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As I’ve said before, the 1st year of adjusting to a spinal cord injury is by far the hardest. There are so many thoughts that run through head every day. You constantly question whether you are going to walk again. “Am I really going to be in a wheelchair for the rest of my life? Will I really never ski again? Am I ever going to be happy again?”
It’s so hard not to dwell on the past. I was so active in my 1st 24 years that I had so much to reflect back on and I felt like there was so much I was missing out on. People constantly told me to focus on what I can do and not on what I can’t do. This was incredibly tough but it got easier as time went on.
In a majority of the notes that I 1st wrote I constantly focused on the past. I was not ready to accept my injury and move on with life. I spent a great deal of my time looking for stories, like my dad, where people had recovered from spinal cord injuries. I would go on forums all day long and look for success stories but all I could find were people who had adjusted to life in a wheelchair. I would post things on these forums explaining that I could move my toes and kick out my legs after a few months and I was asking these people what my chances of walking were. I sat there all day long waiting for responses and only got answers from people who said that they progressed to a walker but they mostly were restricted to wheelchairs. I wanted to hear stories from people with spinal cord injuries who are running again and doing everything that they used to but I never found those stories. It was incredibly discouraging and my constant research just put me in to further depression.
I thought that because my spinal cord was not severed, like my dad, that I would fully recover. But through my research I found that only 0.9% of people with a spinal cord injury make a full recovery. With my luck that I had throughout my life I still thought that I could be part of that 0.9% but as time passed those hopes started to slip away. They say that most recovery happens within the 1st 6 months to a year but recovery can happen for up to 2 years. So when 6 months passed by I started to lose hope and when it hit a year I was crushed.
I’m finally accepting my injury and life has been much better since I made it to the acceptance stage. Once again I want to revisit the notes that I wrote during that 1st year so that you can see how my state of mind has changed. Here is a note that I wrote on October 9, 2011 which shows how I felt during that 1st year.
by Adam Helbling on Sunday, October 9, 2011 at 8:53pm ·
Life is so different now. The path I was on has drastically changed. No longer do I live in an apartment by myself right in the heart of the Ohio State campus. No longer am I independent. I live at home now with my parents and my twin brother for the 1st time in 6 years. I used to know exactly what I wanted and I would go after it relentlessly until it was mine. Everything just sort of landed in the right place. Everything that I dreamed of would come true. Some people called it luck and some even said that my luck would run out.
I was on a full scholarship to Ohio State where I was involved in a long list of extracurricular activities including membership into Sphinx. Sphinx is a senior class honorary at Ohio State that honors only 24 students each year. Next year my name will be inscribed on a plaque in the center of campus. There were so many great people that I met through my involvement at Ohio State and I miss them all so much.
Last fall the Ohio State Waterski Team and I won the Division II National Championship for collegiate waterskiing. I worked so hard to train and help train teammates for this event. It took years to build this team. This year I was supposed to be the coach but instead I never got in the water. I was so excited to be the coach for this season. It would’ve meant so much to me. Waterskiing was my life. Back in high school I won a National Championship for show skiing. In 2008 I won the state championship for slalom skiing. It is hard for me to even watch skiing now knowing that I may never be able to do it again. I even chose Civil Engineering as my major because I wanted to build waterski lakes. Now that I can’t ski it is hard to want to build lakes.
I used to find so much joy in life. I would wake up excited about each day. There was a constant smile on my face. I was extremely active before my accident. Every day I would ride my longboard to class and all over campus. At one point I even had a Segway which was a little unnecessary. I loved to drive with the music up and the windows down. I loved taking a lap around downtown Columbus in my car. Since my accident that smile has been wiped away. People tell me every day to focus on what I can do and not on what I can’t do. That is so hard because of how much I loved the things I can no longer do. When I look at our newly paved road I think of longboarding. When the weather is warm I think of waterskiing. On a perfect 70° day I think of all the long bike rides I used to take. When I listen to music I think of being in my car driving in any direction I please. Every time I see a lake it brings tears to my eyes. I miss sand volleyball, frisbee golf, working out and sports in general. Winter is coming soon and I know that it will bring tears to my eyes when my friends go sledding or skiing and I will just be stuck at home.
Everything in the past used to come so easy but that is no longer the case. It all starts with getting out of bed in the morning. No longer can I just jump out of bed and hop in the shower. I need the help of the nurse or my mom, dad, or brother. Because of my spinal cord injury I have trouble regulating my blood pressure. I must slowly elevate my bed and then I must be pulled up onto the side of the bed and sit there until I no longer feel dizzy. The bed must then be cranked up so that I can transfer into a shower chair. I am then wheeled into the bathroom and into the shower. I need some assistance with bathing. No longer do I have the privacy that I used to take for granted. Once I finish my shower I am wheeled back to my bed and transferred into it. Now it is time to get dressed. Dressing consists of rolling back and forth so that someone can get my pants on. Then they must put on my socks and shoes and I can get my shirt on.
Next it is time for stretches. My legs are very stiff because I do not use them anymore. Stretching is a very important and must be done every day. I then transfer with a slide board into my wheelchair. I put in my contacts and then head to the kitchen for breakfast. I used to love to cook but now I need help. It drives me insane to be so dependent on others.
During the week I am with an aide until 2:30 PM once my mom gets home. Monday, Wednesday, and Friday are therapy days. At therapy I practice simple tasks such as taking my shoes and socks on and off and cooking small meals. I practice all the things that used to come so easy to me. For physical therapy they work on strengthening my upper body and basically getting you used to life in a wheelchair. There is a program at Ohio State that I am trying to get into called locomotor training where they actually try and get you to walk. That is what I need so let’s just pray that there is a spot for me. I spend the nights in my Motomed and standing frame and hanging out with family and friends. It feels like I am living the same day over and over again.
When it comes time for bed I need help transferring into bed. Then I need help getting undressed. I take my nighttime medications for spasms. My spasms in my legs are so bad that it is very difficult to fall asleep. Every night I pray for something else to come back. Walking is the ultimate goal. The best part of sleeping is when I dream that I am walking. Then I wake up knowing that it was just a dream and that I will not put 2 feet on the floor that day. I have trouble sleeping in because my spasms do not stop once I am awake. I wish I could just sleep and dream all day.
My future is so uncertain now. I wanted to live in Columbus, California, or North Carolina but now I am stuck at home. I started writing a book before my accident happened. There are already 152 pages of material. A few years ago I went through a really tough time. I plan on continuing this book and including the much harder times that I face now. I believe that I can help a great number of people by writing my book. Maybe I have a career in public speaking ahead of me. When I crashed my car in January I only had 5 classes left to graduate. I plan on finishing those courses in January. It is going to be very difficult to finish school with only my right hand but it can be done. I want to finish at Ohio State but I may finish at the University of Akron. There is still time to figure this all out. Until then I will be writing my book and working on getting it published.