Word Count: 566
I thought I might spend the rest of my life in a wheelchair. And I was only in the sixth grade.
I’d played a thousand neighborhood football games since I could walk and had no reason to think this particular pickup game would be any different. But it was.
I heard a loud snap as if a pine tree had fallen in the woods, or maybe a sheet of ice had cracked. My friends told me later my face was as pale as the snow. It was January in Raleigh.
I can still see my friends hovering over me, their own faces drained of color. Next thing I knew, my neighbor’s dad snatched me up and placed me in the car.
Dr. Lyman Smith just happened to be at the hospital that night—Smith, the team doctor for the Carolina Hurricanes of the National Hockey League. I watched him rub his forehead and saw deep wrinkles crease his brow. “We’ve got to operate right now,” he told my dad. “After seeing the x-rays, I’m worried he’s destroyed the growth plate in his hip where the femur meets the pelvis. He’ll probably need a steel plate and a dozen screws or more.”
Dr. Smith’s words hit me like a train; my imagination ran wild. Is this really happening? Will I ever walk again? Could I really spend the rest of my life in a wheelchair? Then everything went black.
I opened my eyes and squinted at the white-tile ceiling overhead. Then I remembered: the hospital, my leg, the surgery. I sat up and immediately felt sick. An IV was pumping something into my arm and I slumped back on the pillow. There wasn’t much pain—the medication was probably taking care of that—but the surgery… I had no way of knowing how it went, how long I’d been out.
I turned my head and there covering the bedside table, lining the windowsill, spilling onto the radiator ledge was an array of flowers and get-well cards, so many of them, all bright and cheery. HOPE YOU FEEL BETTER. HANG IN THERE. WE MISS YOU. WE LOVE YOU! And something in me snapped.
Not my leg again, God no. But the emotion that flooded over me… I’d never really had many friends—at least I didn’t think so. But the cards and flowers… That moment after the surgery triggered a break that was long overdue.
There were tough days that followed in the hospital: a lot of pain and two more surgeries, then physical therapy, and nine weeks of crutches at home. Through it all, members of my church and neighborhood friends came to visit. Teachers made special accommodations and classmates stopped by daily to drop off homework and check on me. My leg was growing stronger. And my friendships were too.
Now, six years later, I am healed. I play baseball and lacrosse, hunt, fish, and swim. I have many close friends and do not take life for granted—and I believe this is a direct result of my leg injury. That snowy day during a pick-up football game was a turning point for me, a breaking point if you will, from the withdrawn kid I was to the outgoing person I am now.
It seems so ironic that the injury I thought might land me in a wheelchair forever has in fact made me stand tall.