We celebrate many types of anniversaries in our lives, and some of us are lucky enough to share some anniversaries that are rather unique. For me, and many of my friends, the date of a spinal cord injury that relegated us to life in a wheelchair is an annual event that is difficult to forget even if we should want to. This year marks 25 years
since that cold January day when I found myself gasping for air and unable to move at the base of a ski lift tower that had proved to be an immovable object when I slid into it.
If I was celebrating a 25th wedding anniversary I think this date would require a gift of silver. Instead, I will probably skip any gifts, just as I have done for the past 24 anniversaries of this event. The last day in January has taken on a new purpose for me, as I use that date to force myself to think back about how much has changed and to pledge that I will try harder to assure that many more anniversaries lie in my future. Above all, I am grateful that these anniversaries keep occurring.
Grateful? How can anyone be grateful for an event that precipitated a quarter-century of needing assistance for such everyday activities as using the bathroom, cleaning myself (showering), getting dressed and preparing food? Even a baby only has to go through that cycle of dependence for a year or two.
How about those many occasions when some type of obstacles prevented me from entering a restaurant or venue that was to serve as the site of an enjoyable evening with family and friends? Thinking back, I wasn't at all grateful for those experiences at the many times they happened. Even worse, how is it possible to ignore the pain caused by chronic bladder infections, sore muscles, itches that couldn't be reached or the blood clot that almost ended my string of anniversaries when it lodged in my lungs?
Was there any enjoyment in being stranded at a bus stop in bad weather when two buses in a row had inoperable lifts? Definitely not, and I certainly expressed my displeasure with the drivers and their management at the time.
Obviously there are many more negative experiences that those of us who are paralyzed face on a daily basis, not to mention the extreme costs related to keeping us healthy, and alive. It is impossible to sweep those circumstances under the rug, or ignore them, because most of us face them every day whether we want to or not.
My anniversaries, especially this one, are going to be spent doing things that will make me feel better--at least temporarily. My spinal cord injury, and its aftereffects, will not be allowed to override the quality of my life or detract from what level of enjoyment I find in it. On my silver anniversary I will be grateful that I have made it this far while remaining relatively independent, but obviously I cannot spend an entire day doing just that.
I will need to expand my thinking, as simple survival is not my only reason to be grateful. Since my injury, I have been able to share the wonder of watching two teenage daughters flourish and grow into wonderful mothers who make efforts to assure that I am a part of their sons' lives as well. The Americans with Disabilities Act
was conceived and passed during the time that I have been injured, which has allowed me to be employed and to have access to everything from government services to public accommodations and transportation.
Air travel was opened to me with the passage of the Air Carrier Access Act,
which has allowed me to travel throughout the country for business and pleasure. While it is true that the airlines have not always treated me as their favorite customer, and have abused my wheelchair in the process, it beats the heck out of traveling long distances on ground transportation or taking a boat to Hawaii.
Those of us with spinal cord injuries or similar disabilities have an expansive circle of friends and supporters that may be unknown to the rest of the population. Physical and occupational therapists, physiatrists, urologists and many other types of professionals with titles ending in 'ist' have invested in years of education and training in order to make us healthier, stronger or more independent. I've gotten to know many of them well, and consider them to be my friends.
I guess I am most grateful that there is a silver anniversary like this for me and many of my peers. When I was first injured, I was told the sobering news that I would be unlikely to be around for this anniversary or those that follow. I'm glad they were wrong about my reduced lifespan. Since I know so many people who have been injured much longer than me, part of my anniversary will be spent in renewing pledges leading to healthy changes in my lifestyle that might allow me to catch up with them.
© 2013 Michael Collins