Monday, March 24, 2008
It really can happen to you!
I was saddened to read this article in the Daily Mail by Tim Rushby-Smith, who was paralyzed after falling out of a tree he was pruning. I'm pleased to report that he seems to be adjusting to his new life, and I wish him every success.
The reason it struck a responsive chord is that something similar happened to me a few years ago. Until February 2004, I was a fairly normal male (well, that's a matter of opinion, of course!), reasonably active physically and enjoying the freedom of movement that one takes for granted and doesn't even think about most of the time (if at all). I'd hiked parts of the Appalachian Trail, driven thousands of miles over the course of a week . . . in general, I could do pretty much as I pleased, physically speaking.
Then, everything changed. I was injured in a job-related accident. A disc in my spine was herniated and put extreme pressure on the sciatic nerve in my left leg. From that moment onward I've not had a single day without pain. After some to-ing and fro-ing to get my injury accepted under Workers Compensation, I had two operations to trim the disc (which didn't solve the problem) and fuse my spine (which did as much as could be achieved). I've been left with a permanently impaired left leg and constant pain from the damaged nerve. I take a cocktail of drugs each day to control the nerve responses, keep the pain to a tolerable level, and deal with related problems.
I've had to medically retire, as I can no longer stand or walk for extended periods the way I used to do. I'm trying to build a new career as a writer, and have hopes of success in due course if I can find a publisher and/or agent (at least, much of the feedback I've received so far has been positive). Fortunately I'm eligible for a disability pension, which isn't much but is enough to keep me fed and clothed. Many in my position aren't so fortunate.
I'm not telling you this because I'm looking for sympathy - far from it. I can still walk short distances (albeit slowly) and I'm young enough to work hard at finding a new way to support myself that will be compatible with my physical restrictions. Again, many aren't so fortunate.
The reason I mentioned that article, and I'm telling you about my own injury, is that both Mr. Rushby-Smith and myself were living our lives without a thought for tomorrow - until tomorrow caught up with us. In an instant, both our lives were changed forever.
It can happen to you, too, dear reader.
I'd like to ask you to think about that, and do the following:
1. Be grateful for who you are and what you have. You never know when things may change.
2. Enjoy your life to the fullest. I'm not saying go out and do something immoral, or stupid, or anything like that . . . but while you're able to do things, do them and enjoy them. The time may come when they're beyond your reach.
3. Reach out to those who lose the ability to live as they'd like to. There are many people in your community who've suffered such injuries, or contracted a disease that has a similar effect. In many cases they're lonely, cut off from society. You can help them enormously by being there for them and trying to help.
4. Get involved with efforts to make sure that people have access to the help they need in such circumstances. I'm not talking welfare and social security here. In far too many cases (including my own) employers will try to make out that the injury wasn't job-related and that therefore Workers Compensation doesn't apply. For that matter, the Workers Compensation bureaucracy might drag their heels, insinuating that things aren't as bad as you make them out to be and trying to save money. In far too many cases employers and bureaucrats succeed in their efforts. I hope you'll talk to your politicians (local, State and Federal) and press them to make sure that genuine cases of injury don't go unaddressed because of bureaucratic red tape or employer obfuscation. I used to think that this wasn't much of a problem. Now, after my own experience, I know all too well that it is.
5. Finally, remember that in helping others today, you may be helping yourself or another member of your family tomorrow - because this can happen to you too.