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And Finally - Making Sense Of It

Reprinted from PN/Paraplegia News August 2017

The truth is I don’t know how I was injured. I was unconscious at the time. The best I can do is reiterate what the doctor said happened during the surgery.

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Making Sense Of It

Many victims of loss and trauma attempt to find a reason for the loss, a process psychologists call sense-making. Although this is extremely common, research has shown it’s more ineffective and counterproductive than helpful. We’ve all heard the questions: What happened? Do you mind if I ask? As if I was interested in explaining my injury for the thousandth time, or some enlightenment would dawn on me while repeating my explanation.

The truth is I don’t know how I was injured. I was unconscious at the time. The best I can do is reiterate what the doctor said happened during the surgery.

Benefit-Finding

The danger in trying to make sense of my injury is in the futile attempts to answer the questions that follow. What if I went to a different hospital? What if I chose a different doctor? What if I decided to not have surgery? That line of questioning always reflects a faulty premise: That my life would have been better if I had made a different choice regarding my surgery. That just isn’t true. It could have been better, and it could have been worse. The only sure thing that my life would have been is different. One exercise recommended by some psychologists is called benefit-finding. I’m writing this a few days after reading about the retirement of PVA Publications Editor Richard Hoover in the June issue of PN. Like many of you, I’ve had the opportunity to meet Richard and over the past few years develop a friendship with him. Richard encouraged me to submit my articles to PN, which turned into this opportunity with the And Finally column. 

Meeting Richard

It dawned on me that I met Richard while I was a patient in a Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) hospital and if I hadn’t sustained a spinal-cord injury, we never would have crossed paths. Meeting Richard brought me to Paralyzed Veterans of America (PVA), an organization that has become more than an advocacy group. It’s become family and a big part of my life, one that has fulfilled me more than I’ve given. Along with an editor, I’ve met a Golden Globe-winning actor, a world record-holding Paralympian and a champion para-bowler, all patients at the VA hospital. Awesome photographers, poets, woodworkers and singers have been blooming at the VA hospital, and those talents may have never been discovered had it not been for the accidents we all have in common. PVA has also turned servicemen and servicewomen injured while serving their country into a powerful political force, ensuring proper medical care remains a priority for our nation’s veterans.

Poison Into Medicine

I recently read The Undefeated Mind  by Alex Lickerman, MD, and one section spoke about losing important things we’re attached to, like our limbs and the abilities that accompany them. Along with finding benefit in the loss — which is better described as turning poison into medicine, meaning it doesn’t taste any better but the outcome is more favorable — are four concepts that may assist us in recovery. The first concept involves coming to a level of acceptance that the accidents that happened to us were just that — accidents. No blame, no guilt. In my case, my aneurysm burst landed me in a wheelchair. However, many folks have died from the exact same condition. It took me about six months to admit my outcome is better than death, and I should thank the doctor for saving my life. Secondly, we should prepare ourselves for those well-meaning, but slightly offensive, questions regarding our situations. Just forgive others, for they know not what they do. Third, we need to realize we lost something that was intrinsic to our own self-image. We either need to find another way to retain that self-image or embrace an entirely new one. The final concept is the most difficult to swallow. We need to understand that the happiness and success we attained or will attain wasn’t because of our limbs but from our intellect and imagination.

Remade Warriors

I always say, the world won’t stop for us. It’s our responsibility to heal, rehabilitate and rejoin the world. And the world gains people who are not complaining about the circumstances that have befallen us, but as remade warriors, with an even more powerful life force forged from adversity. This enables us to not only be happy and enjoy our lives but also to work to better the lives of all people looking to find their way after a great personal loss.  So, to Richard, Ron, Angie and Suzi, allow me to extend my personal thank you for your example, guidance and inspiration. And to my PVA sisters, brothers, members and leaders, keep up the fight, for the fight never ends.

Scoba Rhodes is a U.S. Navy veteran and author of  Rules of Engagement: A Self-Help Guide for Those Overcoming Major Personal Trauma.

The opinions of the author do not necessarily reflect the position of Paralyzed Veterans of America.

 

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And Finally - Making Sense Of It

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