William Vickers | Perspectives Program Mentor | Rehab and Mobility Systems
On June 16th, 2003, my life was instantly changed forever. I was involved in a motorcycle accident that left me paralyzed from the chest down when a vehicle pulled in front of me less than a mile from my home and I was thrown through the car's windshield at 55mph. Suddenly the things I took for granted instantly became crystal clear. The value I placed on my surroundings, my priorities, the quality of relationships, what kind of person I was. If this was to be my end, what image and memory was I leaving behind for people to remember me by?
What was previously familiar and safe seemingly overnight turned into dark unfamiliar spaces. Friends, family, even the place I called home all looked different and inaccessible. Simple things like pouring a glass of water or walking down to get the mail, taking out the trash suddenly were TASKS. Things like balance, security, coordination, going to the bathroom - all once second nature - had to be relearned or were completely lost altogether. Instead of the normal college curriculum I was used to, foreign terms like catheters, bowel program, autonomic dysreflexia, were now taught in classroom-like settings, but in hospitals.
After a catastrophic event there is no folder or resource guide handed out to provide patients with perfect referrals, good reputable companies, or groundbreaking new advancements with medical procedures. Suddenly, things like selecting wheelchair seating, transfer techniques, and even things like re-learning how to get yourself dressed became critical. For many of us, we learn from making our own mistakes, through trial and tribulation.
In the years following my accident, I learned the importance of involving myself in my own plan of care. I learned the importance of being my own advocate and learning from my mistakes... and there were a lot of them. I've learned how to take seemingly impossible tasks and create shortcuts to make them not only possible but manageable. How to live more "capable" than I ever thought possible.
I've been lucky enough to experience things I never would have had the opportunity to experience before my accident. From being the 30th person in the world to undergo an experimental olfactory nerve cell transplant in Portugal, to sharing my story in front of hundreds of medical professionals and sitting bedside in hospitals talking with patients and their families, offering resources and answers to possible questions.
To me, being a peer mentor is simply listening and sharing my story. We all have different stories, different struggles, and different walks of life. Sharing our stories empowers us all and brings us closer together, and realizing that, as different as we all may be, we are now on a similar projected journey. I was told I was a peer mentor before I even realized it, just by sharing my story, talking to other newly injured people, discussing and overcoming hardships we encountered. Exchanging rehab advice, workout techniques, motivating others and being motivated by others alike. The journeys and struggles were fought and overcome together. I now engage in things like public speaking and giving seminars to hospital staff, physical therapy students, nurse case managers-even neurosurgeons-on real life events seen through the eyes of a spinal cord injury patient. Explaining things that were not, and can not, be taught in books or classrooms. Things like finding alternative doctors and treatments, or driving a lifted truck instead of a minivan, because why not? I've tried things like skydiving, rock climbing, scuba diving, self defense classes, hunting, or fishing - all great alternatives to lying in bed, dwelling in self pity. I am always looking for hobbies that excite me, and more importantly, dating, relationships, and convincing patients and their families that life isn't over.
Questions everyone has after an accident or catastrophic event are usually related to the most basic human functions, anything from bowel and bladder function to, of course, sex. The small things we take for granted become the most important and life controlling aspects of our new life. One thing I've learned; newly injured people are simply scared and need answers to the many questions about what comes next.
This is how the Perspectives program came to fruition. Too many people don't see the light, don't understand options available to them, don't look at the the possibilities in front of them, and instead focus on the loss and the darkness, because that is all they are reminded of on a daily basis. This program is based on and thrives off of client empowerment and interaction through directly involving the client and their family with their own plan of care. Giving them hope for the future instead of focusing diagnoses and labels. Giving them hope for the future instead of focusing on the glaring hardship. Moving forward we cannot change the past or what may have happened, we can only choose to overcome and keep perspective on our outlook on what lies ahead. Maybe start to focus on the things that we probably once took for granted. Rehab and Mobility Systems and the Perspectives program want you to know YOU ARE NOT ALONE ON THIS JOURNEY. - Billy Vickers