[Every year in the United States there are about 5000 victims of quadriplegia. The most famous of those victims is Joni Eareckson, a good looking, athletic girl from an affluent family who broke her neck in a diving accident in 1967. (For additional biographical information, click HERE.) In the following passage from her book, Joni, 1976, she describes the moment when she and her parents, in denial up until this point, learn that she will never walk again.]
Following surgery, I was elated to leave the ICU ward and be wheeled into a regular room. It’s a sign I’m getting better I thought. If I wasn’t, they’d keep me in ICU.
Mom and dad, smiling and happy to see me return from the surgery, were in my room, and Dr. Sherrill came by.
“Everything went fine,” he said, anticipating our question. “The surgery was a complete success.”
There was a collective sigh of relief.
“Now I want you all to concentrate on the next steps of recovery. There is much progress to me made yet. There will be difficult days ahead, Joni. I want you to know it and brace yourself for them. The toughest part of the battle is the psychological aspect. You’re fine now. You’ve been angry, frustrated, afraid. However, you haven’t really been depressed. But wait until your friends go off to college. Wait until the novelty of all this wears off. Wait until your friends get other interests and stop coming. Are you ready for that, Joni? If not, better get ready. Because it’ll come. Believe me, it’ll come.”
“I know it’ll take time, but I’ll get better,” I gamely replied. “These things take time—you said so yourself, doctor.”
“Yes,” dad said. “How much time are we talking about, Dr. Sherrill?”
Mother added her concern, too. “You’re talking about Joni’s friends going off to college this fall. But I sense you’re saying Joni won’t be able to. We made a deposit on her tuition for the fall term at Western Maryland University. Should we postpone her entrance until next semester?”
“Mrs. Eareckson, you might as well have them return your deposit. I’m afraid college will be out of the question for Joni.”
“Y-you mean—that you don’t know how soon Joni will walk again?”
“Walk? I’m afraid you don’t understand, Mrs. Eareckson. Joni’s injury is permanent. The fusion surgery didn’t change that.”
The word permanent slammed into my consciousness like a bullet.
I could tell that this was also the first time mom and dad had been confronted with the fact of a permanent injury. Either we had all been too naive or the medical people had been too vague in their explanations. Perhaps both.
Silence hung over the room for a few moments. None of us dared react for fear of upsetting and worrying the others.
Dr. Sherrill tried to be encouraging, however. “Joni will never walk again, but we’re hoping she’ll regain the use of her hands one day. Many people lead useful and constructive lives without being able to walk. Why, they can drive, work, clean house—it’s really not a hopeless thing, you know. We’re confident she’ll be able to get her hands back in time.”
Mom had turned her face away, but I knew she was crying.
“Don’t worry, mom—dad. There have been lots of times people with broken necks have recovered and walked again. I’ve heard lots of success stories while I’ve been here. I’m going to walk again! I know it. I believe God wants me to walk again. He’ll help me. Really! I’m going to walk out of here!”
Dr. Sherrill didn’t say anything. He put his hand on mom’s shoulder, shook hands with daddy, and left. For a long while none of us said anything. Then we began to chat about inconsequential things. Finally my parents left.
I lay in the dim light of the room. I should have been happy—the surgery was successful, I was getting better, and I was now in my own room. But I wasn’t happy. Grief, remorse, and depression swept over me like a thick, choking blanket. For the first time since the accident, I wished and prayed I might die.
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