Steps on the Way By Clark Lord
It’s said that change is the only constant that truly exists. Many of us know this on an intellectual level as we go about our chosen activities. I know that I certainly took many things for granted, without even knowing I was doing so. Many times I didn’t seize the moment, with the comfortable opinion that time was on my side. “I’ll stop tomorrow,” or “I’ll wait until spring,” were common examples of my inner dialogue. When the going got rough, many times I headed for the door. But what can I say is that you can only do the best you know at the time.
Then something happened on June 4th, 2010... I found myself in a hospital room that I later discovered was St. Michael’s, downtown Toronto.
When I last recalled being conscious, this was certainly not the next place I expected to see. What could have possibly led to this? The memories of this time get increasingly hazy as time goes by, even though at that time I was most likely in a fog of indifference brought on by a combination of morphine, shock, and who knows what else.
As best as I can recall, my mom and sister were at my side. Nurses and doctors were asking me questions regarding my coherence, and they were testing for sensation in various parts of my body. I was asking myself, “What’s happened?” I don’t recall saying this out loud or who exactly started to explain it.
Somewhere along the line I found out that I was hit by a vehicle while biking home at around 3:00 a.m. Even now, I have to trust that this is a fact, because I have absolutely no memory of this. This was one of the first steps on what has ultimately become a journey of trust and acceptance.
The amount of time I was unconscious is still unknown to me. Once again I must have asked the question, “Is this all possible?” Even now I can’t say for sure. The evidence was there in the form of a mangled bicycle, the disappearance of my beloved Fender
Stratocaster, various news reports, and the very real facts that I was initially immobilized; moved to a wheelchair, then a walker. I currently walk with the assistance of a cane.
The routine at St. Mike’s for the most escapes me now, but there were visits of family and a truly special circle of friends. Among my guests were lawyers, detectives, police, social workers, surgeons, and many others from a branch of society I had previously done my best to avoid. Another change I had to take in my stride.
The most exciting part about my routine at St. Mike’s was not being able to relieve myself for more than a week. Those of you who know what a catheter is know of what I speak. Let’s just say that I don’t have a fear of too many things these days! I do very clearly remember the nurses jumping for joy like proud mothers the first time I reclaimed my independence in this regard. Later, during my rehab at Lyndhurst when I had a bowel movement on my own after a month, I can only describe it as a complete feeling of euphoria, relief, and weightlessness; one I shall indeed be fortunate to be granted once again.
Moving right along, leaving St. Mike’s, I found myself in the back of an ambulance on my way to Lyndhurst, a rehab centre that specializes in spinal cord injuries. It is regarded as one of the best. This is another thing I had to take on with trust. This is the place where “reality” slowly began to take the place of morphine, Percocet, and shock; a comfortably numbing combination most definitely, but we all have to leave the womb sometime. Every patient had a spinal cord injury and most everyone used a wheelchair, therefore we all have the same goal.
Another big change for me was going to the gym. In my previous 34 years, I could count on one finger the number of times I went to a gym. At Lyndhurst, over the course of almost three and a half months, I hardly missed a day. Good thing or bad thing? Can’t really say for sure. It simply had to be. There was also the joy of having no choice but to wake up at an hour that previously I would have been going to bed. I was also only able to shower three times a week and had to wait in line for the privilege to do so. There were my daily, completely voluntary torture sessions, more commonly known as physiotherapy, and I would always request the most challenging exercises. Proof
of insanity? Who can say, but it had to be.
I also had daily blood thinner injections, the luxury of suppositories, roommates at various levels of coherence, the joys of insomnia, the rollercoaster ride of switching medications, and family members coming out of the woodwork. The list goes on and on. Just pick your favourite medical TV drama and put yourself in the place of the patient.
In retrospect, even though I had thoughts of, “was I in jail or in prison,” Lyndhurst was a perfect island commune to escape to for the time, and now I would return without a moment’s hesitation. They really know how to put a good face on things. Those who have been there know what I mean. Even though my injuries were far from being the most severe, when you have a spinal cord injury there is no place to escape, and if you want your circumstances to improve, full presence of mind and courage are required.
A peak moment on my journey was standing up for the first time, progressing from wheelchair to walker, to the current status of using a cane. Seeing other patients going through similar journeys was beneficial to my recovery, in witnessing what it’s really like when someone draws on all of their will power to reach a goal.
Lyndhurst was a fascinating place to witness what I consider to be some of the pinnacles of human potential. Lyndhurst did for me what it was designed for. I came in on a stretcher and left walking.
In spite of my protests, it was determined that my visit to the island of Lyndhurst could not be extended past Sept. 21st. The choice was made to find a new residence due to the lack of accessibility at my building. At the time, I was still using a wheelchair so it seemed reasonable, but in the larger picture of justice this did not seem right. One minute I’m going about my regular activities, the next I wake up partially paralyzed through no fault of my own, and I have to give up my place! But it was obviously that this was not the time to go too deep into things. What has to be... has to be.
I actually got lucky finding a transitional facility which is in a good part of town and closer to many of my pastimes than my old building. It’s very surreal being back out in what’s known as the “community” or “real world”. Everything is more or less the same as I had left it, except of course, I’m radically altered. In some ways perhaps better, more aware, and a bit more grateful for the simple things in life. I appreciate it all, but I really don’t know what to make of being back on the “outside”.
Most concerns seem trivial, and there seems to be a lack of purpose. I’m not sure where I fit in this puzzle now. All I really want is to be back on the island. Just give me my gym and lack of choice back please! It’s amazing what you can become used to. It reminds me of the stories you hear of people being set free from jail and then doing everything possible to get back in!
I have somehow manifested a support team including family, a lawyer, physiotherapists, more than a few doctors, social workers, occupational therapists, loyal friends, and many more. In my previous incarnation I would not have crossed paths with this sector of society. I imagine this is how superstar athletes get treated. The trade off is that they have to perform. In my case this means showing up for daily life no matter what my physical or mental state may be.
When others say they would love to have a dedicated team like I do, my response is, “it’s quite simple, just get run over by a car and suffer both a spinal and brain injury, lose mostly everything you had worked a long time to gain, along with your physical freedom, and alter all of your attitudes and assumptions!”
As I write this story, winter has set in, further limiting my mobility, but it is yet another change that has to be. Previously, I had many creative manoeuvres to avoid the deep freeze, but as I mentioned, with a spinal cord injury there is no escaping. In my better moments I am able to remind myself that this is the message of all the true masters and sages as far as I understand it. To not resist the moment, and to live for purpose rather than thrills.
In my case this now means trying to make the best of my physical possibilities because I came so close to being very limited in this capacity. I live for the friends I’ve made. Some of them have had to find their own solutions to an even more compromised physical existence than mine; those who no longer have a voice. Those forgotten by family and society through no fault of their own. Those who have shown a truly rare type of loyalty to me. Those who had no reason to open their doors but did anyway. And for those whose doors never closed, and maybe most importantly for this work in progress otherwise known as myself.
Where this new road will lead I certainly cannot say. Luckily I will be able to walk it step by step, though more slowly than before. Hopefully it will give me more time to enjoy the view. I will definitely be taking more steps into that dark night of the unknown, taking more steps on the way, wherever it may lead. Peace and Shanti to all who may be facing unexpected circumstances, to those living with pain, and to those who feel forgotten. Until such time emancipate yourself from mental slavery. None but ourselves can free our minds. Just keep on takin’ steps on the way.