Why Me Why Now?Why Me Why Now (The BOOK)
By Michael Krysiuk
There are certain times in peoples’ lives that things happen that make a change in their life be it dramatic, drastic, good or bad, whatever it may be. I had one if these changes happen in my life when I was 17 years old. I was a senior in high school and everything looked good in my life. My grades were so-so; I was getting by, enjoying the fruits of being a senior the last year of high school. I had some good friends. We played on the same intramural basketball team in school, raised a little hell, partied, and just tried to lead a normal life to the best of our abilities in the everyday life of a high school student in our home town.
This one Thursday, January 31, 1974 will be a day and night I will never forget, never. It was a regular day at school; nothing happened that was news or gossip worthy. I was doing my extra papers to pass for the semester. I fell behind and the teachers were giving me a chance to catch up. You know, I just let things in school slide too much and now I had to put up or shut up as the saying goes. I was making the effort. But the night of January 31st will be a time I will never forget.
Like I said the day was pretty calm at school. There was some bragging going on in the cafeteria about whose team was the best intramural basketball team, and being that the games were played Thursday night at the high school, how bad and mercilessly we would beat the opposing team tonight in our games.
School finished up at 2:35 PM, and I drove home in my car, a 1970 Chevy Chevelle. Parked my car in the garage for the night because that night I was riding to the game with my friends Ted and Steve, in Ted’s Triumph GT6. I had a light supper because I didn’t want to get filled up having to be running on a basketball court in a couple of hours. Did my homework, packed my gym bag with my basketball uniform and knee braces, and read the newspaper to see what was going on in the world of sports that night.
About 6:30 PM Ted and Steve came by to pick me up. Now a Triumph GT6 has 2 front seats and a small place for storage where the back seat is supposed to be. The space can be used for storage or a passenger can ride in this compartment as long as the journey is not that far. Steve and I flipped a coin and as it turned out I had to ride in the back. Oh well the luck of the flip I guess. So in I climbed and off we went to play some “B” – Ball.
We got to the high school and met the rest of our team, Brian, Dave, Jim, Darrell, Barrett, and Clint. We were a pretty good team. Good defense, and if any one of us got hot, you couldn’t stop us. We warmed up and picked out who would start and who would play where. The team we were playing happened to be a couple of football players, wrestlers, and skiers. So we figured that we weren’t going to have a problem in beating these guys tonight. But as things have a funny or disappointing way of turning out at the end we lost. Not by much but we still lost and my friend Ted got into a fight with one of the players from the other team. The fight didn’t last long. Just some pushing, exchange of some graphic words, maybe one or two punches thrown, tempers flare and cool down ending with the threat “I’ll get you tomorrow at school”. Yeh tomorrow.
Now here we were, just got beaten by a team that we thought we were going to run off the court. Ted just got into a fight, and we had some time to kill because it was about 8:30 PM. So as a team we decided to go to Vista, New York to buy some beer to quench our thrusts and blow off some steam. The reason we were going to Vista for beer was that it was after 8:00 PM and in Connecticut you can’t buy beer after 8:00 PM and Vista was just over the State line through New Canaan, so it wouldn’t take us long at all.
This time I was riding in the front seat of Ted’s car and Steve rode with Dave in his Mom’s station wagon. Off we went and made it there in a short time, met in the parking lot to pool our money and discuss our purchase. Then we went inside and purchased the beer. After we bought the beer we got together in the parking lot to have a nice cold one or two and talk about the game that night and to figure out why we lost to “those guys”. As it turned out we ended up talking about something else entirely different, we never came to a conclusion why we lost, and decided to take care of it tomorrow.
As I said before I was riding home with Ted sitting in the front seat and Steve was going to ride with Dave. Ted and I left the parking lot first leading the way. We were flying, racing down the road, not a care in the world. It reminds me now of a verse from a song I hear on the radio from time to time. It goes something like this, “the telephone poles looked like a picket fence”.
I looked across at the speedometer and the needle was between 90 and 100 miles per hour, so we had to be doing over 100 mph because I was seeing the meter on an angle from the passenger side.
All of a sudden he lost control of the car. So he tries to down shift. The gears lock. He hits the brakes. The brakes lock. We begin to skid. I will never forget that screeching sound of those tires trying to stop that car. While this was happening we didn’t utter a word or make a sound while the car was trying to stop, we were just holding on trying to survive the ride.
We were skidding across to the other side of the road heading off onto the shoulder of the road. Lucky for us no one was coming in the other direction because we would have gotten into a terrible accident. We were sure “Lucky”. Yeh lucky.
My next move was out of desperation and reflex. I pulled my legs out from under the dashboard and placed them on top of the dashboard kind of coiling into a ball. I saw in front of us we are heading for a pile of dirt and a big black shadow. Just before we hit I coiled up as tight as I could get. Sort of trying to make sure nothing would get torn off. I remember clenching my teeth in a death grip. You would have needed a crowbar to pry my teeth apart.
As we hit the pile of dirt it flipped us into the big black shadow. My face felt like it exploded. All of a sudden I was in a state of complete peace; like my body shifted into neutral, but I will get into that later.
Now getting back to the big black shadow; this happened to be a bulldozer parked in front of a big pile of dirt. We hit the pile of dirt in front of the bulldozer flipping us into the plow, head on, at full speed. I was lucky that I had put my feet up on the dashboard of the car because from the angle of the way the car smashed into the bulldozer, the engine of the car smashed through the car’s engine wall coming to a stop at the bottom of my seat. If I didn’t make the move of putting my legs on the dashboard I would have lost both legs at the sockets. But lucky me, I stayed in one piece falling into a coma from the impact of the car hitting the bulldozer and my head slamming against the ceiling of the car when it flipped. You’re probably thinking, “well, it serves them right those fools drinking and driving. But you have to remember we were kids and nothing like this is ever going to happen to us. No way it’s never going to happen to us. Or so we thought.
Now I would like to tell you what it’s like being in a coma. The last thing I remember before the lights went out was hearing those screeching tires, followed by a loud smash when we hit the bulldozer. I mentioned before that feeling of my face exploding and suddenly everything around me, especially me, was in a state of complete peace; like my body shifted into neutral. I felt like I was just floating along. Not really knowing what was going on or what happened to me. I guess you might say I was in for the time of my life. I just didn’t know that it was going to be a bad, very bad time of my life.
I kept telling myself that everything was all right and that nothing was wrong. Hey I had to go to school tomorrow and hand in my extra make-up homework for extra credit that I needed. I finally got caught up and I wanted to hand that homework in. But it felt like this was kind of a dream. Things were not really making sense. They say dreams come true sometimes, even the bad ones. At that moment my journey began. A journey I wouldn’t wish upon anyone.
Being in a coma was very confusing. My thoughts started drifting like changing channels on a television set. People, places, and things started popping in and out of my mind like some crazy slide show. I saw my car parked in my Dad’s garage. Hey maybe if I took my car that night instead of riding with my buddy this would have never happened. Oh yeh sure. There are so many variables to choose from; where am I going to start?
People and places started racing through my mind. Like playing baseball and making the all-star team in little league. That was my favorite sport; baseball. I always had a dream of pitching in the major leagues of professional baseball. I was playing on the high school CYO basketball team with my cousin who lives next door. We had a good team that year. Every thing was clicking. We had some good players and a good coach. I wonder if we might have won the league championship if I didn’t get hurt. I can only wonder. Parties I went to in my life. For example: birthdays, weddings, Christmas, anniversaries, and high school dances. My thoughts never really settled on one particular party or event. They were all just mashed together. A little here and a little there, jumping around in time.
I then pictured some of the stuff me and the boys got away with in school. Going for breakfast at the local diner. Instead of going to class we would go to the gym and play basketball. I don’t know what we were thinking. We never thought of getting caught. Hey we were to smart to get caught. Sure, only if I knew what was going to happen then; to what I know now. But there is no turning back the hands of time. Buying my first car, but then I was riding in my boat. I’m not sure why I was in my boat. I was either fishing or water-skiing. But there I was on the high seas.
Next I was on my first date. The movies or a dance I’m not sure. But this was followed by my first kiss. Now I was getting confused and a little worried. I don’t know why but I felt a little uneasy. So much was going through my mind at once. I guess you call it confusion more than anything else.
Now time was passing by very fast. It was kind of all falling into a pattern. Everything was happening so fast. You see time in a coma means absolutely nothing. It’s kind of like falling dominos, one right after the other.
I was fading in and out not realizing what was really going on. I could hear my Mom and Dad talking. I could recognize their voices. I couldn’t make out what they were saying, it was all just a low mumble but I could tell they were there. I wanted to reach out and touch them, and let them know I am right here and everything is all right. But I can’t, I can’t, I’m trying but I can’t. I keep telling myself to wake-up, get moving, I’ve got places to go, people to see, but my body won’t listen to me. I guess I have a break in the flow of internal communication. I finally realize something’s wrong. Too many strange things are going on in a short period of time. My mind is working but my body shifted into neutral and won’t operate no matter what I do or say. My body is not responding. I guess you might say my body’s dead. I’m in a coma. I am trapped in here and I want to get out. Please God, please, I want to live, I want to walk. Please Gaaaaaa………!
My mind starts drifting again. My mind is kind of like changing channels on a television set; only I didn’t know what station or what was going to happen next.
I was playing basketball with my buddies. We always have great games but they usually end up with someone getting pissed off at someone else. Those games were still a lot of fun. We were playing over at my friend Ted’s house. He had the best basketball court. It was set up in his father’s tennis court. It wasn’t a clay floor; it was this new type of outdoor foam flooring for tennis courts, which were great for basketball courts.
I can now hear my Dad; he just came into the room. I recognize his voice. He always says, “Hi Mike how are you today?” I guess he asks this with the hope that I’ll answer him someday, someday soon, real soon. He would always talk to me and tell me what was going on. Kind of keeping me informed. He reads me the sports page of the newspaper everyday. “The Celtics won again.”
Oh God please help me. Why Me Why Now? Tell me why does it have to be me? I know I’ve done some bad things in my life. Messed around in school, got in a couple of fights, threw eggs at cars on Halloween when I was younger, I confess, I know who stole a tape deck from a car and helped cover it up by lying about it. Oh but come on, everybody has done something in their life that breaks the rules of laws every now and then. But tell me why do I have to suffer like this? I have been pretty good my whole life. Why is it now that I have to pay for the errors in my life? OK, I’m sorry, oh dear God I am sorry.
Suddenly I am running. Where? Why? Who to? I don’t have a clue. I am running in a big field of grass. I think it’s grass. It is all green around me but I can’t feel my feet hit the ground while I am running. I guess you might say I am just assuming it’s grass by color association and what else could it be? I guess you might say I wasn’t going to worry about it. I am pretty sure it’s daytime because it’s brightly lit all around me. I can see no sun in front of me or to either side so it must be behind me. But if I was running with the sun at my back there should be my long shadow on the ground in front of me. It’s just that I don’t see a shadow on the ground anywhere. Be it in front or on either side of me, I just don’t see one anywhere. I can’t figure this out. So I just keep running.
My mind is jumping around from time to time in my life. I can now hear my sister and mom in my room. I can recognize their voices although it is just a mumble to me. Kind of like picking up words piecemeal not really picking up full sentences. I can understand what happens next. It sounds like they are crying and I feel there tears hit my face when they lean over me. I wish I could tell them I am right here and that everything is all right. I just wish I could reach out and touch them and tell them that I am here with them, right here, and everything will be all right. I just wish I could communicate with them but I can’t, I can’t.
I am drifting again. It feels like everything is happening so fast. I now can hear the nurses talking; so they must be near my bed. The things I am hearing are a little strange to me. One of the nurses said she just dumped her boyfriend. I hear her clearly as she said, “I’m never going to see that two faced lying son of a bitch again except to kick him in the ass!” My mind starts jumping around again and I really can’t figure out why or where I am going. I can remember the voices of those nurses though. I wish I could see those nurses. They have the most beautiful voices I have ever heard. I can only imagine what they look like. I have to search my memory and only imagine, only imagine.
Like I said earlier, time was passing by so fast. It was like changing channels on a television set. It is one hell of a ride through the many channels of my memory. I guess you might say I was getting a quick summary of my life. Not just sitting on or in one period of time. It seemed I was covering a little bit of everything at once. It was kind of like the domino effect, one right after the other. The good times, funny times, happy times, but there were no bad times. I can’t figure that one out. I guess if I cashed in my chips I would only have good memories of my life, but I am not going to get into that. I guess you might say it is a loaded or hot subject.
I just wish I had one more chance. Oh please just one more time to walk again and feel the sand under my feet as I walk along the beach. Hey I have school tomorrow. Please let me get out of this damn coma! But I’m trapped! Trapped! Fucking trapped in a dead body! Oh God please, let me wake up and live my life again. I know I haven’t always done the right things, bent the rules a little bit. But come on. I promise I’ll be good, I won’t screw around anymore, I won’t get into any fights or arguments, I’ll even buy a tape deck and give it to the person that had theirs stolen. Oh come on please.
Now I don’t know how long I have been in this coma. Time means absolutely nothing. It feels like only a very short time has passed like maybe a few minutes or maybe even a couple hours, but I don’t really know. My mind just keeps jumping around from time to time and place to place. I would go any where from being at home, or playing some sport like baseball or basketball, or being in school, or being at work as a busboy at a local restaurant in town, or seeing different people in my life, or I was back in the hospital room trying to figure out what is going on and how I can respond to what is going on around me. It was very confusing. I sort of knew what was going on but just couldn’t do any thing to let people around me know that I was aware of the situation I was in and how I can get out and move on in my life. It was kind of one big dream.
As I said before time passed by extremely fast in the coma. The next thing that I remember was opening my eyes and it seemed like I was waking up from a long nap. I kind of don’t know the exact time or who was in the room, it was like I was in a strange room and I knew it wasn’t mine. I found out later that the amount of time I was in the coma was 7-weeks. It seemed like only yesterday that I was playing basketball with my buddies. Yeh yesterday. 7-weeks later.
It was kind of like being blindfolded and spun around a couple times and led into a different place. Then they take the blindfold off and surprise. Yeh surprise, where the hell am I?
I remember the first thing I see is the ceiling. That’s it. I couldn’t move. Couldn’t even move my nose of finger or toe. Nothing. I couldn’t talk. Couldn’t make a sound. I was just there. All I could do was move my eyes, and that’s it.
I do remember the first person that I saw was my Dad. He was happy. I guess because I was back from the coma. Things are kind of fuzzy during this time. I do remember moving around from department to department in the hospital.
It was very strange to me. I couldn’t move at first, couldn’t even make a sound. The reason for this was that I was quadriplegic and couldn’t talk because I had a tracheotomy. I guess if I didn’t have a tracheotomy I would have swallowed my tongue. Just a precaution the Doctor was taking.
Being quadriplegic was very strange. It wasn’t painful because I couldn’t feel anything. Like I said before the only things I could move were my eyes from side to side and that was it. I could hear voices of people talking. I recognized my Mom, Dad, and Sister. I could hear people talk, but not really understand what they were talking about or saying. Kind of picking up things in parts, like hearing pieces to a puzzle and I tried to put them together the best I could. Trying to make sense of what was going on around me.
I remember my Dad reading the sports section of the paper to me. They even brought a small portable television set in for me to watch and listen to.
I started to make progress slowly, very slowly but it was still progress. Time was still very strange to me. I really wasn’t aware of the time of day or season of the year. It was all like one long period or moment in my life with small pauses in the program to break the day up.
I remember first starting to move my fingers, hands and arms. My Dad put tennis balls into two stockings and tied them to my bed so I could grab hold of them and squeeze them to build up strength in my hands and arms. I guess I had to start somewhere and that was the starting point. As parts of my body started to move I would try in some way to exercise that part of my body.
I had my tracheotomy removed and started eating food again. You see being in a coma all I did with weight was lose it. I was very thin. I lost 120 or so pounds and being laid out and losing weight my body stretched to about 6’6”. My legs were thinner then what my arms used to be before the accident. My mom used to give me different foods with vitamins mixed in. You see I lost about everything my body used to have. The only thing I did not lose was life itself.
My Dad used to always come into my room and tap the bottom of my foot to see if it moved yet. You see before the accident I was very ticklish and if you tickled my foot you would have to pry me from the ceiling I would jump so high. He would tap it and finally one day my leg cramped up and jumped.
Now this was a happy time because that meant life was back in my legs. It just meant I had the job of my life to begin. The job of bringing my life back to normal or to what I remembered it as being before the accident. Everyone was happy. Everyone was always talking to me because I didn’t start talking yet, because I couldn’t.
I was watching television one day and everybody in my room was talking and I couldn’t hear the voice from the television. I was trying to listen to the television but was having trouble. The next or should I say the first thing out of my mouth was “be quiet, I can’t hear the television”. Well that started everybody talking. I was able to speak again. Not too clearly, I had a noticeable stutter, but I was talking again.
Things came back to me. But they came back slowly. I remember the time when the physical therapist would come into my room with that stand-up table. I am not sure of the technical term for it but the person that being me would lie on the table; the therapist straps you in and slowly moves the table to a standing position. This would let me get used to having weight on my feet again. All I have to say is that it was scary not having any muscles in my legs to use to help me stand. I would plead with the therapist to please let me sit down because it hurt to have the weight on my feet again. Not to mention that the cords in my legs were tight and I had to wear special shoes to stretch them out again. It was all very painful, and I was scared of falling.
This schedule of therapy kept up for a while. I slowly got more and more strength in my entire body, but I still had a long way to go. My family and friends would drop by and say hello from time to time, with my Dad, Mon and Sister always being there never letting me feel alone, always trying to keep my spirits up. For all of those people who sent me letters, cards, or just sending me sunshine in a prayer or thought, I will always be in your debt, helping me to never think of giving up and looking forward to life and all it has to offer.
Then the day came for me to leave the Norwalk Hospital. I was going to Gaylord Rehabilitation Hospital in Wallingford Connecticut. I was being transported up there in an ambulance. My Dad rode with me. We had to stop in the commuter parking lot on the way to Wallingford because I had to stretch my legs out. You see the ambulance we were riding in was small sized and they pulled over so I could stretch my legs out straight. I guess that’s one of the problems about being tall. The ride was nice. This was my first journey on the road since the night of my accident. I wasn’t scared of the ride at all. It was nice getting outside the hospital and seeing life again as I remembered it.
I finally arrived at Gaylord Hospital in Wallingford, Connecticut. Now my work was just getting started. I was about to start on my long road to recovery, potholes included.
When I finally got to Gaylord I was checked into my room and I got settled in. Gaylord Hospital was out in the country so it was very refreshing for me to be in a new place and that I didn’t feel cooped up. I was able to see the countryside from my window and off in the distance I could see a golf course. It was a nice change and put me in a nice frame of mind. This move sort of wiped the slate clean so I could make a new start and begin to get better physically and mentally. Everybody that took the ride up to Gaylord said their goodbyes and gave me a kiss on the cheek. Tomorrow I was starting to begin taking occupational and physical therapy to repair my mind and body.
I slept pretty well the first night and was up early the next morning. I had breakfast in my room and then I was to begin my therapy. I was taken down to the exercise room to meet my physical therapist and begin my workout. I was wheeled down the hall to the exercise room then put into a line like a wagon train. Then the therapist would come and get you when it was your time for therapy. The first day was for the therapist to see what I was able to do physically.
My first stop was the exercise mat. That was one of the most difficult places for me in the beginning. I first had to get out of my wheel chair and get on the mat. The mat was on a platform raised about one foot above the floor. After I successfully made it onto the mat, I was to kneel on all fours, – hands and knees. Let me tell you this. That was very difficult for me because I lost my center of balance. I had a most frustrating time. I was very weak and when the therapist applied any pressure or nudged me to one side I lost it. I would lose my balance. The therapist would catch me so I wouldn’t fall off the mat. I was very weak. I had to get my strength back again, but it took a long time. I would do exercises on my own when I was not in my therapy sessions. I would squeeze tennis balls to strengthen my hands and arms, rotate my feet trying to gain strength in my ankles, take my legs out of the stirrups on the wheel chair and try to walk myself across the floor sitting in the chair; I also shuffled cards trying to get coordination in my hands again. This all took time. I went through many hours of frustrating therapy. I must say there were also rewarding times in my therapy sessions to. When I was able to accomplish something that I was working on was a very big boost for me mentally and physically.
I remember the first time that I moved from the exercise mat to the parallel bars. This would be the first time that I would stand up by myself. I must say that I was scared of falling. I had no balance to speak of and being as tall and as thin as I was, the floor looked like it was a very long way down. Meaning I was scared of falling. I was terrified. My Therapist had me wear a special belt that had handles connected to the side for her to hold on so she could steady me. I held on for dear life to those parallel bars always checking to make sure my therapist had hold of me so I wouldn’t fall if I lost my balance. It was a very slow process. But my therapist didn’t baby me. She would encourage me to do a little more each time I would try to perform some exercise. She never gave up on me, which in turn didn’t let me give up on myself. It really boosted my ego. Those early days in therapy were mentally frustrating and physically challenging.
My first meal was a therapy session in itself. I would feed myself. Now that doesn’t sound like much but for the first time since I had the accident I held a fork, knife, and spoon in my own hands. Now that was a big accomplishment for me. You see all the cords in my body were tight, extremely tight. My hands were closed in semi fists from the cords in my hands stiffening up. The cords in my ankles pulled my feet out straight. It made me walk on my toes until I loosened those cords up. I had to wear special steel arched shoes with steel braces up to my knees so I wouldn’t break my ankles. I was like a baby learning to walk again. It was just frustrating because my brain knew how to walk it was just the path of communication in my body got disconnected. I couldn’t get the message of how to walk to my legs anymore. I had to teach my legs and repair my train of internal communication in my body. Basically I had to teach my body how to function again.
My Mom, Dad, and Sister would visit me everyday. They took me outside on the patio of the hospital. They even brought my guitar up so I could try to play again. I tried but lost interest because I was concentrating on doing and learning other things at that time. I just put the guitar aside for the moment planning to pick it up again when the time was right. I’ll never forget the time I put my bare feet on green grass for the first time since my accident. My parents and sister took me outside to sit on the patio of the hospital and my Dad asked me if I would like to put my feet on the ground again. It doesn’t sound like much but it was a big accomplishment for me. It was like reacquainting my feet or body with nature again. Big things happen from the smallest things when doing something that you always used to take for granted and now realize the beauty or significance something or someone has in your life.
I started to progress steadily in my recovery. At this stage of your recuperating process the hospital would let you go on field trips away from the hospital atmosphere. I went out for lunch at a restaurant. I went bowling in a wheelchair at the local bowling alley in town. The best score out of the three games I bowled was a 165. Not bad even if I say so myself from a wheelchair. I even went fresh water fishing. We all loaded into a van, I think it was 5 of us with our wheelchairs and some fishing poles, some bait and high hopes on having a good time, which we most definitely had. For the record I think I caught seaweed. That’s it seaweed, no fish. Oh well it was a great time and I was getting back to living out of the hospital again. The one place I will never forget that they took us to was the movie theater. We saw “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid”. I will never forget that, it was great, seeing Paul Newman and Robert Redford in the leading roles. It was a high point for me. It just sort of reassured me that life is still going on outside the hospital.
I was making progress daily, but I still had a long way to go. I would really work at my therapy sessions. I would say to my friends and family when they would come and visit me that this summer I was going to be playing basketball again down at the beach. I had my dreams. Those were one of the main things that kept me going, working at my recovery trying to progress every day even if it was just a little. I would picture myself playing basketball and baseball again. I just kept a positive attitude about my injury and during the time of my recovery. I did not set any boundaries on my progress. I shot for the sun. Maybe I wouldn’t reach it but I was on my way. Maybe only reach Mars, Mercury, or the Moon, but I was on the move, next stop recovery. The only thing that was going to stop me was me, and I had to big a support team so I did not have a chance to even think about giving up. That being my Mom, Dad, Sister, Family, Friends, Doctors, Nurses, the list is endless. I thank each and every one of those people and they all have a very special place in my heart.
Getting back to my therapy sessions, I had two kinds. One therapy being Physical and the other being Occupational. Physical was the obvious one. I knew why I was there, and that was to strengthen my body and get back to living a normal life again, as close as I possibly could in a physical sense. But Occupational therapy was a therapy with a different twist. I mean this would get me used to and help me in carrying on with basic things in life day to day. The basic things being feeding myself, holding a fork, knife and spoon, learning how to take a shower again, not being able to stand I had to get used to sitting on a bench in the tub and learn how to use the shower attachment which was a spray gun attached to a hose. I would stand at a counter and put a puzzle together. This was done so I could start to focus on and undertake more than one thing at a time without crumbling in a pile on the floor. I must say that this was very frustrating at times. My memory was still intact and I would recall how to do these things, but it was just trouble getting the signal from my brain to my internal motor which worked my arms, legs, hands, feet, mouth, eyes, nose, toes, fingers, every part of my body. It was a long process but I would take it a step at a time, or in this case, inch by inch, body part by body part, therapy session by therapy session. I was very determined to keep my word and play basketball down at the beach in the summertime.
A high point in my day was when somebody would come and visit me. I would have one of those big calendars on the wall in my room and I would have everyone who came to visit me sign their name on the day they were there. I would tell my Mom and Dad who was by that day to visit. It gave me a nice feeling inside to see all those names of the people who came to visit, real nice.
But I had this feeling inside. I’m not quite sure what it was. I would look forward to seeing people, be it nurses, doctors, therapists, friends, other patients, anyone and everyone. It was always a high point in my day to see other people. I guess you would call it loneliness setting in at times. This is when I would start to look to the future and picture myself out of the hospital living my life again. I would dream all the time. I would keep giving myself positive incentives by keeping a positive train of thought. I would see myself walking, playing games, and also cutting the grass again. My mind and thoughts would wander. The power of positive thinking is a very powerful asset to have on your side. I kept telling myself constantly that I was going to walk out of the hospital someday soon.
With having this train of thought working, my therapy sessions were getting better everyday. My body was getting stronger and my coordination was coming back slowly with it getting better every day. At this point the Doctor and Therapist talked to my parents and it was decided that I could start to go home on the weekends. Therapy was not given on weekends at Gaylord so I would leave Friday afternoon and come back to the hospital on Sunday evening, so I would be ready to begin my therapy session Monday morning.
My first weekend home was fantastic. My family and friends dropped by to say hello and spend some time visiting. It was a psychological boost for me. It was nice seeing all those people again. This was a part of my life that I lost in the hospital and it was being given back to me. My cousin Patty made some posters welcoming me home. She had them posted on the telephone pole and tree in the front yard of our home. I was also eating food from home. Hospital food is good and healthy for you, but food from home was fantastic. Enough said about that because I think everyone will agree with me on that subject.
I was now home out of the hospital but my exercise to recover did not stop, it only got more creative. When I was in the house I would never use a wheelchair. If I wanted to get somewhere in the house I would crawl on my hands and knees. This means of transportation would get me from place to place but it would also keep my body in motion. The result of this meant that this was making my body stronger. It was a slow process but things were moving along and in a positive direction. I now know what it means when I here the phrase, “You have to crawl before you can walk”.
I returned to Gaylord on Sunday night and Monday mornings the doctors, nurses, and therapists would see the progress that I have made over the weekend at home. My therapy sessions were now geared toward getting me ready to enter again into the outside world. I mean by saying the outside world being out of the hospital environment. I was starting to walk using a walker. A walker is an aluminum frame with three sides, stands about waste high so I could use the walker to keep my balance giving me some reinforcement so I could make my way around a room. I was still a little shaky so a therapist would follow me and grab my belt if I lost my balance. I am happy to say the therapist would grab or hold my belt less and less each day. Yes, I was making progress.
Each weekend I came home I would return to Gaylord with more and more confidence. This one weekend that I came home would turn out to be a sad one. I saw my friend Ted, (the driver of the car the night of the accident), that Friday when I arrived home. But the next morning my Dad came into my bedroom and told me that Ted had died in a house fire. The story about the fire that I was told was that Ted went out drinking that Friday night and when he got home he tried to cook a steak on the stove. He put the steak on the burner then turned on the stove and went upstairs to his room. He lay down and dozed off. I was told he must have woken up and tried to get out of his room but passed out from the smoke and heat and fell against the door. I was told it was so hot in his bedroom that a light bulb melted. You see his room was right above the kitchen. It was believed that a grease fire started and he got choked-up from the intake of the smoke and dehydrated from the heat of the fire. I heard that a fireman fell through the roof three times trying to get to him. But when they finally got to him it was too late, he was dead. It was a shock to me. Not really knowing what to say. I still have many unanswered questions that I was going to ask him about our accident. Not really getting a chance to talk and tell him I’ll be better soon. He doesn’t have to worry because I’ll make it back. Not even getting a chance to say goodbye. So many little things we all take for granted. Goodbye Ted.
My return to Gaylord was a quiet one. I returned determined to end my stay at Gaylord as soon as possible. That means that I was going to work on getting better physically and mentally. I would go into each therapy session and try to advance in the areas I was working on, and that was strengthening my arms or my legs. I was trying to walk more confidently between the parallel bars and doing exercises when or where I was able to. For example I would wheelchair walk when I had a chance. That was when there was nobody around to spot me in case if I had lost my balance, so I would take my legs out of the holders of the wheelchair and walk down the hall or across the room. My Physical and Occupational Therapists were always there to give me support in my exercises and to boost my moral to do each exercise correctly. I was making good progress each day I was at Gaylord. I was recovering nicely getting stronger and boosting my confidence each day in every area I was working on.
Then that special day came. The one I have been dreaming of and working towards my entire time in the hospital. The Doctors and Therapists thought I was making very nice progress on my recovery and decided that it would be beneficial for me to return home and continue my recovery process on an out patient therapy basis. The date was set for me to return home for good. That was the weekend after the fourth of July. I would finally be at home and keeping up with my therapy as an out patient at the Stamford Easter Seals Rehabilitation Center. That was a giant step for me. I was finally going home, finally.
I left Gaylord Hospital in a wheelchair but when I got home I never used one. To get from room to room in the house I would crawl. This was very beneficial because by crawling it was a type of exercise with it strengthening my legs, arms, shoulders, back, the whole body. I was a little shaky and wobbly at first but I was very persistent to achieve everything and anything I was trying to do successfully. If I couldn’t do what I was trying to do one day, then I would try it the next day and the day after. This type of an exercise program would go on each and every day until I would be successful in accomplishing the task or challenge I would be working on.
My Dad was a genius in the many things he set-up or built for me to do my exercises. He built a set of parallel bars in the basement of our house so I could practice my walking any time I wanted to. As time went by I was getting more coordinated and stronger in my entire body. I would go swimming in my Uncle’s built in swimming pool. While wearing a life jacket I would swim all around the pool. Swimming was one of the main things that helped me in getting stronger. While I was having fun and not really conscious of exercising I felt my body getting stronger over time and realized that movement was becoming easier and more natural with less work on my part.
My Dad has this metal frame scaffle that he used in his field of work, a mason. He set the scaffle up in our driveway about 10 feet from the Basketball rim that was hanging on our garage. I wasn’t making to many shots at first but I was having a great time. I wasn’t playing basketball like I used to before the accident but I was back on the court again making the effort to cross a very long bridge on the road to my recovery.
Each and every day I would have an exercise schedule set up for myself. I wore a path out in the lawn of our yard in the route I would walk everyday. I also would push a baby carriage filled with 50 pounds of sand. This was to help steady my balance while I strengthened my legs. I even pushed this big old wooden wheelchair filled with sand instead of the baby carriage as a change in or variety in my exercise tools. I did fall down once while pushing the wheelchair. I was pushing it up a slight incline and I lost my balance and fell backwards. I didn’t hurt anything. The fall was more of a shock to be sitting on the ground rather abruptly. My Dad helped me to my feet and I continued to walk. Only this time I make sure it was flat level ground.
To help my speech I would read out loud. This helped me hear the word while I was trying to pronounce it correctly to the best of my ability. To take this reading out loud a step further I would read into a tape recorder and play back and listen to the areas or words I would have to work on. This type of exercise was frustrating and took a long time but in the end it paid off. I speak now clearly and understandably. The brain may say everything in the body works ok but my internal wires were still a little crossed. I had a few more areas to clean up and straighten out.
I was being tutored at home to complete the last 5 remaining courses I had to pass to graduate high school. These classes were: English, Economics, Math, Physics, and Electronics. I had my work cut out for me. Having suffered such a blow to the head in the accident I was a little slow at first grasping the particular material I was reading / studying. But I kept at studying everyday trying to do my best and getting the most I could out of each book I read. The teachers that were assigned as my Tutors were fantastic people. They kept encouraging me to keep working at the area they were teaching and giving me positive feedback about my homework and instructing me on how to improve in my shortcomings or weaknesses. I am very thankful to those people. Thank You.
On the subject of Physical Therapy, progress was coming along very nicely. I exercised every chance I had. I would putt golf balls while I stood between the parallel bars. My Dad constructed a wheel with a handle on it. He attached it to the wall in the area of the parallel bars. I would stand there and turn the wheel forward and backward. This type of exercise would help me to strengthen my whole body while also improving my coordination while standing. I would also stand and throw darts. This type of exercise/game helped me to build my confidence, coordination, and strength in doing something/anything while I was standing on my feet.
I would also practice my handwriting or as they say in school my “penmanship”. This was hard at first with it still being a little difficult in holding onto a pencil. But I was very determined to clean up my handwriting, because before the accident I had really nice handwriting. Enough said on this area, it was going along smoothly.
As I said earlier I was being tutored at home for the remaining classes needed to complete and graduate high school. These classes were English, Economics, Math, Physics, and Electronics. It was a little tough at the start. I had to teach myself or better yet, pick up some good study habits. It was a slow process because I would loose my train of thought on my schoolwork. The main reason for this was that I would continue to concentrate on my physical capabilities and how or what I would have to do to get a physically healthy body as quickly as possible. I set some high standards because I wanted to do the things I saw other people do. For example: running, swimming, play golf, baseball, basketball and just to enjoy life and interact with my family and friends again on a daily basis.
I would also go for outpatient therapy at the Easter Seal Rehabilitation Center in Stamford, CT. Here at this Rehab center I had my work cut out for me in rehabilitating my body. I made progress very fast here. With me going to therapy and rehabilitating/exercising at home, I was getting stronger, more confident and my coordination was returning at a very fast and steady rate. The Therapists would comment each time they saw me that I was doing fantastic.
When we went to these therapy sessions my Dad and I would take my car. That was a 1970 Chevy Chevelle, 6 cylinder, 2-door. It was a nice car. That was the first car that I bought with the money I earned working in a restaurant. After a while my Dad let me drive the car home from therapy, because I was getting stronger physically and sharper mentally. Everything that I accomplished at this point was getting me closer and closer to a normal way of life as I pictured it to be. That is living my life not just trying to survive in it.
Every part of my body was improving. My physical body was coming along nicely. One day at home I was going for my daily walk in the yard around our house. I was at the stage of wearing shoe braces to protect my ankles and using the aid of only one cane. I was becoming more confident in my walking. I could feel my legs getting stronger. For that matter I felt my whole body getting stronger and felt my coordination and confidence coming back in undertaking each and every thing I was trying to accomplish. These things being something you would take for granted if your body was working normally with no handicap. Things were definitely becoming easier to achieve or accomplish. This one day that that I was walking in the front yard and I was feeling very good physically and mentally and only using one cane holding it about a foot above the ground. I was walking this way trying to gain confidence in my ability to walk and just in case if I lost my balance I would easily catch myself with the cane and steady myself. Well this one particular day I was walking along doing real good. I was feeling very confident in my walking and in my self in general. The next thing I do was to walk up to the maple tree in the center of our front yard and hang my cane on that tree. I said to myself that the time was now to do away with the cane and if I were to fall I would just pick myself up and try again. But luck and determination was on my side today. I hung the cane on that tree and walked away never using it again.
Now there wasn’t any big commotion or celebration about me not using my cane anymore. I do remember the big smiles my Mom and Dad had when they say me walking without that cane though. They came outside and just watched me walk around. I could see how happy they were for me. There were still some rough edges I had to smooth out but this was a giant step forward.
The next thing I had to take care of or the next hurdle I had to jump over was doing away with my shoe braces with the steel arches and steel heels with the rubber coating. I must say that they were heavy. I was upstairs playing my guitar one afternoon and my Mom came into the room with these shoes we used to call desert boots. These were lightweight shoes that look like a pair of high-top sneakers. I tried them on and laced them up. They were very comfortable and were quite a change from my previous shoes. That was the last time I would wear my shoe braces.
I kept up with my exercise schedule trying to accomplish a little more or refine what I was doing a little better each and every day. I kept walking that track around the yard of our house. I was getting stronger in my mind and body, building up my confidence each and every day. I started to walk to the bottom of the street I lived on. You see I lived on a dead end street with the river being at the bottom or end. At first my Dad would go along with me. But as I was building my strength and confidence in walking, I soon started to make the trek myself. Everything was starting to click for me. My body was beginning to function properly. Like I said before, I was starting to live my life again not just surviving in it.
I graduated from High School that summer. I must say the teachers that came and tutored me at home were great people. They helped me in the education of my mind and helped by putting a spark in my spirit not letting me give up on my schoolwork or myself. I will always be grateful to those teachers for their time and patience.
When I look back on this period of my life I ask myself this one particular question over and over again. That question is: “Why Me Why Now?” But I can’t seem to find an answer. People could say I was a victim of circumstance, or I was living a little to close to the edge. You could say I was a little too cocky for my personality, or the person I truly was. Some people say that experience is the best teacher. I will have to disagree with this statement just a bit. I mean, just “fuck up” once and you’ll learn a lot faster. In my case I “fucked up” big time. Hey but we were kids and we didn’t know, yeh sure.
I mean every body makes mistakes in their life; it’s just that some of us have to pay for those mistakes in different ways. I was taught in a very powerful way. I know what it is to have everything going for me one minute and the next minute when I open my eyes I had to start from square one or to say it more clearly: from the beginning, (start with nothing by having everything taken away).
I would just like to say after being on this long journey through my life that if anybody out there in the world knows of anyone in a coma, don’t give up hope on them. They are still there. Maybe not now, maybe not later, but they are still there. I know because I was there and back myself and it was a long tough ride filled with hills, valleys, straight a ways, and yes there were many potholes.
Just don’t loose the faith in these people. Faith is a very powerful force in life. Life, please don’t give up on it.
To The Future:
It has been many years since my accident and all the adventures of getting my mind and body working again. I am now a divorced father of two lovely daughters which are always close to my heart. My job; employed by my home town as a data entry clerk in the Tax Collector’s Office of which I have been employed at for the past 10 years is going along nicely. In my spare time I am an aspiring Actor. I have been in many community theater productions as well as acted on some prime time television programs. I have even performed as a stand-up comedian a few years ago. I have even written music for a cable television program as well has written monologues and a short play for the stage.
I look towards the future with a hunger in my soul for new and exciting adventures. I believe in following my dreams, they do come true.