From One Survivor to Another

blog imageThis week I was asked by a dear friend to send along a note of encouragement and support to one of his family members who was unlucky enough to experience something similar to what I did two years ago. This request was very humbling but I agreed right away. Today, I would like to share what I sent with all of you. 

(PS: the recipient is a giant Doctor Who fan – I couldn’t help myself.)

… two years ago I ended up being as incredibly unlucky as you. I was crossing a street in Medicine Hat on the green light when an armoured car went through it. I ended up with three broken vertebrae, three complete breaks in my pelvis, a broken leg, broken ankles and feet, and a lot of messed up stuff in my head. It took me a long time to get better, but I wanted to write to you to let you know a few things:  
  1. IT CAN HAPPEN. It may not be 100% or occur exactly the way you expect it, and it may take a lot longer than you want it to, but with faith and courage you will suddenly reach a point where the measly 1% left won’t matter anymore, and you’ll be left with the raw strength and willpower that comes from doing something most people would find too painful to bear. I can walk, I can dance, I can bear children. No one believed I would be able to do this when my accident first happened. I did, and now I can.
  2. Besides, you should congratulating yourself. YOU’RE A SURVIVOR! No one will ever be able to take that away from you. You experienced something awful and you are kicking its butt every single day just by being here and fighting to get better.
  3. Speaking of which, YOU ARE THE ONE FIGHTING THIS which means you have the freedom to do all kinds of things you wouldn’t normally do: cry, scream, be sad, have a rough day. But it also means that somewhere deep inside you have the power to laugh, smile, dream about the future, and make plans for when “it’s all over”. Don’t feel guilty about your feelings. They are yours and there is no one else in the room who can understand exactly why you are feeling them.
  4. So, the best thing for you and your loved ones is to LET EVERYTHING OUT. Don’t bottle your feelings, and don’t ask your family and friends to bottle theirs. Everyone right now is grieving, all in their own ways, and getting through that grief so you can get to the hope that lies underneath is a huge step in figuring all this stuff out.
  5. KEEP YOUR BRAIN STRONG. Sure, that’s easier said than done in a hospital where all the walls have dumb medical equipment on them that remind you of all the pain you’ve already been through, but try. Do crosswords, have someone read aloud to you, play games, solve puzzles: there are so many options, especially with the free wi-fi courtesy of the hospital, that there is no reason why you should ever be lying in bed confronting your memories if you don’t want to. That being said…
  6. LET THE PROFESSIONALS HELP. That is what they are there for. Don’t think of them as strangers or be concerned that they might think your fears are silly. They are not the ones that survived the traumatic experience; you did. Tell them everything, no matter how ridiculous you think it is (including how scared you are of needles). You’d be surprised how healing having someone listen is. I guarantee it will drain you at first and you won’t want to talk about your sessions, but understand that you don’t have to until you are ready.
  7. People will ask (if they haven’t already) “So, are you better now?” My response was always a very simple and firm, “No”. You don’t need to apologize for your answer or qualify it in any way. If they don’t know you well enough that they ask you insensitive questions like that, don’t waste your time. LIFE IS TOO SHORT TO PUT UP WITH DUMB PEOPLE. (See also #3)
  8. It’s been two years since my accident. I have seen countless doctors, mental health professionals, physiotherapists, etc., and the one piece of advice I can safely offer about all of this is that NO ONE PERSON KNOWS ALL THE ANSWERS.
  9. I’m sure right now you’re feeling more like a prop than a patient, as all the decision makers whisk in and out and spout random bits of your medical history at you. Don’t let them make you feel like that. ASK QUESTIONS. If someone doesn’t know the answer, ask the next person that comes in. Ask the same questions over and over until they either send someone in to talk to you directly or until you get a satisfactory reply. Everyone has opinions – it takes a keen patient to differentiate between those opinions and solid medical fact. The professionals I got the most useful info from were always my physiotherapists, so even if the question wasn’t directly related, I’d still ask them. As a group they really like fixing things – it’s why they became physiotherapists in the first place. If they don’t know the answer or if there is a problem you need dealt with, they are the best people to help you “fix” it.
  10. Once you get answers to your questions, you’ll begin to feel like you’re taking charge of your own healing. This is good because NO ONE CAN HEAL YOU BUT YOU. You have to be in charge of it. That means telling your physiotherapist that today hasn’t been a good day, or letting your nurses know that you are uncomfortable and need help to move. But it also means that on good days you push yourself as far as you can. It means having achievable goals and believing you can do just a little more than yesterday. And then at some point out of the blue you will be able to turn the corner into your hospital room and walk up to your mom without any help, who will insist on taking pictures even though she’s crying and can’t really see the screen. And then, a little after that, you’ll be sleeping in your own bed at home and nothing in the world feels better than that first night at home. Nothing.

My own recovery was full of setbacks. Yours will be too. But I hope that this advice helps you push through them. Each one will peel away a little more of who you think you are, and when you reach your 99% point, you will be shiny, you will be strong, and you will believe you are the person that your mother always saw inside you. Every one of the steps you take now you are taking for you. Make the most of them.

Feel free to email me back if you have any specific questions. Like I said, I’ve done all this stuff and I not only survived it, I beat it up, stood on top of it, and shouted “I HAVE THE POWER!”

One last piece of advice: If you have a really bad day, one that you can’t possibly see the light in, remember the 9th Doctor staring down the Daleks. You are the Doctor and this is part of your reincarnation. Tell those Daleks exactly what will happen if they mess with you. Like I said, don’t hold anything back.

I’m sure you will make a grand Time Lord. Welcome to the Survivor’s Guild.

All the best,



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