Thursday, October 22, 2009
Four Years Gone
In many ways it is a new birthday for me. The day that one life ended and another began. It took a long time for me to realize that. This past year has been a lot about fully embracing my new life, and I can honestly say that it has taken me places I never expected to go. If you take a look at last years post "Three Years Gone" I talked about looking forward to an uncertain future and saying loudly "I AM NOT AFRAID!" Apparently I was really tempting fate, but I've had an eventful year and I wouldn't trade any of it for a second! (Unless Chrysler would have faced me in court.) :)
When I woke up this morning I found myself thinking about the road so far. From waking up delirious in a hospital bed and imagining things that weren't there to where I am today. Each year has been vastly different than the one before it. This was not the case in my pre-accident life. Almost every day (post college graduation) I awoke and went to work and dealt with the same issues over and over again. Sure, the people changed from time to time, and I moved around the country a bit, but my daily activities were always pretty similar from year to year. I certainly can't say that now.
Year one was all about recovery, physical therapy, exercises, more surgery, prosthetic training, driver training, and a gradual return to independence. Year two was about returning to my old life/old career, and the struggle between the person I was and the new person who had been forged in the Jeep fire. Prosthetic training and the quest for independence continued in year two as well. Year three was about accepting that who I had been no longer mattered as much as who I was becoming. It was about releasing that person, his dreams, his frustrations, his career, and the future he had planned so that I could truly embrace my new life. Year three also included more surgery. Year four has been about learning who this new Jeremy Warriner is without the burden of the past. My hope is that I have brought the best aspects of who I was and have built upon them to become a better person, while leaving the negative aspects of my past self behind. I have never felt more free to be me than I have this past year.
Whether I'm speaking to a group of children, or testifying before a Congressional subcommittee, the only person I have to worry about representing is me. That's huge. So, I don't have a job in the conventional sense, but the work I do is far more rewarding (emotionally) than working for someone else's profit was. My vision for the future is no longer guided by goals and measurements that someone in an office 100 miles away decided were important. My vision for the future is now set by me alone and whether I succeed or fail is up to me, and when I do fail I learn a lesson, as opposed to receiving a punishment. (If you've ever been given a written warning because you made a mistake, or you allowed someone who reports to you to make a mistake, then you understand what I'm talking about.)
As I found myself thinking about what brought me here I also found myself wondering why it's taken me so long to become who I am today? Did I really need to return to work after the accident, or was that just a waste of time? Did I have to go through all of the suffering and infections? Did I really have to lose my legs in a horrible fire? The answer to that question is clearly yes, or else I would not have had the experiences that have brought me to this point in time. I would still be worrying about whether all the towels were hanging evenly in the hotel rooms, whether all of the staff would show for work tomorrow, and numerous other things that, in the grand scheme of things, don't really make life better for any of us. And because the answer to that question is yes, the answer to all the other questions is yes as well. It truly is the journey that counts.
My journey has turned me into a person who lives in service to others. My life before the accident was spent in service to others as well but, as mentioned above, my service was for someone else's profit, and I don't mean profit for the people I was trying to serve. This past weekend I attended an Adult Burn Survivor retreat at Bradford Woods. Part of the retreat included several team building activities that were great fun, but also educational. What I learned was that, due to the way my prosthetics work, I could not complete all of the activities, but I could make certain that the rest of the group was able to succeed. There was a time when I would have been very frustrated by the fact that I couldn't do everything myself. What astounded me was that when I realized I couldn't do certain activities myself, but could help the group reach the goal, I wasn't frustrated in the least. Somewhere along the way I have learned to be happy with what I can do, and not let the things I can't do prevent me from enjoying myself.
A perfect example is how I'm choosing to recognize the anniversary this year. The first year we had a family dinner. The second year I think I just stayed home. The third year I had a party. This year I will take part in a two mile walk/fund raiser for Easter Seals Crossroads. I won't be able to physically walk the full two miles, but I was able to get others to walk and donate funds that will ensure several important programs for people with disabilities will be able to continue this year!
What will happen in year five? I have no idea. Will good things happen in year five? Absolutely. Will anything bad happen in year five? Most likely. Will I allow the bad things that happen in year five to hold me back and turn me negative? Absolutely not! Yes, it is the journey that counts, but more importantly, it is our perception of those events that make us who we are. Come on Year Five!
Saturday, October 10, 2009
Taking a Fall
Last week I was at Joann Fabrics (To the guys who are reading this: I had a good reason for being there, but feel free to make jokes!) looking for iron on printer sheets. One of the reasons I'm so excited about the new sockets is that I get to customize them. There is an image that I want laminated into the sockets, but in order to do that I need to iron the image on to fabric. I had never been to Joann Fabrics before. The first thing that I noticed was that I was the only guy in the store. The second thing I noticed was that I was probably the only person under 45 in the store. I asked one of the women who works there where to find the iron on sheets. The lady pointed out an aisle at the back of the store.
I walked to the aisle, but became distracted by a piece of fabric at the end of the aisle before I found the iron on sheets. I had taken my hand off of my right crutch while I was looking at the fabric. When I was done, I put the fabric back and reached for the handle of my crutch. Before I had even touched the handle, my crutch fell apart!
I only saw what happened out of the corner of my eye. As my hand was coming down toward the handle I saw the crutch fall away from me, but the cuff of the crutch was still attached to my arm. My mind didn't really process this and, as I went reached for the crutch handle that was no longer there, I fell. I landed on my side and my back, with my legs (from hip to knee) up in the air. As I looked up, expecting to see my prosthetic legs, I realized something was very wrong. My right leg was missing!
Now, I've had that experience before, when I awoke from the medically induced coma four years ago, and I really never expected to have that very disorienting experience again. You would think that by now I would be used to looking at my legs and seeing nothing from knee to foot, but not when I'm wearing my prosthetics! It was actually quite a shock. I was still on my back, just staring at the socket on my right leg, which appeared fine, trying to figure out where the rest of my leg was, when the thought hit me that I had made a loud noise when I hit the floor and that all the women in the fabric store would probably come running any minute to find out what had happened. I couldn't let them find me laying on the floor! So I sat up.
What do you think I saw when I sat up? I saw my right leg laying on the floor in front of me, with the coupler that had (until the minute before) connected my C-Leg to the trial suction socket still attached to it. I had hit the floor hard enough that it had broken the epoxy that connected the coupler to the socket in half! I still had one good (hopefully) crutch, and if my leg hadn't broken I would have been able to get up and walk out. What was I going to do now? I began looking around for the women that I assumed would come to find out what had caused the loud noise. There was no one in sight.
I was about to call out for help when a lady, who was obviously not coming to find out what had happened, turned the corner of an aisle across the way. I looked up at her and said "hello, how are you?" She looked over at me and said "fine, how are you doing?" Obviously she had not quite registered the fact that I was sitting on the floor with two mechanical legs, one of which was not attached! My response to her questions was "actually, I could use your help." She took another look at me and said "OH MY GOD!! Are you ok?" Then the rest of the women came running.
I explained my situation and trusted the first woman with the keys to my car so that she, and one of the other ladies, could bring me the parts for my wheelchair. They were extremely concerned when I told them that it was in pieces, thinking that it was broken too, until I explained that it's meant to come apart! A few minutes later they returned and watched as I put it together. The real trick, was going to be transferring from the floor to the wheelchair. Something that I'm not good at doing on my own. I started to explain to the ladies how they could best help me, but then two women just grabbed me under the arms and lifted. (That part was a little embarrassing.) Once I was up I finished my shopping and then headed home.
One of the good things about getting new sockets is that I still have the old pin-lock sockets as well. When I got home I switched the sockets out and had two functional legs again! It's nice to have a back up. :)
The next day I took the broken socket to my Prosthetist so that he could fix it, which took about a week, and I could continue the trial period. After my visit with him I headed to UIndy where I demonstrated falling, climbing up and down stairs, and stepping over/off of curbs. The students got a big kick out of the Joann fabrics story, and were amazed at my ability to fall!