Reflected

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This post has been a while in coming, as I have been a little unsure as to what I was feeling this time. Most years, when April 1st comes around and much of the world turns foolish, I reflect upon my accident and the changes in my life that ensued.

For those that don't know, I fell from a tree and broke my spine on the 1st April, twelve years ago. As each year rolls around, I never tire of the irony that this date represents for me, especially when the Health Service launches a campaign to reduce accidents among the mobility impaired and calls it "April Falls Day".

So, each year, I look back on my accident, the impact it had on me and my family and friends (virtually no-one has a spinal cord injury alone, and the impact on loved ones is often under-recognised), and I think of all the things I have done since, in spite of, or even because of that accident and my paraplegia.

It's a mixed picture. If I could go back and have another crack at it, I would choose a different path, but where that divergence came would be a hard choice. I'd probably still want to do the tree surgery, because that stuff is cool. Climbing huge living structures and doing what we can to keep them in good health is a great thing to do. It's also exhilarating.

Perhaps we might have made the move to Australia earlier? Started a family sooner? The list of options is endless, and all of it is completely irrelevant. We have but one life, and the path we have taken cannot be erased, only learned from.  Or something like that.

So as I can't have a do-over, I am stuck with two areas to focus on. The good and the bad (but what of the ugly? I hear you ask. Dear me, you really need to update your cultural reference points. That film is virtually as old as I am).

The bad is a long list, and one which has not become much shorter, save an initial flurry of activity in the first couple of years post-injury.

Not being able to walk or run sucks. Not being able to kick a football with my kids hurts a great deal. As does not being able to walk on soft sand, feel the grass between my toes, ride a surfboard, go seriously off road on bush tracks, etc. Then there's stairs, of course...

Being in constant pain sucks. All the time. It never gets easier. And it colours everything that I do and feel and think.

Not being six foot three anymore. Or thereabouts. Having to look up people's noses or try and work my way to the front of a crowd. Not being able to change lightbulbs, clear gutters, reach things on high shelves, etc.

Becoming the unwilling recipient of people's ill thought through platitudes that are usually intended to make me feel better, but only serve to provide succour for the messenger. Yes, there are people worse off than me. Yes, things are better now for 'people like me' than they were twenty or thirty years ago. Yes, technology and modern medicine is doing amazing stuff, and may even find a cure one day. No, I don't believe in God, and certainly don't see what I'm supposed to get out of your musings over what a non-existent supreme being may have had in mind when 'He' selected me to have a spinal cord injury. All I really want to do is get out of this fucking shop/car park/changing room/theatre/balaclava, etc.

So. That's the glass half-empty.
But on the plus side:

I have gained some great friends and learned from their fearless approach to life after injury (sadly, I have lost some of them along the way, and that hurts greatly. Death feels like a huge injustice).

Wheelchair basketball. As a consolations for not being able to play football anymore, it's a cracker. Wheelchair tennis is pretty good too.

I don't have to stand for national anthems. I never liked all that stuff, nationalism, flag waving etc. History is on my side on this one.

I have a different sense of what's really important in life (but maybe that just comes with the years on the clock and being a parent).

I have less time for superficial conversation. But I'm not sure I was ever very good at talking about superficial things unless you count football. Which you shouldn't. Because it isn't.

I am more confident in my ability to overcome challenges. This could be facing another day when feeling a bit shit, but more often it's just about working out how to do stuff.

I am more confident about tackling new things. "How hard can it be?" is usually what's going through my head when I am faced with something for the first time.
That's the glass half full.

 So now I face my thirteenth year, post-injury. The kids are both at school full-time, I am having my first art exhibition for a very long time in August (if I pull my finger out and get some work done), and I have just signed a contract with Penguin to co-author a rip-roaring tale of survival against the odds (if I pull my finger out and get some work done) I will say no more at this juncture.

In a change with tradition, I have decided to switch to a smaller glass. And guess what? It's full.
 

Finally, I would like to write a few words in honour of Daniel Turnbull, a man who touched many lives. This is what I shared when I learned of his passing,

Me sitting in a wheelchair, heading off the ward for the first time. Barely out of bed four weeks after breaking my spine, and this dapper chap in a wheelchair, sharp suit and shock of blond hair gives me a smile and says hello. Suddenly, a future doesn't seem quite so impossible. He was visiting a patient in his role as a solicitor, but he had time for me too.We talked about the accident. My accident. Well, mostly I talked and he listened. I think I cried a wee bit too. But he allowed me the space. He understood. I felt like I had joined the most fantastic club that no one ever wants to become a member of. I felt stronger.

I also noticed that he only had one castor wheel on the front of his chair, as he back wheel balanced his way around the spinal unit. Didn't have the time to get a replacement fitted, he told me with a grin...

Rest in Peace, Dan. Your life was far too short but, boy, you made it look like a lot of fun.

 
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