Thursday, December 23, 2010

A new perspective on perspectives

I thought about writing more on this topic, then thought against it. Now I keep thinking about it so I am writing about it so I can focus on other things.

Come on. We may think our lives suck sometimes. Or in some cases, we may think that life itself sucks and there is no point to it. What gives us the right to be better off than others? My, that's a very selfless thought, one may say.

One simple way to turn thoughts around of our own life sucking is by seeing those that are less privileged in order to gain some perspective.

But everyone knows that. We’re just ignorant and stuck in our own privileged world and enjoy complaining about little things like our parents being too stern or when we don’t get what we want. We choose to turn away from realizing the pain and hardships of others.

Okay, instead of thinking about the negatives that others have, I propose that we think of things in a different way: these so-called unprivileged—those living in poverty, those who are sick or disabled, those who have lost family members, those who are politically oppressed, those who are physically or mentally incapable of doing things, those who have lost most of their family members—what keeps them wanting to live then? They don’t have what we have. Why do they fight every single day to breathe, to get that one drop of water, to wake up in the mornings?

Think about it.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

"Hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things, and no good thing ever dies."

I remember saying to a good friend how I should have started a blog when I was in the hospital. She said she is glad I didn't. I was really struggling with coping at the time and it probably would not have been good to keep a written record to look back on of that time.

I think now I am going to occasionally write little stories and experiences from my lengthy hospital stay after my accident. That time period had a profound effect on who I am now and, similar to my birthday post, I don’t want to ever forget about “my roots”.

After only a few weeks in the hospital, I started becoming restless. I was losing it.

“This is Shawshank, man,” I would tell my friend. I was referring to The Shawshank Redemption, an amazing movie depicting prisoners in the 1940’s. What I meant by saying that was that I felt like I was in prison.

In the movie, Andy Dufrense, played by Tim Robbins, is wrongly accused of murdering his wife and then sent to a maximum security prison. I also felt like I didn't do anything to deserve my situation, yet I was doing time.

Just like a prison, I had no privacy because nurses or other hospital staff members were always entering the room.

Just like a prison, I couldn’t go anywhere because the colored tag on my wheels said I couldn’t go past a certain hallway—until I got the prison equivalent of “privileges for good behavior” and was then allowed to go outside the hospital into the courtyard. I couldn’t leave.

Just like a prison, I had to stick to a schedule and for quite some time, had to eat simple mashed food (and drink thickened water, but I’m guessing they didn’t have that in Shawshank).

There was no way out. I was stuck. The Shawhsank Redemption was real life for me.

Recently, I was told that I’m still stuck in Shawshank. A short dialogue from the movie:

Andy Dufresne: That's the beauty of music. They can't get that from you... Haven't you ever felt that way about music?
Red: I played a mean harmonica as a younger man. Lost interest in it though. Didn't make much sense in here.
Andy Dufresne: Here's where it makes the most sense. You need it so you don't forget.
Red: Forget?
Andy Dufresne: Forget that... there are places in this world that aren't made out of stone. That there's something inside... that they can't get to, that they can't touch. That's yours.
Red: What're you talking about?
Andy Dufresne: Hope.
Red: Let me tell you something my friend. Hope is a dangerous thing. Hope can drive a man insane.

Later, Andy says to Red, “Remember Red, hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things, and no good thing ever dies.”

Hope is stupid, I was also starting to think. It takes a lot of strength to keep hoping for things. It’s for the ignorant.

I had to be reminded that hope is a good thing. No good thing ever dies. Hope is what sustained Andy though his trials, and it is what got me through mine.

Once hope is lost, there is no middle ground. One may argue that one can simple accept things and move on, but if you can’t win something, you've lost it. You've been defeated. Hope doesn't mean being totally ignorant and believing things will be exactly normal and dreamlike. Hope means knowing that there is a capacity for things to change, to be better, and with this hope, one can use his/her abilities to work towards that.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

They will ask me why I wasn't as great as Zusha.

It is told that the great Chasidic master, Reb Zusha of Anapoli, cried bitterly as he lay on his deathbed. His students, who had gathered around their master during his final hours, wondered, "Dear Rebbe, you have molded so many students and you have done so much good in the world. Why are you crying?"

The rabbi answered, "Soon I will no longer be here. I will be facing the Heavenly Court. They will not ask me why I was not as great as Moses was, because I was not supposed to be as great. They will not ask me why I was not as great as Maimonides, because I was not supposed to be. They will not ask me why I was not as great as the Baal Shem Tov, because I was not supposed to be. They will ask me why I wasn't as great as Zusha. And for this I do not have an answer."

God gives every individual certain abilities and talents. It is up to each one of us to find and use these abilities to the fullest. This does not mean that every person must familiarize himself with Torah like the Vilna Gaon, compose music like Beethoven, or paint like Van Gogh. The talents bestowed on us may not be the same as the ones possessed by those individuals. It is every person's purpose in life to find what treasures lay within him. He must then use those gifts to the greatest of his ability for the service of God and man.


The piece above was taken from the following Jewish web site:

The above story often comes to mind but it was not until recently that I chose to accept it and follow it. During times of frustration, I suggest others read this story again.

Pretty much each week, I find myself extremely frustrated. If I hadn’t started buzzing my hair short again, I would probably be pulling it out and end up looking like Homer Simpson.

I have to apologize for my lack of posts over the last several months. There has been so much going through my mind and I have actually written a few posts and have them saved on my computer but have not posted them because they seem incomplete and scrambled to me.

There have been times over the past several months when I have been really down. “Why am I not doing so well?” I would ask myself. I have been working harder than all my classmates. I hardly get much sleep, I spend all day/night in my books or staring at a computer screen, I cannot remember the last time I did something fun, I have not exercised in forever, I am barely making it in terms of grades, I am unhappy with the way things are going everyday… the list could go on.

So what’s my problem? Comparing myself to others.

Constantly comparing the work I am putting in and the results I am getting to others has been very detrimental. I have to remind myself to compare me to me. Am I working to the best of my abilities? Or am I just fooling myself? Is there something I could do more efficiently? Why am I having trouble?

If we do the best that we can do, how can we be disappointed? We shouldn’t try to be as good as someone else, we should try our best to be as good as ourselves. Now, are we doing our absolute best? After calming down and realizing this simple concept, we can watch our efficiency and our contentment go up. I’ll read that above story again. Try it out.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Video about me, "Hammad Aslam, 1st Year"

"A Portrait In Perseverance"
As seen on Georgia Health News

Written and produced by Sonya Collins, of the Health & Medical Journalism graduate program at the University of Georgia.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Life, plus 10 minutes... plus white coat!

The past month living by myself in Athens has been crazy. When I was telling my friend how I was going to live on my own, I told him my parents' worries and then my own ideas about living on my own: I can do pretty much everything, but it will just take me a little longer. Think of it as “life, plus 10 minutes”.

When I need to go somewhere, it takes me about 5 minutes to load my chair into the car or take it out and put it back together. So that’s about 10 additional minutes it takes to go somewhere. Going somewhere that is about 5-10 minutes away forces me to leave 20-30 minutes ahead of time. Getting dressed, taking a shower, and doing other things all take extra time, especially if I fall onto the shower floor and have to get myself back up, like what happened last week. A simple fast food run takes almost as much time now as grabbing a bite to eat at a sit-down restaurant did before. All this takes time away from doing other, more important things—like studying.

But is it manageable? Absolutely. This is “life, plus 10 minutes”, not “life is over”.

I wrote the above entry really quick one night during the first week of September (before I even wrote the last entry). I had no idea how to end it or if I wanted to post it, so I never did. At the time, I was a bit overwhelmed with things. I wasn’t doing quite as well as I had hoped in school and I was having a rough week. I was finding it hard to balance the obstacles of living on my own with finding time to study, and I was beginning to doubt myself. We had an exam coming up and I told myself I needed to chill out and focus, and that things were manageable. Yes, they would take a bit longer, but nonetheless conquerable. I knew that was true.

A few weeks later, we had our white coat ceremony, where we were basically inducted into the medical profession. In those few weeks before the white coat ceremony, I started to do better in school, I was getting more sleep, and I found ways to save myself a few minutes here and there (hence the lack of posts on here). Looking back at the entry I had written above, I think I have to assure my possible future patients that hopefully those “extra 10 minutes” added to everything I do won’t affect patient waiting time. :)

I continued to pursue my dream of medical school and decided to live on my own because I knew it was something I could do. It would be difficult, considering my circumstances, but I wanted the challenge, if only to prove to myself that it could be done.

I know several of you have asked for pictures of my apartment and my car (yes, I drive! If you didn't pick that up from the post above, haha). An amazing student at the Health & Medical Journalism graduate program at UGA is making a short video that will show y’all everything.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

I never say quite what I mean, I never mean quite what I say

Since our school and curriculum is new and a few of my fellow students and I are not doing as well as we would like, the faculty decided to have meetings with us individually to discuss our progress, our concerns, and anything else. The precepts for my small-group learning sessions are the dean of our school and our amazing biochemistry professor. So, I got to meet with the dean one-on-one in her nice office.

One of the things she discussed with me was how I was very quiet and don't participate much in discussions. I told her that I had actually talked about this with a friend the night before. She noted how I don't speak much and when I do, I tend to speak quietly or with my hand in front of my mouth. I explained to her the irrational fear I have of running out of breath.

The accident caused my ribs to break and puncture my lungs and also somehow caused my airway and esophagus to drastically constrict. For a while, I could not eat solid foods, drink liquids of normal viscosity, or speak more than a few hushed words without having to pause to catch my breath. So, this changed me from a guy who talked so much that I would trip over my words to a guy who spoke less and just listened more. I did not want to seem weak or damaged, so I just wouldn't say anything at times.

When I speak, the things I say are insightful, the dean said, but I say them with reserve. I often mumble, too. Before, I would mumble because I couldn’t talk as fast as I could think. Now, I mumble because my mind thinks too many things and I’m hesitant with the words I choose to say. People also don’t seem to hear me when I speak to a group, perhaps because of my reduced lung capacity, so I keep quiet.

The dean said that this introspection was very interesting and it was good that I was able to figure that out on my own. She then asked me, “How is your confidence?”

I smiled and responded, “Well, I thought I was doing great and that I had no problem in that respect. Then I came here and was shown otherwise.”

As I wrote about in my post Compensate, people have doubted my capabilities since my accident. I choose to push past that and do whatever I want to do. Recently, though, this has been taking a toll on me. It seems like everyone here is so much more intelligent and so much more sociable than me. So, I take my place as a wallflower.

What will it take to let out the usual self? The only thing I can think of is gaining comfort. Comfort not only with my peers so I can speak up more, but with myself in the accelerated environment. I have been to one extreme—the brain injury unit of Shepherd Center, where a few of my fellow patients had to wear helmets so they wouldn’t hurt themselves or the sutures on their head—and now I must go to the other.

Oh, life on the brain injury floor was a trip. I remember not knowing the extent of my injuries and telling my doctor there, “I better be out of here soon. I’m starting med school in two and a half months!” I remember him and my nurses smirking when I said that and I wasn’t sure why. After two weeks, I was moved to the spinal cord injury unit because of the amazing progress I had made and underwent extensive speech/mental therapy and neuropsychological exams. I remember before I left, my neuropsychologist showed me my test scores and showed how much I had improved. Since I had improved so drastically, considering the extent of my injuries, I would definitely be even more ready for medical school when I started a year later than planned, he said. I’m not sure why I wrote all this in this last paragraph. I guess it’s to remind myself that I shouldn’t be so hesitant with things.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Trick love the kids

"Why don't you go upstairs? Are you scared?" my parents' friend's young daughter asked.

"Nah, I just like it better down here," I replied. Her loquaciousness reminded me of my youngest sister.

I love kids. I've grown up around infants and toddlers, so they have always been familiar to me. A few friends have already called it that I will do some sort of specialty involving pediatrics.

Kids seem to get along with me even better now. I have a beard, which I thought made me look older, but little kids still interact with me the way they would with any other child they see. I
believe it's the wheelchair. First off, it makes me close to their height. That removes a lot of inhibitions they may have. Secondly, most of them have never seen such a space-aged device. It's completely alien to them and they are curious and fascinated.

A few months ago, I posted an entry from GMH that illustrates the acceptance with no preconceived notions that children have. Young children are innocent. They aren't filled with stereotypes and assumed ideas like the rest of us. They are easily amused and most haven't experienced the world enough to know real pain.

Many of us still have not gotten past that stage. We still seek attention and approval. We still become upset over petty things. We are still pampered and don't know real struggle and pain.

The only thing that separates most of us from children is that we take little wonders for granted, while they do not. Most of us could learn a thing or two from the innocence of a child. Have you seen how happy a child gets when their parent says, “Okay, you can play for a little longer, but for five minutes only.” Those five minutes mean the world to a child. How often do we waste five minutes here and there and take time for granted?

That’s why I love kids. They’re my little homies and it’s so cool when they give me a high five or start playing with my chair. I love it when they run up to me and show off their new shoes or their lollipop that they have and I don’t. Rock on kiddos, rock on.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

"All Eyez On Me" -Tupac

My, what a day today has been.

Orientation started yesterday. I have been really nervous and anxious. I felt worse than a child before his first day of school. Never before have I been this way. The first day of school is usually much anticipated by me. This time, it was the opposite.

Contrary to what most people may assume, I wasn’t anxious about getting to the grind of studying. I was nervous about meeting my classmates and professors. I wasn’t sure how they would treat me and what they would think when they saw a guy in a wheelchair. Back home, it seemed like everyone was always very surprised that I was going to medical school. Most people—adults and young people included—were skeptical and looked at me doubtfully. It’s what I was mostly referring to in my post "Compensate".

I thought that attitude was going to carry over with my peers. Yesterday, we had orientation with the students from both campuses. Oh man, I was embarrassed the whole time. It started when I noticed everyone was dressed better than me, with their ties and fancy-shmancy shoes and stuff. Instead of buzzing my hair short every other week, I had been growing my hair out to cover up my scars. I was even embarrassed when I rode the bus and had to get on and off using the ramp. It was as if I was hoping no one would notice that I was in a wheelchair, haha. Stupid me.

Today was one of those days that I had to just laugh at. I’m usually fine with lack of sleep early in the mornings but this morning I was feeling sour for some reason. At least I made sure to deck out in a shirt and tie. The first event planned for today was brunch with the whole class and the professors. The lounge area is up a couple steps, so there is a wheelchair elevator next to it that I can use. I got inside, closed the door, and pushed the button to go up. It started to go up for a second, but then it shut off. I was stuck. A few professors, deans, and students came to help me. After the initial embarrassment, I was laughing the rest of the time at the timing of the situation. The campus dean brought my breakfast there and a fellow student stopped by a little later to take my plate and ask me if I wanted anything else. I had to be taken out (minus my wheelchair) by a professor and a few students. The faculty apologized to me and commended me for my patience and good spirit throughout the process.

I asked the faculty member who helped me out if we could get the maintenance guys to put in some piece of soft padding on the doors of the elevator so they wouldn’t be so loud when they slammed shut. “We could, but don’t worry about it. No one cares about the noise. It doesn’t disturb anyone. We’re all family here,” he replied. Yeah, yeah we are.

We had lunch with the deans of both campuses a few hours later. The campus dean gave a wonderful talk and I tried to force myself to think, “Yeah, Hammad, you did it. You’re going to make it.”

A day before, our campus dean was commending one member of the administration for doing so much work “behind the scenes” to get the new campus up and running. This woman later introduced herself during lunch and had a chat with me. She told me how they have only had one other person in the history of the medical college who was also in a wheelchair. She said how his classmates loved him and that it was a balancing act for them with allowing him to be independent and offering assistance. The key, she said, is to know when to ask for help so that others become used to any associated limitations, while giving freedom the rest of the time.

In the evening, we were all invited to dinner in the dean’s backyard. I was told to go down the side of the house so I could get to the back. As soon as I started going down the hill, my chair got caught on the grass, tipped forward, and I fell onto the ground with my chair on top of me. The dean’s husband came out just when that happened and came to help, as did my friend who had dropped me off at the house. When I got back in my chair and was going to the backyard, the dean’s husband let me know casually that it’s okay to ask any of them for anything.

The dinner was good and I was able to chat it up with my classmates. I felt more comfortable with them this time. I even asked someone if I could get a ride back to my place. When we were getting ready to leave, the dean mentioned to me and several other students how she was really glad that I was able to make it to dinner. She said she’s thinking about having the other students take turns being in a wheelchair for a day just to see what it’s like. The dinner and her talk with us made me really feel like I don’t need to be self conscious about everything in front of my peers. No one is judging me and we are all a family. There are only forty of us on this new campus. I told all my friends before I came here that everyone better be cool since there are so few of us and I’m sure we will all be pretty close. I am confident that that will be true. And like the dean said to us and another faculty member repeated, we made it. We did everything to get this far and we will make it all the way. There will be times when we will think that the admissions committee made a mistake and that we shouldn’t be here, but everyone will be thinking that. We are all ready. It’s time to enjoy these next few years. I’ll just have more obstacles to overcome than the rest of my class, but it’s nothing that can’t be done with a smile.

First Impressions of Earth

Written August 1, 2010

I’ve been in Athens since Monday, July 26. I left here in December 2008 when I graduated from the University of Georgia. I am back here for medical school at the MCG/UGA Medical Partnership campus.

Being back in Athens to live has certainly been an experience. The people and places are still amazing. The first day I was here, several friends from Atlanta and from the Athens helped me move in and set everything up. I wasn’t even friends with a few of the Athens folks, but they didn’t mind lending a helping hand. That night, I went to the local mosque and saw our beloved imam who left a few years ago. The next few days comprised of seeing friends that I haven’t seen in forever. It was great!

Things became bittersweet as I was riding with my bud at night through the city on a fast food run. A line from a movie kept coming to me, “How irreparably changed my life has become.” My, how true that line has become.

I try not to think about “the way things were”. Thinking about certain things will just get me nowhere. But being back in Athens brought back a rush of emotions and memories. If you ask people here what they like about the city so much, most will simply state some of the simple pleasures of the city.

It’s not the same for me anymore. But I don’t really sit around and feel sorry for myself and stuff. I know I have been given this challenge for a reason. Nothing good comes easily. Let's see what the rest of this week (and the next four years of med school) brings.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Giving 100%

Guy: So are you still in therapy?
Me: No.
Guy: How long were you in therapy?
Me: Several months.
Guy: How many months?
Me: About 7-8 months.
Guy: So 8 months?
Me: Yes, about.
Guy: Why did you stop?
Me: Because insurance only pays for a certain amount of time.
Guy: Did you see any improvement or are you still the same?
Me: Well, yes and no. Um, I got a lot stronger. And um, I wasn’t able to lift up my right arm at all. Now it’s almost back to normal.
Guy: Can you write with your right hand?
Me: Um, yes.
Guy: Do you feel like going to therapy was worth it or do you think you would have gotten those things on your own over time?
Me: Yes, I think it helped and it was worth it.

Haha, that’s a conversation I had the other day with a guy at a friend’s graduation party. I had never met this guy before and I wasn’t friends with him. I think I may have seen him around somewhere, but that’s all. He kept asking me questions and they kept getting more and more personal. I answered him with short, annoyed responses after a while. He then stopped asking me questions and started asking my brother, who saved us both by saying that we had to leave.

This morning, I was thinking about the conversation I had with this guy and the way he was prodding me about therapy.

I actually have another blog as well. It was started a few years ago and I used it at first to just copy and paste tidbits of health, nutrition, and fitness articles that I had found worthwhile on the internet. It’s a private blog and I used it also to make little notes to myself. I stopped posting to myself in that blog after my accident, until my friend said something really great two weeks ago. I then wrote the first and only post on there in over a year.

One post that I written four months before my accident was titled “Giving 100%, 100% of the time”. It was after I had watched a football movie and I had noticed that the young players, in order to overcome the shortcomings that they had, had to muster every ounce of strength that they had for the duration of the whole football game. That got me thinking about how easy it is for us to go full force in the beginning, yet back it off once the going gets tough. I asked myself, “What does it take to give 100%, 100% of the time?”

I had noted in this post from January 2009 that this question has implications in almost all areas of life. Sports, working out, school, and even relationships are just a few areas. Giving it your all will certainly yield pleasing results. And if they don’t, at least you know you didn’t hold back.

Then I started thinking about a time in my life when “giving it my all” just wasn’t good enough, it seemed. That’s why the annoying guy continued to prod me with questions about therapy and if I felt it was worth it. Spinal cord injuries are not like almost all other things in life where working extremely hard will yield satisfying results. What annoyed me about this guy was that he was asking me these questions in a condescending tone, implying that I probably didn’t work hard enough or long enough and that is why I was still in a wheelchair. This isn’t like slipping a disk or breaking multiple bones—as displayed in movies, TV shows, books, and told in stories—where through grinding teeth and overcoming pain one can pick themselves up from the broken pieces and then recover himself, achieving the admiration and hearts of those around him. This is something where every day for months and months one can give 100%, with the results being not what one would expect.

Do I feel like working hard in therapy was a waste? Heck no. The physical (and mental?) strength that I gained is something that made it all worth it. Sure, the results weren’t what I expected and I wasn’t sprinting like Usain Bolt out of the hospital after a few months, but at least I can rest knowing that I gave it my all, no matter what other people think. I hope I can say the same with everything else in my life.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Wheelchair pullups video #3

(From the description):
Someone asked me the other day if I was keeping up with pullups. Yes, I told him. I do them now at the beginning of my back workout. Here's just a quick video my brother shot when we were at the gym on June 3, 2010. I found this on my phone the other day.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Birthday 2009, my most memorable birthday ever

This is a post just to remind myself of my birthday last year. It's so I don't forget and so I stay grateful.

I told my close friend about a month ago how my birthday last year was probably the best I've ever had. He looked at me as if I was crazy. I had to explain myself.

The following are just a few notes/memories from last year:

  • I spent my birthday in the hospital. I had not left the hospital (except to be transferred to the Shepherd Center from the MCG hospital while I was unconscious) since May 23, 2009.
  • In the morning, my parents made me clean up a little. I didn't want to do anything that day and I didn't have anyone to impress. My self-confidence was shot and I didn't care how horrible I looked.
  • I had to wear an oversized button-up shirt because my right brachial plexus (nerve) injury, in addition to the right scapula fracture, still prevented me from lifting up my right arm on my own. When the nurses would dress me, large button-up shirts allowed for the least amount of movement because anything more than that would give me intense pain.
  • A day before, I was finally allowed to eat solid foods and drink normal fluids. I went from having water dropped in my mouth drip-by-drip by an eye dropper, to eating mashed food with thickened water, to finally being able to eat solid foods and fluids of normal thickness. I had to drink thickened liquids so it would go down my throat slowly. If I drank more than a very, very small sip—especially if the liquid was not thickened—then the liquid could go to my lungs and I could get pneumonia… again. That's the number one cause of death for spinal cord injury patients and I already had it once right after the accident and once when I was a child.
  • The food services from the hospital had given me a free slice of cake from the cafeteria, and it just happened to be coconut cream pie—my favorite.
  • My parents had me go down to the hospital cafeteria. I knew something was going on because after dinner, the empty cafeteria stays open and that's where we would go if more people came than what would fit in my hospital room.
  • A lot of my friends had come to surprise me, including a few childhood friends and a few people who became close to me post-accident because they visited me a lot. That really touched me. My birthdays are usually pretty crappy and I had never been surprised by so many people like this.
  • In addition to the birthday balloons that I received, one friend gave me a balloon that said, "Congrats!" because it was on sale, she said. A lot of people saw that and thought that whoever gave that to me must be crazy. It was great.
  • My parents had gotten me Pizza Hut. During my days of eating mashed hospital food, I would always tell my family and friends how I was craving some hot Pizza Hut. I would think about it all the time and I would just close my eyes and remember the taste of the cheese and the buttery crust.
  • Even the presents my friends gave me were great. I received numerous DVD's to help save me from the boredom of the hospital room.
  • In the picture, I am wearing the neck brace and chest brace that I had to wear every day. The chest brace was the most uncomfortable thing ever. The neck brace just cramped my neck into one position, but the metal chest brace dug into my chest and caused me significant pain all day.
  • I had not gotten a haircut or shaved since before the accident. My beard was so long and dirty around my neck that it had formed knots, as if it was in the process of forming dreadlocks. The hair covered up the nasty scars I had.
  • The last time this many people wrote on my wall was on my birthday in 2009, and the messages were usually, "Happy Birthday! I hope you are feeling a lot better!"

Thursday, June 24, 2010

"We are brothers in Islam, and we are also linked in a special way."

June 24, 2010, 12:15AM Saudi time

On this first trip to the Kaaba in Mecca while in a wheelchair, I am encountering lots of interesting people along my way. The Germans on our Lufthansa flight and those at the Frankfurt airport truly impressed me with their level of patience and care. Two people of note are the woman who personally escorted us through the large airport and made sure we reached the plane safely, and the passenger who stayed on the plane long after everyone had left and explained to the airport worker that I cannot stand or walk and needed the aisle chair to be properly brought to my seat.

In Mecca, I see plenty of wheelchairs in Masjid Haram (where the Kaaba is located) but they are almost all elderly people or small children who would get tired if they walked. I have never been asked this many times if I needed to be pushed (and in so many languages), although I always kindly decline. If you have been around me enough, you know I only accept that kind of help if I am dying or really struggling. If I have the ability to do something, why would I ask for assistance to make things easier? I wanted to be able to complete my Umrah on my own.

While in the food court in the mall in front of the masjid, I was stopped by someone with the Muslim greeting of peace and salutations. I guess it was the fatigued jeans and western-styled shirt that prompted him to speak to me in English.

"Is this your first time here for Umrah?" he asked.
"No. Well, I was here in 2004, but this is the first time since my accident, which was a year ago," I responded.
"Oh, it's been one year? I myself have been like this for four years. You know, God loves us. Really. Always remember that. These illnesses and trials we have to face in this life are actually blessings and we will be rewarded for them in the next life, if we are accepted inshaAllah." He made sure to smile very warmly at me as he spoke this.
"Yes, inshaAllah." I've heard people tell me that before, but of course it's different when someone who is in the same situation is saying it. I was glad he was saying it to me in front of my parents, too.
"We have to have patience. A lot of it. I am from France. Where are you from? Britain?"
"No, America."
"My nationality is Moroccon, but I lived in France. I am currently here teaching at an American university. You and I are connected. We are both Muslim and we are both connected like this."
"Haha, yes, yes."
"The first year or two of being in a wheelchair is the hardest. Absolute hardest. For both you and the family," he said, glancing at my parents. "I was not able to live independently. Now, I am living here with my son. See, I am taking care of myself and raising my young child!" His smile radiated and I could see how genuinely nice he was.
"Oh, wow, mashaAllah." He looked very young, so his son must only be a few years only. I did not ask where his wife was in this picture, in case he lost her in the event that led to his paralysis.
"Now, I really feel like my life is better than it was before all of this. It really is a blessing. And sometimes, I even forget that I'm in a wheelchair. It's only when I reach stairs or something that I even remember that I'm in a chair. Otherwise, things are a lot better overall."
"Haha, yeah," I said while laughing at the thought of both of us looking awkwardly when encountering a set of stairs. I could relate to what he was saying. I seem to forget a lot of times that I am in this situation, too. 
"How is your hotel? Everything good and accessible here in Mecca?"
"Yes, very. I'm surprised."
"You should see Madinah. Everything is even more accessible. Take my phone number. Call me if you need anything, please. I live here. You seem to be doing very well, mashaAllah. I can see the light coming from your face. SubhanAllah. Just call me any time. We are brothers in Islam, and we are also linked in a special way."

We talked for a little while longer about his job as a professor, my future plans, and some other things. I didn't expect to meet and talk to someone that cool here. I guess it's a hidden blessing.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Zach Anner = awesome

Oprah is having a contest. People pitch ideas for their own show. This guy, Zach Anner of Austin, Texas, is AWESOME.

Watch his video:

Vote for him!

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

A Talk I Had

In my One Year: Part 1 post, I talked about a former teacher I saw after about 5 years. He invited me to speak to a drivers education class that he taught at my former high school. I agreed to it and made a video for a friend. This touches upon about 4-5 blog posts worth of information, I think. Here it is!

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

One Year (Part 2)

Wrote this May 26th. It seems a bit incomplete, but I'll post anyways:

May 26, 2010

This past Sunday, May 23, 2010, was the one year anniversary of my accident. [Fireworks!]

I feel like I should write my thoughts about it. It wasn’t as dramatic as I thought it would be. A few friends sent me messages (some after checking my Facebook status). Other than that, it was a perfectly normal day. I didn’t feel any different at all.

If you had talked to me a little less than a year ago, I would never have expected to have made it this far. The year 2009 was horrible for me. I still thank God because it had its blessings… but overall, it was extremely disappointing. 2010, on the other hand, has treated me very well, surprisingly. Alhamdulillah. I don’t think I have laughed harder and this often before in my life.

This past year has been the biggest roller coaster. I have seen and witnessed things that I would never have imagined and would never wish upon anyone else. In addition to personally growing, this past year has also given me the gift of realizing the true character in people. I have lost many “close friends”, as well as lost contact with new people who I met and had a lot of fun with before last year. This was compensated by being introduced to the most amazing people.

I was actually talking earlier today with someone about how some people act like they are happy for others, but are really not. They are actually envious. Then, there are friends who are truly happy for others. Post-accident, I have been introduced to several of these truly good people. These are not people who are nice and friendly only upfront but are really interested only in reputation and fun. These are people who have stood by my side in the darkest of hours.

Some of these people are not aware of the effect they have on others. A smile, a note, a kind word, a prayer, encouragement—these things are done unintentionally by these truly good people. However, they go a very long way. These people do not shy away from the pain and hurt of others. Instead, they embrace it and somehow make one feel better. Without these truly good people, I would not have made it this far. May God bless these people, InshaAllah.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Saw this on GMH

For those of you who don't know what "GMH" means, it stands for Gives Me Hope. Similar to FML and MLIA... but more heart-warming. My friend had a link to the site on her Facebook status. Since I hadn't been on there in a while, I decided to check it out and this is what I saw on the first page:

When my brother was in kindergarden, he couldn't stop talking about how cool and funny his best friend Jeremy is.

When we met him, we saw he was in a wheelchair. On the way home we asked my brother why he never told us that Jeremy was in a wheelchair.

He simply said, "Because it isn't important."

My brother's acceptance GMH.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

ONE YEAR (Part 1)

This past Sunday, May 23, 2010, was the one year anniversary of my accident. I was going to write my thoughts on Sunday, but I have been out and about. I wasn't as full of thoughts on Sunday as I had expected. I spent the day at a friend's place eating some amazing chicken that he cooked up on the grill. I spent the evening at the movies with some friends from UGA.

The only reflections I had that day were about the true character and goodness in people that I have observed throughout the year following my life-changing accident. [Side note: the post about that topic is coming up soon. It's already written out, too]

Sunday was the start of a week that has been very interesting, so far. This week, I have been reading and talking to a stroke patient every day. Each day, she touches my heart. She is the sweetest woman. She has much love for everyone and has the most contagious laugh. She also cannot speak. Two strokes have taken away this ability. She communicates with expressions, hand motions, and a machine which she uses to slowly type things. Yesterday, she was overjoyed that she had made tuna casserole by herself. Today, as I was reading to her, she interrupted me to tell me that she had also fought breast cancer for three years.

I believe everything happens for a reason and that we meet everyone for a reason. Perhaps I met her at this time so I could gain some more perspective. Whenever I am around her, I am very thankful and I feel very blessed. This past year has definitely taught me to be thankful for what I have. I know I am not still as thankful as I should be.

Monday, when visiting her, I also met an old teacher of mine. He was a counselor at my high school and was one of the teachers for the peer leading class—the best class I ever took in high school. He invited me to come and speak to a driver's education class at the high school about my accident and my experiences. I had actually been thinking about my peer leading class recently, so I was surprised to run into him and then get offered to speak to a class. I believe this is how things were supposed to fall into place one year after my accident.

Overall, I am happy. Alhamdulillah. I am not overly scared about the future anymore. I am confident that things will work out in a manner that will be good for me, InshaAllah.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Fakin’ it

Is there any danger?

No, no, not really.

Just lean on me.

Takin' time to treat

Your friendly neighbors honestly.

I've just been fakin' it,

I'm not really makin' it.

This feeling of fakin' it--

I still haven't shaken it.

"Fakin' It" by Simon & Garfunkel


     If you're a fan of The Catcher in the Rye, you probably hate those "phonies". And if you're an 18 year old desi girl, you probably "hate fake people". Well, sorry people, BUT I AM ONE OF THEM. I don't deny it. Nor am I ashamed of it. Actually, I'm quite thankful of it. I feel like it's made me a better person. YOU CAN BE FAKE, TOO!

    Let me explain. After the accident, I had to become "fake" in certain situations. I have had to smile; I have had to take things in stride; I have had to act like everything was okay.

    Why? I think this clip pretty much sums it up very well:

    Certain people can't handle knowing what is really going on. Sometimes, it makes me very angry. I stifled my physical pain and psychological battles (this blog is simply a way to express certain things on my mind now). It makes me very angry because I sometimes couldn't/cannot let out my emotions. If I do, certain people I know become torn up inside and start to feel melancholy. So I don't show them. I act like everything is okay. I went through severe depression for a while but kept it bottled up. When a few people I know asked how I was doing, I always told them that things are going great.

    It angers me because it's a burden. Having to always act like everything is okay takes a toll. But when I see the people I know smile, I know it's worth it. My youngest sister is one of the sweetest people I know, and I especially don't want her to know certain things I had to go through. I would never want to ruin her innocence.

    I feel like this post already is pretty crappy. It doesn't fully describe my thoughts and feelings at all. I guess it would be better if I named names, but I'm not going to do that. Anyways…

    Suppressing my emotions and being fake has made me a better person. By putting on a smile, ignoring my crazy thoughts when I was depressed, and acting like I was just dandy had a profound effect on how I really feel. Doing these things eventually affected my disposition to the point where I am indeed content now. Acting like I am happy when I am feeling quite opposite of that forced me to look at things in my life and be thankful for them.

    Life going rough for ya? Put on a smile and see how it affects you. Others won't know that you aren't happy, so why should you?

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Lot's of questions

5/6/10, 2:00 AM

I know I haven’t posted in a while. I have been really busy and I enjoy being out of the house and hanging out with friends as much as possible, since I am able to do so now. By the time I have some time to relax and write up my thoughts, I’m already pretty mentally drained. My friends’ brains function as a blog occasionally. I wrote up a much needed post several weeks ago, but I have yet to post it because it seems way too jumbled.

I just read something online that is keeping me awake right now. I won’t delve into the subject matter that I read about, but I will say that it certainly hit me.

How much time do we have to waste? How long are we really here for? Many of you will say, “Well, I’ll probably be around for a while. I know life is short, but it’ll be a relatively long and successful life.” But how many of us, if we were given a time period to live, would know what to do?

If we were told we had a certain amount of months or a few years to live, I think that people would take this in a few different ways. Some people would become more religious, in hopes of atonement for their sins. They would also try and help others, perhaps. Some people would go wild and try to have as much fun as possible so they can “go out with a bang”.

What if someone tells you that you have up to about the age of 50 or 60 to live? Would this complicate things? Your college years have already been experienced. By this age, you would probably be very much into “real life”. Maybe you would have a job, a spouse, and/or children. What is there to do now? Would you look back and regret the choices and things that you did or did not do? I can imagine older people contemplating their younger years and yearning for something else.

So how can we prevent these thoughts? Personally, I know that I need to do everything I can do with the gifts with which I have been blessed. Why have them if they are not used to their potential? If I am mentally capable to excel in a certain area, I would regret not using my abilities and pursuing it. If I am physically capable to do things, I should not take them for granted until they are taken away. Are we all living up to our potential, or could we do better?

This has implications in other areas of thought and interaction as well. Would you treat people you know the same if you knew things were going to end? What really matters in regards to things like friendships and relationships? If something is a burden, why would one waste time on it?

As I said in an earlier post, people come and go. Do you really see yourself speaking to the same friends? Will you still be close to your siblings? Habits may need to be changed to prevent future remorse.

We need to all take time to re-examine what is truly important. Our petty arguments are insignificant. Each moment needs to be cherished. If the young age of 50 was given as a deadline, by that time, we should be in a place (education or career) that we are content with and have relationships (friendships or a spousal relationship) and perhaps spirituality that give us peace. If your education/career/relationship is a stressor now, how would it be any better if we were told we were going to pass soon? What can we change now?

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

"If we can send people to the moon, we can find a cure for paralysis"

I came across this blog post today. I thought others might find it interesting. Here are some memorable quotes:

"People living with spinal cord injuries are a silent minority," said Southard. "There are hundreds of thousands of us in this country, but there's no exact count anywhere. That's how invisible we are. We need to make our voices heard. We need people to understand how important a cure is and how close we are to finding it."
"Only recently could I feel water again," said Southard. "I can't express what that feels like. I don't have the words to describe it. It has to be really cold water, but, still, I can feel it."
"I haven't taken it off since the moment I put it on three months ago," said Qirici, whose younger brother suffered a spinal cord injury 16 years ago while doing gymnastics on the beach. "When someone you love suffers an injury like this, it ties you to all others who suffer the same. It brings you all into the same category."

Southard's mother Julie agrees with Qirici's sentiment that a special connection exists between those who understand a certain type of injury or illness.

"My bracelet - it's really a bond," said Julie Southard. "[When I see others wearing one] I feel like I'm joined in a quiet battle with other people who understand."

It's crazy how that was all written back in 2005 (when I was about to graduate high school), and there has been little progress since then. People with SCI's really are a silent minority. Why has there not been much progress? Spinal cord injury isn't as glamorous as fighting for a cure for cancer or AIDS. However, it's something that affects our lives on a daily basis in literally everything we do. The chronic physical, psychological, and social pain that some experience often leads to depression and even suicide. It not only affects the injured, but everyone around them.

Do I dare also add that the "big money folks" are also slowing progression of finding a cure? Why would the gargantuan medical field (lobbyists, pharmaceutical companies, hospitals, supply companies, physicians, nurses, therapists, neuropsychologists, etc) want a cure when SO much money is being made by keeping us this way? Why teach a man to fish when they can keep coming back to you to buy more fish?

If you would like to purchase a bracelet to raise awareness and raise money for additional research in finding a cure, here's the link:

Friday, April 9, 2010


[This post is more of a personal one for myself. I wrote this a few nights ago when I was pretty riled up. Looking back, it doesn't really make much sense. It also sounds kinda wimpy. I apologize for that.]

After my accident, I never thought I would be anywhere close to “normal”. What I mean by that is that I never thought I’d be able to do things that other people were doing. I had so many things going for me pre-accident. That sounds cocky, but I think I can say that now because I am not that person anymore and I do not have that life.

Now, things are much more difficult. Aside from the obvious physical obstacles of doing certain things, it seems like there is much more to overcome than simply “not being able to walk”. Thankfully, I am getting stronger and stronger and doing things is becoming much easier. The biggest obstacle to face? The perceptions of other people.

People have a natural tendency to look down upon me—literally (because I am usually sitting while they are standing) and figuratively. As a person with a handicap, people consider my life to be handicapped. How can poor Hammad do things on his own? He can’t do that! He can’t be a doctor!

I could explain where this mentality comes from, but I’ll save that for a different post.

Basically, right now I am upset because I heard something that someone said about me. Having a handicap in one area forces me to work ten times harder than everyone else in order to compensate for this deficiency. This is something I had to realize several months ago. I was definitely “good enough” for people pre-accident. Post-accident, however, I became sub-par. Friends, parents, and people who I thought I would talk to for forever all started to treat me as if I was a low class, low intelligence, weak little boy.

What does this do to me? It forces me to work much harder than everyone I know to get past this. I may not be able to beat you in a race, but I will still work my butt off so I don’t turn into a fat slob. I may not be the best “catch”, but I will now work hard to be better than the rest of my class in medical school. It takes me longer to do certain things, but that just means I’ll have to not waste time in other situations. Life is now “life + 20 minutes”.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010


Amber: "Hammabhai, Hammabhai! Check this out. Promise me you'll do this when you start walking again. PROMISE ME!"

Me: "Yes, I promise."

Monday, March 22, 2010

Reality check

Right before MIST 2010, I had this reality check last Wednesday or Thursday. I found a CD of these pictures that my boss had taken. He visited the crash site and the junkyard. This is after they had to hammer out my corner of the car so they could pull me out, because the roof had totally crushed me. These images have been glued in my mind ever since. I saw these pictures for the first time last week. I don't think I'll ever forget them.

"What lies behind us and what lies before us are small matters compared to what lies within us." - Ralph Waldo Emerson

Sunday, March 14, 2010


While talking online with one of my friends, she accidentally typed incorrectly and said that she had “only started eating in college”. I caught the typo and seized the opportunity to poke fun at her, saying that she must have been on a feeding tube before then. She wasn't offended, but told me, “Ha ha, that's not funny. My cousin was on a feeding tube.” I shrugged it off and told her that I had been on a feeding tube as well. I thought it was another one of those instances when people tell me, “Yeah, I know exactly how it is, Hammad. I broke my leg and was on crutches for a few weeks and it sucked, too. I know exactly how you feel.”
What she said next took me by surprise. She told me how she never hung out with her cousin because he never left his house. My friend only hung out with his sister. Her cousin was bed-ridden his whole life. Slowly, his muscles deteriorated until eventually, he could not eat and had to be put on a feeding tube. At the young age of twenty-five, he passed away. As he was dying, he kept asking for his grandmother because he was very close to her. The next morning when his relatives went to his grandmother's house to inform her of his death, they saw that she had passed away as well. His mother and sister had spent their lives taking care of him—feeding him, turning him in bed, changing his diapers, etc. When he passed away, it was as if their baby had been taken from them.
I probably seemed pretty insensitive as I was responding to my friend telling this story, because I simply kept saying, “Oh, wow.” I honestly wasn't sure what to say and my mind was racing with different thoughts. I kept thinking about how blessed I am for everything that I have. I can get out of the house, I can eat amazing food, I can take care of myself, I can hang out with friends—these are just a few things that I am blessed with.
Hearing this story reminded me of something that my mom said to me once when I was much younger. Like I said in an earlier post, she has a way of saying things that make me think of things in a new light. From Urdu, the rough translation is, “When you look up, look down.” This means that when one looks at the people who have much more than us, we must also remember not to forget about the people who have much less than us. I am not completely void of thinking negative things. Occasionally, I think back to the things that I used to be able to do or I look around to people around me and wish that I was like them. But then I re-ground myself and remind myself that I am truly blessed. I am blessed to have survived the accident. I am blessed to have recovered so well from certain injuries. I also feel blessed that I have experienced things in my past that I cannot do now. I cannot hike through trails or play football with my friends, but instead of being depressed that I cannot perform these acts (like I was for a few months after my accident), I am grateful that at least I know what these things feel like. It is like the old saying that girls seem to love, “Is it better to love and have lost, or to have not loved at all?” Is it better to know what it feels like to experience life like everyone else and then lose certain things, or is it better to not experience these things at all so one doesn't know what they're missing out on? I'm still trying to answer this question for myself. All I know is that I'm blessed.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Will's video

My roommate in the hospital, Will Archibald, is an amazing guy. Even though I was only his roommate for a week, he had a lasting impression upon me, as he does with everyone. This is a video his friends made for an event at his college:

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Article I read on price of health care

This is different than my previous posts, but I think it is still relevant.

As someone who has seen the patient side of health care and will hopefully see the physician side of health care (God willing), I found this interesting.

Here are some memorable quotes:

Consider this: For every dollar the nation spends on health care, 50 cents is wasted.

Wow. Crazy numbers. I have no words.

"The old belief that better care is more care, turns out it's just not true," James says. "The big problem. It costs you money. Most of these savings go back to insurers or the government, those windfall savings. We're nearly always financially punished every time we save money."
"Under a fee-for-service payment system the incentive is to do more. To generate more fees. And yes, the fundamental structure of payment today is based on paying for the unit of service. So we've had a lot of discussion around how to turn those incentives around and pay not based on volume but pay on value, quality and cost," he says.

I can definitely say that I was most likely given unneeded things (equipment, procedures, therapy) while in the hospital. I can also positively say that I (well, mostly my insurance) was charged unnecessarily. “More fees” were generated all the time. I really wish things could be turned around so payments can be attributed to “value, quality and cost”.

Experts say a higher price does not always mean better quality of care. It can pay to shop around for treatment services on your own; however, only a handful of states provide easy access to information on how much medical procedures cost

It may seem silly to “shop around” for healthcare... but if that's what is necessary, then go for it. It's quite sad that those involved in the huge health care field (physicians, nurses, therapists, hospitals, insurance companies, drug companies, equipment companies, etc.) take advantage of those who are ill/injured and actually need quality care. The patient does not come first; cost and convenience do.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Pain tolerance

So apparently I had cut myself pretty bad last week in two places. I didn't realize the extent of the wounds till my friend was shocked to see them and I had to put neosporin on them because they hadn't healed fully yet. Both my mom and he were both surprised that I hadn't noticed earlier.

I thought about it, and I realized that pain isn't really an issue anymore. Everything is just relative now, so after experiencing severe nerve pain and autonomic dysreflexia, everything else is simply unnoticeable.

This also got me thinking further into issue. What exactly is pain? Yes, of course it is sensory information sent to our brain from various parts of our body. But is it really an issue? Pain may cause things to be uncomfortable, but do they make them impossible? When physicians and therapists would examine how high I could lift my right arm, they would always ask, "Can it not lift any higher because of pain or because of weakness?" My answer would always be weakness. If it was painful, would I be complaining that I wasn't able to lift it at all?

Now, all this sounds all pseudo-macho. I am aware of that. But my mind is entering weird territories. There are many times in our life when we do not do something because it feels uncomfortable, or it is unknown--not because it is impossible. Why do we do this? If we are capable of taking the plunge and doing something, then why do we let fear hold us back? Eventually, we will look back and think, "Well, relatively, that was simply nothing. I could have easily done that. I should have done that." So, in celebration of this relativity that surrounds the choices that we make, I contend that we should go ahead and not let anything hold us back. Fear, pain, worry--these things are all in the head. Get back into the real and make things work for ourselves.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Wheelchair pullups attempt 2, 2-16-10

Wheelchair pullups attempt 1, 1-28-10

Random Thoughts (written 2-2-10)

Some Random Thoughts, Brought About By Various Events

People: they come and go. The only entity that will always remain by our side is God.

I've learned a lot of things over the past eight and a half months. It has shown me the capacity of certain people's hearts. The people who I would always laugh and hang out with, suddenly disappeared. These are the people who I had imagined I would be friends with for life. Some people who I hardly knew, however, reached out to me in ways that I could not have imagined. For some people, sacrificing their time and efforts is not hard. I truly commend and am thankful to these people.

Four months post-accident, I decided that I was finally ready to sell my car (aka “my baby”). After waiting and working hard for years, it had been the first car that was truly mine. It was a manual and no one else in my family could drive it. When I told my parents I was prepared to sell it, my mom told me that there are two things I shouldn't be attached to in this life: houses and cars.

My mom always has a way with words that makes me see things in a different perspective. In addition to houses and cars, I think one should not be attached to people as well. Don't jump in and start singing “Heartless” by Kanye West to me. I of course believe that it is great for someone to be attached to their family. One should also love all other people and creations. But people have a way of leaving us. Sometimes, they leave this earth. Since all things belong to God and must return to God, it is only natural. Some people drift away in this world as well. People get engulfed in their own ambitions and pleasures so that they are unaware of others. Some people also cannot be trusted. Yes, I know this sounds hypocritical because I am attending medical school this fall, God-willing, but I think even doctors cannot be trusted. They are not God.

We should only love all things on this earth to the point that if they are gone, it will not devastate us. Otherwise, it would seem like we are worshiping these things.

When all things are gone, we still have God. “All things” refers to people, hopes, objects, physical abilities, dreams, etc. Many people pray and do things ordained by God. But do we truly trust God 100%? Do we rely on our friends for emotional support? Do we rely on our doctors for healing? Do we think that because we work hard, that good things will automatically come to us? These are things I am thinking about now. Feel free to discuss.

My 7 month anniversary (written 12-23-09)

I had written this article for on 12-23-09:

My 7 month anniversary

Ah-ha! I got you with the title, didn't I? No, unfortunately for me I am not married. I cannot relate to Boonaa Mohammed and I have not experienced the male version of Spinsterood. However, I write this because it is the seventh month anniversary of my second life.

You see, exactly seven months ago, I was involved in an automobile accident that left me completely paralyzed from chest down. After an almost-dead heart rate, a traumatic brain injury, an array of broken bones, severe nerve damage, a coma, a bout with pneumonia, and several months in the hospital, I thankfully sit here now and am able to reflect. Because quite frankly, I do not have much else to do. Bouncing back from the accident has given me what I refer to as this second life.

Most of my time now is spent in the guest room on the main level of my home. I think to myself, “What did I do with my first life?” I want to believe that I lived fully and without regrets. Who doesn't want to believe that about themselves? I had great friends, I was having fun, I was doing the occasional humanitarian service here and there, I was a part of several clubs, I was tutoring my friends in science classes, I had my dream future all laid out in front of me, etc. In reality, I believe that I should have done more.

Now when I speak to and observe the actions of the people around me, I want to
grab them by their shoulders, shake them, and ask them what they are doing. Well, I can't usually reach their shoulders to shake them unless they are sitting down or they are six years old, but that is an irrelevant point.

Before, when I had the ability to walk freely and go wherever I wanted to go, what did I do with it? Nothing extraordinary. I was not thankful for the ability to freely move around and I took it for granted. Looking back, I was selfish and self-centered in this regard. If I could go back in time like Marty McFly with the knowledge and experiences I have now, I would try to use my efforts in things that would actually benefit others.

I have realized that this body in this life is simply temporarily loaned to us. If someone let me borrow his car, I wouldn't drag race in it. So if I was loaned an able body, why wouldn't I take care of it and pay back the Loaner by doing good things? Thinking back, there were many things I could have done in my college town of Athens, Georgia. I just started listing the things I could have done, but I deleted it. I'm sure we can all think of some things that we can do right now, no matter what condition we are in. Studying is not an excuse to be self-involved and avoid furthering the well-being of others, although I apparently thought it was; working is not an excuse; even being handicapped is not an excuse. We have been given things, no matter how trivial they may seem, and we must use them. We cannot be selfish. We cannot think that we are not being selfish, either. “Get busy living or get busy dying.”

Jeans... say what?

It's about 1:45 in the morning and I'm trying to sleep. My mind is wandering to something I was talking about with friends earlier. More on that in a minute.

A random thought now. One of the simple joys in life? Jeans. People don't realize how amazing it is to just slap on a pair of jeans. They go with everything. Heck, I used to sleep in them sometimes. Some of my college buddies can tell you about a pair of jeans that I referred to as my "Sunday jeans". They can either give off the message, "I don't care," or, if they're nicer (and out of my league), they can say, "I shop at Express and stuff and I know style. You don't. I wear nice jeans and you wear old jeans that don't fit." For a while, I wore shorts or sweatpants like my fellow patients. In the hospital, thats what my therapists taught me how to put on. It was kind of annoying to even get those on. (Try pulling your pants up while you're sitting, without lifting your butt up). My occupational therapist said she'd teach me how to wear "normal clothes" when I was in inpatient, but we never got to it. So, while in outpatient therapy at Shepherd and after about 6-7 months of looking like I was preparing to run through the streets of Philly in my sweatpants like Rocky, I decided one day to just put on a pair of my old jeans. Some of the more "fitted" jeans (not skinny jeans, mind you) were kind of hard to put on. But I was able to put on some jeans. And they felt great. To me, it was a big step in rejoining "normal society". It was a simple pleasure. Please don't ever take it for granted.

I got to thinking about that memory because I was talking to a few friends today about how I wish I could put my contacts in. I told them how it's a real pain to have to lean over the sink to wash my hands, so I just use hand sanitizer. I don't need a sink to put the contacts in my eyes, but I also don't want my eyes to burn if I still have traces of hand sanitizer on my hands. I'm remembering the part of Fight Club where Tyler Durden burns the narrator's hand with lye... and it's not a good mental image that I want to mimic with my eyeballs. So, a goal of mine is to get physically good enough to stand (somehow) in front of the sink and mirror to be able to put my contacts in and not look like a dork with my glasses. It'll feel great when I can do that. Simple pleasures man, simple pleasures.