By Chris Clark, Annapolis, Mo.
I was injured on July 29, 2016. I shattered my C7 vertebrae and fractured T1, T2, and T3, and sustained a compressed fracture at T12. Before my injury, I was a union laborer, and was 185 pounds with 2% body fat. That day I dove off a tree that six of my friends and I had been jumping off for six hours. On that dive however, I hit my head on the bottom of the lake. I swam up and motioned for one of my friends to help me on to the pontoon, I thought I had just injured my legs. I was sitting on the pontoon boat waiting for movement to come back into my legs. Suddenly, it started feeling like my knees were on my chest and I told my friends they may want to get some help. They had to kick in the door of the marina, as it was midnight, and no one had a phone. Luckily, there was a man at the marina who was fishing that let us use his phone to call for help. When I arrived at the hospital, they placed me on a ventilator and put me in a medically induced coma. I woke up a month later with a balloon in my throat, and it was the worst experience of my life. I went from 185 pounds down to 112 pounds.
I never complained, after all, I was the one who jumped off the tree. No one made me. I continued to have this attitude through my hospital stay in St. Louis. The doctors would give me sponges and a big glass of ice water to rinse out my mouth, but I was not supposed to swallow. I was on no food and drink as everything was going directly into my lungs. When the doctors were not looking, I would drink the ice water, but because of this I got pneumonia twice. Each time it only took one week to get over the pneumonia, but the second time the doctor caught me on camera. He asked why I was doing this, and I told him it was because I was so thirsty! I also told him that I only had pneumonia twice and had gotten over it within a week both times. The doctor replied, “Son, I am glad there is only one of you.” Shortly after this they flew me to the Shepherd Center in Atlanta, a rehab facility that specializes in spinal cord and brain injuries. During my first week there I was given a wheelchair. It was the first time since my accident I had a chance at mobility. On my third day there, I climbed in the wheelchair and showered myself, as I did not want a stranger giving me a sponge bath. I completely showered and dressed myself, put my shoes on, and was sitting in the room drinking coffee when the nurse came in. She about had a cow because according to insurance liabilities, I was not supposed to do any of this by myself. She said I was very stubborn and determined, and that she had not seen anything like that in 30 years! They had a whole floor that was dedicated to working out with C7 injuries such as mine every morning. I would roll into the gym and say, “What's up cripples,” but they told me I could not say this. I informed them that I was now in the club and could say whatever I wanted. The streets by the hospital had a lot of potholes, so outings were very bumpy. We were on an outing and I was sitting beside a gentleman who was trying to read a book. I was trying to text my family back home, but neither of us could accomplish our task because of the condition of the roads. I looked at him and said, “If the driver hits one more pothole, I'm going to be paralyzed!” He about fell out of his chair, and told everyone this joke
Everyone there seemed to have an attitude of self-pity. I would get on them and ask very bluntly why they weren’t doing more for themselves. I told them they should still be independent no matter what. They tried to get me to be a motivational speaker, but as I had already missed almost a year of my daughters’ life, I declined. I came home around New Year’s Day and lit my wood stove and took care of myself and my four-year-old daughter, utilizing no home health. I had a friend of mine tack weld a wheelchair seat on my zero-turn lawn mower so I could mow my 4 acres. I continue to take my daughter fishing, hunting, and swimming, and continue to live as independently as possible. I am striving to get off disability and become employed. I am also trying to get my house in shape, which I have to do mostly on my own. It was in very poor shape, and not set up for someone in a wheelchair. Unfortunately, I tore up nearly every doorframe in the house with my wheelchair. I have improvised ramps and built countertops and figured out ways to work on various pieces of equipment. Where there is a will there is a way. Even though you are disabled, you should not continue to ask for help for things you can accomplish yourself. On the other hand, don’t be afraid to ask for help if you need it. I have found through common sense and ingenuity, there is a way to do almost everything on your own. You can be independent, and your injury should never stop you or slow you down in any way.
Chris Clark’s life in the construction trades was as a union labor in Cape Girardeau, Missouri. He worked for several organizations building factories and bridges as part of the United Ironworkers local. Following that he worked for a masonry firm building an early childhood development Center, a high school, a hospital, and other projects. On July 29, 2016 while swimming with friends, he was paralyzed at C7 after jumping into a lake. He also fractured his T1, T2, and T3 and T12 vertebrae. He lives in Annapolis, Missouri with his daughter.
Slice of Life series articles are those that share the special experiences of those living in a wheelchair in a way that is witty, informational, poignant, and even inspirational. Do you have a story? Share it with us at firstname.lastname@example.org