Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Eight years later: back but not the same

I'm not sure what surprises me more: that it has been eight years since my accident or that it has been two years since I have written on here. Perhaps a little bit of both.

Sometimes when I am lost in my mind, I think to myself, "Do I even still know how to write?" I never thought of myself as a writer or someone unique. I just say what I am thinking--these crazy thoughts on wheels--without thinking much about how it will affect others or what they will think. Though I started this less than a year after my accident and before I started medical school to help myself, apparently it helped others, and they encouraged me to keep writing. So I did. Looking back, this has not just become a chronicle of my journey, but, perhaps more importantly, my growth.

If continuing to write touches or entertains just one person, it's worth it.

I'm currently a few years into residency as I specialize in physical medicine and rehabilitation (PM&R), also referred to as physiatry (note: Google Chrome's spellcheck still thinks that "physiatry" is not a real word). I love this specialty. There is nothing like helping a patient improve both physically and mentally and maximize their abilities and quality of life. I would not have known about it had it not been for my accident and my subsequent rehabilitation.

A year ago, I asked my father to look for and bring my reciprocating gait orthoses (RGO) leg braces the next time my parents visited my wife and me. I made the excuse that I wanted to just show the guys in the orthotics and prosthetics department. RGOs are basically leg braces extending from feet to abdomen that would allow me to stand and take a few really slow steps using upper body momentum with the aid of a walker or other assistive devices. They are supposed to be for someone who has, at minimum, more abdominal control and they work even better if the user has some movement in their hip flexors. I obtained them years ago and my private goal was to use them at my medical school graduation so I could walk and receive my degree like everyone else. When that did not happen, my goal was to use them when I got married. This time, I just wanted to practice using them because I thought it'd be cool to walk again.

And this is where my wife, Zainab, comes into the story. I am paralyzed from below the chest, not from below the waist, so I do not have any abdominal control or trunk stability. But I am stubborn, and that has helped me do a lot of things, so I figured I could do this, too. Alas, I was not. The few times I tried many years ago, it was incredibly hard for me to stand without the help of others and once I was standing, I was unable to bring my leg forward to take a step.. When Zainab saw them, she asked why I wanted to try them again.

She knows that I am not troubled or embarrassed with anything in regards to my disabilities. I admitted to her that I thought it would be awesome if I could secretly practice and then surprise everyone by being able to stand and move without the use of my wheelchair.

I continue to have dreams at night in which I am walking around and doing things like everyone else.

With the leg braces, I could easily fall. I could break many bones. I would have to miss work and I would not be able to go anywhere or do anything for a while. "Is it worth it?" my wife asked me. "Hammad, we do more things than a lot of able-bodied couples. We play tennis, we swim, we go on walks, we travel, we've been kayaking."

I put the braces back in storage.

It is not like me to want something more than what I already have. I have been given so much. There are many times I feel like I do not deserve everything with which I have been blessed.

There are so many things I will never experience. I live close to a few amazing parks but I cannot go hiking in them. When traveling, I cannot explore some areas or do some touristy things. I will never be able to ride a roller coaster again or know what it's like to hold my wife's hand while we stand barefoot in the sand on a beach. I cannot play soccer with my friends or go zip lining with my co-workers.

But there are other things.

Each day is a beautiful day. Things are not taken for granted. Anger and other negative feelings are not an issue.

Quality. Not quantity.

This accident eight years ago is the best thing that could have happened to me.