I was at a cardiologist a few months ago for an exam, and we began chatting while she was going over my chart. Her first personal question to me was, “what did you do before your injury?” A doc would normally ask about the present – what I do for a living, hobbies, am I married, etc. , but she completely overlooked the radical idea that I might actually have a life despite being a quadriplegic. In her defense, she seemed ignorant on a number of other topics, not just that.
Around the time of this posting, it will have been exactly 10 years since I last walked. I was at my home BMX track, getting in some practice laps, and on what I had intended to be my last run of the night, I lost control over a simple rhythm section. I never felt impacting the ground, though I was conscious through all of it. Before I’d stopped tumbling, I knew what had happened – though certainly not the full ramifications of it. Paramedics flew me out on a medevac and I can remember clearly praying to God to strike us down if I was going to spend the rest of my life in a wheelchair. Much like the ignorant cardiologist, I couldn’t comprehend a decent life in a chair.
Looking back, I’m glad that we did land, because I managed, to not only scrape a life back together, but an enjoyable one with few complaints. It hasn’t been the smoothest trip, but it has been an adventure that has introduced me to amazing people and opened up my mind about disability, mortality, and the underlying goodness of people. In a word, I’m grateful – not for the accident – but for what I’ve gained from it.
Over the past ten years, there have been many people who were strong when I was weak, and who loyally held on while I tried pushing them away. On this, the anniversary of my accident, I want to thank everyone who’s been there for me. I’m mentioning folks in “order of appearance”, so if I leave anyone out, I may not have been in the best shape at that point in time to remember, so, sorry in advance.
First off, my parents who took on managing my health and, well, everything in the beginning, and have been a source of strength over the years. While I was in the hospital, my mom stayed in Atlanta to be with me every day. After moving back into my parents’ home, my mom, day in and day out, cared for me. I physically couldn’t and emotionally didn’t want to do anything. My mom found doctors, scheduled appointments and got me to and from them. When I broke down, it was her shoulder I cried on. My dad took on managing the shutdown of my business and the bills, insurance, and finances of an individual who wasn’t very organized to begin with. In the years since, I had various health crises, and my dad has been my rock and my best friend, and always there for me.
Matthew B. Moore and Lynn Witherspoon, stepped in to keep my video production business afloat among many, many other things immediately following my accident. We were halfway through producing a TV series for the city of Greensboro at the time, and Matt worked many, many long days fulfilling various obligations and keeping the company alive at a time when we believed I might return.
Thank you to all the friends who wrote and visited while I was down in Shepherd Center in Atlanta. I was so isolated while in the hospital in Atlanta, and so far away from home, making visiting difficult. The letters kept me going and reminded me that I had plenty of people who missed and cared for me.
Corey Tatum was a former employee of mine who had moved to Atlanta. We hadn’t spoken in a while, but on one particularly rough night while in the hospital, I looked down the dark hallway, and Corey emerged from out of nowhere. It was one of the best, most unexpected surprises of my life.
When I left Shepherd, I came up to Northern Virginia to live with my parents. I was physically weak, had been dumped by my girlfriend, and was 300 miles away from what had been my home for 10 years in North Carolina. Julie Sink made the 4 hour drive regularly to visit and spent many hours talking to me on the phone. It was the first flicker of a normal life I’d seen since my accident.
Six months later, I was at Woodrow Wilson Rehab Center in Virginia to rebuild some strength and learn how to regain some independence. While there, Kelly Lum was my OT and she worked with me on fine motor skills, getting dressed, and transfers. Ed worked with me in the gym to build upper body strength and he taught me how to negotiate obstacles in a chair. When two people teach you the skills that you’ll use daily for the rest of your life, you’ll never forget them, especially when they’re as wonderful and compassionate as Ed and Kelly. A year later, I would return to WWRC and Mary Breister would teach me how to drive and help me get my drivers license. She was wonderful and made the trip up here to help me get a van with the right equipment.
While I was at Woodrow Wilson, I was often visited by Jeff Wirick, who had been a good friend since college. He coincidentally was covering the Burlington Indians game for his paper, just a few hundred yards away, at the time I had my accident. He came to visit while I was in ICU and made the drive to WWRC several times to visit. He’s been a great friend and whenever we get together, things are just like they’ve always been.
For a time early on I was living in a nursing home (which is no place you or your loved ones ever want to end up), and I’d take public access to Silver Spring and hang out with Carrie Lancos, a college friend. I’ll never forget the time she reluctantly helped me up an escalator in my chair when there was a perfectly good elevator. We neglected to realize that, while we were briefly stuck at the top, a few people were piling up behind us.
Tracey Stark, a good friend from school who was living overseas, frequently called while I was in the nursing home, and his wit and filthy sense of humor helped me forget about my situation and where I was.
While in the nursing home, I met Sahid Karmara, who worked as a CNA at the time. When I moved into an apartment he became my live in aide, and as I became more independent, he moved out and became a part-time aide. He has been my aid for most of the last 8 years, and during that time he’s become like a brother. He’s caring and dependable, and one the hardest working people I’ve ever known. There’s no way I’d be where I am if it weren’t for Sahid.
Christine and Don Pazsko, owners of ATL, were clients before I was injured. They kept in touch while I was in rehab and helped me ease back in to work, sending projects my way, and allowing me to work at my own pace. They are two of the most generous people and business owners I’ve ever met, and always fun to be around.
In 2008 I got on twitter and got a black lab named Sadie (also on twitter). I never could have foreseen the impact both would have on my life. Twitter got me in touch with hundreds of people and took me on a trip to New York for a party. But most importantly, it’s how I met my girlfriend. I wasn’t looking for love at the time, but I found it in Lori. Never had I known anyone who fit me as well. She’s smart and funny, and accepts me for who I am and is able to relate in so many ways. I had a medical crisis that lasted for about 18 months, and I wouldn’t have gotten through it without her love and support.
Since I got Sadie, she’s become a service dog – picking things up for me – but she also gets me out and active. Without her, I’d never have coincidentally bumped into Dave Jordan, who happens to own her sister. Over the past couple of years, Dave’s become a good friend and we often get together with the dogs.
Lastly, I have to thank everyone in the quad community. Every one of them has their own story of loss, recovery and acceptance. It’s those stories and experiences that newly-injured people can take comfort in and learn from.
Shortly after I was injured, I met with a counselor who was a quadriplegic going on 30 years. I asked him if he thought about his accident every day – after all, at that point, I thought of mine every ten minutes. He said that he didn’t - something I couldn’t comprehend at the time. But, after a couple of years, I eventually found myself thinking about my accident less and less.
It isn’t that I’ve forgotten. It’s that in all the pain and struggle over the years, I’ve met people, had experiences, and discovered new things.
Nowadays I step back and look around at the people, experiences, and new things I have and realize it all starts to resemble a life – something I never thought I’d have again – and I’m grateful.