dr Eric (as he is known) was moved, during a recent return visit from Dawn and Bill, to see how well his patient had recovered.
"It is a reward to me to see our patients' recovery, how we have made a difference in their lives. It gives me great satisfaction."
Dawn is still recovering – looking to the future as well as trying to piece together the recent past.
"I'm still hoping that I will be back in the not too distant future doing my volunteering at the kiosk."
She's giving up the tennis though.