“How a spinal cord injury changed my life – from participant to observer”
This is the second article in a series where I discuss how my life has changed after a spinal cord injury. The first one talks about the change from being independent to becoming dependent. To understand what a spinal cord injury is you can read Demystifying spinal cord injury.
*Disclaimer: Sooooperrrr long sentence coming up!
Before the injury, I would travel alone, explore new cities and countries by myself, put my friends and family together for going on a holiday, participate in a car rally, be the last one to get off the dance floor, get flipped on a banana boat ride, paraglide at par with the birds, go underwater to swim with the fishes, break my own records of time spent in the pool, perform on stage, trek up a mountain, get lost in the wilderness and greenery (my favorite), relish tea and food made by me, shop for vegetables in the local market, take off anywhere/ anytime I wish – glued to the driver’s seat, cross a heavy flowing river, go kayaking till my arms hurt, make multiple efforts of being consistent at my gym, treat the walls of my home as a canvas and paint on them, and simply just get up and walk.
Cut back to present day, my body below the shoulders is immobile because of the spinal cord injury and a wheelchair has become an extension of me. Most of the time I am just observing people walk, cook, dance, drive, play with children, doing things by themselves, touching up their lipstick, offer help to others and so on.
It gets a bit more disappointing when the entire family is dancing at a wedding and I am parked in my wheelchair, observing. When the entire team is running around at a work-related event and my role boils down to giving instructions while sitting in a wheelchair and observing. When I go on a long drive with my parents, do not get out of the car at a scenic location, because I can’t bear the hardship they would have to go through to lift me, and settle for just observing the scenery from the car window. When I travel to a new destination or a historic site am not able to enter certain sections because of inaccessibility, I observe my co-travelers participate and experience the place through the pictures they take from me. When I’m at a public office or an airport, I’m observing when instead of asking questions about me to me, they’re directed to people with me.
As mentioned in the previous post, despite a spinal cord injury, deep inside I am still the same girl who sees no limitations. While my mind observes the reality, my heart always questions – WHY NOT? I have always been, and continue to be that person who doesn’t take no for an answer. It still requires a lot of “self”-convincing for me to give up on an idea. I’m at peace with myself only when I focus on what can be done despite the hurdles.
In my initial years of the injury, I was not able to sit on a wheelchair for longer durations. But I challenged myself to take a long flight via Europe to a Scandinavian country for my work. I may not be able to dance by myself, but I had a ball organising a flash mob where my company CEO and other executives shook their legs to Bollywood songs. I have been to many inaccessible cinema theatres, restaurants and sites – if there is no regular track for the wheelchair, I don’t mind the staff lifting and taking my chair inside. [Of course, I mean the manual wheelchair, wouldn’t traumatise anyone by making them lift my motorised wheelchair 😉 ]. It is a big question for many that how do I work when I am not able to type on the laptop with my fingers. The answer is simple, my mind, dictation software and a combination of new ways to use my palms for pressing buttons on the keyboard.
What also fills my heart up is people with a similar attitude, willing to take a chance on me. It was my cousin who pushed my heavy motorised wheelchair for an entire week in Oslo when my wheelchair battery got lost in transit. Because of him, I was able to view the intriguing Ekebergparken Sculpture Park, spread across a hill and cross a snow-filled track to enter a warm tent so that I could dine with my colleagues.
My manager and colleagues in the company I was working with when I had my accident. I don’t think he even blinked twice or hesitated when deciding I would continue to be a part of the team – however long it took me to get back to work. They never doubted (or, showed that they doubted) my capability of doing my work, traveling frequently or even pulling off large events. They were patient, encouraging and willingly offered any and all support I requested to do my job in the best possible way. I am forever indebted to them for the opportunity.
After listening and arguing with multiple rejections from swimming pools facilities and instructors in my hometown, it was the swimming instructor from Nagpur who agreed to help me get back to swimming. He took a chance on me though he had never heard about para-sports or seen a person with a disability in water. Thanks to him I was able to get back to swimming, one of the things I’ve missed terribly since the spinal cord injury.
My swimming video below:
It is interacting with SCI peers and mentors who showed me a world of possibilities. I believe having a can-do attitude and surrounding yourself with people who bring positivity is the trick to keep going on.
If you live with me, work with me, know me and agree with the above then drop a ‘Yay’ in the comments section below. Encouragement never hurts, right 🙂