Five years is a long time to live in a broken body.
It's a long time to live with the pain of a permanently dislocated shoulder, muscle fibers wound as tight as rubber bands, plummeting blood pressure, and constant exhaustion.
I'm beginning to forget what it was like to have two arms, or to take a step without needing complete concentration. It's hard to remember what textures and temperatures felt like on my skin, or what it was like to take a full breath of air, and have a properly functioning bladder.
I'm grateful for the recovery I've made, and thankful that I escaped a life of total paralysis. Five years ago, that existence seemed like a real possibility. Many people that are hurt aren't as fortunate, and I remind myself of that everyday.
Nevertheless, there are times when nostalgia hits. Sometimes it's difficult to see pictures or video of myself before the accident, and there are times I struggle with the realization that the man I once was and the life I could have had is gone forever.
Before my injury, I empathized with people who were disabled, but never thought I would one day become one of them. Those are the types of things that happen to other people. Not me. Not in the prime of my life.
I still remember everything about August 8, 2010. Every year all the memories of that day flood back. I remember waking up early and going to the gym, excited for the kayak trip later in the day. I remember picking up my friend Markus at his apartment on the way to southern Indiana and wrestling with his dog in the living room before we left. I remember meeting our friend Justin at the campground, the bus ride to the launch site, and what an amazing day it was on the river. I remember approaching the 50 foot truss bridge on the kayaks, and I remember climbing up the narrow beam that towered above the river – the last act of physical strength I would ever perform.
It's impossible to forget what it was like to be a total quadriplegic. Memories of being a floating head on a pillow will never fade. I'll never forget what it was like to have a machine breathe for me, a team of individuals feed, bathe, and dress me, and what it was like needing a blow-tube to communicate with nurses. I'll never forget the fear that those experiences may be a part of my everyday life for the rest of my existence.
I try not to dwell. But on the 8th of August, I allow it. This day is a reminder of my past, but also signifies what my family and I have overcome, and what we try so hard to build with NeuroHope.
I've learned that when forced to adapt to a seemingly impossible set of circumstances, no matter the context, it's up to us to find new meaning, and new purpose.
As the years go by and I travel farther away from the able-bodied person I once was, I hope my purpose becomes clear.
Embrace your abilities. Embrace your physicality. Embrace your strength and the life you live.
In one fleeting moment, it could all be taken away.