(This blog tells my family's story. To see more, click "blog" at the top of this webpage.)
Two and a half years after Beth’s spinal cord injury, I expected a gradual catharsis with my weekly counseling. But sessions still only stirred up tearful regrets for causing the accident. I thought that I must be doing something wrong, that I failed at therapy. After, I sat in the car, breathing deeply, until I carried no visible baggage home. I scheduled more appointments, hoping to find the person I had been before the accident. I was determined to redeem myself with Beth, though others needed me, too.
And I needed them.
I was intensely grateful for the people in my life. I wished gratitude could cure anxiety. Trying to look normal was a challenge on days when worst case scenarios dominated my thoughts. I had to concentrate to pay attention, even with my immediate family, though there was no lack of love or genuine interest.
Unlike Beth, I had no grand goals.
What I basically wanted — after magically erasing Beth’s injury — was the absence of pain. No headache that ebbed and flowed. No guilt and depression. No anxiety that also ebbed and flowed. Some days, Beth emanated vulnerability, a lifelong quad perpetually haunted by scary health risks: autonomic dysreflexia, serious infections, bladder stones, blood clots, and pressure sores.
On other days, she looked to me like the happy and healthy teenager that she actually was.
As a high school junior, Beth never saw the need to say no to extra activities. On top of AP classes and too much homework, she volunteered for fundraisers with the Raptors and for community events with the National Honor Society. She wrote for the school newspaper and worked on the yearbook. She followed her brother’s lead and earned a spot on the Quiz Bowl team. Her specialty: literature. A doctor also asked her to exchange emails with another teenager with a new spinal cord injury.
Beth needed me less often, but I was there when she did. At the YMCA pool, on her forward motion quest, she progressed to spending more time with her head above water than under it. I read a book again while I sat on the bleachers, instead of watching every minute. One evening, she finished a backstroke lap as her high school’s swim team arrived to practice. As a few friends stopped to say hello to her, their head coach, Peggy Ewald, introduced herself to Beth... A fortunate accident.
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