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Article: The Impossible Life

The Impossible Life

The Impossible Life

June 1, 22 years ago, I was told in black-and-white that I would die within the next 24 hours. Actually, let me rephrase that; one of the top three surgeons of the United States said that I had a 19% chance of surviving the next 24 hours of my life. He told me I would have to get on the phone and speak with my parents about my life rights. I had just sustained a paralyzing spinal cord injury from a pool diving accident. I shattered my C3-4 vertebrae and found myself in the ICU. My left lung was collapsing after having breathed in too much pool water. That taste and smell of chlorine still haunts me today. 


I was 24 years old, and everything that I had done in my life up until that very day was focused on an idea of perfection. With school, work, friendships, even my physical appearance - there didn’t seem to be any gray areas in life at that age. Everything was either successful or a failure, cool or uncool, and everything was centered around this idea of complete oblivious egocentrism.


Things would get better, but before they did, they got worse. One of the nurses in the ICU was trying to suction the pool water out of my lungs one day, and I felt the tube got stuck. It was the strangest thing to feel because you instinctively gag when they insert this long, thin rubber tube up your nose and down the back of your throat. “Think about breathing in the tube so that it goes into your lungs instead of your digestive track.” Having had it done a couple times after two or three days, I knew what it felt like, and I hated it. But my goal was to get the necessary evil done as quickly as possible. When I felt the tube curve and coil near my vocal cords, I tried to make a sound and darted my eyes towards the nurse who replied, “Don’t tell me how to do my job,“ as she turned on the device that would suction whatever phlegm was lowering my blood oxygen levels. About three seconds after she said that, she and I both saw blood collecting into the clear container. She had, in fact, gotten the suction tube stuck on my right vocal cord and damaged it. I immediately realized that I now lost my sense of speech and could only whisper for about 45 minutes every day. That was loudest that I could speak. So now I was not feeling 99% of my body, not moving 99% of my body, and not really able to communicate anymore. At this point, I thought to myself that maybe the surgeon was right? What if this was my end? Would I be happy with the thread of my life ending today, June 4, 2002?


No. I am not willing to die right now, and I couldn’t help but think of everything that would lie ahead of me. It sounds preposterous to describe it, but despite the fact that I was on life-support and my body was not sustaining itself, I had a clear and resolute vision of bright hope. My mother‘s voice echoed through my mind. “Do you realize how much work you have to do to get better?” She never actually said that to me, but it was that recurring thought that made me realize that there was a small opening from the darkness. Getting better was an option. My goal, everyday henceforth, was to crack the opening wider, in whatever way I could, with whichever ability I had.


I take moments on a day like today, the anniversary that my life changed, to think about and understand all of it. I don’t understand it, still, and I’m OK with that. So much has happened since that day. The most painful moments are actually not centered around my spinal cord injury; there’s so much more grief for the loss of my unstoppable-supportive father and jubilant-energetic grandmother.


And the bright moments since that fateful day have been so much brighter than I would ever imagine. Strengthening the lifelong relationships of true friendships have been eye-opening. Getting married, finding my life partner, and having children have all been things that were told to me would be impossible, not only because of the purported mortality rate I fell into, but sometimes moreso the fact that I wasn’t sure that I deserved the happiness. 


But I do, and I hope that you see that you do, too.

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