November 8, 2008, I was in an automobile accident that damaged my spinal cord up in my neck. This spinal cord injury (SCI) permanently paralyzed my body from the armpits down.
I've gone through a lot of intense emotions and cycles of emotions since my accident. And I say cycles because I think I've been through the cycle of grief about a million times.
I have times when my disability consumes me; I have times when I struggle fiercely to move on, and I have times when I feel the work put in is helping me find a new version of a happy me.
My most recent phases have been "ignore" and "avoid".
Over the last year or two, I've been trying to ignore the fact that I am disabled, in a wheelchair, and quadriplegic. I try not to talk about or acknowledge it; I avoid looking in mirrors and participating in events having to do with SCI. Unfortunately ignoring and avoiding doesn't make my quadriplegia go away.
I've been doing some thinking and soul-searching lately. As much as I wish I were not quadriplegic the fact remains I am.
I want to be happy and trying to ignore and avoid is not helping me achieve that happiness. It's actually just making me more unhappy with what and who I am.
I want to love and I want to be loved but right now I'm really believing that old cliché saying "you have to love yourself first" holds true.
So that's what I'm working on. This website is an effort to help others, help you, and at the same time hopefully help myself. We are in this together so let's travel it together.
How I got Here - My Accident
This might be hard for some of you to read so if you want to skip it, it won't hurt my feelings. Hell, I wish I could skip it!
It was about 6:45 in the morning on a Saturday and I was on my way to a special work event for Be the Match - The National Marrow Donor Program. Every year they hold a conference to bring together and educate people from around the world involved in the bone marrow transplant industry. A coworker and I were to do two presentations that morning and for the first time ever, I was actually excited to get up there in front of people and knock it out of the park (public speaking was never quite my favorite thing).
I was the only one on the road that morning. I was not driving distracted. My hands were on the wheel; my eyes on the road and the music wasn't too loud. I was just driving and thinking about the day to come.
A large crash on the driver side of my Honda Pilot pushed me off the road.
I had no idea what happened.
I remember thinking I should steer my vehicle back to the side of the road but I could not move my arms. It didn't really phase me. I thought maybe I broke my arms and that's why they couldn't move but I did think it was strange there was no pain.
A big buck laid completely across my windshield, antlers in front of my face. I remember wanting to raise my arms to cover my face. I feel like they moved; I feel like I did it. Then again maybe I didn't since I had not been able to use my arms to turn the steering wheel.
I was then heading towards some trees. If I couldn't turn the wheel I should at least apply the brakes so I didn't crash into the trees, but I couldn't. My legs didn't work. For some reason, that fact didn't panic me either, maybe again because there was no pain ... How could something bad have happened when nothing hurts? Unable to stop, I crashed into the trees.
That was that. The damage was done.
The reason I could feel nothing was because I sustained a C5-C7 spinal cord injury in that accident (although some medical records say C4-C7). This means my spinal cord and the nerves that run within it were injured between the 4th or 5th and 7th vertebrae.
My SCI means I am paralyzed from the armpits down with limited use of my arms and no use of my hands. I have no skin sensation below my armpits. If my eyes were closed and you touched me I would never know it. I have very minimal use of very few torso muscles (I tip over easily and have a big ol' quad belly).
There are also many secondary conditions that go along with this type of spinal cord injury:
- sexual dysfunction
- neurogenic bladder (no control of bladder)
- neurogenic bowel
- autonomic nervous system dysfunction (the body is unable to or has difficulty regulating blood pressure and body temperature)
- weak diaphragm (very weak cough, difficult to speak loudly)
- autonomic dysreflexia
- nerve pain
- and lots more
After the accident, I was taken to a local top-rated hospital. I have very little recollection of my first days maybe even a few weeks.
I know I spent at least several days in intensive care. I vaguely remember a visitor, doctor, or nurse stopping by here or there.
I was on a ventilator and was able to be weaned off of it. I do remember one time panicking when they were talking about taking the breathing tube out; I figured I would not be able to breathe at all. They told me to relax because I had just been breathing for a while without it. First victory complete!
After that time at HCMC was then transferred to Abbott. In addition to providing top-notch care, this hospital also incorporated rehabilitation therapy.
I spent a few weeks there and was then transferred to Courage Kenny Rehabilitation shortly after Christmas 2008. I spent several months there having physical and occupational therapy every weekday, strengthening and trying to learn some activities of daily living (ADLs).
I was at Courage until right after my birthday, so the middle of June.
That adds up to a bit over seven months spent in hospitals and rehab. Seven months away from my daughters and my life. My life that was no longer recognizable when I went back to it.
The New Normal
It's been a long time since my accident and I have established that "new normal" that we all need to find. It's not what our life was; it's not what we expected for our life, but it's what we have here and now.
We can choose to deny it, ignore it, avoid it, be angry at it, hate it ... but those negative actions and emotions won't change it.
I've already told you my new normal has been filled with a lot of negative feelings and emotions but ... I am ready to change that. I am ready to find my new normal that can bring me happiness.
I'm not 100% sure how to find that ... but I feel being here with you and doing this website is the beginning.