It’s officially past my one year anniversary since I was an able-bodied, fully-functioning, fully-walking human being.
For whatever reason, the universe has chosen the oddest date of my accident. It happened on the first day of September, a month that has always prepared me for Fall and fresh beginnings. I was about to teach English in a brand new school year in Vietnam. Of all days in the calendar, it had to be 9/1, just one-less-one from 9/11.
I remembered the exact number of months that passed every 1st, like turning pages of a book. As the pages turned faster and faster, the reality of my situation further sank in and became the “new normal” to me, my family and friends.
I have a lot of thoughts and feelings about this one year that are difficult and too complex to sum up in one post. All these flash-backs of everything that happened chronologically, from falling 150 feet in the sky and being held hostage for hours by a major creep to then going into an MRI on gallons of morphine in a dream-like state before getting my entire back cut open in Thailand and then flying 24 hours home with a 3-foot tube coming my pee-hole (at least this was with Emirates), and stopping in Dubai to get my diaper changed, and being trapped in a crappy hospital for 2 months being served chicken every day when I’m vegan before finally moving back home all feels like it just happened yesterday, despite the long, jam-packed year my family and I had endured.
Throughout the year, I’ve experimented with my body in ways that would never have been recommended by anyone. I’ve driven a car with paralyzed feet instead of using handbreaks and have ridden a regular bike instead of the “special” ones they make for people with disabities. I’ve kept my physical restrictions at a low to avoid rejection from pilates classes and hiking excursions. I’ve worn leg warmers to hide my braces and have walked with sticks that look like combat weapons instead of crutches. I’ve been coddled by friends, family and aquaintances who have told me to be careful thousands of times this year (they have pretty much given up on me this point). I spent the year getting annoyed with strangers who run to hold doors for me and insist I take their seats on trains even when I feel like standing, despite them just trying to help.
I’ve learned not to blame people who don’t know my story or understand my goal, which is getting back on my feet as soon as possible with the bare minimum of help required. Most immediately assume I’m recovering from temporary leg injuries as their eyes gaze directly toward my leg braces, rather than understanding the complexities of a spinal cord injury (I previously didn’t). I’ve been told several times by cab drivers to “feel better” before leaving their vehicles. Imagine someone telling you to feel better every day of your life, as if you’re sick 24/7.
I’ve seen videos and read blogs of people who have defied the norm of what it means to be disabled, such as this girl born without legs surfing and skateboarding (Click Here to watch) and a guy swimming without arms and legs. Seeing them perform miraculous things with their bodies has inspired me to explore the magic in mine.
Yet having a spinal cord injury and not knowing if I will ever recover 100% has created a lot of uncertainty over the year. I’ve struggled deciding if I should work around the disability and cope like the other Youtube people or fight against whatever the doctors are saying or not saying, seeking to find answers to solve paralysis they’re not giving me by doing alternative therapies like acupuncture, cupping and reiki.
It’s been a whole year for me and I’ve only had two neurological breakthroughs. The first was on January 5th when I was sitting in the sauna and noticed both my ankles moving upward for the first time. Recently my right ankle regressed and stopped lifting as high, while my left one is now lifting 5x higher. “We’ll give you one ankle” my PT joked.
The second breakthrough happened on March 9th when I noticed that I was able to wiggle my left pinkie toe. This was such a big deal to me, because it took me 6 months to finally be able to move 1 out of 10 toes.
I don’t want to lose hope, but I probably caused some serious permanent damage for the rest of my life. That’s not to say that I won’t have future breakthroughs even in 10 years from now, but I can’t depend on them. I need to make the most out of what I have going on right now.
Despite the lack of nerve regeneration, I sense my body becoming stronger and more able every day that passes. My walking speed is getting more consistent with the paces of other people walking past me down the street or exiting a subway car. It used to take me over a minute to cross the street, but now I’m jaywalking again.
People ask me all the time “Do the doctors say you’re going to make a full recovery?” To answer this question, they don’t know and I don’t care. Whatever happens down the road, either way, my abilities will continue to flourish as I continue living my life to every extreme and challenge I come across.