​No Right or Wrong Answers

Posted by Amber Collie in Life After Paralysis on June 02, 2021 # Lifestyle

Zack and friend sitting in their wheelchairs smilingFor over a decade, my family and I have been a part of the paralyzed community. We've gathered a lot of information. In the beginning, I'd start a conversation with anyone willing to talk to me. I was now noticing wheelchairs everywhere I went. Any person I saw in a wheelchair, I would strike up a conversation. In my shocked state, I was trying to digest my son's injury. Zack broke his neck at the beach at age 15 and became a C-4 quadriplegic. Back then, I didn't even understand what the spinal cord was! I wanted to learn from other paralyzed individuals about how they moved forward. It was a way to educate myself and process what happened to my boy so suddenly. Zack dove into a wave one day and never walked again. Before his accident, I thought all wheelchairs were the same. Oh, was I clueless!

When Zack was newly injured, I carried a small pad of paper and pen in my purse. When I met someone with a spinal cord injury, a conversation would start. I'd write their name, age, how they were injured and at what level. I'd jot down any tips they shared with me. I learned some very practical tips and life hacks this way. In my experience, people with an SCI understood why I was asking these questions. This formed a connection. I learned how some opinions and views were completely different. This fact came with diverse answers depending on age, how long they were injured, therapies, treatment, and how much support.

Zack usually does not mind questions, he doesn't necessarily start a conversation with strangers, but he will answer any question and is very open even when it comes to his personal care. When a stranger opens the door for Zack, he's appreciative. Zack doesn't overthink stuff like that, and maybe being younger, he didn't have the full knowledge of loss like adults. Age does have a factor.

At the same time, you have that life experience, that knowledge that can help you understand the adult world better. Your years as an able-bodied person came to help you get back as much independence as you can. Zack did not even have a driver's license when he was injured. He didn't fully understand what he lost because he never had it to begin with. Everything has been new for him moving into adulthood. Going to college, moving out, dating it was all brand new to Zack. I noticed the resilience in the younger age bracket. I wonder if that has anything to do with not having those life experiences yet.

It's a community you might not have asked to join, but I have found a connection shared in this community. The connections were shared with other moms of paralyzed kids. When you have gone through something this life-altering, it will change you. Sometimes for the worse, but sometimes for the better. Never give up.

My life has had many parts, I could write a book just on that section but let's fast forward to when I married Adron Collie. Two weeks after turning 20 (yes, very young!) I had Zackery at age 22, Levi at 24, six years later Kaden, and 18 months after that daughter Laila, making me a busy mother of four. At that time, I also ran a photography business. The year Zack was injured I had a child in Preschool, Elementary, Jr. High and High School. Four kids in four schools! I thought I was so busy, just getting their drop off and pick up times correct was a challenge. I have to laugh now thinking back on that because little did I know my life was just about to turn upside down.

This project was supported, in part, by grant number 90PRRC0002, from the U.S. Administration for Community Living, Department of Health and Human Services, Washington, D.C. 20201. Grantees undertaking projects under government sponsorship are encouraged to express freely their findings and conclusions. Points of view or opinions do not, therefore, necessarily represent official Administration for Community Living policy.