By Elizabeth Oke
Prior to the accident, I was a happy teenager who had dare-I-say everything I needed. I had my parents’ love and was studying to be a nurse. I remember some called me happy, bubbly, cheesy, cute, nice, smart, conversationalist and so on.
I was that girl on Hi5 (the pre-facebook social networking website) who had the uncountable number of friends, and changed her profile picture just about every week. I loved getting dolled up, looking my best, taking pictures and knew how to have fun.
Before the accident
On Sunday, March 23rd 2008, after spring break, I packed my things, and went to the living room to bid my parents farewell before going back to school. Before I got into the car, I got quite indecisive and even asked my parents if they thought it was a good idea to drive. After some time had passed, I decided to call a friend, who was also going to school, so we could drive in a convoy. We planned to meet each other at a gas station, to embark on our three and a half to four hour journey from Texas to Oklahoma. When I got there, I still felt uneasy and even contemplated leaving my car at the gas station for my dad to pick up. But when I thought about having to keep asking people for rides at school, I decided to get over “this back-and-forth” crap, and get in my car already.
The drive began and I had some Sammie Okposo playing in the car. I started singing “Jesus I thank you, Wellu Wellu, You do well for me, Wellu Wellu … I no know wetin I do, Wey make you love me so”. Not too loud, not too low, just something to keep me awake. I drove behind my friend, and everything appeared fine. I wasn’t drunk, talking on the phone, or doing one of those driving don’ts.
I later learned from my friend that about 30 to 40 minutes to our destination, she looked back in her rear mirror, and saw my car flipping. The cops at the scene and everyone who “witnessed” the whole situation couldn’t explain what happened or caused the accident, as my car was the only one involved. My car flipped over for about 4 times, and it was up-side-down when the ambulance and helicopter crew got there.
My Car after the Accident
I honestly, till this day, don’t remember how the accident happened. I only remember what happened after the accident. I had a feeling that I was upside down, and I saw a police officer in an upside down manner telling me not to close my eyes and stay with him. I told him I felt like sleeping, and he warned me not to sleep. I remember thinking “see me see something oo, I should not sleep ke, what is a police officer doing here gan self?” I attempted to close my eyes again, then I heard the police officer telling me calmly that I had been involved in a car accident, and I had to stay awake. In my head I was like “accident?” He began asking me a variety of questions such as my name, phone number, my parent’s phone number e.t.c. When the number of questions reduced, I started saying over and over again “I shall live, I shall not die. I shall live to declare the glory of the Lord, to the declare the works of the Lord, to declare the counsel of the Lord, in the land of the living, in this year 2008, and several, several years to come”.
After the accident, I was flown by helicopter to a nearby hospital in the state of Oklahoma (OU Medical Center). The doctors said the accident affected my spinal cord at C4 level, and about 3 to 4 different surgeries were performed during the course of my stay at the hospital. I couldn’t move my legs or my arms and couldn’t even shrug my shoulders.
I don’t remember a lot of things that happened the first couple of days, but I remember my parents and best friend being in the hospital room, and they all had the “oh God” look on their faces. All I could think of was to assure them that I was fine. Then, I remember asking jokingly, “Is my face messed up or alright”? That question seemed to lighten everyone’s mood and they all burst out laughing because my face was not affected by the accident in a major way. Just little bruises here and there. Hearing them laugh in the midst of the chaos and “fear of the unknown” was very therapeutic to me. After the laughter, we went on talking about how much they all know I love my face and we talked about so many other little things that livened the mood (at least to a certain level). I stayed in the hospital for a little over a month, most of which was spent in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU), and was then transferred to a rehabilitation center also in Oklahoma (Valir Rehab).
I stayed at that rehab for about another month, trying to re-learn to do basic things I could do before, such as eating, sitting without falling, brushing my teeth, holding a comb and so many other little things I couldn’t believe I was unable to do; I couldn’t sit without being held up by pillows, my left hand was in a cast and I could only use my right hand, which wasn’t completely functional because my fingers were curled inwards, and of course, I couldn’t walk or even dress myself. My neck had a collar around it to steady my neck and spine, so rehabilitation was not fun.
The left hand brace was off after a while but I was nowhere near being able to do things on my own. I moved back to Texas where I stayed in another rehabilitation center (Baylor Institute for Rehabilitation) for yet another month of vigorous therapy. There I learned how to do a lot more and began learning how to be as independent as possible on the wheelchair. Over the years, I’ve attended several other out-patient facilities to continue my strengthening exercises and therapies.
Support from Family and Friends
Family support, including support from my best friend, my boyfriend and certain other friends was something I didn’t lack and still don’t lack. During my stay in the hospital and the rehabilitation center in Oklahoma, my parents, best friend and little brother, would travel back and forth (from Texas to Oklahoma) to see and be with me. I remember some of my good days being days when my mom would bring me home-cooked meals, and I would eat it with such joy because I got tired of hospital food. My little brother was a breath of fresh air, he smiled at me every time he came; and just was the cutest and wonderful source of joy.
I remember my dad and mom sitting down in the room, keeping me company bringing up topics that were not related to the situation at hand and my best friend curling up on the little hospital chair and as uncomfortable as the hospital chairs were, they all stayed there for hours keeping me company. I remember my mom praying and assuring me that “God is good, and he has kept me alive for a purpose”. We all prayed together, laughed together, and had some silent tear shedding moments together.
What kept me going through the medical treatment was first and foremost the fact that God kept me alive for a reason. My desire to get up, and get back to my “normal self/life” was also a great motivating factor. My family, love from people (those I knew, and barely knew), and friends also kept me going. Prayers kept me going as cousins, aunties, families and friends far and near all prayed for me.
Speaking of friends, since I was in Oklahoma and most of my friends were in Texas. I understood how “hard” it probably was for most of them to visit me, but those who did, blew my mind in ways they can’t possibly understand. Aside from my best friend, I had a friend who came to see me just about every weekend. I thank God for friends who made me laugh even when nothing looked funny at the time. My eyes were blood-shot red, neck was in a collar, arm in a cast, and I could barely breathe on my own, but none of the people who came to see made me feel less of the “real me”. Of course I had friends – whom I expected to show up – that didn’t show up, but I forgave them. I was very fortunate to have people around me who showered me with their love and concerns that it didn’t even matter who hadn’t visited.
Life after the Accident
I went back to school less than a year after the car accident – despite all odds – and I remember my first semester back to school was the hardest. I had a room to myself in the dorm – yes, no roommate – and I had the manual wheelchair. The first week of school, I fell from the wheelchair and smashed my face on hard concrete! Can you imagine? My car flipped over 4 times, I broke a spinal cord in a car accident, and my face wasn’t affected, but 1st week in school, the face got smashed on concrete! Shame on Satan! I had a swollen face, lips, and massive headaches for days.
It’s strange but my outlook on life changed for the better. I realized that life was short, and we have to thank God for each day we are blessed with. Do the best you can do each day! Tell and show those whom you love that you genuinely and truthfully love them. I know this sounds cliché like, but honestly, it’s the truth. Live your life right, and keep God first in your life. Remember that you won’t always get things right, but correct them whenever you realize you’re getting them wrong.
I feel happier and a lot more at ease with life now than I did before the accident. However, this doesn’t mean that “I have accepted my fate, and concluded to life on a wheelchair forever”. Oh no, it’s far from that. I am thankful for being alive and well, and one thing stays constant in my life, my faith in God. I believe that I will walk again, but until that time, I will continue to conquer and live this life. The fact that I choose to live my life happy and grateful doesn’t mean I have lost hope/trust/faith in walking again.
I have been able, by the grace of God to go back to school, travel everywhere I want, and do the things I want to do, because I now have a deeper understanding of the phrase “Life is short”. I stay smiling because I genuinely know joy that is beyond comprehension. I came to realize that some things are not as serious as we take them to be.
Life on the wheelchair is not always perfect though. Recently I was looking for an apartment and I ran into a problem. Most of the apartments are easily accessible; but the wheelchair couldn’t fit in most of the restroom doors; this is the same for some houses and most residential places. I eventually found an apartment with complete accessibility. I’m telling this story because some unforeseen issues arise.
This “new life” is definitely different than what I was used to for 18 years. Almost everything one does has to be planned or done with additional time, and for someone like me who is spontaneous, it took some getting used to. I had to devise ways to do things faster, quicker and be creative. For example, I enjoy being fashionable and wanted to continue to dress as I pleased, but after the accident I couldn’t wear jeans because they are really hard to wear. I found out that most maternity jeans have a flexibility to them that regular jeans don’t have, which makes them easier to wear. I also don’t have to worry about buttons and zipper resulting into skin problems. High-heels are out of the question because I have to rest my foot on the wheelchair, so I pick out flat shoes that are comfortable but look good.
Wheel Chair Accessibility in Nigeria
I was in Nigeria the summer of year 2009, and that was pretty challenging. I really don’t think disabled people are adequately cared for in Nigeria. During my visit, I realized that roads in Nigeria are not wheelchair accessible. Offices, buildings, shopping stores, markets, even schools are not accessible. I understand the aesthetics of stairs in a building, but SERIOUSLY? Does every building need stairs? One day, while in Lagos, I wanted to go into a bank with my friend and her mother, but come to find out, the bank’s entry had about 4 tiers of stairs, and even if I was able to get past the stairs by some manner, the doors to the bank are so small that a wheelchair would not fit into it. Also there was no back door to go in through! I was glad to see ATMs, but soon realized that someone on a wheelchair couldn’t even reach them! Where does this leave wheelchair users? No access to banks? Schools? Businesses? Companies?
I was even more heartbroken to see that the federal capital of Nigeria was not completely wheelchair accessible. I wanted to go into a popular shopping complex in Abuja but there was no ramp to easily take me into the complex. My cousins and a few people around had to literally lift me and the wheelchair up about 10 steps of stairs just to get into the shopping complex. Good thing the shopping complex had elevators, so I was able to explore each floor, but who needs an elevator when you cannot get past the stairs outside on your own?
The Nigerian Government is NOT adequately caring for people with disability, in my opinion. If schools are not wheelchair accessible, what is life to become for a person who is disabled? Without education, we know it’s hard to get a good job, and without access to most business places, a disabled individual is more susceptible to being poor, and having to beg for money and basic every day necessities.
I understand that it’s hard to make old buildings, old buses etc… wheelchair accessible, but what about the new things? A wheelchair user cannot get on BRT buses, or almost any other form of public transportation. I am not going to act like I know the bills that are passed in Nigeria, but if there is already a law on how every building, businesses, and schools ought to be wheelchair accessible, but people are not obeying, I think it’s time for the government to start fining and making sure people/businesses pay for not obeying the law. I don’t want to blame the government alone though, a lot of schools in Nigeria are “private schools”, and a lot of businesses are built by regular people who have nothing to do with the government, so I urge everyone out there, , to also please, do their parts. It is easy to see a disabled person and pity them; however, pity does not bring change when no action follows it.
To the Disabled
Physical disability does not mean mental disability and it’s not a plague. That a person is disabled physically, does not make them less important or condemned.
You are the best person who understands what you’re going through, so let your voice be heard. Be presentable, look the best you can. Get rid of all bitterness – I agree that sometimes people “just don’t understand” what we’re going through. But please don’t make this an excuse to be a bitter, angry, or an unforgiving person.
My final message of hope for people experiencing a similar situation is 1st Corinthians 10:13 – “No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it”. God Bless you all.