Monday, October 22, 2012


Seven Year Anniversary: Survival Day

It's hard to believe that seven years have passed since the car accident that landed me in a 5 and 1/2 week medically-induced coma.  Seven years since my legs sustained fourth degree burns that required the amputation of both legs from above the knee.  In the early days, all I could think about was how much I had lost, the things I would never get to do again, the sensations I would never feel again, the future I had been working towards that I would never get to see...the list goes on and on.  At that point in time I truly did not want to live.

It may seem strange, but part of why I focused so hard on getting better was so that I could get away from all of the people who, at that point in time, I felt were forcing me to live.  I fully intended to commit suicide as soon as I had the freedom to do so.  I had it in my head that none of this was supposed to happen, that a horrible mistake had been made and that if I died in this life I would get the opportunity to fix the mistakes that had led to the accident.  (What those mistakes were, aside from taking county road 240 on my way back to Indy from Greencastle that night, I couldn't tell you).  I believed whole heartedly that once this life was over I would be reborn on March 13th of 1975 in Indianapolis to Robb and Patty Warriner.  From that point on I would have the freedom to make new decisions and take my life in whatever direction I wanted.

(For the record, I have no idea where that concept came from.  It's certainly not what the Methodist Church teaches about the afterlife.  I've always believed in reincarnation but never within the same life.  I will say that I think this could be a great explanation for deja vu).

Luckily I never had the opportunity to put the plan into action.  When I learned the story of how I was rescued from the burning wreckage of my Jeep I understood that suicide was not an option on the table.  From there I began to live my life again which, at that point in time, meant continuing to fully focus on my recovery.  The difference was that my perspective had changed.  I was no longer focusing on my recovery to rush towards an early death; but recognized that I had been saved from an early death and needed to focus on my recovery to reclaim my life.  I'm so glad to still be here.

Today began with a call from my friend/brother Cliff.  He had the day off, had just dropped his daughter off at school, and was calling simply to catch up.  He hadn't realized the date until I mentioned it.  This doesn't happen every Monday, so I found it rather ironic that he chose to call today.  A conversation with him was a great way to start my Survival Day.

He asked what I had in mind to write about today and, to be honest, I had no idea.  On the surface, this year has not been that different from the last.  If you've read all of my posts throughout the year, then you have a decent idea of what I've been up to.  The only big news that I haven't shared yet is the final outcome of the lawsuit related to the car accident, which ended back in June.

The long story short is this:  I was trapped in my Jeep because Chrysler used weak materials in the design of the vehicle.  The fire that burned my legs ignited because the engine design was unsafe (the plastic container holding flammable brake fluid in the hot engine was not protected from impact).  My attorney filed a lawsuit against Chrysler on my behalf in 2006.  The lawsuit was stayed when they declared bankruptcy in 2009.  Indiana has a product liability law that says if the court loses jurisdiction over the manufacturer then the dealership becomes liable.  In 2009 we had to start over with a lawsuit against the dealership that sold me the Jeep.  In 2010 the judge decided that I couldn't sue them because, according to him, I could still pursue Chrysler (even though that would put me in contempt of court, in regards to the bankruptcy).  We appealed, and in 2011 the court of appeals decided that they agreed with the original judge.  We appealed to the Indiana Supreme Court, and in June of this year the Supreme Court decided that they wouldn't hear the case (apparently they don't have to hear your final appeal).  That's it, my case, which was originally filed six years ago, was dismissed without a single judge ever meeting me or hearing my personal testimony.

So, the big thing that happened in year seven was that I learned that I would not receive justice for the defects that caused the loss of my legs.  This also means that I'll probably never become a multi-millionaire or have the finances to open a non-profit Star Wars memorabilia museum (all proceeds would have been donated to prosthetic research).  Again, I can focus on the loss, or change my perspective.  A huge question mark has been removed from my life.  I no longer have to worry about what's happening with legal matters.  I know that what ever my financial future holds it will be based solely on my decisions and how I move forward with my life from here.  All I can tell you about that is that I fully intend to enjoy myself while I watch my future unfold.

As I said at the start, in the early days all I could focus on was the loss.  I was so wrong.  During a recent speech to a class at IUPUI the professor asked the question "you would still go back and change history so that the accident never happened, if you could, right?"  My response was "not at all. I'd still love to have human legs again, but I would never trade the experiences I've had over the last seven years."  Perspective is a lot more informed when looking at the past.

How we perceive things is an ever changing experience that grows as we adapt, learn, and live our lives.  What is always in our control is whether we perceive things through a negative dark shaded lens, or through a positive rose colored lens.  (I'd love to say that I've become an expert at this, but when instinct takes over it's all to easy to view things in a negative way.  The important part is to pay attention to your instincts, listen to what they are telling you, but control your perception before you allow the negativity to take hold).  It's interesting, people frequently ask "how long did it take you to get used to those legs?"  My response is almost always "I'm still getting used to them."

Seven years.  Seven years and I'm still getting stronger.  Some days I'm amazed at how easy it can be to walk, and other days I struggle to get out of the car because there's not enough room to open the door all the way and my legs don't move the way human legs move.  If you know me well, then you know that I have a room in my house that is dedicated to a particular collection that has been growing since I was a child.  For the last seven years, whenever I needed something moved or added to the top shelves in the room I've always waited until someone else was willing to put things where I wanted them.  Two weeks ago I discovered that I had the balance to stand and do those things on my own.  (The strength is not quite there yet, had to take a lot of breaks, but the job got done).

Much of what I thought I had lost, I'm still learning that I can do in different ways. 

Seven years since I last felt the grass between my toes.  This year, for the first time, I got down on the ground and moved around the yard to clean out the flower beds.  Believe it or not, that was the first time in seven years that I felt the grass between my fingers!  (Not quite the same, but it's close). 

Seven years since I jumped up to grab a Frisbee out of the air.  Cliff recently reminded me that when I shared the story of playing Frisbee (last post), I left out the fact that at one point he had tossed the Frisbee towards me and it was particularly high above my head.  My right arm shot up and my upper body lifted with it, so much so that, even though my prosthetics were weighing down my lower half, my rear end lifted up out of the wheelchair.  I looked at Cliff and said "hey, I jumped...a little."  (Not quite a jump, not even close, but it's a start.)

Seven years since I played any kind of game (other than catch) with a ball.  When I was talking about my experience at the Walking School (again, last post) I left out the fact that they had me "play soccer".  Three amputees stood in a circle (I was the only Bi-lateral AK).  Using only our prosthetic legs (I have two) we were supposed to stop the ball with our foot, and then kick it towards one of the amputees (good aim was very important).  At first we were kicking the ball pretty gently but after a while we got more aggressive, and even moved around a little.  (I'm not going to try to compare this to real soccer, which I haven't played since I was about 13, but the point is that even after seven years I'm still learning new ways to do old things).

My Survival Day has been a pretty average day.  I struggled over what to say because I didn't really have anything remarkable to share, no great revelations, or so I thought (hopefully you found some interesting tidbits along the way).  The way I perceive my life now is that it's a pretty normal life, which sometimes makes it difficult to see what's interesting to write about.  Seven years ago my average day to day routine involved getting up early, driving an hour to work, spending an average of 12 hours at work, driving an hour home, watching TV or playing video games for a couple of hours, going to bed, and starting it all over.  That was my "normal".  Seven years later and I know that my life will never return to what was "normal" before the accident (nor do I want it to), but my life has become "normal" once again.                                 

May you continue to grow and learn and be strengthened - in all ways - in the coming years. And definitely keep writing about it all!

You are loved!
What you have learned and taught others is invaluable in the scheme of things. We are so proud of you and your accomplishments. God is not through with you yet.

Love you much... Mona

P.S. Who knew the Holy Spirit would work through mechanical legs! Bruce
As always my brother, very inspirational and so eloquently written. It has been such a pleasure to be your friend since 1990. In hard times I always think of you and it lifts me up, keeps me going. The Force is strong with you.

What a long strange trip it's been.
That was one of the best things I ever read. Your blog is inspirational to me, and it has been for years. There is no obstacle that I have faced that is comparable to what you have overcome. Thank you for sharing. It means a great deal. Matt
I know this is a late entry but I find myself reading this saying "I empathize and hear what you are conveying". I have gone through such trauma in the last 8 months, and most can not understand for they have not walked in my shoe, and I feel as though your words bring a light that there are others out there who truly understand. I remember you talking to my class, and I did not know then that your words would speak to me now with a power that life should go on, and who are we to say what is "fair". I appreciate your words.
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