If it was not for the brutal physical training Captain Errol Tustin received at the South African Police Service Dog School which left him able to overcome any physical challenge, Tustin doubts he would have survived the bullet which paralysed him 14 years ago.
On July 13, 2001, the decorated and award winning dog handler was following up information in iNyoni in the Ilembe District Municipality of KwaZulu-Natal, when a suspect shot him in the throat with a 9mm Parabellum calibre pistol.
Even before he hit the ground, Tustin was paralysed.
Despite being given only a 2% chance of surviving the first two years, Tustin beat the odds.
Three years after he was shot, after strenuous and painful rehabilitation, still in extreme pain and barely able to walk, he took a transfer to do an office job.
Being back at work was a huge relief for Tustin even though, he says, he had to pay for his own laptop and other equipment so he could be able to do his duty.
Except the office was on the first floor.
In 2009 he fell down the stairs and injured his hip and lower back. Medical bills escalated and he had to fight for bare necessities.
It was then he was medically boarded.
“That’s when I died inside, it was the police which killed Errol Tustin,” the angry officer said in his hoarse whisper.
“If it wasn’t for a dear colleague in the SAPS, a lawyer, an advocate and a registered medical sister, who fight tooth and nail to help me every day, I would never have made it financially … that’s when you think of suicide,” says Tustin.
“It is said a member pays the highest price if he loses his life on duty. But believe me, people like us pay the highest price every day when injured on duty and left paralysed in a sea of pain. Support from the SAPS is so slow and sometimes non-existent, sometimes I feel I am being ignored and fighting is exhausting.”
After 14 surgeries and seemingly endless drug treatments at hospitals across country Tustin is out of surgical options, and has an allergic reaction to almost every pain relieving drug there is.
Tustin describes his pain as a constant electric vibration, with shocks from his neck down into his feet.
He cannot tolerate anything against his skin, as it contact intensifies the pain and usually triggers violent spasms.
“I wish people could see, if I remove the mask, the blue electric worms twisting and forever shocking me from my head to my toes,” he says. “Only then would you be able to see that Errol is not here, anymore.”
As he is speaking to The Citizen, his body goes into a spasm caused by the nerve damage and his left forearm muscles knot and bulge as he grabs the frame of the metal cage keeping the bedclothes off his lower limbs.
He grunts repeatedly with the effort of not shrieking and when the spasm passes, he seems shrunken from the effort.
“I gave the police my all, but it seems it was not enough,” Tustin says.
His new war is with seemingly lackadaisical officials in the police dragging their feet over paying his medical bills and compensation for the adaptions he had to make to his house.
“I’ve given up hope to be refunded for the more than R600 000 I had to pay out of my own pocket for office equipment, house adaptions, medical expenses and so on concerning my disability. If it wasn’t for my family and my faith, I would never have made it,” Tustin says.
All he wants is his escalating bills for desperately needed medical supplies and equipment settled timeously.
Friends on Facebook have started a trust fund and prayer group to which the public can contribute and he uses these funds to take care of some of the bills, “but it is a never ending battle,” said Tustin.
Tustin says despite the SAPS’s exhortations it embraces disability, with “millions of Rands available” for members with disabilities, and tens of thousands of Rands used every month for holding/booking meetings at luxury venues, nothing was done to accommodate him. Despite being required to submit monthly reports, Tustin says the police social services have never assisted him.
Tustin says he has proof that social services were not under staffed.