“Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional.”
–M. Kathleen Casey
Have you ever asked for something you ended up not wanting? I not only asked to see Harborview Hospital’s chief neurosurgeon, I insisted on it. Finally he visited my room. He was a big rough-looking man, but as he stood beside my bed, he looked more like a truant student called into the principal’s office. My speech was garbled. I had to point to letters on an alphabet board to ask him how long he thought it would take before I could walk and drive again.
The noises coming from the hospital hallway seemed to fall silent. I held my breath. My beating heart pounded nails into my coffin. Why didn’t he answer? His eyes went from looking at the alphabet board to my face as he slowly told me, “You will never be able to walk or drive again.”
Never walk? Never drive? I’m a 19-year old roofer. I have to walk! I have to drive! Talk about being handed a set of limits. Frantically, I pushed my paralyzed leg off the bed and tried to stand up. Why was the room tilted? I reached out to balance myself on the bedside table, but I missed and fell on my face. The doctor and two nurses put me back in bed like I was some kind of weak, disease-ravished old man. How humiliating! I couldn’t have that. As soon as they turned around, I climbed back out and fell on my face again. This time they put me back and strapped me in.
As I lied there staring at the ceiling, I could see the writing on the wall (which is quite a feat). The belt strapping me to the bed was redundant. Horror at what lay ahead kept me frozen to the mattress. I was too scared to even think about the changes I faced, but an invisible force pulled my mind to where it had never gone before.
The bloodless handwriting on the wall stood out clearly; instead of hanging out with friends—backpacking, parachuting, snow and water skiing, going to rock concerts and to the beach—I’d be spending my time in therapy: physical, speech, occupational, and psychotherapy. What kind of life was that? I had always pitied people who had life-changing accidents. I could never even imagine it happening to me, but now it had. The impossible had happened: I was handed a life-sentence of limitations. How would I react?
Life since my motorcycle crash has been unlike anything I have ever known. Having my strong, capable body replaced by a shell of what it had been was like being plucked from a jungle of luscious, colorful fruit and thrown into a desert of heat-blasted sand.
Even more dramatic were the changes going on inside my head. My thoughts used to arrive with the speed of Indy cars. Now they arrived with the sluggishness of covered wagons on the Oregon Trail.
Looking back, there is no way I could have come this far if it hadn’t been for key people to guide me around pitfalls. I haven’t always listened to the guides, but as time and troubles have passed, I’ve become more willing to heed the advice of those who have gone before me.
At Harborview, nothing mattered but my memory of the great life I’d enjoyed. The doctor’s words echoed in my ears: “Never walk or drive again.” The dismal future I faced glowed on the wall where the bloodless hand had written its prediction. My life had exploded like a torpedoed battleship. All that remained were bubbles floating on the ocean’s surface—the ocean of my life.
All the things that had made me feel like a winner were gone! No high-paying job, no customized Camaro, no beautiful motorcycle. I couldn’t even get out of bed. Any possessions I owned were meaningless since I couldn’t use them anymore. My once strong athletic body was a now a useless pile of muscles and bones.
My gorgeous fiancée was all that remained of the life I’d enjoyed. I loved her before my accident when I was strong and independent. Now my love changed to a devouring need unlike any I’d ever known. I clung to her like a man clinging to a rope over a tank of hungry sharks.