This is the first installment of a periodic series where I unpack the writings and memories of my Uncle Pat. While cleaning my garage, I stumbled upon a bunch of old letters, including manuscripts that my Uncle Pat sent me on May 3, 1999. Uncle Pat’s life is an amazing story of human experience, of tragedy, of beauty, and of God’s grace. I did not get to know him very well as a boy, but he has had a huge impact on my life. In fact, I owe my very existence to him! “When I Fell In Love With God” is his autobiographical essay describing how he came to know God after he was paralyzed. This is Part 1 of 3.
It was a beautiful thing falling in love with God that summer day back in 1985. But to get the full impact of that wonderful event I must tell you about the circumstances that led me to the cross of Jesus Christ. Being stripped of all I thought was happiness and joy is a grim picture indeed and is not the intention of my story. Quite the contrary: it is absolutely astounding the great measures our heavenly Father will use to get our undivided attention. His infinite love and patience during the process are truly awesome.
When they had stabilized me and completed the preliminary tests, the doctors were faced once again with the wretched task of telling concerned family, friends, and finally me, the devastating news – a fractured 5th and 6th vertebrae resulting in complete paralysis. I had broken my neck in a car accident. It was kind of like some sick joke, my sister and I didn’t have a scratch on either of us. The car was demolished, and she had walked away. This was absolutely preposterous! Me, a big, strong, motorcycle-riding drummer in a band… an invalid? This just wouldn’t do! A proud young man such as myself couldn’t suffer this. There must be a way to fix this thing. I mean gee whiz, I was a mechanic and I could fix anything. Unfortunately, the cold hard truth remained; I would be spending the rest of my life in a wheelchair.
Following a four month stay in the hospital it was time to start my new life as a quadriplegic. As I stared out the window of my 4th floor room everything looked different. Somehow it was all closer to touching me. Busy, cold, and threatening, the world I was about to plunge into terrified me. I had my first dose of raw sorrow, I began to weep convulsively. Leaving the hospital with a permanent severe debilitating injury has to be the most horrifying experience a young adult can face; just getting situated in the car took twenty minutes. The hopelessness and fear would only intensify in the next two years.
When I returned home, nothing was the same. Everything I enjoyed was more than out of reach. My drums lay silent gathering dust under the staircase. The pickup truck I was restoring, my tools and bikes, all sat idle, rusting, snatched away like toys from a selfish child. I would skip the tear-filled grief I needed to get through and instead fall into denial and deep depression. It was like I had lost all my emotions. I got loaded and stared endlessly at the television. The boredom grew and one by one the people I thought were my friends began to disappear and the relationship with my girlfriend started to slip away. My poor diet, healthcare, resistance to therapy, and use of drugs and alcohol were all beginning to destroy me. I slept as much as humanly possible to escape reality.
One afternoon, while lying in bed, I began to sweat profusely, a red flag warning for any spinal injury victim. The perspiration isn’t caused by exertion or heat, but is a symptom of a condition a spinal injured person suffers from when even the most simplistic body function goes off kilter. If the cause is not treated immediately the blood pressure will rise and a stroke will occur; it can be fatal. I knew of this and decided that this would be my ticket out. Silently waiting I resigned myself to death. I didn’t think about God or the hereafter, heaven, hell, nothing. I just wanted to escape the nightmare my life had become.
When the seizure hit, all I could feel was intense pain and all I saw was black, a darkness so thick, so compressed, so pure that the only thing I can equitably compare it to was the pain that accompanied it. Sheer terror coursed through my whole being; I screamed and lost consciousness. I was told that when the paramedics arrived I was in a full-blown grand mal seizure and had started screaming obscenities at them trying to fight them off. My girlfriend said she had never seen me move like that before. It was as if I was possessed; I scared the daylights out of everyone. When the doctors finished the tests they found no brain damage. It was impossible. I was lucid from the moment I regained consciousness. They told me I should have suffered a severe stroke, that when the paramedics arrived my heartbeat was audible in the room. My blood pressure had gone right off the scale and I had survived. God had spared me from the most foolish thing I had ever done…
Coming soon – Part 2