“It is only when you open yourself to others,
that you will find the truth which lies within you.”
Going to Physical rehab was terrifying. But getting to rehab via transportation in a van equipped for people with wheelchairs was a stunner. I had entered the hospital on February 15th, with all my limbs intact. I exited the hospital on May 20th, with one remaining limb.
I was now leaving the world I had come to know, transported in a van equipped to move me in a wheelchair…my wheelchair. I had been outside one time during my three month stay in the hospital. My first wheelchair outing left me spent, and in pain. The trip to the rehab facility was exhausting, and excruciating both physically and emotionally. I dreaded the thought that this was going to be my “new normal,” my new life.
I was feeling pretty low and pretty darn sorry for myself by the time I arrived at my destination. Meeting my Physical therapist and the other members of my rehab team did not lend comfort to me either. While I was in the hospital, I was rarely left alone. I was completely coddled by my caregivers. Every need, want, and desire was met. I knew the doctors, nurses, and even the ladies who came in to clean my room. I knew what to expect every moment of every day. My days looked very different now that I was in rehab.
The expectation was that I would spend very little time in bed, getting used to being in a wheelchair, and working on doing things for myself. I had entered into a different arena where coddling and being taken care of were no longer a part. The tasks which I was expected to accomplish were daunting. My unwanted new identity—a wheelchair bound triple amputee—began to sink in. “Devastation” didn’t even begin to cover how I felt.
And then something earth shaking occurred. I met some of the other patients. A young man—a boy really—seventeen years old, suffered a severe head and neck injury while playing in a football game, was in the room next to mine. I could hear his parents weeping at his bedside. He would never be able to move his body again. A young man, who was in a bar fight in Mexico, and didn’t get to a hospital in time, suffered such traumatic brain injuries that he would never walk again and had the intellect of a six year-old child…on good days. I saw his parents weeping in the hall outside of his room. A beautiful teenage girl, from the South, in a “constant vegetative state,” had been in a devastating car accident the night of her 17th birthday. Her mother shook with grief as she told me that her child spent her 18th birthday in a coma.
Tremor after tremor shook me, as the stories mounted. When my world settled, a new revelation had formed. I recognized that opening my heart to the experience of others’ pain gave me a whole different perspective of my own. What I had to feel sorry about was miniscule in comparison. As I offered a shoulder, a listening ear, and a word or two of encouragement, my own struggles diminished in their perceived severity. I began to heal myself by simply opening my heart to those around me. I soon realized that listening with my heart affected my hearing…it began to get better.
I often wonder what has happened to the people I met in rehab. I wonder how their families have managed to get through their struggles. I hope that I helped in some way, by simply listening to their fears and strife. I also know that I could never have helped them as much as they helped me.
I left rehab standing on my own new feet. I left knowing that my life, although unexpectedly altered, would be better and richer for having met these people. I left rehab open to all possibilities, open to the fact that I had an amazing life ahead of me. I left with an open heart, knowing that there will always be someone who needs a shoulder to lean on, or an ear to listen. I left knowing that my hearing would continue to get better and better and better.
Being open is a necessary tool in the Survivor’s tool kit. Allowing ourselves to remain open enables us to recognize our own possibilities. It allows us to help others, which leads to bigger hearts, and better hearing.