I stared at the doctor, allowing his words to penetrate the thick fog that'd occupied my brain for the past week. My right arm lay by my side in the sterile hospital bed like a petrified log. I squinted my eyes and focused on my fingers, hoping by sheer willpower I could make them move. Nope, not even a smidgen.
Just four days earlier I stood in my kinesiology class at St. Edward's University, hurling a softball (right-handed) across the gym to my partner, rejoicing in the sound of leather hitting skin, enjoying the power of my muscles. I could never throw that hard in high school—my strength-building were paying off. And I had a lot going for me: 4.0 GPA; member of the sorority, Alpha Sigma Lambda; a loving husband and child; three classes left until graduation. It was my life goal to pursue coaching for a few years and later (with more education) obtain a career as a physical therapist.
A little over half of a week later, I had nothing—all taken away by an angry person who decided I was driving too slow (I was driving 5 miles over the speed limit), and decided to kill me. Over-dramatic? No, I don't think so. Any time a person rips around another car, cuts them off and slams on the brakes, they don't want to say "Howdy-do.” Yep, that's what it boils down to...they wanted me dead. At the time, I couldn't—and still can't—understand how someone could have such hatred for a person they didn't know.
And so, for almost a week, I lay in a hospital bed, slipping in and out of consciousness. On the fourth day, I listened to this doctor, who—judging by the expression on his face and monotone voice—could care less. I was a waste of his time, just another body with a poor chance of complete recovery. He tossed words such as "massive nerve damage" as easily as a kitten playing with a ball of yarn. I was a number, nothing more.
Tears gathered in my eyes as I realized my life was changing forever. Sure, I could probably still coach, but who would hire a therapist with the full use of only one hand? That dream was as dead as my arm.
I still don't know what triggered it, but as “Dr. Personality” blathered on about how therapy “might be useless,” memories from my childhood flooded my mind and warmed my soul. Clips of my father praising my kindergarten artwork were replaced by segments of him comforting me through various trials in my young adult life. Each memory was accompanied by him saying "be strong", and "You can do anything, if you put your mind to it."
My heart began hammering with anger and determination. Who was this person to tell me what I couldn’t do? Daddy was right...I COULD do anything. I frowned and cleared my throat. "If you're through spewing verbal garbage, I'd like a turn to talk."
Dr. Personality folded his arms and leaned back in his chair, obviously amused that this cripple, this moronic thing could put two thoughts together.
"I think you're full of poop," I continued. "You carry on about what I can't do, but I'll beat this."
The doctor stared deeply into my eyes, as if seeing me for the first time. A slow smile worked its way across his face. "You’re a little fireball, aren’t you? Know something, I think you can. You just might be the one to beat the odds," he said patting my knee. "Don't give up. And heaven help the person who tells you that you won’t succeed.”
Giving up wasn’t an option.
I won't waste your time making you believe my life evolved into a Pollyanna-type story. It didn't.
The simple things, like tying my laces in the morning or making a peanut butter sandwich, would sometimes take up to fifteen minutes. I’d prided myself on my drawing abilities, now I couldn’t draw a circle. Occasionally, the goal of again having a “typical” life seemed as unrealistic as my son marrying a princess, and I’d fall into an abyss of self-pity.
“Daddy, I can’t do this,” I’d cry out. From my heart, I’d hear his reply, “You can do anything, if you put your mind to it.”
I had wonderful support from my loving husband and the rest of my family, but they could do little to heal the wounds on my heart. I hated to see the effects my negativity had on them, so I slapped on a mask of happiness every time loved ones were around—it worked. They couldn't see what was beneath the surface, the triplets: anger, sorrow and resentment boiling in my soul.
In addition to drawing, writing has always been my passion, and because of the unsteadiness of my left hand, I made the decision to embrace the latter. Writing helped me escape my anger, my weakness, and allowed me to focus on my strength—my imagination. At the time, I didn’t know how this decision would change my life.
I wrote a story about my father, his bond with his dog Snowball, and submitted it to Chicken Soup for the Dog's Lover's Soul. Why not? Daddy said I could anything, just if I put my mind to it, right?
Half a year later, I received a call from an editor at Chicken Soup. I remember, because I thought she was a phone solicitor and hung up. Thankfully, she called back, and my career as a published writer began. I have been published in a few more Chicken Soup books, in magazines, and in newspapers.
Another dream was realized when Dancing With Bear Publishing took a chance on me and published my first children's book, Amelia Frump and her Peanut Butter Loving, Overactive Imagination. Also in the years following my accident, I’ve become an award-winning journalist, nine-time award-winning baker, and an award-winning children’s author.
I can’t say all my decisions were good—hey, I’ll admit it, I’m not perfect. But the best decision I ever made was to follow my father’s advice: “You can do anything you want, if you put your mind to it.”
And he’s right—I can.