I’m so excited today about surprising Sandy with a Thunderbird, our dream car. Even though we both agreed to get this car for our tenth anniversary, I’m driving to Harrisburg to pick it up a week early. Boy will she be surprised, I can’t wait to see the expression on her face.
I think I’ll wear my chocolate brown leisure suit. That looks good on me and it will be comfortable for driving for the 2½ hours it takes to drive from Cherry Hill New Jersey to Harrisburg Pennsylvania where I will meet my car dealer uncle to exchange cars.
I just kissed Sandy and my young girls goodbye as they think I am going to work. As I climb into my eggplant colored Dodge dart, I notice how bright and beautiful today is. Even though this is one of the shortest days of the year, there is nothing dark about my mood.
Despite the fact that it was so cold last night, my engine cranks up right away. As I drive away, I pop a Donna Summer’s album into the 8 track. I think maybe I’ll listen to some Bee Gees after that. I love disco, it’s happy music.
I wrestle my way through rush-hour traffic in Philadelphia and finally get on the Pennsylvania Turnpike. Just 90 minutes now and I should be climbing into our new car. I can’t wait to pull in the driveway and hand her the keys. I just feel so happy right now as I enjoy music, the drive, the anticipation and the sunshine.
In one second I see a black thing in the sky crashing down on my car. In my shock, I tell the first person I see to “call everybody I know and have them get here right away”.
I’m awake now, but I don’t know where I am. My wife is there and she tells me that I am at Ephrata hospital, about 20 miles east of Harrisburg. Sandy I’m hurt real bad and I cry and I cry it feels like I’ve been crying for an hour now but it might have been just a few minutes. I’m so glad Sandy is here and standing right next to the bed as she listens quietly and lovingly.
My parents and my sister have already been there and one day I look up and see my in-laws have traveled in from New York to be with their daughter and me. The next day, father-in-law Harold tells me that he has discovered that there is a regional spinal cord injury center at Jefferson Hospital back in Philadelphia. I feel so relieved that I will finally be close to home, close to family and friends. But before I go, Harold tells my doctor that it is unsafe to transport me without something called a Halo vest. I feel so weak and passive that I don’t have the energy to ask questions let alone disagree with anyone. Somehow they have found a Halo vest for me. As I look at it, it looks like a bizarre apparatus from medieval times. There is a plastic vest, with metal poles in the front and back leading up to this round circular thing that gets bolted into my head. I’m screaming in pain as they bolt the apparatus onto my temples and the back of my head. I feel like bloodcurdling screams or coming out of my mouth. I never knew there could be this much pain. And when finish, I cry and then drift off into a deep sleep.
I’m in an ambulance. I know we are driving to Philadelphia but I don’t know how I got into this ambulance nor do I know what day or time it is. All I know is that both Sandy and the doctor are in the ambulance with me.
I’m scared, I was so scared I’ve never been this scared. But when I get into my bed at Jefferson Hospital, it feels almost like home and I rest. I have no idea what’s really happened to me or what’s coming next. But I soon find out that it gets worse from here…
That was 40 years ago. And yes it got worse from there. Much worse. But I could not have fathomed all the good that has been a byproduct of this terrible injury.
As I look back on my life following the accident, I found myself feeling alone and yet appreciating all of the creativity that was born from solitude. I discovered the only way to survive my self absorption was to help others. In doing so, I have discovered my value and my purpose. I have discovered how easy it is to love and I have had the blessing to experience love from so many. I’m 73 years old and as my body weakens I feel more alive. And I have the great good fortune of being happier and more grateful than I ever could have imagined.