How a 26-year-old underwater welder is rebuilding his life from rock bottom
Nick Turnbull had his dream job, but he lost it after a car accident
December 9, 2016, 8:11 pm ASTLast Updated: December 13, 2016, 8:51 am AST'
For most people hitting rock bottom means hitting the lowest point of their lives, but for Nick Turnbull, hitting rock bottom was the best part of his day.
An underwater welder, Turnbull would spend hours at a time repairing ships. He worked with AllSeas, an international offshore contractor group, that specializes in pipe lay and subsea construction.
“I would say it’s equivalent to being on the moon,” Turnbull said about diving. “You’re not completely weightless but it’s pretty similar; it’s a whole other world down there.”
Turnbull spent up to nine months of the year travelling around the world. He experienced different cultures “on someone else’s dime,” all while doing a job he was passionate about. He thought he’d found the perfect job — until he was seriously injured in a car accident in September 2015.
Now, at 26 years old, Turnbull has to start all over again.
“It’s brutal,” he said. “The biggest worry is what I’m going to do now; I’m just really unsure of what the next step is for me.”
The car accident left Turnbull with four broken ribs, a collapsed lung, a pulmonary embolism and a three-millimetre tear in his aorta. He was in the hospital for two weeks and spent a month living with family.
Commercial divers have to pass strict medical tests to be allowed to get in the water. Having diabetes, lung or heart problems can lead to the failure of these tests and the end of a career. The injuries Turnbull sustained in the accident were enough to make him nervous, even though his diving doctors told him to stay positive.
Then he got bad news. He wouldn’t be able to dive again because his aorta would never fully heal.
“I have to start all over and go back to school for something I don’t even know if I’m going to like,” he said. “That is going to be the worst.”
He’s currently living at home in Halifax on long-term disability and is in the middle of a lawsuit related to the car accident.
Figuring out his next step has been a challenge. His friends and family have been supportive and are constantly giving him suggestions on what he can try next. He’s also working with a career counsellor because the post-secondary education he has only applies to diving.
“I got into diving because I love the water and then I loved what I did, so I stayed with it and excelled,” said Turnbull. “But now that I can’t dive; I don’t know if I really want to be in that industry, so now I(‘ve) got to figure out what I want to do.”
Turnbull’s girlfriend, Danica Gallant, has played an important role in the recovery process. Although Turnbull doesn’t say much about how this accident has affected his mental and emotional state, Gallant says that it’s been tough to watch him go through it.
The couple met after the accident, so Gallant never knew Turnbull as a diver. Instead, she’s been by his side as he heals and figures out his next career move.
“It’s your identity that is taken from you,” Gallant said. “Watching him go through learning that it wasn’t going to happen ever again was really hard for him.”
Having his dog, Nelly, around has also been a huge help.
“It’s very comforting, especially when I first got out of the hospital because I couldn’t really do much,” Turnbull said. “I started out just walking her and then me and (Danica) started doing yoga together, just to stay fit because I couldn’t go to the gym.”
To fill his time, Turnbull also volunteers with Big Brothers Big Sisters (BBBS). He is currently mentoring a 16-year-old boy and says they like to go hiking and swimming together. He also helps organize camping trips and other outdoor excursions with Big Outdoors, one of the BBBS programs.
Working with Big Outdoors and keeping active is right in line with Turnbull’s next step: a potential career as a conservation officer. He’s staying positive and hopes that working outdoors will be just a fulfilling as working as an underwater welder.
“I think I’ll be fine,” he said.