It has been 20 years today since my brother was in a motorcycle accident and became paraplegic. I’ve been thinking about him a lot lately–not because of the date, but because there has been a series of articles in the paper about the people who are coming home from the war in Iraq mangled. I can’t help but think of Jamie when I see those guys in their wheelchairs struggling to come to grips with what life has given them and how they are adjusting. There was a picture of a guy in a wheelchair with his back to the camera and I had to do a double-take because it looked just like Jamie. I don’t know if he reads this or not, so I hope he doesn’t mind me talking about it. I’ve never written before about his accident. I think about it all the time and still refuse to let Doug even think about getting a motorcycle. I even hate it when he rides his bike…
I remember the last time I saw him standing. It is etched in my memory. I was getting ready to drive back to Ann Arbor and the U. of Michigan. He was standing next to the shed and looking over his shoulder. A couple of days later I was in my astronomy class and someone came, called out my name and asked me to come to the dean’s office. I had no clue what they wanted. It was my mom telling me that Jamie had been in a motorcycle accident and they were flying him in a medical helicopter from Flint to Ann Arbor. By the time I got to the hospital he was already there.
I remember walking through the emergency room, seeing a white curtain, turning the corner and there was my brother, lying on gurney and stuck full of tubes coming out of his chest and (I think) near his underarm. One clear image I have is that I was surprised at the size of his bare feet–we are five years apart (I’m the oldest, with my sister being the middle) but he was already getting taller than me. For the life of me I can’t remember what I said to him. All I know is that I was going to pass out and the nurse said in a very stern voice that she didn’t need anyone else to take care of and to sit down. I did.
I also had to sign a lot of the medical paperwork allowing the doctors to do whatever they had to do. They still didn’t know exactly what the damage was. The next couple of days are a blur. My parents stayed at the Ronald McDonald house close to the hospital on and off for the months that he was at the hospital. I was in my third year of university and I stopped going to classes and took an incomplete for that term so that I could spend all my time at the hospital. He had such nice nurses and one really good doctor. I don’t remember what exactly we talked about all those weeks, but we certainly became a lot closer than we ever had been. Towards the end of his stay we even went downtown and wandered around, with me pushing his wheelchair. I do remember getting him stuck a bit in a hobby shop doorstep and I probably hurt him a bit when the wheel finally moved, but he didn’t say very much about it.
After he went back to Flint, I definitely felt lost. All those months I had spent at the hospital and rarely saw my friends. It was nice though that they all came to the hospital to see both of us.
Years have come and gone. I remember telling him that I was gay and he didn’t take that very well at all. I was pretty surprised because our closeness that had developed at the hospital had remained. He barely acknowledged my existence after that. It’s finally getting better and at least he has always been civil to Doug when we make it out to Michigan to visit.