I wonder how many people remember where they were on their birthday three years ago? I can. Vividly. I was in an ambulance being transferred to the VA rehabilitation hospital in West Roxbury, Massachusetts. I was tetraplegic. A fall on my back paralyzed me from my shoulders down. My prognosis was: patient would never walk again. If someone had told me that three years later, thanks to the incredible medical, nursing and therapeutic staff at the VA hospital in West Roxbury, my wife and I would be celebrating my 82nd birthday visiting my son in Dublin, Ireland, I would have asked them to stop toying with me.
I recently read an article in the New York Times intended to advise people on how to be resilient in the face of catastrophic injury. There was a list of things to do, such as practice optimism, don’t personalize your misfortune, remember your comebacks, support others and so forth. None of these struck me as being helpful. It was the kind of thing that I would expect to find inside a fortune cookie. However, one item struck home: Go out of your comfort zone.
I had become quite comfortable in my apartment. My wife no longer needed to be with me. I could walk with the help of a walker. I could pretty much do what I did before my accident, only a lot more slowly and always with the strain on my body playing like a basso ostinato.
|On the beach at Wicklow, Ireland|
One day I decided that I needed to move outside my comfort zone. I don’t know why. I certainly wasn’t thinking, “I need to go outside my comfort zone and mingle with optimistic people.” Going to the racetrack would have filled that bill; not a trip to Ireland. The best I can think of is that I double dared myself and, like a child, I couldn’t back down.
Then I started to worry. How would I manage a six-hour flight? Would I be able to use the restroom? I can’t walk without the help of a walker? Would it fit in the aisle? What about the hotel? How would I get there once I landed? In my comfort zone, I use a motorized wheelchair along with an accessible van. Could I find one in Ireland? Worse still, my wheelchair weighs 432 pounds. Could I even think of transporting it? Suppose it broke down? You can’t push 432 pounds.
|From left to right: Benjamin Keyser, Beth Keyser, my wife, Nancy Kelly, |
and me at the Guinness Brewery in Dublin, Ireland
To make a long story short, I did, indeed, move outside my comfort zone and, quite frankly, it was uncomfortable. I slept on a regular bed for the first time in 3½ years. Getting up in the morning was hard. I could barely take three steps before I had to sit down and wait out the aches. My decision to take a manual wheelchair turned out to be wise. And thanks to the good sense of a Dublin Airport car rental clerk, the car I had chosen was replaced by one that I could actually get into.
The bottom line was the trip was uncomfortable but affirming. What do you know? I could do it. I’ll do it again. Next year I will go to Copenhagen. I have a friend who lives in Tucson, Arizona. He invited my wife and me for a visit. I think I’ll go.
As for Dublin, I had the good sense to visit the Guinness brewery where they have a bar, the Gravity bar, located in the Storehouse five stories up where you get a 360° view of Dublin and the best Guinness in the world. That was worth the trip.