World Disability Day 2020: An outsider gets an inside view on living with disability

A car accident turned life upside down for Forbes India's senior sub-editor, Naandika Tripathi. With multiple spinal and other fractures, she writes about how she thought she knew what life was like for the disabled, until she found herself re-learning to walk

Updated: Dec 3, 2020 06:39:14 PM UTC
Image: Shutterstock

“Sometimes in life, you're not always given a second chance, but if you do, take advantage of it, and go out with a bang!” –Aquaria

My second chance came after a dreadful car accident, one-and-a-half months ago. This was exactly 38 days after I turned 26. I accurately remember the entire accident playing out—death came and said hi, flashes when I missed my pets dearly. After a few seconds, I could see the clear sky—I thought I had died, but seems like God changed his mind and offered me a second chance.

While being rushed to the hospital, I was crying more out of fear than of pain, because I knew it was bad. Suddenly, my lower body couldn’t move, folks around me looked worried. The T-shirt I’d put on read ‘Fly high’ and I remember this naïve doctor who was doing my X-ray saying, “Girl you really flew high, straight out of the car!”….in my head, I had already punched him down. And that’s all I was capable of at that moment, with multiple fractures in my spine and pelvis, a twisted right leg and other minor injuries.

It felt like I entered a new phase, full of obstacles and many, many injections. Sigh. Life came crashing down when the doctors told me I would not be able to walk and will have to be bedridden for the next three months, given the complexity of the injuries. I went numb for a while. My friends always tease me for being a fast walker, as though I’m always in a hurry to get somewhere, but I tell them that’s my normal speed! Maybe destiny laughed and decided to make me re-learn how to walk, from being bed-ridden to using a walker eventually.

During the initial days, I was just not prepared to accept the situation I was in. The first three weeks were really tough. In this new birth, I had to suddenly learn new ways of doing mundane routine tasks, relearn what I can and cannot do, and what I shouldn’t attempt to do unless I’m prepared to pay for it in pain. There was a lot of pain. There were days when painkillers wouldn’t help.

Most of my life, I have been independent; but in the fraction of a second, life turned upside down and made me completely dependent on everyone around me. However, I was blessed to be surrounded by good people who came to my rescue. Suddenly, I had no work to do. I felt so useless but I was blessed to have colleagues who never failed to cheer me up from far away, sending lots of love and motivating me through voice messages.

Everything had changed. I know I will get better and just need to be patient, and that this temporary disability won’t last forever. But I’m grateful for family, friends, doctors and my caretaker who go beyond their limitations just to keep me comfortable and happy. I learned that asking for help is really difficult, but eventually, we need to accept help, take the help, and say thank you—and trust that you will get your chance to give back once everything is alright.

The helplessness, tiredness and pain are teaching me all kinds of things. After completely recovering, I will definitely be thankful for the lessons, forever. It's true that the first few weeks of adjusting my expectations were rough. There are still many discouraging days, and I’m just bored of my difficulties. But unexpectedly, I feel so much less apprehensive now than I did a month ago.

The biggest lesson for me so far is realising your self-worth, and that if you’re in a difficult situation, you have to fight it and get out of it all by yourself. Of course, there will be people by your side to support you, but your own willpower and mental strength will be what hastens your recovery.

Before getting into this situation, I thought I understood how a disabled person feels. Now I know that by going through just one percent of what they do in their lifetimes, I actually didn't. Their struggles, unlike mine, are not limited to performing normal activities, but much more than that. The stigmas that come with being physically or mentally disabled can be hard. Not only do they have to deal with being treated differently, but they also struggle with basic accessibility and mobility. It’s 2020, and there are still buildings and bathrooms without a thought about accessibility. Just like with them, even I had some people who would come and say, “It must be hard, we can understand” after seeing me bedridden and immobile. I’m sure they don’t understand how I feel, which is okay, but I wish they wouldn't pretend. Disabled people never want fake sympathies. Treat them like you would anyone else. Just treat them like a human being because that is all they truly expect.

In a good way, pain and disability helped me figure out what my most important needs are. As I gear up to take my first steps in a few weeks, it will be a fresh start, with a whole lot of learnings and countless blessings.

The thoughts and opinions shared here are of the author.

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