Better off Dead? …I don’t think so!
A 25 foot swan dive into 2 feet of water can be a life changing event. I learned this personally on a hot August day on the outskirts of Tallahassee, Florida about 32 years ago. My brother and I were on a “boy’s day out” at the beach excursion that turned into “A Nightmare at the Emergency Room”. We had been drinking most of the day and were heading back towards home with a days worth of sunburn. As we began to feel the heat on our shoulders, I told him about a beautiful underwater spring that has rock diving platforms and crystal clear water. We were less than an hour away from it at this time but we were crossing a bridge that was about 3/4 mile long and it crossed an inlet of the Gulf of Mexico. One of us suggested that we could just dive off here and I immediately pulled my RX-7 to the foot of the bridge. We walked quickly to the middle of the bridge and I climbed up on the pylon and jokingly told my brother that I would go first because he is bigger than me and he could help pull my head out of the sand if the water was too shallow. I dove out into a decent swan and swooped slowly as the water came rushing at my head. I wanted to shear the water so as to slice the top of it instead of going deep. I guess that was the only smart thing I did all day…BAM!!! I hit the water with a jolt like I had never experienced from a dive before.When you dive from such a distance, the first thing you do is to immediately start swimming to the top of the water because usually you are so deep that you can run out of breath before you get to the top. Well, that was my first inclination, but when I tried to look up to see which way was up, I not only realized that I could not move my neck but also that I already was up! It was a frightful moment. I could see the bright sunlight dancing off the top of the water just inches from my head. The next couple minutes seemed like hours. There was no hesitation and no guessing to it. I immediately realized what I had done… “well, Allen, you’ve broken your neck and your lying on the ocean floor getting ready to take your last breath”. I was becoming aware of the waves gently moving my face and body back and forth against the sand and I could still see the lifeline of oxygen that was just above my head, but so far out of reach. I could move nothing.All of a sudden, my body rose out of the water and I saw my arms waving aimlessly in the air in front of me. My head was spinning in circles and the whole world was a whirling blur. I caught a glimpse of my brother, and I tried to say thank you but it came out as a slurred groan because my diaphragm was paralyzed and my vocal cords were twisted and contorted from the uncontrolled bobbing of my head, which was no longer skeletally attached to my torso. The only thing holding it on was my skin and muscles. My brother dragged me to the beach and laid me down where another man had met him and immediately began checking me over. You see, God knew I wouldn’t make it through this one without some extra help so he put a fisherman on the other side of the bridge who just happened to be an Emergency Medical Technician.It was very unusual to me how comfortable I became with this situation as it progressed. I told my brother that everything was OK and I knew it would be. I could see the fear in his eyes and it was a fear that I’d never seen before, but I held onto the comfortable feeling that this was meant to be. I had my biggest battle at this time with my breathing. My neck was swelling up and I had taken in some water so I was struggling for every shallow breath; and freaking! One of the strangest things that happens to a paralyzed body is the disassociation with the mind, and it begins to play tricks. I felt like my legs were raised straight up in the air. I asked my brother to put them down and he explained to me that they were stretched out flat on the sand. I went through the experimental evaluation of my physical movement and realized that I had been stripped of all the strength and agility that I had taken for granted for so many years. All that I had control of was from my chin up.The ambulance showed up shortly and the E.M.T.’s mounted me on a Stryker board, which they strapped my head and body to so that I would not damage my spinal cord any worse than it already was. By this time I was on an oxygen mask and still not breathing well at all. I noticed the E.M.T.’s began to question themselves about transporting me and about that time I heard a helicopter which swooped down and saved the day. They asked me if I’d rather ride on the Stryker board that I was already on (which was too large to fit all the way in the helicopter door) or to switch over to the correct one and I guess you know my reply. My feet were hanging out the door all the way to Tallahassee Memorial Hospital.My surgery and rehabilitation kept me in the hospital for a year. I crushed three vertebrae in my neck C-5,C-6, and C-7. The neurosurgeon fused these together and screwed my head into a “halo” which kept my head from moving for 4 months. The hospital days were worse than anything I could ever describe. The physical pain was nothing compared to the humiliation and emotional trials that I experienced. Believe me, the physical pain was something else, too. I didn’t know anything about Life lessons at this time and I blocked everything out. I became a great actor and I’d tell everyone how everything was just fine and how I was going to “set the world on fire” as soon as I got out.My life had revolved around my ego for many, many years and I had been pretty successful in that game. I always had cool cars and I liked to think that I was king of my little hill. I was a car salesman at the time of my accident and I had incorporated some of my “taking advantage of” skills into a small drug business on the side. I had become a real nightmare to myself and I realize now that I would be dead or the living dead if I hadn’t broken my neck that day. I had a small group of followers then that I called friends and I swear they would have followed me straight into hell! Well, I guess they almost did. I’ve always had a leadership quality that attracts people and made it possible for them to be influenced by what I did or said and that is unfortunate that I didn’t realize that this same power could be used in the opposite direction to get closer to the One who gave it to me.My alcohol and drug abuse continued for years after my accident and, no doubt, has greatly affected my recovery rate both physically and emotionally. My physical pain was intense for years and the doctors helped me to stay over-medicated on request. I pushed my emotions so far back into a dark closet that I’m amazed that I can still feel anything. I pretty much gave up on God during my wild days and I didn’t see any reason to praise Him for putting me in a wheelchair (at the time), even though I had others in many states sending up many prayers for me.One evening, when I was in Intensive Care, I was in incredible pain and I had buzzed my nurse for another shot of Morphine. She came and informed me that I must wait another hour and I wasn’t sure that I would make it through this pain. I began to ponder that I was laying there surrounded by Get Well cards from people I didn’t even know, from places I’d never heard of, and all these people were getting on their knees and praying to God to give me the strength to make it through this terrible ordeal. I had never even closed my eyes and prayed to make it through the next minute. I decided that it was my turn. I closed my eyes and began to pray and I felt a pressure around my wrists as if something was gently squeezing them and my hands came together in prayer form (in my mind; at this time I could not move my arms). As I prayed, my words began to take control of themselves and I heard words of praise flow out of me that sounded like an evangelist on a good roll. The pressure around my wrists increased and the “angels” took me out of the hospital bed, through the window and out across the skies. I continued to pray and clenched my eyes tighter because somehow I knew if I stopped, the ride would be over.The beautiful blue skies and fluffy white clouds were the most joyous thing I had ever experienced. I could see my hands and wrists in front of me and I was wrapped in white. I was shown awesome green mountains and deep blue lakes as well as desert sands and beautiful city lights before we made a U-turn and began to swoop downwards toward the ground. It began to get darker and I began to feel a chill as we dropped in elevation to see a smelly alley and a couple bums sleeping around a dumpster. There were broken bottles and trash everywhere, and that all too familiar feeling of evil and danger. This would be the last sight before I reentered the window and was back in my “torture bed”. “Wow, what was that”! I was completely befuddled. Well, if it worked once… I closed my eyes and began to pray, and again, I was taken out the window and for one last encore. This time seemed to be much quicker but it was the same scenery. I decided to take a breather to evaluate this situation.Obviously, God was showing me where I’d come from and some of the opportunities that were ahead of me… if I stay away from the garbage. At the time I was too concerned about reality to take notice of this incredible gift. I played the familiar game of … “What was that? Am I going insane? Maybe it’s the drugs! I hope nobody saw me!”The months that I spent in the hospital were much worse than I can even remember. I was unable to move anything from my neck down for about 2 months so I was totally dependent on others to help me eat, dress, bathe, shave, brush my teeth, and my personal favorite- bowel and bladder management. This was something that I would not have ever thought I’d live long enough to experience. The nurses made it seem so simple at the hospital but it was so humiliating that I had to joke about it or I would cry. Later, as I began to venture out of the hospital, I would have “accidents” and would rely on my family or friends to help me change and get redressed. Of all the lows that I experienced, this had to be the lowest that it got. My body had gone from a 23 year old athletic man to a one year old baby over night. I had to retrain my new body and my life from the beginning, which was the irony of my whole accident. I didn’t see it for some time but it was obvious that I had screwed up my life and God had seen fit to show me what really counts in life. My process of learning would have to start from the very beginning: again.I wish I could have changed my life the next day after my accident. It would make so much sense for a traumatic slap in the face to just turn a life around immediately. But that’s not the way this hard-headed human reacted. I spent the first few years convincing everyone else that everything was OK and “I” was going to do just fine. I knew that I was a strong individual and I have always accepted and conquered all challenges that came my way. What I ignored for so long was the fact that no one can do it on their own. I began to understand that God had this whole thing planned out for me and the more I wrestled with it and tried to do things “my way”, I just slowed the healing process. I’ve been extremely blessed to have been through these hardships and painful experiences and I am thankful for every single experience. I concentrated for a long time on the “Woe with me” but now I can see the “Wow with me”!I regained some arm movement slowly while I was in the hospital. It was gradual and painful but each small twitch was a tremendous victory. We have no idea how much we take for granted with our health and bodies. The amount of mind power that I used to try to move a muscle that was not quite “connected” was overwhelming. The therapy was physically and mentally exhausting. I was easily frustrated because I could swim miles and play racquetball for hours just months earlier, but now I was expending every ounce of energy on just being able to raise my arm to my face. I slowly became able to feed myself and push my own wheelchair. I worked hard on trying to dress myself and transfer from bed to wheelchair, etc. but I just didn’t have the muscles to do that.I was discharged from the Jackson Memorial Rehabilitation Hospital with enough strength to start a new life but I wasn’t finished with the old one yet. I continued my self-abuse with my wild life where everything revolved around partying and “what can I get”, instead of “what can I give”. I had continuous bladder infections and was beginning to realize a great deal of depression and anger that I was harboring. It took years to get to the point where I decided to do something about it. I also became more independent and moved out into a house of my own and learn to take care of almost everything by myself. Everyone has their own timing in life and mine finally came around; but not without some more Divine intervention.One morning, I got in my car to go to work but as I pulled out of the driveway, I noticed that my hand controls (that operates the gas and brake) felt a little strange. I put the car in drive and the engine was cold and it began to stall so I floored it to wake it up. The pedal stuck on the floor and I took off like a rocket. I tried braking to slow it down but the brake is hand operated and I was not strong enough to slow it enough. I reached up to throw it out of gear and turn the engine off but I was thrown off balance because I was going around a curve (I have very little waist balance and I didn’t have a seat belt on so I was falling away from the steering wheel and controls). The car shot up to 60 mph and ran straight into a brick house. I was sitting in the neighbor’s living room with the tires still spinning. There was no one home, thank God. The next door neighbor came over and asked if I was alright and I replied that I was just checking to see what they were having for breakfast.The X-rays showed that I was fine but somehow they overlooked a broken sternum which became a new nightmare for my already difficult life. I experienced intense pain in my chest as I continued on with my routines. I was working as a counselor for the disabled at this time. I had been there for five years but because of my pain and days missed I was released. This may have perpetuated my greatest moments. I had used this job of listening to others problems to block or overshadow my own and this separation allowed me to focus on ME for long enough to see the work that needed to be done. I still continued my partying, though. This was something that I was good at and it made me feel like I was accepted and loved by others around because after all, drunks love everybody!Six months later I was out drinking on the lake and wrecked my boat by running ashore in the dark. We had been at a nightclub and stayed ’til midnight. I tried to maneuver the boat through the fog and darkness with the help of my friend who was sort of navigating. We weren’t going very fast so it wasn’t a violent crash, but we slid up onto a bank that appeared out of nowhere. We had to sleep on the freezing cold boat overnight because my friend was unable to move it (we were all the way out of the water). I lay on the floor and wrapped myself in the boat covers which were still wet from washing the boat earlier. It was a miserable night and I woke with a miserable hangover. The lake police came and had us towed off the land and back to my dock. Was someone trying to tell me something or what!I made a conscious effort to change the next day. I started seeing a counselor that helped me take notice that I was swimming upstream. I was causing my own problems, physically and emotionally, and I had to change the basis of what my life had been built on. You see, I was always out for the fun that the world had to offer, the sex, drugs and rock and roll. All these things caused pain and accidents in my life and I finally realized that God was showing me that I had a choice to make; the broad path that leads to destruction, or the narrow path that leads to peace and true beauty. I chose to waller in the dirty alleys for a while longer and I experienced more devastating events and accidents as God was trying to get my attention. He finally got my attention in a Baptist Church Revival in Myrtle Beach when I was confronted face to face with the question of “was I sure where I’d go if I died today?”. My body fought it, but my spirit dragged me up to the alter and as the elder prayed for me, God touched me in a powerful way. I thought I’d pass out in front of everyone and I probably would have, if I wasn’t holding so tight to my wheelchair. God lifted 100 lbs. of dead weight off of my shoulders and I “walked” away free and lighter than I’d ever known before. My life has been gloriously changed and I have since been touched by God repeatedly and I was furious with myself for being so stubborn and waiting so long to find true happiness! From that point my life seems to have accelerated. I’ve created my own job and business, which I dearly love. My relationship with my family has drastically improved, and greatest of all I’ve met someone who’s love I’ve missed and I will never be without again. . . “Jesus Christ”!!I know there might be some readers that have been OK with all this God- talk until I mentioned the name Jesus. I hope you can receive what I am saying in the love with which it is intended, but I was completely and totally addicted to sex, drugs and just worldly selfish thinking, until I put my trust in Jesus Christ who came to this earth for the very purpose of showing us that Truth does exist, and then died a very excruciating death to pay the penalty for yours and my sin. The very moment that I asked him in my heart, my whole life changed and I’ve never gone back to any of my old sinful ways. This is not the power of suggestion, or a book that I read where I talked myself into being better. No, it was instantaneous. It was the power of God coming down from heaven to show to me and to prove to my family and everyone else that I will ever meet just how very real He is. And my friend, He will do the very same thing for you if and when you come to the realization that everything that you’ve tried to bring peace and order into your own life has failed, and you like everyone else have sinned and will face God on the day that you die. There are going to many excuses from billions of souls as they face a holy God after death, but the only ones that are going to be able to stand before Him blamelessly, are the ones who are cleansed from the inside out by Jesus Christ. I hope and pray that you’ll be there.I’ve always been somewhat creative, but an injury like mine will cause you to come up with new ways of doing things that can be exciting and rewarding. I was always tinkering with something when I was young and believe it or not, my mind was still pretty sharp and able to design some equipment to help myself in the daily use of my bathroom. After using these for myself, I began to see their marketability, and I took the opportunity of to start my own company, which has flourished over the years and has become an avenue for me to help others, and share this wonderful testimony with others.I enjoy educating others on the needs of the disabled community. There are so many things that are very difficult for those with impairments, and it is not possible for everyone to know how others feel, or use the bathroom, drive a car, or manage their own home…until you reach out and ask. We only gather education by being willing to learn. Many people have phobias about the disabled, and may even feel vulnerable around us as if “what if this happened to me” or “I wonder if he’s contagious”. Well, I believe that it has happened to you. It’s happened to all of us, because we all have our own disabilities that we are struggling with and no one is fooling anyone into believing otherwise. If we reach out to understand others’ difficulties and begin to see ourselves in them we can learn valuable lessons on how to grow ourselves. I see it happening more and more every day and it excites me in what a wonderful time it is to be ALIVE!!I am available to speak at schools, churches, homeless shelters, or wherever. Please call 772-532-3943 and we’ll discuss the details)Allen Garrett