Saturday, November 14, 2015

What a Long, Strange Trip it’s Been

Barb Polan
Barb's Recovery
November 3 / 2015

I just looked at a video clip on FaceBook – an interview with Travis Roy. (Thank you, Kathy T, for posting that.) Everyone of a certain age in the Boston area remembers Travis Roy – the NHL-hopeful at Boston University). Eleven seconds into the first game he ever played at BU, he was slammed into the boards and paralyzed from the neck down. Last week was the 20th anniversary of his injury; the news angle was that he was honored for his work raising money for a foundation that supports spinal cord injury research.

“It’s been quite a trip,” he said about the 20 years since his future changed abruptly when he was 20 years old.

“Quite a trip?” was my immediate thought.  Yes, just the reaction of the survivors of the Titanic, right?

It made me look, though, at my own “trip”: recovery from a disabling stroke 6 years ago, at 52. Travis was young, with his promising future blasted apart; while I was established, and my modest expectations were blown away. We both ended up experiencing lives that were not what either of us were “supposed” to have. Previously, I have called my experiences a “pilgrimage,” a trip with a holy destination, but the word implies a trek, something difficult.

Looking at his journey as “quite a trip,” Travis put a positive spin on an unenviable situation: the opportunity to use his story and fame to establish a way of helping other patients with injured spinal cords, his tribe.

My pilgrimage has had positive results, too: not the career I wanted or expected, but one that is better suited to me; not the continuing ability to help my husband at his life’s work – the renovation of our neglected home – but as an enthusiastic supporter of his myriad projects; not a competitive gig rower, but an involved club member; and, finally, not as a typical person oblivious to the needs – or even presence – of the handicapped community, but an active member of an online stroke tribe, a blogger who interacts with and supports - and receives support from - others disabled by stroke.

Yes, to get here from where I was has been quite a trip. A shorter one (in years) than Travis’s so far, but probably the same roller coaster ride it is likely he has had: denial, horror, anger, gratitude, fear, anger, soul-searching, and learning to live with grief.

Obviously, you can do the math – Travis has lived as long disabled as he lived before the injury. I, on the other hand, would have to live to 104 to do the same, which is an appalling thought. Remember your life-long belief that you do not mind growing old, as long as you have your health? Well, I’m healthy, as disabled people go, but I bet my situation is not what you meant when you thought “healthy.”

I’m still on my journey – although the downs of my alternating emotions are dampened by small successes here and there, by my hope of someday recovering enough to walk properly and use my hand/arm.

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