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Survival is for the Fittest

Updated on July 7, 2012

Survival in life

Every time Joan tried to sleep, she heard the sound of shattering glass and the crunch of metal on metal. Bright lights blinded her as she sat behind the wheel of her car. Screams came from her terrified friends and the sound of screeching tires sliding on wet pavement woke her from her dreams. She no longer rested. She no longer dreamed of the good life she had before the accident.

Stuck in a hospital bed, no longer able to walk, she felt guilty beyond guilty. Bombarded with therapy sessions and psychiatrist appointments, her life was very different now. Having been on a track team for most of her young life, she was no unable to do that which she was born to do and dreaming about it just made her more depressed. She could remember most of what happened but she could not forgive herself. She was the driver that night and after two drinks had thought she had waited long enough before driving.

She had learned a long time ago that second-guessing herself was stupid and that going with her gut was always the best way to go. She had better luck and more success following her gut. One reason why she had gotten to the top ten in her class and won numerous medals for track was because she had followed it. "Never give up," her dad would tell her over and over like a mantra. "Always listen to your gut. It is who you are and is almost always right."

Today her pulse raced as the therapy session pushed her beyond what little physical strength she had. These days were long and hard and she often wondered as she went through the motions of exercising her leg muscles why it had all happened. Why her? Why them? Her body waited anxiously for the smaller muscles to work together with her bigger muscles, but they did not. She still could not feel her legs and it had been months.

The following day, listening to the birds outside her window, Joan could see that it was the first day of spring. The tops of the trees were still visible above the ledge of the window in her room. She had always had this double room but had thought nothing of it till today. She always had appointments and was often not in the room. It helped to have an empty room because she always wanted to nap the minute she got back from them and no one could keep her from sleeping if the room was empty. Today was no different and even though she had been lonely at times, she had also been too depressed for company.

Gradually her reach had improved over the past few months becuase of the stretching exercises the therapist had her do. She could now reach her remote for the TV on the bedside table. A few months ago she had to buzz for help, and the nurses on duty, although polite about helping her in any way they could, were tired of helping her every half hour. "She is such a pain in the ass," Joan heard one say when she thought Joan wasn't listening. "What a prima donna."

Joan could give you the exact amount of dots on her ceiling because she had counted them evey day for the past several months. Even though her mind was still intact, her willingness to participate in activities soon diminshed as the days drifted on by. Her will to live slowly faded, even though there was improvement in her daily stretching. Told she would never walk again, Joan became reluctant to follow approved plans for continued good health and her attitude started to decline drastically. Going to sleep that night, she was haunted by her dreams.

Over the days that followed she demanded that the curtains surrounding her bed be closed constantly, which made the room dark, dreary, and depressing. The light coming through the windows slowly left the room for good. Not wanting to see the light of day because of her depression, she sank deeper into the comfort of it.

Taking a turn for the worse with each passing day, she started tucking anti-depressants given her under her mattress and no one caught on or cared. She had gone months with no contact from anyone. No one wanted to be with her. Her family had given up and her other friends no longer wanted to be surrounded by the air of depression that consumed the room every time they entered it. Locking herself into her own world made it easy for her not to notice anything around her. The extra bed had been recently filled and she was oblivious for weeks.

Several weeks after his arrival in her room, he started to ask her questions. "What does your family do? Why don't you get visitors? Why don't you open the curtains surrounding your bed and the blinds? Let the sunshine in," he would say in an exuberant voice. Her reply was always silence.

The days blended into the next and the only sounds coming from the room were the rich, vibrant, deep tones of an old man's voice resonating the experiences and tales of a man with a purpose in life. Nurses and doctors would spend their breaks standing outside the room listening to the stories he would tell. Every day they would be different. Some of them were tales of his youth and others were emotional, awe-inspiring stories of daring feats, of traversing the elements, of never giving up despite dire circumstances thrown at him in his long life. Over and over he would go on and on for hours, and at each shift of the hospital, the doctors and nurses waiting outside their doors were replaced with new people.

Though Joan had to keep exercising under protest, she refused visitors and requested not to be brought back to the room with the lights on. She had no desire to see the man who had been interrupting her sleep. Her nightmares ceasing a little bit each night did not make her desire to see her benefactor any sooner than was necessary and she did not feel the need to meet him. She could not bring herself to face him or to face herself even after all this time. Demons of guilt haunted her and her spirit would not rest.

Days ran into one another and gradually over time, she slowly drifted back to the surface of the living. Sometimes she made progress, and sometimes she lost it but the improvement from where she had been compared to where she was now was amazing. Her progression continued to grow more each day, and the words penetrating her sleep hit her chords.

A year or so later, it was time to go home. Going home in a wheelchair was not her idea of fun but by then she had become accustomed to it and was ready. A lot of time had passed and every day had been a challlenge to her. She had slowly realized what a butt she had been to her friends and to everyone around her. She never once acknowledged the gentleman in the other bed. She never once held respect for him by accepting his presence in her room. She had treated him badly and for that she was finally sorry. His words had penetrated. His will for life had transferred to her. His vow to never give up had hit a spot deep in her soul. She noticed and moved on.

She needed now to see his face, to see her benefactor. She was finally ready to take part in life, to take her disability and put it to good use. She had finally realized her spread the word that it was wrong to feel sorry for yourself. She needee to let people know that it was easy to give up when circumstances beyond your control disfigured you but moving beyond it made you a stronger person and a less selfish snob-less of a prima donna.

Her last day at the hospital left her perplexed and confused and she had thought that she had imagined the voice behind the curtain. She could find the gentleman who had occupied the bed next to hers. She searched the whole hospital, or at least the areas she could reach in her wheechair. Not finding him, she asked at the nurses' station what had happened to him and they told her his name was Jim and he had specifically asked to be in her room. His wife had died in a car accident and he knew the time was near for him. Before he died, he wanted to help someone involved in an accident who could not forgive themselves. Doing this, he had told the nurses, would bring closure to his long life and would help out a friend in need even if it was a stranger.

Knowing this and keeping it close to her heart, she left the building wheeling her way through the automatic sliding glass door into the new world on a quest for a new chapter toward hope.


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