As cliché as this may sound for an introductory part of a story, I must say, that “what doesn’t kill you, only makes you stronger”. As a 31 year old whom has paraplegia and been in a wheelchair for the past 30 years as the result of motor vehicle accident at the age of 18 months, I find that this saying reflects on my life and experiences.
A family holiday back from Sydney in 1984 all went wrong when we got to Stanthorpe. A kangaroo jumped across the road, my mum (whom was pregnant and driving at the time), swerved to miss the roo. Unfortunately, she hit the gravel on the side of the road, we went off road and hit a tree. Upon impact, the cars doors opened, and of the 4 occupants, I was the only one that went flying out. I wasn’t restrained in a child seat or wearing a seat belt.
After a frantic search, my body was located by my parents several metres in the pitch dark from the car wreck. No mobile phones, no one in the area…what were they to do?! Finally, a vehicle passed, followed by the ambulance. I was taken to a local hospital, whereby my parents were cleared with only bruising and scratches, my older brother (4 at the time) had a ruptured spleen and required immediate surgery to stem the bleeding…I was told I had a broken collarbone and broken left leg. Not bad…or was it…
Eventually, our family went home, and 5 months later my mum gave birth to my baby brother. All was well, except, I still wasn’t walking. I had started walking at 9 months of age, so when the accident occured when I was 18 months old, and when I wasn’t walking at 24 months, I was being carted back and forth to various doctors…no one had a answer…my parents were only being told that i was “in shock”. Needless to say that the doctors were shocked, when later tests finally revealed that I had damaged my spinal cord at T2 / T3…a diagnosis made 8 months after the car accident.
The terms paraplegia and wheelchair are two words I frequently use, however, I do not allow these two words, or indeed the condition itself, prevent me from enjoying life to the fullest or indeed label me as to what I can and cannot do. An outstanding attitude to what life has thrown at you and how you deal with the related challenges are simply the keys to success.
Although definitely paralysed, I’m not powerless to teach others about the importance of disability access, to teach others about injury prevention, to inspire people to look at their lives in a more thoughtful and thankful way, and to let everyone know that life as you know it can change in an instant and you should not wait until tragedy to tell those important to you that you love them.
I strongly urge everyone to think before they get into a car, think about the passengers in your vehicle. You may choose to drink and drive or not wear a seatbelt…and be prepared to suffer the consequences, but just remember, that some people in your car are too young to have a say, to know right from wrong and it’s up to you as a responsible adult to make the right decisions for them. Buckle up and save a life. PLEASE!!!
I have never thought of myself as being different or disadvantaged. I’m just me – the way I am. Throughout my life if people said that I couldn’t or shouldn’t do something I would be determined to do it. I think when you have a disability people are always putting limitations on you, telling you, even in a nice way, what you can’t do. My attitude to that has always been: You can’t tell me that. I’ll show you. Ok, so my legs don’t cooperate when I tell them to move. But I still have my heart, my mind, and my soul – which I believe are the best parts of me!
I’ve always been able to put things into perspective. It’s a lesson I’ve learned a long time ago. I think you have to learn to accept your current reality. This wheelchair is my current reality. Every morning my legs are not moving but I just say to myself, where’s that darn wheelchair, I’ve got places to go and things to do (like shopping!). I focus on what I can do, not on what I can’t…and that list is long. Throughout life, I have had both long – and short-term goals, and also a motto. I want to live it one day and one step at a time, I want to keep my goals in sight and take small steps towards them every day. I have had the opportunities and experience like everyone else. What others consider in life as obstacles, I have considered as opportunities.
The terms paraplegia and wheelchair are two words I frequently use, however, I do not allow these two words, or indeed the condition itself, prevent me from enjoying life to the fullest or indeed label me as to what I can and cannot do. An outstanding attitude to what life has thrown at you and how you deal with the related challenges is simply the keys to success.
Life presents challenges and there’s no sweeter satisfaction than conquering them. I’ve always tried to look at the positive side, and a lot of positives have come out of my situation – like strength of family. I’ve been extremely blessed with a strong family. They’ve always been so supportive of my desire to succeed.
I tend to see the lighter side of the situation. I have encountered many incidences where this has been necessary.
- Like when people ask what I want for a birthday or Christmas present, I always tell them that a Foot Spa or a Pedicure would be great
- Or when I go to purchase shoes at retail outlets and get to the point of trying on shoes, and without fail the sales assistant always ask “is that comfortable?” or “how does that feel?”…so I just say “if I could feel my feet I would let you know!”
- Then there is the times when people decide to park in wheelchair designated bays…and then I pull up…I tend to stare at them for a long time…without breaking eye contact – they then tend to reverse their cars in the opposite direction of where I or my car is…so they won’t have to pass me
I sincerely, do believe in life, that you can get better or you can get bitter, but I definitely believe that better is a whole lot more fun. Sure, I’ve rolled my eyes at people’s comments and actions towards issues associated with my disability, like, when I worked at McDonalds…I would serve on average 50 customers daily in the drive-thru component of the restaurant, now because I sit down, I would assume from the other side of the drive-thru window you would only see my head…so the comments were great, to say the least. These included: “is there a hole in the ground?”, “are you sitting on the floor?”, “being lazy today are you?”, “are you a midget?”, but best of all “did your mother chop your legs off?”…now one would assume common sense would prevail and one would assume people would at the least guess that I am in a wheelchair, but not to be…only 3 people in the space of my 18month employment stint did this actually happen…now that’s a lot of bewildered customers! But when people drive all the way back through drive-thru or see you in the shopping centre and come and apologise or get hit over the back of the head by their wives in the car after their comments…you begin to realize that that it is more important to smile and see the funny side than be a miserable grump that sits down all day!
Over the years, I have volunteered my time to talk to school aged students, colleagues at my workplaces and members of churches, I enjoy this, not because I like to talk about myself, but because I can show people that it is possible, through determination, to rise above challenges, to continue to live your life when it doesn’t always go according to plan and to be happy with what you have!
It is possible, for me, to laugh at myself, my situation and my circumstances:
- I have been called “wheelie wonderful”
- When I’ve been in hospital and staff have said they’ll leave me alone on the bed I always assure them that its ok because I’m not moving in a hurry
- When I have a sore neck or shoulder I tell others “I think I’m paraplegic”
- When I have things on my lap, I have been known to say “my legs, legs, I can’t feel my legs”; and
- Then there is the times when I go out with family or friends and they start walking down/up the stairs…I’m having to tell them that I can’t be bothered walking, so we should consider the lift instead
I believe I’ve come along way since the days that some doctors told my parents for a total of 7 months after the car accident that the reason for my inability to walk was “shock”. I have completed my schooling, been to and completed my university studies, obtained my drivers license, my career has been interesting and varied – I have experience in administration, customer service, employment services, child care, and management, I have purchased my own house, got married along the way, went through 3 years of IVF to have my daughter who is now 3 and started my own business (Playground Princess) specialising in outdoor products for girls! Although definitely paralysed, I’m not powerless to teach others about the importance of disability access, to teach others about injury prevention, to inspire people to look at their lives in a more thoughtful and thankful way, and to let everyone know that life as you know it can change in an instant and you should not wait until tragedy to tell those important to you that you love them.
My attitude is: I have paraplegia, but it doesn’t have me!
… life rolls on …