by Melanie Typaldos
A few years ago my husband became paralyzed due to a rare medical condition. He went from being an able-bodied 36-year-old to a high paraplegic in the course of a few hours. Then he spent the next three months in the hospital learning how to deal with it.
One day, about six weeks after Rick’s injury, I sat in the TV room of the hospital ward waiting while the nurses took care of Rick, who was sick that day. As I waited, a man in a wheelchair arrived and positioned himself near me. He asked if I would turn the TV to a show that he liked. I was happy to, but it turned out the show wasn’t on after all. The two of us started talking. I learned that Gene had just finished his weekly pool therapy and had some time to kill before his bus.
Gene told me a lot about himself. He had been paralyzed from a climbing accident in high school. He also told me that he had been para-sailing, trekking in the Himalayas, seen the ruins of Machu Picchu in Peru, and, most recently, gone skydiving. I was very impressed with Gene, and wanted Rick to meet him. However, it was soon time for him to catch his bus.
Later I told Rick about Gene and all of his exploits. Rick scoffed. “He’s probably just making it up,” he said. It was hard for him to believe that Gene, who is a quadriplegic, could go so many places and do so many things when Rick and I were still grappling with how to live our daily lives with his paralysis.
The next week when Gene arrived, Rick was feeling better and the two of them met. The first thing Gene said to Rick was, “What are you doing in that bed? It’s the middle of the day!” Although Rick was reluctant, Gene prodded him out of bed, saying that he had a video that he would like us to watch. Rick pulled himself, with difficulty, into his wheelchair and the three of us went into the TV room.
I had no idea what the video was. Both Rick and I were surprised when it turned out to be a tape of a local news program. The feature of a special report was Gene — skydiving! He also brought photos of himself in the Andes and hanging in his wheelchair off the side of a cliff — the quadriplegic version of rock-climbing. Needless to say, all of Gene’s amazing adventures turned out to be true. He proved to Rick, and to me, that where there is a will, there really is a way. Life does not have to end, or even slow down, when you become paralyzed.
Over the years, the three of us have become good friends. It no longer surprises me that Gene’s motto is “If you’re not living on the edge, you’re taking up too much space!”
Available in The Best of HeroicStories, Volume 2.