That’s how long it’s been that I’ve been figuring out how to deal with a spinal cord injury. And six months feels like a milestone, for a few different reasons.
Here’s why. Last Sunday I went back to work. There didn’t ever seem to be a question about whether I’d be able to work again - it was mostly that we didn’t know when. The doctors say, and the research seems to point to, the reality is that the first six months after a spinal cord injury are the most important for recovery. So we decided a long time ago that I’d focus almost exclusively on recovery for the first six months. Then, a few weeks ago, it started to feel like I’d recovered enough mentally and physically to be able to pay attention to both physical recovery and starting to work again.
Here’s why. We’ve gotten mostly moved into our new house. No, the boxes aren’t all unpacked. No, the garage and basement storage spaces aren’t quite organized the way they ought to be. No, we don’t have every piece of furniture exactly where it should be. Yes, we just recently got some of the art hung on the walls. Over the month or so since we moved in, this space has started feeling more and more like home.
Here’s why. Last Saturday I participated in an organized bike ride event again. It was a fundraiser for the hospital where I did the first five weeks of post-ICU rehab. During the ride, another group of cyclists passed the group I was with. I snuck out of our group and held on the back of the other group for a few minutes. Without knowing it, that group helped me feel more like myself.
Here’s why. More than all the rest. I’ve been ridiculously lucky to have been surrounded by a community of people who picked me up and carried me when I was most broken.
The community of people, some of whom I don’t have any idea who they are, stepped up by giving money to help us be able to pay bills while I was on disability leave from work.
The community at the gym where I used to work out stepped up by carrying heavy things. And when I was ready, buying me beer and whiskey. And by recognizing the struggle someone who likes to be active might have with reduced mobility.
The community at the church where I’m the pastor stepped up by praying. Continually. Relentlessly. And by sending handmade cards and posters and get-well thoughts that I could use to decorate my hospital room and my heart.
And most significantly for me, my family carried me when I was broken. The children in my life treated me like normal, but a little more gently. My parents showed up at the hospital, and at the other hospital, and in our tiny apartment, and as chauffeur, and in continual messages of support (including my dad always waving at me, but with just one finger).
More than anyone else, my wife isn’t giving up on me. She promised me in the ICU that we were gonna get figure this all out together, no matter what. And we’re figuring it out.
I’ve talked a lot in the past about the importance of community, and about the truth that it’s ok for people who are in need to rely on those who love them. I said that from a purely theoretical and theological perspective. In the past six months I’ve experienced that truth - the truth that it’s better to live this life as part of a community than to be isolated.