From Wheel Chair to Walking the Story of Paul

Family Photos- Taken by Ben Perkins

At first the medical fraternity thought my brother, Paul’s, accident meant he was going to be a vegetable and if he was lucky enough to leave his bed he would be stuck in a wheelchair for life. But my Mum had other plans.

She played his favourite music, Michael Jackson’s ‘Thriller,’  to him during his coma.  She spoke continuously to him and encouraged us to do so.

She brought him home and embarked on all sorts of therapies, including Reflexology  – a foot massage based therapy. After many months, against the odds, he was mobile in a wheel chair, and then after many more months he was able to walk, but with a slight loping rhythm.

Does he remember what he was once like? I think the question is avoided so he doesn’t grieve for it.

Before his accident Paul Junior (named after my Dad and often called Peejay) was doing brilliantly at school, a good soccer player, a tap dancer, and planned to win a scholarship to go to a private school.  He was a young man with the only obstacle being when rather than if.

He was by far my favourite brother (sorry other brothers), because he was gentle, chatty and enjoyed being the perfect little brother. But as I think back, he was accident prone even from a young age and had a few scrapes before ending up in hospital big time.

Everything changed when my brother chose not to wear a helmet and cycle out of a steep driveway to come home.  

He was knocked off his bike by a car and hit the pavement at full pelt, head first. Sounds like one of those terrible cautionary ads you see in television now, but this was a long time before wearing helmets was heavily promoted. Every second kid chose not to wear them.

I have vivid memories of my other two younger brothers transporting Paul around in his wheel chair as if speed car racing in the city mall, much to the dismay of my mother. I thought at the time it was cool that they were treating him like they always did, head injury or not. He must’ve missed going off to play cricket with them.

It wasn’t easy to ask Paul how he felt about things as it took a while for his speech to return, besides everyone was focusing on physical recovery as he was paralysed down one side. We were all employed by Mum to support his therapy, but she did most of it and he did the hardest yakka of all.

When Paul did recover his speech his sentences were formed so slowly it seemed like if you just taped them, then sped them up it would be easier to understand what he was on about.

‘Do you speak PeeJay?’ My irreverent boyfriend, now husband, asked when he first met him. He jokes with everyone and wasn’t going to let an obviously brain injured individual cramp his normal personality. Paul laughed. He has loved David ever since.

Paul has come a long way in his recovery, but like it or not, we’ ve all had to accept he will never have the same fluent personality or movement.

The thing I love most about Paul is the way he laughs at life. His mind is quicker than people think, so he recognises when someone is patronising him; his slow motion mimicry of them annoying him is hilarious.

I think he has more he could say but it can take so long for us to understand so he just gives up and chuckles. We try to overcome our limitations to reach out to him the best we can.

My Mum said when she read the first draft of this:

I remind him everyday how far he has come. And prepare him for a future I won’t be there, so he can be as independent as possible.”

She has done so much for my brother to assist him to overcome the challenges life has presented. She always seems to wish she could do more.

Paul makes a lot of people happy through the joyful way he lives his life, and is part of a large caring and extended family.

He and my mum are more inspirational than they will ever really know.  Mum said these days Paul listens to a lot of music and loves making costumes and threading beads for the culture performance group she facilitates.

The last word of this family journey belongs to Paul:

I am happy with my life. I’d like to move forwards and get better and better. Ever forwards, forwards. I like playing  drums  and dancing in the dance group practices with my Mum’s culture group.

If you liked this story you might enjoy my blog  Pearlz Dreaming 

This story also appeared on ABC Open

Further links of interest are:

Headway Tasmania

Music Therapy for Brain Injury


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