The Electronic Directory for
People with Spinal Cord Injury


June 22nd 2007

Dad on Wheels: A column by Leslie Johnson

Dad on Wheels
A Biography of a Memory
By Leslie A. Johnson, BSW

    One evening, I was awaken in an automobile listening to the wheels turning and people shouting.  I remember thinking what is going on and what are these people doing around me.  All a sudden, I heard a male voice yelling, Can you move?  This question brought a horrific memory back to me, I remembered that I was in my automobile and was trapped inside of the automobile.  I remember the feeling of a burning inside of my neck and the sensation of bricks lying on my chest.  The male voice called once more, Can you move?  I answered with a small grown as I tried to shout, but all I could with every breath was to give a small nerve wrecking moan.

     I then woke up in a room with a female voice talking to someone.  I realized she was speaking to me.  The female voice was my mother, who had tears falling down her cheeks.  I recalled asking her, what is wrong?  She went on to tell me that I was drinking and driving and was chasing someone who came out of our driveway.  She went on and told me that I missed a curve and crashed into an embankment overlooking a ditch and flew into the air and landed the automobile upside down.  I asked her, what I was doing way out there in the country, because I could not remember anything.  As I asked her the question, a heard a crackle outside of my hospital window, the nurses who were at the window explained to me that the startling noise were the fireworks going off at the St. Louis Arch.  I had my automobile accident early in the morning around 1:30 A. M., July 4th, 1987.   I remember the nurses and my mother explaining to me the sight of sparkling streaks in the night sky and I could only imagine how beautiful the colors of the fireworks. 

     I slowly started to regain my memory after surgery.  I had broken my neck in the cervical area of the spine between C5 and C6.   The doctors had put a plastic bone in my neck to replace and to fuse the vertebrae’s together.  After surgery, my neck was bolted down with five pounds of weight to prevent my neck from moving.  I had two bolt looking type going into my head right above my ears into my skull.  Yes, I thought it could not get any worse, but the doctors came to remove the bolts, just to replace the contraction with another painful contraction.  The doctors put me into what is called a “ Halo”.  The halo had a bar going around my head, hence a halo, with four screws going into my head about a half inch.  The doctors had driven the screws into my skull and I remembering hearing a snap.  The pain felt like my head was in a vise and left me in agony.  Believe it or not, I became somewhat immune to the pain, but when I became to minimize the pain, the doctors would come back in and tighten the screws up tighter.  I will save you anymore details of the pain and the contraction.  Let me make one more point, when the doctors took the halo off, I cried for them to put it back on, because I was like new born baby with no control of the neck.  I could not hold up my neck.  Remember the saying, you never know what you have until it is gone, well; mine was the muscles in my neck.  After being in contraction for two months, I had lost all my neck muscles, because with the contraction, I was not holding up my own neck. 

     I wanted to describe in details of this memory, because it is important for several reasons.  First you remember me writing about:  I was chasing somebody who was leaving my driveway?  I already made it home!  My impaired judgment let me turn and chase someone who I knew very well.  My family lived on a farm in the country and we have about a half mile of a gravel lane to the house.  We recently had some gasoline stolen out of the vehicles and this is why I started chasing this person.  Due to the amount of alcohol I consumed, my judgment and thinking logical was impaired.  The person who I was chasing was a year older then me and his family owned part of the land surrounding the lane to our house.  He was out there parking with a date.  If I was sober and using sound judgment, I would have realized this error of judgment.  I was home!  I could have been inside sleeping, but no, I had no logical reasoning and thinking.  Why?  I had been drinking from the time I clocked off work, so I had an average of one to two cases of beer in my system. 


  The alcohol brings me to my next point, which is drinking and driving.  I will not give a lecture on this subject, but it is related to my injury that left me a quadriplegic.  Quadriplegic is most commonly known as paralyzed from the neck down.  The word quad means four, so I was affected in my four limbs.  I did regain some movement back in my legs and fingers, so many people who first look at me in the wheelchair think of another disability.  Most of the time, I am compared to a paraplegic, who is paralyzed from the waist down.  So a person can never judge a person by the looks or never judge a book by its cover.  I can only think about, what if I did not turn around to chase someone?  That night there were too many what ifs.  What if the person whom I was drinking with, for his birthday, the brother did not lock me outside of his house?  Before I took off in my soon to be death trap, I was supposed to stay with him.  What if, I found my sister which I was looking for to arrange a birthday party at her house.  At the same time, she was looking for me to stay at her house while she went camping for the weekend.  We missed each other by minutes.  Too many what ifs that night, but I learned the disability was a destiny for me. 

     The biography of a memory is the thoughts I have shared with you.  Of course, there are many other memories of that night, but I picked this memory to be a short biography of myself.  I wanted to instill that what if cannot be a reality and we cannot live in the past.  The present and the future is the reality that every individual needs for each dream and the fulfillment of our inmost being to shape our way of thinking and behavior.  As a person living with a disability for twenty years, I have seen and lived almost everything imaginable.  I have been through kidney failure and many affects that stem from my disability. 

     I have been asked the question many times:  if you could do everything all over again would you?  No, of course not!  I would not be where I am today without my disability, because I would probably still be doing drugs and alcohol in a dark alley or in and out of drug therapy.  I am not a rich person, as far as material things, but I live a rich filled life with four sons, a daughter, and a wonderful unique wife.  The reason I say unique is because I believe it takes a unique person not just to love a person with a disability, but to stay with the person.  The disability not only affects the person whom has the disability but everyone around him or her.  Disability does not discriminate on the basis on race, sex, age, or any other characteristics of a person.  Remember, I was sixteen, so I believe I was blessed to have the opportunity to walk.  Many people do not have the same opportunity because of a birth defect or some other factor that can lead to a disability. 

     In conclusion, I would like to leave every reader with a few thoughts.  No matter if a person has a disability or not, there is always somebody worse off down the hall, the house next to you, or a family member.  My father had the same disability that I have but he eventually started to walk with a small limp.  My father lived what I went through the first years of being disabled.  He was my rock! When I needed advice either from depression or someone to lean on, I could always count on him.  He died of lung cancer four years ago on June 20th.  His words still ring in my ear whenever I was down because of my disability.  He always told me, “It is mind over matter, if you don’t mind, then it does not matter.”                              

Leslie Johnson

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