Note: This article is part of a series of reflections prompted by the experiences I have had in processing, dealing with, and recuperating from the accident. I am (slowly) emerging a changed person, and hope that sharing helps others process similar challenges. Thanks for reading!
As the popular saying goes, to truly know someone else you must walk a mile in their shoes. My recent bicycle accident has given me the opportunity to experience a totally alternative lifestyle, one that has dramatically changed the way I perceive and interact with the people and places that surround me.
I have written before about turning adversity into opportunity. My recent bicycle accident has forced a reality check on my typical laid back approach to dealing with challenges. It’s one thing to take a day or two off from training, it’s another to have to stand down for weeks…in a wheelchair…on pain-killers.
I am not complaining, but I am still processing. Every day presents some form of new challenge, but I am seriously blessed to have amazing friends and family who have stepped up to take care of me and allow me to focus entirely on the process of recovery.
Having this type of support network is incredible. Regardless of the challenge around the corner, I can go forward knowing that whatever is out there I can conquer it. That confidence is a direct result of the support of so many people, and I can’t thank you enough for that gift.
But enough of the sappy stuff…what have I learned over the last two weeks?
On Short-Term vs Long-Term Challenges…
I think on some level it’s “easy” for me to remain positive because my prognosis is that I will recover just fine. No bones were displaced in the three fractures, things were just shaken up. Yes, 6 weeks of recovery is a long time, but that beats the pants off of, say, 6 months or crashing and becoming paralyzed.
Daily goal setting has become incredibly important. If I have targets, I will work towards them. Early on, others had to set those goals for me: “You are just going to take a step and it’s going to hurt and that’s okay.” (You know who you are!) Now I am getting better at doing this myself, and it really makes a difference.
It helps that I am able to do new things every day, such as lift my leg to get in and out of the shower or use my abs a bit more. Heck, the PT guy put me on a recumbent bike for 5 minutes yesterday (don’t tell my wife!)! I have yet to be able to roll over on my side or stomach at night…and that truly sucks…but it’s a really big target out there and I am aiming for it.
At the end of the day, the concepts of short and long time frames are entirely subjective. Six weeks seems long if you look at it in terms of days or hours, but if you consider it as part of your year, or the time I have been doing triathlons…then it’s just a mere blip.
On Being Treated Differently…
I knew the moment I hit the ground that my year–as I had planned it–was effectively over. I didn’t know how much my life would change as a result, and this has been the source of my highest and lowest points of the recovery process.
Without a doubt, being frisked at the airport on the way home was a serious low point. Since I was in a wheelchair, I couldn’t be wanded, and that meant a full body pat down. Sure, he used the back of his hand for the sensitive areas, but overall a not-fun experience (surely he didn’t enjoy it either!). Can’t imagine having to do that on a regular basis.
On the plus side, I have an entirely new set of friends. People over 65 admire my fancy four-legged cane, and I have had more conversations with new senior friends in two weeks than I have had in the last decade. They are awesome, funny, highly opinionated, and chock full of some of the funniest stories I have heard in a long time. If you don’t have someone over 65 or 70 in your life (parents don’t count!) you are missing out big time.
The most interesting thing has been the response of my friends. Some folks have stepped up making serious sacrifices to support me, beyond the call of duty. There are the people I consider close friends who haven’t spoken to me at all about what’s happened. Then there are remote contacts and total strangers sending me letters, emails and text messages of support.
This has been a really healthy reminder of just how differently people respond to adversity (myself included!), and also a great opportunity for me to reflect on exactly where I stand on my relationships. You get what you give, and it’s clear to me that I have some serious giving to do to some of my close friends. To have support from anyone other than my immediate family is a blessing I am thankful for every single day.
On Venturing Outside…
From driving to shopping to going to therapy, no activity can take place without a plan. Everything we try to do as a family isn’t about do we want to do something, but can Daddy get there? Is there a ramp for the wheelchair? How accessible is the bathroom? Is it going to rain?
It’s a whole new host of things to consider, and makes just being an active family pretty tough. Hard for sure, but knowing there’s an end in sight makes it manageable. While standing off to the side of the playground watching my kids play is hard, I am lucky to be able to do just that.
I have also learned to look at things in a new way. Handicap bathroom stalls are awesome, but most bathroom doors are not handicap-friendly (they are heavy and shut quickly). Having lower sinks is a nice touch, but a person with a broken collarbone in a wheelchair can’t use the soap dispenser with a long nozzle (so as not to get the soap on the countertop). I push down here, soap comes out over there.
My journey is far from over, but I am positive and soaking up every day I get. If you have any advice or similar experiences, I’d love to hear about it in the comments below, thanks!