How an accident with a toothbrush changed Bree-Anna’s life forever

Bree-Anna Antony was in the bathroom getting ready for her best friend’s wedding in February 2021 when she knocked an electric toothbrush from the sink onto her foot.

It would change her life forever.

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The toothbrush was missing its head, and the metal at the top of the handle impaled Antony’s big toe.

“I screamed,” Antony told “I was in pain.”

But she pulled it out and used a wet wipe to clean the area before putting a Band-Aid on it.

After all, Antony was determined not to ruin her friend’s big day.

She spent the whole day on her feet and “over the day it was getting more and more painful”.

Bree-Anna Antony (far left) suffered a life-changing injury on the morning of her friend’s wedding. Credit: Supplied

The accident occurred about 8am and by 2pm Antony’s toe was “black”.

“I thought it was broken,” she said.

When she went to shower after the wedding, the pain was unbearable.

“The water on it was excruciating,” Antony said.

“I couldn’t sleep with the cover on it.”

It was at this point she remembers thinking that it was definitely “more than a broken toe”.

A toothbrush impaled Bree-Anna Antony’s foot, leading to a diagnosis of complex regional pain syndrome. Credit: Supplied

The next day, Antony and her boyfriend made the drive from Wollongong back home to Parramatta, where her mother-in-law immediately asked why she was hobbling.

“I went to hospital (and we) ruled out it was broken,” Antony said.

She would then go through three MRIs, a bone scan, two ultrasounds and two more X-rays before they knew what was wrong.

“My GP said he thought I had complex regional pain syndrome (CRPS),” she said.

Bree-Anna Antony was in pain after her accident, but was determined not to ruin her friend’s wedding. Credit: Supplied

CRPS is a chronic pain condition in which a person experiences excessive and prolonged pain and inflammation, generally following injury to an arm or leg.

Antony was referred to a specialist, and was initially told there would be a long wait — until the specialist learned it was CRPS and scheduled an appointment as soon as possible.

Antony now visits a pain clinic regularly, as well as regular physiotherapy.

“I’ve had eight procedures since 2021,” she said.

She’s had six nerve blocks, a ketamine infusion and recently participated in a drug trial through UNSW’s Memoir Team.

Constant pain

Antony is in constant pain, with her leg going from boiling hot to freezing cold.

“It’s painful to touch and move,” she said.

“My leg and foot get muscle spasms, and it’s always swollen.”

Antony cannot wear pants, shoes or even a sock.

“Stress is another thing that can put me into pain flares that can last anywhere from days to weeks on end,” she said.

Bree-Anna Antony is in constant pain. Credit: Supplied

As well as dealing with pain every day of her life, Antony has had to deal with navigating how to get assistance from the government.

Due to her constant pain, she is unable to work. She has required the use of crutches and other mobility aids since 2021.

She was receiving Jobseeker payments for some time, but had to get a certificate every two months from her doctor.

To get this, she had to drive to her doctor. While applying for a disability permit, her licence was taken away.

To get NDIS assistance, Antony must first attempt every possible treatment for her condition. The one treatment she has not tried is a spinal cord implant.

The device implanted in her spine would send electrical pulses to interrupt her pain signals.

While Antony will “try anything” to be out of pain, she wanted to exhaust all other options before turning to such an intense surgical procedure.

“If I get that, then I might be able to apply,” she said. “But I could still get knocked back.”

‘Feels horrible’

The experience of trying to get help for her condition, amid rising costs of living, has been incredibly disheartening.

“It’s just really crap, to be honest,” Antony said.

“It feels horrible. It feels like I’m fighting for my life.”

Antony is “just trying to get by” and there are now some things she simply can’t do by herself — but illness and injury among her loved ones meant her support system was incredibly strained at times.

“NDIS would’ve been incredibly helpful,” she said.

Participating in a new trial

With no way of working and without any assistance from the government, Antony has been using her savings.

Her mother paid for a wheelchair, as Antony is unable to walk long distances.

“It means my freedom isn’t completely taken away,” Antony said.

She was able to join a trial with UNSW Memoir Team which didn’t cost anything.

The team has been funded by the Australian government to conduct a trial for people living with CRPS. The trial tests two new treatments, a medicine and a newly developed rehabilitation program.

The trial helped to relieve some of her symptoms, she said, and she urged others to apply for it.

“The more people, the better,” she said.

Feeling stuck

The trial has been a welcome development as she was “feeling a bit stuck”, Antony said.

“It’s been really really difficult,” she said.

“It feels like you’re not being seen.

“They made me feel comfortable and they made me feel seen.”

Government responds

A person with a disability preventing them from working more than eight hours a week may be able to seek an exemption from JobSeeker requirements, the Department of Employment and Workplace Relations said.

“Generally, exemptions are limited to 13 weeks at a time … they are designed to recognise temporary reductions in work capacity,” a spokesperson said.

“Payments such as Disability Support Pension are designed to support those with permanent medical conditions.

“When a person receiving JobSeeker Payment applies for Disability Support Pension, they are automatically exempt from job search and other mutual obligation requirements while waiting for their claim to be assessed.”

‘Complement not replace’

“The NDIS supports people with a permanent and significant disability or impairment,” an NDIS spokesperson said.

“The NDIS Act requires that we consider if a prospective participant will have the impairment their whole life, and that all appropriate treatment options have been explored.

“The NDIS is designed to complement, not replace mainstream services the states and territories provide such as the health system, which is generally responsible for services such as treatment and rehabilitation.”

Services Australia and the Department of Social Services did not comment.

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