For two major reasons, May 28 is always on my mind. First, because Pakistan became a nuclear power on the day in 1998, and second, an unfortunate accident during my military training at the Pakistan Military Academy Kakul left me paralysed chest down on this day in 2002.
Life has not been normal for me since then. With medical complications, for instance, involuntary body movements called spasticity and autonomic dysreflexia (during which blood pressure goes up to a dangerously high level), I am unable to feel or move any part of my body below my chest. My fingers do not have movement in them. I can only breathe partially as major chest muscles have stopped functioning properly. My body has even lost the ability to regulate its temperature.
A lot has happened during the last 15 years of my paralytic illness. With this medical issue, life has become a tough teacher that has assisted me in obtaining good marks. I am sharing the lessons I have learnt because I am sure somewhere, someone with autonomic dysreflexia is longing for motivation and support.
Life is all about facing adversities with great courage. The actual pleasure of life is in enjoying it and not in regretting over something you cannot change. Every day is a new day. Come what may, we are supposed to get up after a fall with our eyes fixed on the future only. I lost everything I had 15 years ago. Just an untoward accident and my military career was over. Life suddenly became a challenging task. But I have learnt to accept it the way it is and embrace the reality, with new goals and dreams.
During the military training at the Pakistan Military Academy Kakul, completing a distance of one mile in six minutes was a big task for me. It was more of a test of willpower than physical strength. With almost zero energy left in the body during the last moments, it was always the willpower that allowed me to achieve that goal. But the willpower comes with motivation. In my case, it was to serve Pakistan as an army officer. Today, with more than 90 per cent of my body paralysed, even simple daily tasks, for instance, moving from bed to wheelchair, becomes close to impossible for me. But it is the motivation of being independent in life, even in this condition, that has helped me obtain even the impossible goals.
You might have heard people saying, “Oh…I cannot do this because my health does not allow me”, “because my mind never works in the right direction”, “because it is not in my stars” or simply “because I am too old for this”. Such excuses only prevent people from pursuing their dreams or doing what they actually want to do in life. Your excuses should not hold you back in life. Ill health and bad luck were my two reasons that could have let me down in life by restricting me to bed. I never, however, allowed my disability to disappoint my abilities.
A positive attitude always makes you focus on the brighter side of life matters and at the blessings in disguise. It is important to have faith in Allah and be grateful in every situation. I believe without that positive approach in life, I would have been nowhere and unable to cover such a far distance with my ailments.
I have been blessed with great friends in my family, village, class and at the military training centre. After being confined to a wheelchair, I have made so many wheelchair-bound friends too. Some of them share the exact physical condition as mine. They have always given me inspiration and guidance. They brought me back to life and kept on asking me that if they can live a normal life in spite of quadriplegia why cannot you? I now ask others the same question.
Pain and problems are part of one’s life. They groom you in a way by making you stronger from inside. Every time you tackle a problem to conquer it, you become a better person and more successful in life. We strive to achieve goals when problems strike us. Before my spinal cord injury, I could not imagine that one day my body would stop obeying my commands. Today, it has been 15 years with quadriplegia but I feel stronger, tough and capable of coping with and fighting problems in life.
The moment you get in a wheelchair, people start sympathising as a ritual. In a bid to transform that sympathy into empathy, one has to set an example with hard work. I was so badly crippled because of spasticity and autonomic dysreflexia that I could not even hold a pen to write anything. But even then, I managed to earn a Master’s degree and completed several computer courses because when walking again is no longer an option, walking tall always is.
What if I could not walk? With time I learnt that nothing can make somebody feel inferior unless they want others to. A good self-image is the key. At the end of the day, people see you and treat you as you see and treat yourself. My self-confidence and self-esteem were not hurt, even when I sat in my wheelchair. I may be lacking physically but mentally, I was still a confident person as any other person around me. Then why should I had let the circumstances define my dignity then?
I have heard so many times that “opportunities of prospering in life become less with physical limitations”. In fact, the opposite can be true too. Physical disability can be an opportunity for recognising your true potentials. Options are always there around us, we just have to consider them, pick them and brace ourselves for grabbing them. Being from a rural area, paralysed chest down, and with no nearby university, attending regular classes was unthinkable for me. But an opportunity to appear in exams as a private candidate was there. I read books, used the internet and video tutorials for guidance and here I am today with a degree in my hand.
Sharing is life
The real pleasure of life is in giving others what you have and serving them while making their life easier and comfortable. But the question remains: who deserves to be served the most and how? The answer could be different for you but for me, individuals suffering from spinal cord injury deserve to be served the most through a little push towards life again. I have created a social media group and a website for spinal cord injury sufferers that deal with their issues. I have also penned down a detailed book in Urdu on how to lead an active life with spinal cord injury.
Life is beautiful in every colour and we will not get another chance to cherish it to the fullest. Just eliminate worries from your lives and try to be hopeful about everything that comes in your way. May 28 is a symbol of power for me and my country. With that very power, resilience and fortitude that Allah has blessed me, I did not only survive the accident but have also lived an active life confined to a wheelchair.