“They Told Me I Would Never Walk Again!”
AT 20 years of age, Ed was in a serious car accident. When he regained consciousness, he couldn’t get up. He realized that he was paralyzed but thought that it would be only temporary. Ed recalled what later happened in the hospital: “They told me I would never walk again!” He was paralyzed from the chest down.
“I was devastated when my son was injured,” Ed’s father recollected. “He was a healthy young man, but now he couldn’t walk any longer. It just stopped his life cold.” Ed was pursuing the full-time ministry, called pioneering by Jehovah’s Witnesses.
Another young man in his 20’s, Bill, playfully dived into the surf and hit his head on a sandbar. Instantly, he could not move or breathe. Thanks to friends who were nearby, Bill did not drown. However, he was paralyzed from the neck down. Doctors told Bill that he also would never walk again.
“I wanted to commit suicide,” Bill confessed, “but couldn’t in the hospital bed.” Bill had served in the Vietnam War and was planning to be an airplane pilot. When he was injured in 1969, all his dreams were shattered, and he saw no reason to live.
Ed’s first reaction was different when he was told he would be permanently paralyzed. “I wasn’t discouraged, and the reason was my faith in the promises of God in the Bible. I realized that my condition may be permanent now but that it will not be permanent forever.” Because of the hope he has, Ed has been able to deal successfully with his disability for more than 25 years now.
Need to Face the Challenge
Bill, on the other hand, did not have knowledge of God’s promises. However, something happened one day that moved him to do something about himself.
After merely existing in the hospital for eight months, Bill was wheeled into a bathroom to be shaved by a male nurse. “When I looked in a mirror,” he said, “I saw a person that was not me!”
Bill had been a strong 200-pound [90 kg], six-foot-one-inch [185 cm] man, but now he was a mere 90-pound [40 kg] skeleton. He refused to believe that the image of the person in the mirror was his own. The experience ignited in him a fighting spirit to accept the challenge of his disability. “The first year of your disability is the critical time,” Bill says, “for that’s when you decide which way you are going to go.”
Coping With Difficulties
Ed is not a nervous person, but he admits to having his emotional ups and downs. “At times I can’t do simple things like reaching for something,” explains Ed, “and I may get depressed.”
Bill finds the greatest difficulty in living with a body that is limited and a brain that is not. “It’s like having a jet-propelled mind in an oxcart of a body,” he says.
There are also physical complications that are associated with spinal cord injury, such as lack of bladder and bowel control, pressure sores, and respiratory problems. Ed has had kidney problems ever since his injury and has periods of from six to seven days at a time when he has a temperature of 104 degrees Fahrenheit [40° C.]. Not being able to control bladder and bowel is also most frustrating to Bill. As he puts it: “You never adjust to having the body of an infant.”
Ed urges all disabled persons to become as independent as possible. “Try your best to do it yourself,” he says, “and you will get a lot further.” That is why, when leaving the hospital, the first thing he did was to equip his car with hand controls so that he could drive. Now Ed even uses a specially equipped truck in his successful janitorial business.
“Try to forget your disability,” advises Bill, “and go out and live your life as best as you can. If you do not act like a disabled person, people will not treat you like one.” Bill practices what he preaches. He has successfully owned and operated a business, getting around on his golf cart, in his wheelchair, and on crutches.
What Can Be Done?
One barrier for the disabled person might be said to be in the minds of those who are not disabled. The best way to remove this barrier is through understanding. Disabled persons want the same consideration and understanding that would be accorded a person with no physical disabilities.
Some people seem to feel threatened or uncomfortable when faced with someone with a disability. Bill says: “Actually all of us are impaired in some way. Some are just more impaired than others.” Those who are disabled are simply persons who happen, for example, not to be able to walk, see, or hear as other people do. It is essential that we view any impairment as situational and see the total person.
“I appreciate it when people view me like anybody else,” said Ed. “Look at me. Don’t look at the chair.” Then he related an experience that he and his wife had at a restaurant: “The waitress took my wife’s order first and then asked her, instead of me, what I wanted. I am not deaf! I just can’t walk.”
“Most people want to show consideration to disabled persons,” Ed explains, “but they don’t know what to do.” His advice is: “The best thing is to wait and find out what you can do before you jump in and do something.”
So be sure to ask first, “May I help?” Or, “Is there anything I can do to help?” Do not presume that a disabled person wants your assistance; he may not.
“The greatest compliment to a disabled person,” Bill advises, “is to treat him as normal, to relate to him as you would to anybody else.” True, some may find this hard to do. There may be a personal mental or emotional barrier between them and disabled persons. However, the more we get to know these as individuals, the less we think about their disability.
Ed, who has been with the same congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses for many years, explains: “Most of the friends don’t think of me as disabled. As a matter of fact, in our public preaching activity, they’ll send me on a return visit at a house that has ten flights of stairs! Then I go back and tell them to send someone else.”
Is Ed upset when his friends forget about his physical limitations? On the contrary. As he relates: “It’s great that they think I don’t need any help. I appreciate that, for then I feel that to them I am not disabled, but I am just another normal person.”
In recent years much progress has been made in many countries in providing help to the physically impaired. A vast array of organizations, products, and services are available to help them enjoy independent living. In many places, all one needs to do is look in the local telephone directory for information about these organizations and services.
Many public buildings and facilities are now designed to accommodate disabled persons. Some airlines and travel agencies offer special tours for the disabled. And today quadriplegics may enjoy mobile independence in specially equipped cars and vans.
Modern technology, which in some instances has made possible bypassing the function of damaged nerves, has enabled certain paralyzed persons to walk. Dr. J. Petrofsky, a pioneer researcher in the field, admits, however, that people may entertain false hopes regarding such technology. They may come to believe that it will enable anybody who is paralyzed to walk again. “All you can do is be honest,” Dr. Petrofsky says, “and try to tell them exactly the status of that research. You know, we’re not curing anything.”
A True Cure
Yet, a true and permanent cure of all physical disabilities will, in time, be realized. This certain hope of being able to walk again has sustained Ed and helped him cope with his disability all these years. The Bible’s promise is: “The eyes of the blind ones will be opened, and the very ears of the deaf ones will be unstopped. At that time the lame one will climb up just as a stag does, and the tongue of the speechless one will cry out in gladness.”—Isaiah 35:5, 6.
The curing of all infirmities will be realized right here on earth when God’s Kingdom replaces the rule of all human governments. (Daniel 2:44) Indeed, God’s Kingdom, for which Christ taught his followers to pray, will usher in a new world wherein the Bible promise will also be fulfilled: “No resident will say: ‘I am sick.’”—Isaiah 33:24; Matthew 6:9, 10.
At the time of his accident, Bill was not aware of the meaning of these Bible promises, although he had always had deep respect for the Bible. During the first five years of his disability, he began using drugs heavily. “I had used drugs in Vietnam to escape the horrors,” he says, “and later I used them to endure life in a wheelchair.”
In 1974, however, with the help of Jehovah’s Witnesses, Bill came to believe that the Bible really is true and that its promises are totally reliable. “From that time onward,” he said, “scales, as it were, fell from my eyes!” Seven months later Bill dedicated his life to Jehovah God, and soon he and his wife began together a life in the full-time ministry as pioneers.
Reflecting on his past experiences, Bill admits that his accident and the subsequent disability were painful. “But,” he emphasizes, “I have gained so much from the injury.” How could he say that?
“I doubt whether I would be a true Christian today if it weren’t for the disability,” he explains. “Before, I was too proud, too ambitious, and I probably would not have stayed in one place long enough to accept the Christian message.”
So now, like Ed, Bill has firm faith that soon in God’s new world, he will again have the full use of his body. And regardless of the apparent hopelessness of the situation, any disabled person can have that same confidence in the healing power of God. The heart of such a person can be strengthened daily by the conviction: “I know I will walk again!”—Contributed.
[Picture on page 23]
Despite his disability, Ed has a full share in the Christian ministry