A Full Life

Reprinted from PN/Paraplegia News September 2014

The question I receive most is, “how can I be so happy all the time?”

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Sometimes my column is written for the senior veterans and sometimes more for the junior vet. Early on, they were for the newly injured.

I know my articles are read and how much they mean to folks. There are a complete range of different reactions to my articles and there are always questions which I’m more than happy to answer.

However, the question I receive most is, “how can I be so happy all the time?”

Getting to Mingle

The short answer is, “I just choose to.” But the honest answer is, “I’m not.” I’m just happy when you see me.

That’s not to say I put on a false face when I show up at the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) or head out into the public.

It means that no matter what mood I happen to be in, it truly fills my heart with joy when I come to the hospital and get to mingle a bit with my fellow Paralyzed Veterans of America (PVA) members.

I always make it a point to stop by the PVA office, even if only to say hello to my local president, vice-president, treasurer or assistant, all of whom are wonderful folks and are never too busy to say hello back.

Every PVA chapter has an assistant who works hard at keeping the office up and running. At the PVA California office in Long Beach, Calif., that person is Elizabeth. I hope you get a chance to meet her.

No matter how much work she has on her plate, she’ll greet you with a smile and ask if there is anything she can do for you.

I understand how much energy you’re spending on rehab and learning little things like how to put your socks on again (boy, did I hate those days), but if you ever get a few minutes, stop by your local PVA chapter and introduce yourself to the assistant.

It’ll blow your mind to see how much he or she does behind the scenes to help make your experience in a medical facility as comfortable as possible.


Another person I want to mention is your local recreation therapy director.

Recreation therapy directors spend hours upon hours designing activities, planning outings and visiting patients. Although the body may be hurting right now, you can’t allow the mind to suffer along with you.

It’s the mind that will get you back on track, so you need to protect and pamper it at all costs. It may have been my doctor that kept me healthy and my rehabilitation crew that returned to me my strength, but it was my recreation therapy director that gave me hope and without that, nothing else matters.

You may not think you can find hope in a chess set, but think again. The hope isn’t in the chess set, but in the realization that you can still think, reason, compete and play.

A Favor for Mind & Body

If you’ve spent the entire summer cooped up in the hospital recovering from a surgery, nursing a pressure sore or fighting a lung infection, the most comforting thing I can say is, “Yep, that sucks. Been there pal.”

If you’re at all like me, you don’t need some long sob story from someone else, just a simple acknowledgement that you’re not alone in your experience. Well, my friend, you’re not.

And that’s what I see every time I enter the halls of the VA medical center in my hometown. With all that’s happening this year with VA centers all over the country, the last thing we want to happen is losing our bonds with each other.

If your chapter has indoor and/or outdoor recreation activities, please take part. Whether it’s chess, reading, archery or even cage ball, you can do your mind and body a favor.

However, you eventually have to deal with what you’ve lost — either movement in legs, legs and arms or loss of limb or limbs. That loss is significant and may at one point seem impossible to overcome. That’s where PVA comes in.

A Learning Experience

Sure you have nurses, doctors and counselors all telling you things will be just fine.

However, there will be quite a few things they won’t tell you. Not because they’re keeping things from you, but because some things are only learned from experience. That’s the experience your fellow PVA veterans have.

What type of changes can you expect from the people in your life, family and friends? Let them meet someone from PVA or from recreation. They can reassure the people in your life that nothing is over yet.

You still have miles to go before your voyage on this earth is completed. My wife was completely scared about our future when I was recovering in the hospital.

It helped when she met two incredible women who were married to their husbands for 50 years. The amazing part — the men were in wheelchairs when they were married.

If they can live a full life after the accident, so can we. And so can you.


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