The Value of Peer Support
By Michelle Porter
Back in 1988, I was a very angry teenager. I just turned 17 and had a nasty car accident that left me paralyzed from the waist down. I was considered a ‘complete’ spinal cord injury, meaning that there was not even a slight chance that I would walk again. I was especially angry since I had just lost 40 pounds and gotten my braces off and I was only able to enjoy my new awesome body a few months before my accident and it ruined any chance at teenage popularity.
I was a mean patient and I hated nurses for trying to help me because I hated that I needed help. Furthermore, as if losing my legs wasn’t enough, I was peeling like a snake shedding its skin because of all the hormones that were being pumped into me. I wasn’t even allowed to sleep because every 2 hours I was either getting blood work done or taking my vitals, or they were rolling me on my side. I felt that if they were just a little more organized they could do stall once and I would be able to sleep! I made sure I told the staff that every single time I was woken up.
I couldn’t believe this was going to be my life. I had worked hard to lose that weight and now it was coming back, I was paralyzed and I couldn’t get out of bed on my own. It was all so incredibly depressing.
After a few weeks in rehab, 2 guys in wheelchairs, Dave and Roger, rolled into my room with huge smiles on their faces. (They were really cute!) I was so embarrassed because I was peeling and I could hardly move with the big old body cast. I felt like a turtle with this thing on. When I told them how I felt they laughed and said I actually looked like Wonder Woman. That helped! (Did I mention they were both super cute?)
They told me they were to let me know they would be back next week to ‘break me out’ so we could go to the pub. I told them I was only 17 but they said it was ok, minors were allowed in before 9 pm and I could get a burger and a coke. I was very excited to get out of the hospital and go to my first pub. Meeting them gave me some hope and my spirits were better, the nurses thought I was actually starting to smile here and there.
They visited me often at that hospital and I learned more from Dave and Roger than I ever could from rehab. They told me secret tips about being paralyzed that no one could possibly know unless they were paralyzed too. They gave me hope and strength and guided me through the trials of my first year at home. They both even came to my house and picked me up in their cars to go to the movies and hang out. It was a pretty crazy sight to see a quad put my chair into his trunk and then get his own chair into the seat behind him while I just sat there smiling. People would look at me like I was the biggest jerk for not helping. That guy was Dave and he was a friend of mine for years until he moved to another state with his new wife. I will never forget he and Roger, and how important they were to me through those first years with a disability.
Today I work as an Independent Living Advocate and now I break people out of rehab. I’ve mentored several people through their first years of living at home after rehab and I still have good friends who use chairs like me. I find strength in being surrounded by peers who can relate to my situation in the many different aspects of my life.