By Guest Blogger Camile Araujo
It all began when I was diagnosed with asthmatic bronchitis at the age of two and I was told I could never participate in any type of sports in my life. During my early childhood, I remember that even the thought of getting overly excited would ignite a horrendous asthma attack and I’d have to run to my room and nebulizer and miss all the fun that was taking place else where in the house.
When my family left polluted, dried-air Sao Paulo and moved to beautiful, humid Miami Beach, I was cured. In one year I was in the varsity volleyball team of my high school and integrated exercising into a daily life activity. Pfft! So much for never exercising in my life. By the time I was 29 years old, I was running at marathon levels and pushed myself harder each week. I took pride in my athletic skills. Then, one rainy night, January of 2006, while patrolling the streets of Miami Dade County, I hit a tree with my police car, and was immediately paralyzed.
Six weeks, eight chest tubes, one NG tube, and other tubes that I can’t recall later, I woke up from my coma. Oh yeah, my breathing tube. I woke up and realized I was not breathing on my own. I was twenty pounds under weight and felt like I was touching a dead person when I moved my arms below my chest. Soon, my family, friends and nurses reminded me of what had happened to end up in such a state.
Throughout the last two weeks in Trauma ICU, the one thought that was very present in my head was, “Was I going to make it like I had made it as an able bodied person?” Shortly after leaving ICU, my first support group visit was someone who had been injured for over 15 years, she was extremely athletic, independent and pushed her ti-lite wheelchair with such ease that I puked in my mouth a little every time I saw her. Why did I secretly hate her visits? You must be asking. Well, for starters, I had been in a coma for six weeks and lost all muscle activity and toning in my upper extremities as well as full rotation of my shoulders. The recovery of that strength and flexibility was laborious and painful. I looked like a skeleton covered with skin. And, to top it off I had a state of the art tracheotomy tube sticking out of my throat that left me feeling like an alien. The last thing I was concerned about was how life was going to be as a T4 paraplegic.
In 2008, after arriving back home from Brazil (where I had my tracheal stent put in and eliminated the tracheotomy for good), I finally began to get more mobile and pursue some sort of familiar balance in my life. I had spent two years bed ridden due to stage four bed sores and my lack of stamina from the breathing complications. As I came out of my SCI closet more often and peaked into the real world now and then, I’d meet incredible women in chairs who were beautiful, married, some had children, others were athletes and I admired and despised them at the same time. I know, shame on me, right? But, that’s the truth.
I could not find anything that filled the emptiness I felt from not being able to run or dance. I loathed looking at myself in the mirror and seeing the scars that reminded me that I was no longer the athletically toned girl who turned heads as she walked by. I probably turned heads, but I didn’t think it was because of my physical appeal. I’d compare myself to others with my level of injuries or with higher levels. I would become infuriated that someone who was of much higher level, had not developed the pot belly or was in much better shape than I was.
In 2010, when I became a mother, I had no time to obsess about physical looks and worry about other people’s lives. As I dedicated 30 hours a day to my daughter, I began to neglect my health and in January 2011, ended up in the hospital with a melon size abscess in my right lung’s bottom lobe. During my stay in the hospital, I realized that I was in control of my health and appearance, and now I had a little girl who was looking at me for example and guidance. For the first time since my injury, I took full responsibility for my health and physical appearance. I understood that my comparison to others was only a lack of self-love. An unwillingness to admit that the injury had shaken up my self-confidence. I decided to invest 10% of the love I felt for my daughter in myself. I knew that was more than enough to start with, because the love I have for her is immeasurable. So, now, two years later, I am only ten pounds away from my ideal weight. I am 80% sure that I will be ready for December’s marathon in West Palm Beach, and I have re-discovered and re-invented myself without having to compare myself with anybody else. Of course I still stare at others. I read about them. I do that now to gain inspiration. I am cognizant of my limits and my infinite potentials. I no longer dwell on what I cannot do, but thrive in that which I can. I would not trade my experience for anything in the world. I still stare, but no longer compare.