“It’s kind of fun to do the impossible.”
When I was paralyzed more than 12 years ago, I had full days of physical, occupational, respiratory, and speech therapy. I had to relearn how to sit up, swallow, flip a light switch, open a drawer, hold a pencil, pick my nose, and even breathe. I had a brand new body to learn and I was very much like a rag doll with an attitude. Everything was so amazingly difficult.
My physical therapist, Misty, kept telling me that I could do all these things, but I was sure that most of them were too far out of my paralyzed reach.
One particularly challenging physical feat was getting my body from my wheelchair into the driver seat of a car. To help me bridge the gap between my chair and the seat, I was supposed to use a ‘slideboard’ and scoot across it. This process is called a “car transfer” and there was no way I thought I could ever do this.
And for the entire 6 weeks that Misty was my therapist in the hospital, I really wasn’t ever able to do it. It seemed that Misty and I practiced car transfers for hours day after day. The more I tried, the more certain I felt that it was something I would never master. Paralyzed from the chest down, my floppy body was too weak and uncontrollable to scoot across the slideboard. It was just plain too hard.
Seeing my distress, Misty always offered me some encouragement by telling me about her friend who took her on a date. He was a quadriplegic like me with the same floppy body and paralyzed hands, but he opened her car door for her. Then he wheeled himself around the car, opened his own door, and scooted across the slideboard all by himself. Then he took apart his wheelchair and heaved it into the back seat of the car.
“No way.” I said knowingly, “that’s impossible.” That’s too hard. He must have had more muscles than I did, more function than I had, more anything…
But even with my doubts, a tiny seed of hope was planted. And with that image in my heart, I kept scooting.
I had been paralyzed almost seven months when I completed my first car transfer. I was not Misty’s patient anymore and my new outpatient physical therapist, Jason, waited patiently on the sidewalk the entire time it took me to scoot my bum from the wheelchair cushion across the slideboard and into the driver’s seat was a whole 45 minutes.
I am not exaggerating.
And the 45 minutes was just my bum. It took extra time to get my legs in.
But each car transfer I did shortened that time. The 45 minutes soon became 30. The 30 minutes became 25, the 25 became 10. And now, a car transfer (bum and body, legs and all) takes me just a few seconds.
A while back I saw Misty in an elevator. She was carrying a heavy gym bag and commented on how she had to take a shuttle bus to her car because she had parked so far away. I was parked close by so I offered to drive her and we headed to my car.
…where I opened the door for her.
Now, 12 years post-injury, I accomplish the “impossible” on a daily basis. I drive myself everywhere I need to go and never need help getting into or out of the car.
Having had “normal” independence before I was paralyzed, then losing it and regaining it bit by bit has made me value it even more. So when my little daughter, who is still 2 until the end of this month, began asserting her own independence and wanting to do everything herself I was all for it.
I was so happy when she wanted to buckle her own car seat and I waited however long (and sometimes it was long…) it took. In the beginning, when she was still just 1 year old she’d often she’d give up in teary frustration. Each time I’d tell her I knew she could do it and I knew she would get it.
And now, what used to take a very (very) long time, she also accomplishes daily what others think might be “impossible” for a two-year-old.
Now you. What is your impossible? What is your 45 minute challenge? Where is the driver’s seat you want to get into?
People always ask me what the hardest thing was for me to relearn. I tell them there is no answer; everything anyone tries to do for the first time is hard. Everything once seemed “impossible” and it doesn’t matter if it’s a car transfer or snowboarding or crocheting. Anything anyone does is just the impossible they made possible.
So whatever it is you’re working on, keep scooting. Keep trying. Keep working and you’ll turn your 45 into 30, into 15, into 10…
And soon, you, too, will be doing what once seemed “impossible.”