On what began as a typical rainy February afternoon with temperatures hovering near the freezing level, I was driving alone into town with my girlfriend’s car and speeding down the country roads of Oregon where we lived. Our house was at fifteen-hundred feet of elevation, making us subject to frost and black ice in places, which were commonly found amongst the shadows of the evergreen trees in early afternoon. I wasn’t driving my pick-up truck that I was familiar with, but instead choose to take her little sports car because of mechanical problems with my truck. The unforeseen black ice factor unfortunately was not in my mind when I was flying down the hillside and ultimately led to my crash. This life changing tragedy some eight-plus years ago has rendered me a quadriplegic with a whole slew of obstacles to overcome in my life.
“When It Rains…It Isn’t a Raincoat That I Need”
In late May, and for no reason that I could ascertain, it all starts off with a sore-throat, followed by the inevitable runny-nose, and then of course the coughing ensues, what we have here folks -- is the dreaded cold of late spring! For me, being an eight-year post-accident quadriplegic who strives diligently to maintain his health (100+oz. H2O-daily/great exercise program/ample daily vitamin intake/near-sterile caregiver environment), I was soon to realize just how bad the timing could be. So, I went to my doctor and he prescribed an antibiotic that, in combination with my previously mentioned daily routine, cleared me up enough to return to school -- or so I thought…
I live in an Adult Family Home (AFH) with four other guys in my age group (30’s, 40’s & 50’s, respectively) and we are all taken care of by an assortment of caregivers (CG). During the beginning of May, the main CG up and quits, with no warning, no notice, and no explanation--just left us, so the owners had to scramble to find a quick-fix. The remedy came in the form of two untrained teenagers who spent more time on their cell phones than they did in the kitchen! In addition to these two ‘new adults,’ was a third gal in her forties who currently had three youngsters who had colds. Although her kids were at home -- their germs had made the trip. The result, inevitably, had me reversing my plans to return to school; instead having to go to the local hospital for further treatment where I would languish for several days.
The hospital visit lasted five days and while I was at their mercy the unthinkable happened. Somehow, during the transfer for a C.T. Scan (from the gurney to the table, and/or the other way around) my supra-pubic catheter became disconnected and I was the only person to notice -- 45 minutes later back up in my room! It’s now a ‘no-brainer’ that my problems now had escalated to a full-blown U.T.I.
“Good thing that I didn’t have to worry about school” -- Yeah, right…!!! My teachers, who were both understanding and forgiving to my predicament, allowed me to turn in my assignments later than my fellow classmates. The domino-effect which resulted here, and coupled with my diminished mind of frustration and angst, did allow me to pass my classes, but with a personal worst and sacrificed G.P.A.
Next up on our poor-timing list was my two year-old power chair. The gel-seat gets a puncture which leaves me leaning sideways, and the power box keeps shorting itself out, all the while I’m trying to maneuver through: the campus; to and from medical appointments and other common A.D.L.’s (Activities of Daily Living). My wheelchair guy was on vacation and his temporary replacement knew more about the weather than he did about disability equipment. All of the homemade sure-fixes which I would try and employ -- towel placement for seat equilibrium; or both of my brother in-laws guidance for any mechanical solutions; and finally trying and then being unable to get a service loaner -- were sadly all to no avail.
“Maybe this Dating Thing is not for Me”
Trying to pick up my thirty-something existence and find some type of normalcy and companionship for my own self-worth, I just can’t fathom why rejection from a female counterpart is so continual? I mean so what is it -- me or the chair? When I spot a potential and maybe future candidate that I could -- laugh with, watch a movie together, or just share my emotions with her, I constantly receive the same hard to digest answer, No Thanks!!!
I meet a pretty lady in my class at school and we start talking and hit it off pretty well. We share a lot of similar interests like action movies, wildlife and helping others. Time goes by and I share some flirting innuendo with her; she opens the non-automatic door for me and says that she’s hot (pretty warm that day) so I playfully agree with her---yes you are; and she just laughs and closes the door. Another time, we (her walking, me rolling) are sharing the same pathway to separate classes and she states that she is taking aerobics and I concur, yes I can tell. After this inviting and smitten candor with her during the school quarter I suggest to her; so what are your plans for spring break? She says that she’s just hanging out with no plans, so I optimistically inquire that we could do something, and her immediate reply---No Thanks.
I know now, that it’s the wheels underneath me and this may just be my destiny. Isn’t it alright for me, a quad with a positive attitude and a lot going for him, to ask an elite beauty with a good personality out to just do something?
I go online to various disability websites and seem to run into the same thing every time -- no one geographically nearby, or the scarce few that are, don’t fall under my ever-decreasing criteria. The regular dating sites are not responsive to my plight of being alone either. If I am honest about my disability, the feedback wanes due the wrong assumption that I would need to be taken care of -- HELLO I have caregivers for that! I pride myself for being very independent with a physical fitness program, and a general positive outlook for my future. My M.O. gets less restrictive every day. My motives are clear and concise; be the most that I can be in all areas and facets of my life, and to never just settle for good enough. I present situations for myself to be: Active, around people, optimistic, shedding light to others that I’ve been alone way too long and if they might know of someone, hint, hint, I am available, and learning from all expectations and experiences, both positive and negative.
Pessimistically, I see this pattern in many areas of my world; getting needed physical therapy with my insurance after three years post-injury -- not gonna happen; hiring long-term quality caregivers capable of handling quads -- like finding a needle in a haystack; and of course attracting a significant other that I want to be with -- hopefully in the next millennium.
I don’t want to whine about my issues, but this reality has transcended itself into me so deeply that my optimism and hope are constantly being tested. It isn’t just about surviving the spinal cord insult, which seems like the easiest part; the hard part is surviving the daily insults to my optimism and hope. So I beat myself up emotionally trying to remain complacent every day, holding on to the hope that my turn with the first string will eventually come. But alas, we only have today.
I believe that my continual ability to remain patient during the countless episodes of frustrating circumstances that I am faced with, has at the very least, earned me a black-belt or a PhD. in patience. It is my honest understanding that without the ongoing faith that has been instilled in me, my life would not have the significant meaning that I currently cherish. From returning to school and becoming a published author; to becoming a part of ‘the latest craze’ in all of sports----Power Soccer----a great game designed for all of us in powerchairs. Being able to transmit my thoughts, hopes and aspirations into the written word, has for me, been the tool for dealing with any adversity that life may throw my way.
Ya know, being in a chair 24-7-365 with a quarter million other Americans sure isn’t easy, but when life gives us all -- able bodies too -- a mountain to climb, or an unforgiving hurricane to withstand, we need to dig deep within ourselves to find a way to endure. For me, I have truly been blessed with wonderful parents and five other siblings, who have taken enormous amounts of their time, money and efforts, to see my through anything. Along with these irreplaceable angels’ in my life, is my endearing belief in God. My steadfast belief that God; through His holy & marvelous networking of: His Son Jesus Christ, The Holy Spirit, All of the Angels & Saints, and us; His children here on Earth, leads me to believe that anything or task, can be overcome.
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