Of course the last real day of vacation would save the best experience for last. I got to spend the afternoon in the spinal cord injury rehab gym at Santa Clara Valley Medical Center with Kathy Kobayashi, an Occupational Therapist who helped my good friend Ian Mackay during his inpatient stay there almost 6 years ago. I brought a handful of my water bottles for them to pass out and filled them in on our goals for the Here and Now Project. After a tour of the facilities, Kathy took me up to the acute floor to meet some newly injured patients.
The first was a man in his early 50s who was exactly one week out from his injury. I rolled into his room, knowing there was absolutely nothing I could say to relieve the stress, pain and grief for him or his family members, who sat in the corner with their eyes shrink-wrapped in tears. Mostly I just listened, because I remember being there. I remember being disoriented and scared. It felt like every one of my dreams for the future was disappearing as fast as I could think them up, the pain of what I seemed to have lost far outweighing that of my broken bones and torn muscles.
Another was young man who was paralyzed in January. Today he was taken off of the ventilator for good, a piece of gauze and a compression bandage covering his tracheostomy hole where the air tubes had once helped him breathe. He talked about the creepy sensation of cold air rushing out of his neck pushing at the edges of the bandage until it almost comes up. I remember being there, too. Not sure if I really could breathe on my own without the machine I had relied on for oxygen every day for the previous two months. Terrified of being discharged into a world that no longer seemed built for me with a body I couldn’t control.
I couldn’t tell either of those men that the very little arm motion they have even at this early stage is light-years away from what I have; that they’ll be able to scratch their noses, feed themselves and even drive a car. I couldn’t tell them that there is still a full spectrum of life out there to be lived — Sports, Weddings, Even laughs — because the only thing they can see is all that they’ve lost. It’s all I could see when I was there. All I could say was that I’ve been there and it gets better. All I could do is give them my number and tell them I’ll wait for their call.
It’s hard to know how far you’ve come until you return to where you’ve been. It’s really amazing to think about how far I’ve come in a little more than a decade. From a justifiably depressed complete shut-in, to a road warrior in progress with a renewed sense of purpose and passion for life. I can only say a huge, heartfelt thank you to everyone who has helped me along on this road trip, as well as my entire journey. We sure have come a long way.