In Short: Humiliating & Challenging.
Eighteen years ago, I rolled a Jeep in the desert. I spent the next six weeks in a coma, and another six weeks in a rehabilitation facility. Waking from a coma is nothing like in the movies, as with most things in movies.
I discovered I could not feed myself: there was no normal muscle control. Six short weeks in a coma and it was all gone. This loss includes bodily functions, so I found out what it is like to soil oneself with no ability to control it. Since the rehabilitation hospital was brand new (I was their first trauma patient), the staff was still training and getting up to speed. This meant there were times when I would lie in soiled sheets for over an hour before receiving assistance with clean-up and new sheets. As one can imagine, it was humiliating. This lasted for over a week.
As an adult, it’s also humbling to have someone feed you because you are not capable to do so yourself. Of course, it is obvious that I was completely bedridden with no way to sit up or do anything other than lie there. I recall on numerous occasions looking out the window at an apartment complex across the street as people came and went in their daily lives and thinking “how fortunate they are and they don’t know it.”
Finally, I gained enough strength to be helped out of bed and into a wheelchair as I transitioned from bedridden to wheelchair-bound. I still couldn’t feed myself but at least I was able to be wheeled into the cafeteria for meals. As I slowly gained strength, I was able to propel the wheelchair myself and was finally able to feed myself. Yay!
The next step was from wheelchair to walker. It was such a nice transition! Of course, in between these steps were several hours a day of tedious exercises to improve strength and dexterity. Can’t begin to tell you how many times I placed those stupid washers on the little pegs! Exercise bike, small weights, eventually struggling to walk between two handrails to gain strength to walk again, etc. — it all began adding up.
Along the way I had to learn how to dress myself. It sounds simple but I had to learn all the basics over again. I recall that wonderful day when I called my mom to tell her I was able to wipe my own butt without assistance. You have no idea how nice an improvement that was!
Next came the transition to a cane. That was so much better than using the walker, and seemed more liberating. As strength increased, I was finally able to walk on my own without assistance. Then came the wonderful day when I was escorted to my home in order to show that I could fully function on my own.
I passed the test and was finally able to stay in my own home! There were more months of physical therapy and, one year after my accident, the surgeries and physical therapy were over. Through hard work and perseverance, I was at least 95% of my pre-accident self.
If it were possible to go back in time and not have that experience, I wouldn’t change a thing. It was a fascinating journey and I appreciate the simple things so much more — and I have much greater patience.
Russell McCloud is co-owner of a family-owned and -operated automotive repair company in Yuma, Ariz., that his father started in 1969. He also served on the Yuma County Board of Supervisors from 2005 to 2021.
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