When I was 14 years old, my family was hit head on by a drunk driver while traveling 55mph on a dark, snow-covered highway. We all suffered injuries, with mine being the worst. One of my vertebrae was shattered and I was unable to move or walk. The first hospital I arrived at took one look at my x-rays and promptly shipped me off to another trauma center nearby. At hospital #2, they also shook their heads and said they couldn’t help and sent me off to an even bigger hospital in Indianapolis.
For three days, I laid in intensive care while doctors discussed the options with my parents, who despite broken ribs and other various injuries, had continued to travel with me from one medical facility to the next. The doctors taking on my case had seen similar injuries before. They worked closely with the race car drivers at the Indy 500 track and handled a lot of “high impact” injuries before. However, in most of the cases, the injured persons were left paralyzed from the waist down. Things weren’t looking so good for me.
Although most of the events from that time (20+ years ago) are fuzzy, there is one thing I remember fairly clearly. No one ever told me that the odds were impossible. I was simply told they were improbable. I remember thinking that impossible and improbable are two different things. I figured I at least had a chance, even if it was a slim one.
On the fourth day, I was taken in for surgery and the doctors fused together what they could from the bone fragments scattered around my spinal chord. They grafted some bone from my hip and then screwed in two metal plates from the vertebra above and below the fractured one, leaving me with a scar on my right hip and an 11″ incision down my back. That was the best they could do. Whether I could walk or not was still unknown.
A few days later, I was scheduled to start physical therapy. Doctors were baffled by my responsiveness to their tests. I had no feeling in my legs from the thigh to the knee, but everything below my knee was normal. It was the weirdest feeling, but I figured it would eventually go away. I was able to wiggle my toes and move my legs so there was hope I could eventually walk again, but it could take months.
The first task at physical therapy was to just sit up. That was the easy part. Next was standing and then eventually I had to try to take a few steps. My first session was probably only an hour long, maybe even less. I had been bed-ridden for well over a week by this point and I was in pretty weak condition, but I took that first step. I adjusted my grip on the handrail and took another. And another. After what seemed like an eternity to me, I reached the end of the rail and slowly turned around to make my way back. It seemed to take forever, but I made it.
Each step became easier and easier until within a week I was walking slowly, but somewhat normally. My full recovery took several months and to this day I still don’t have all the feeling back in my legs. I have back pain from time to time and my right foot turns to the outside. I can’t cross my legs for more than a minute without hip pain, but I can walk, run, jump, swim, play drums and do just about everything the doctors told me I “probably” wouldn’t be able to do – or at least do “normally”.
My journey was not impossible, it was simply improbable. There is a fine line between the two, but I’ve come to think that most things are simply improbable. Next time you see something that seems impossible, take a closer look and determine if it’s really impossible or improbable.
Improbable just means you have to work a little bit harder to get there.
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