"9-3-71" is my response when someone is filling out a form in a doctor's office or some other person wants to know my injury onset. It is hard to believe it has been forty-three years ago tonight since I had my accident.
If you were one of the people at the game, I am guessing you remember something about that night and the ensuing months when many lives were affected by an instant in time. That is a phrase I use often, "an instant in time" can change anyone's life forever. I am guessing everyone will agree with me they all have their own "instant in time." Some of you have more than one instant in time.
That is not a very difficult prediction to make. Our instants are not always negative like that one was for me. I have had many "instants in time" that have proven to be very positive experiences. I am sure you have too.
I remember that entire day as if it happened yesterday. I cannot tell you where the last forty-three years have gone. I would guess many of you feel the same way. Life goes on. It has always amazed me just how fast our lives fly by. It seems like when we are young, we cannot wait to grow up and time drags on.
Now, as adults, at least for me, time is measured in years and a year goes by incredibly quickly. I remember being a boy and anxious to get old enough so I could finally play varsity football and basketball.
As a freshman, I ran on the track team and missed getting my letter by one point. I lettered my sophomore year in track and proudly wore my letter jacket for just a few minutes one day because I did not get it until the summer before my accident. Summer in Minnesota is not the time to be wearing a letter jacket! I still have it and it looks brand-new.
I cannot begin to tell you how many times someone will walk up to me and tell me they were at the game, or they remember my accident. They all tell me what kind of an impact it had on them and how it affected the way they looked at football, taking risks, how fortunate they were not to have gotten hurt playing football, or more often their lifelong struggle with an injury they received playing football.
People will tell me how their shoulder hurts or they have a bad knee because of a football injury. One of the things I always tell them when they say they compare their injury with mine is not to do that. I do not believe it is a matter of degree.
If you have an injury or trauma of any sort, that is your issue and you need to address it. I do not believe you should compare it to "What happened to Mike." Too many times people do that and I want them to know they have to address their own issues their own way.
September third is always a bittersweet day for me. I have always felt the bitterness of the day my first life ended and my second life began. I believe very strongly I have had two lives. The life before my accident lasted sixteen years and now I am forty-three in this second life.
It is hard to imagine I am only several months away from turning sixty! I still feel like a young boy much of the time. I just go to bed earlier now!
I feel the sweetness in knowing I have lived another year. I say that because when I was in Sioux Falls for the first ninety-nine days after my accident, the doctors came into my room and asked to talk to my family members. My parents did not remember this, but my sister remembers it vividly. The doctors told my family my life expectancy was nine years.
I guess I beat those expectations. The thing is, those were the statistics on life expectancy for spinal cord injuries in 1971. High-level neck injuries like mine did not live long because of complications due to the injury. Now, they are able to deal with many of those complications and I can expect to die of the same thing most of the rest of us will and that is heart disease.
Doctors keep telling me they do not know what to do with certain problems I come up with because they have not had to deal with those issues and people with spinal cord injuries who have lived that long because we are living longer all the time.
I know a couple men with spinal cord injuries who are alive and they are well over fifty years post injury. I often post about new developments in spinal cord injury and regenerating nerves. I know it will happen, I just do not know when it will!
I want to attach this photograph taken by Jim Brandenburg. He took nine photographs that night as he was beginning is incredible career as a photographer for the Worthington Daily Globe. You may see the rest of his photographs of that night on my website at: www.patcom.com.
I distinctly remember the applause I received as they carried me from one end zone to the other to wait for the ambulance. I never understood that applause because I had just suffered a traumatic injury and people were clapping. I felt like I was a Christian who had just been mauled by a lion in the Coliseum and people were clapping. That did not make any sense to me. I now know why they did it out of respect. The thing is no one knew what had just happened. I write about this in more detail in my book "I Still Believe In Tomorrow."
Click on the image to make it larger:
Now, I am off to acupuncture and I am sure I will feel a complete state of calmness after my treatment.
As always, I welcome your comments.