A good friend of mine has been pushing his chair for close to twenty three years. In that time he’s been asked just about every question you could think of. But despite the ubiquity and novelty of the questions, one was getting to this guy on an almost daily basis. It’s a simple question, one that anyone who has had a visible injury has been asked. “What happened to you?”
It seems like a simple question and one that could be easily answered. But in reality it not only bugs my friend because it is asked so often, but his truthful answer only seems to beget more questions. To explain, my friend was injured as a result of violence. For whatever reason, he picked a fight with the wrong person and was shot.
As you can imagine, his response about the truth of his injury causes shock to descend upon the interlocutor. They then follow up on their initial question with others striking to the heart of the events.
“How big was the gun?” “Do you remember everything?” “What about the guy who did it, is he in jail?” “Don’t you want to kill him?”
In actuality, my friend doesn’t know the size of the gun used. He doesn’t remember much because he also took a bullet in the head. He barely knew the guy who shot him and once the trial was over, he put him out of his mind. On top of this, not only is my friend not motivated by revenge, he also views his “adversary” in a different light. As he said to me recently, “He knows what he did and he has to live the rest of his life with that on his conscience. That’s enough for me.” I’m not sure about you, but to me being able to say that is a huge sign of acceptance.
And so as you can imagine having to answer intimate details about an event that happened a long time ago gets old. Perhaps for the first couple of years it had been a sign of pride for this individual; that he had taken multiple bullets and survived. But over time, questions about our mechanisms of injury are tedious and actually very unimportant. You’ll even notice at sci specific events such as conferences and disabled sports most people there have no idea how each other got hurt.
So what is my friend to do? As a fellow answerer of spinal cord injury related questions, I offered my own strategic way of answering this question: car accident.
How is a lie going to help my friend? Well, in my experience I found that if I answered with the most common mechanism of injury, my inquisitor usually dropped the subject. In other words, that my use of a wheelchair or my spinal cord injury was explained through a common phenomenon made my injury fairly uninteresting. In doing so the topic was usually dropped and more meaningful conversation ensued.
When my friend heard this I could see the light bulb go off in his head. “I can’t wait to try this!” Sure enough the next time I bumped into him at the mall he rolled up to me with great excitement in his voice. “It worked! For 23 years I have answered, ‘I got shot.’ And for 23 years I’ve had to endure the additional questions. But when I simply said I was in a car accident, the stranger asking me just said, ‘Oh.’”
Without a doubt the ability to talk about your spinal cord injury is a landmark activity. It denotes a level of maturity in a spinal cord injury when they recognize that educating others is going to be part of their life from here on out. Conversely, we might identify individuals who lock themselves inside of their houses to avoid these very questions. But if you are like me and you like to live a robust life, you are always meeting new people. I, and you, have probably even come into contact with people who are so curious they forget to even ask your name before questions start flying. And so I suggest the same phrase I offered to my veteran friend. Say car accident the next time someone asks how you got hurt. See if it makes your conversation return to meaningful topics or if you are required by your acquaintance to delve deeper into your personal experience that everyone can still see because you use a wheelchair; cane; or crutch.