I remember every last detail from that day. The bus ride over to West campus that morning to make up an exam. Going to the bathroom and seeing the words “Jesus loves you” written in the grout between the tiles. It was the 1st sign of many signs to come that day. Maybe Jesus was really reaching out to me that day to tell me that he was there for me. I remember going out to lunch with my parents and I remember exactly what I ate and drank. I remember which table I sat at and I remember the conversations from that day. I remember saying goodbye to my parents and thinking that I should say something about the signs that I was seeing but I didn’t. If I just would’ve said something then none of this would’ve ever happened. But I went to work as a valet and the signs continued throughout the night. They grew stronger and stronger as time went on. I had been off of my bipolar medications for 5 days. I also had been smoking marijuana all day, everyday for years. The drug that I thought was harmless was causing a 2nd psychotic break. The 1st had left me in a psych Ward 2 years earlier where I believed I was the 2nd coming of Jesus Christ. The 2nd would do the same but I was not in the safety of the psych ward. I was slowly losing control of my mind. I could not tell what was real and what was not. That night I smoked and the signs intensified. After all that I had been through in 2008 I once again thought that I was the 2nd coming of Jesus Christ. I felt invincible and at 3:30 AM I got into the most dangerous piece of machinery I could which was my car. The low for this night was -2°F and there were 5 inches of snow on the ground. Of course you know the outcome of this drive. This would be the last day of the life that I knew as normal.
The low for tonight is 9°F and it calls for snow. It’s almost identical to the night of my accident. But tonight I won’t be going for a drive. I’ll stay in the warmth of my apartment and reflect back on how far I’ve come in the last 2 years and remind myself just how lucky I am to be alive. I can’t believe where I’m at on this day. I have grown so much in the last 2 years. All of the tears, the pain, the heart ache, and all that I have had to persevere have made me grow from a reckless, naïve college student to a man that I am proud to stare at in the mirror everyday. Every morning I brush my teeth and afterwards I smile and I tell myself that I’m going to do that for the rest of the day. I haven’t cried in over a year now. I’m over it. Life can change directions even if you do not plan it and I now believe that this change was for the better. I now have direction of my life. A plan and a purpose to hopefully change the world for the better. I believe now that I will be more successful than I ever would have before the accident. I’m making a name for myself. A brand and a new image that resembles nothing of the person before the crash. No longer do I look forward to the next time I can smoke weed and it has been over 4 years since I quit drinking. My mind is clearer than it has ever been in my entire life. That is what God left me with and that is what I will preserve.
Like I’ve said before, dealing with a spinal cord injury is as much a mental battle as it is physical. Physically you are dealing with a long list of problems. Of course I can’t walk or move my legs. The only time my legs move is when I have muscle spasms which is horribly annoying but after a while you learn to ignore them. I used to get angry every time I had a spasm which was not healthy. I can’t feel pain from the chest down but my legs are incredibly stiff and I can feel the tension in the constricted muscles which makes it impossible to ever feel comfortable. My feet will often tap uncontrollably which is called clonis. You just have to wait until this tapping subsides. It’s just part of the deal. I sometimes get huge spasms in my core which nearly throw me out of my chair so I have to always wear a seatbelt. I take a great deal of medications for my spasms especially before bedtime. If my spasms kick in before I fall asleep sometimes I’ll be up for hours and sometimes all night. Every night it’s almost like a race to fall asleep as I worry that my spasms might start up. I no longer have the use of my left hand and have learned to do everything with one hand. With my injury level I should not have either so I am forever grateful to have my right hand. My left hand has atrophied so much and every night I must wear a brace to make sure that my fingers do not curl up more than they already have. My hand is very uncomfortable to live with as my pinky finger has a numb feeling to it and my index finger itches at all times of the day. I dislocated my left elbow in the crash and that never healed completely so I can not straighten my arm. It is also very stiff and can get very sore.
With my spinal cord injury I lost complete control of my bowels and bladder. To go to the bathroom I have to use a catheter every 4 hours. I need to keep myself hydrated to prevent UTIs but I also have to monitor how much I drink to make sure I don’t pee my pants. I’m not embarrassed to say that this happens all the time. I’ll even go on to say that it happened while I was writing this. I can’t dress myself so getting changed is a huge process. I need the help of a nurse every other day for my bowel program which is not a pleasant process. There is a giant binder on top of my fridge that documents every time I have gone to the bathroom in the last 2 years. I will say that the process is better now than when I was in the hospital and I could not get into a shower chair. I had to wake up every morning laying in it and then get cleaned up for 3 months.
A shower is no longer relaxing as I cannot feel hot and cold from the chest down. I would kill to take a regular shower or a hot bath and that is not something you should take for granted. I’m lucky that I cannot feel pain because some people in my situation can and there are no amount of painkillers to numb the pain. Now this seems like a long list of problems but I’ve learned to deal with it. It has become my new normal. Everything takes a little more time and I’ve learned to accept that. I can’t live at the rapid pace of life that I used to live at. Everything has slowed down. If you knew me before you would know that I was not a patient person but today I am the opposite. I have to wait for someone to open a door for me. I have to wait for someone to get me dressed every morning and undressed every night.
It was much easier to get used to the physical aspects of this injury than the mental. Mentally I was a mess during that 1st year. I thought about committing suicide and I was serious about it and thought I would be better off dead. I didn’t think life was worth living. It broke my heart not be able to do the things that I used to. The thought of never waterskiing again was terrifying which of course was the same for walking. All I ever thought about was walking again and I could not focus on anything else. My mind was so consumed and fearful of the future that I could not live in the present. Every morning I would wake up and scream and shake the bed and throw things. I was angry at God and could not understand why something so horrible could happen to me. Everyone told me to keep a positive attitude and I would heal faster but I thought it was bullshit. Eventually I started to give up on everything. Therapy was doing nothing to try and get me to walk again and that was all I cared about. My hand was not coming back after countless hours of occupational therapy. Nothing was going as planned and my dreams of walking again were quickly fading away. But everyone kept telling me it was going to happen and eventually that started to make me angry. What did they know? It was as if they thought there was no way I could end up in a chair for the rest of my life. But eventually it sunk in that that may be the reality of it.
I started to become desperate and searched the web everyday for things like stem cells and electrical stimulation that would help to get people walking again. One day I came across a specific therapy for people with spinal cord injuries called locomotor training. I looked up where it was offered and was ecstatic to find that the Ohio State University Medical Center was one of 7 locations in the United States to have this therapy. I always wanted to finish my degree at Ohio State but it was not that desire that pushed me to come back to Columbus, it was the desire to walk again. So once I was accepted into therapy I knew that it would work out perfect to finish the 5 classes that I had left at the same time. But I had no idea where I would live and who would take care of me. That was when I found out about a place called Creative Living that provides housing to people with physical disabilities. It was a one-of-a-kind facility and it just so happened to be right on Ohio State’s campus. For once things were starting to work out for me and everything was falling into place. The writing that I had done Facebook had caught the attention of a girl named Brooke who contacted me as a home healthcare provider and asked me if I would need help down in Columbus. Today, her and her sister Kate both work for me and I could not ask for anyone better. They genuinely care about me and will do anything for me and they are my best friends. I’m so lucky to wake up to them every morning and to say good night to them every night. I couldn’t have it any better.
It was Brooke’s positive attitude that helped to finally bring that smile back to my face. She never seemed to ever have a bad day and that helped me to start living that way. All anyone ever wanted was for me to be happy again and I found happiness back in Columbus. I now had a plan and a purpose and I soon found myself to be a better person and a more meaningful person. Therapy gave me hopes of walking again but even when I did not see the progress that I was looking for I did not let it discourage me from giving up on life. I now knew that life was not over if I was in a chair. As long as you surrounded me with good people to talk to I was happy. I had a story to share and a message to bring to the table. I loved writing on Facebook and reaching out to people. I loved the messages I would get on how I changed someone’s perspective on life or just simply made them realize they were not having a bad day after all.
School was an adjustment but Ohio State did everything they could to accommodate me. I got used to all the stares and the looks of wonder in people’s eyes. I got four A’s and a B to finish off my college career. When I graduated in June in Civil Engineering I could not be more proud of myself. The year before I saw it impossible to come back to Columbus and finish at Ohio State. But I defied the odds and finished what I started and I will be a Buckeye forever.
As I continued to write I realized my purpose was to share my story to help change lives. I was realizing God’s plan and why he did not leave me dead in that field. I realized that there really was a guardian angel looking over me that night. Yesterday I went back to Rushville, Indiana and found the exact spot where I crashed my car. As we tried to reroute my drive before the crash I realized just how lucky I am to be alive. If I would’ve taken a left instead of a right, I would have driven into town and probably crashed into a building or house and could have killed somebody. I had no idea that I was driving on a two-way road and that I was passing people on the wrong side of the road. I could’ve easily kept going if I did not crash and hit somebody head on at 120 mph killing both them and myself. There was about a five to eight-foot drop off going into the field that I flipped off of. I crashed near an old abandoned farmhouse and barn. If I crashed just a little later than I could have crashed into that building or into the trees. I flew past the police station and luckily 2 officers were in the parking lot walking into the building and they saw me fly by. If they had not been outside they would not have come after me and the paramedics may have not got to me in time. I also saw the hospital which was less than a mile away from the crash site which I’m sure was crucial to my survival. God really was looking over me that night because things could really have ended up differently and I would not be here today.
In the last 2 years I have found purpose in my life. I have found myself and I’ve grown so incredibly much. I cannot believe how much I have endured in the last 2 years. I still remember waking up in the ICU surrounded by my family. The strongest most loving family I have ever known. I am so lucky to still be a part of my family and to be there to watch them grow and to experience life together. I thank God for my friends and family everyday. I thank him for giving me that 2nd chance and I ask him every night to help me grow stronger each day so that I can help others. The joy that I get in life now is greater than waterskiing. In life before my accident I built a waterski team that I thought would be my legacy but that was only a small chapter to my life. My story or my book will be my legacy. I will speak out to others with spinal cord injuries and show them that life is not over. I will help others with bipolar disorder and people battling drug problems and other mental health issues. I learned my lesson the hard way. So now I want to make sure that you do not do what I did wrong. We all have so much to live for in this life despite what we might think. It doesn’t matter if you’re disabled, blind, deaf, poor, old, or able-bodied. There is still so much for you to live for no matter what the circumstances might be.
So on the two-year anniversary of my crash I will not get down on myself. I will celebrate being alive and celebrate everything worth living. I will celebrate the people in my life that continue to be there for me. I will celebrate the life ahead of me because I believe that God has huge plans in store for me. My life has only just begun. I have learned many lessons in just 26 years and now it is my time to give back and share them with you. I will not keep quiet and you will not get rid of me. I thank you for continuing to follow my journey. If you ever need anything send me a message because I’ll always be there to respond back. Thank you so much for helping turn this tragedy into triumph. There is no way I could have done this in as little as 2 years without the tremendous amount of support I have received. Thank you once again and here’s to a great 3rd year!