Pete Collins, a 23 year old guide at the Great Northern Whitewater Rafting Company in Glacier, Montana, is seriously injured when he falls off a horse while on a trail ride with friends. He is paralyzed from the waist down as a result of the accident and is hospitalized for many months as he learns to function without the use of his legs. A year after the incident, he learns that the outfitting company may have been negligent in causing the mishap or in failing to prevent it from happening in the first place. A legal issue arises as to whether or not the release he signed pre-ride is valid. This is a story about what could happen to anyone who engages in a dangerous activity and signs a release of all liability before doing so. It is also a story about what it is like to live in a wheelchair and the challenges one must face in coping with the unimaginable change in circumstance of going from a virile young man to a handicapped man in a wheelchair. It is a story of survival. It is based on a true story.
Chapter Nine: Roommates In the wee hours of the morning, when any sound, no matter if it was at the far end of the hall, seemed to resonate, as Pete lay quietly in his bed unable to sleep, he thought to see if anyone else was awake, too. He whispered, “Greg, can you hear me?” There was no response. “How about you, Jeffrey? You awake?” Again, no response. “Ernesto! You there, man?” He heard a soft, barely audible reply, “Si, soy aqui. I am here,” he said in broken English. “Hola, amigo. Me llamo Pedro.” “Hola, Pedro.” “Yo no hablo espanol muy bien, amigo, pero espero que tu vas bien.” “Gracias, Pedro, y usted tambien.” At that, another soft voice was heard, “What the hell did you just say to him?” “I told him I don’t speak Spanish too well but I hope he’s doin’ alright,” Pete responded. “Who are you, Jeffrey or Greg?” “Jeffrey here. How you doin’, Pedro,” he said with a strong Southern drawl. “You from Georgia, Jeffrey?” “Lucky guess.” “Call me Pete. I’m from Florida by way of Glacier, or the other way around.” “You ain’t a ‘Gator, are ya?” “Hell if I ain’t.” “Damn! If that don’t beat all. Here I am laid up in the State of Washington, as far away from Florida as I can be, can’t move and just when I think things couldn’t get much worse, they do. Now I’m stuck with a damn ‘Gator!” “Just don’t start barkin’ at me, Jeffrey. I can’t take it right now, man.” “I hear ya, brother. How’d it happen?” “Fell off a horse and it landed on me. You?” “Motorcycle.” “How ‘bout you, Ernesto. Comprende’?” “No hablo ingles, amigos.” “He fell off a truck and landed wrong. He was standin’ on the back of a pick-up truck comin’ back from a day in the fields, pickin’ vegetables from what I heard. Supposedly ‘bout ten of ‘em were standin’ on the bumper when it hit a bump.” “How about Greg?” “I’m here, but I don’t feel like talkin’ right now. Maybe tomorrow.” came a soft, barely audible reply. “Yeah, me neither, but we’ll talk later. I’m not goin’ anyplace for a long time from what they tell me. G’night, guys. Buenos noches, Ernesto.” Nobody responded, but Pete knew he wasn’t alone. There were others in the same boat he was. Tomorrow he’d try to sit up long enough to see what his new friends looked like. He didn’t know it, but all three of them were quadriplegics, or quads. Their injuries were at the level of their cervical spines and they faced challenges far more difficult than those which awaited Pete. ******* The next day arrived in much the same fashion as the days before. If his eyes were open, he knew he was awake. The ‘clam shell’ around his chest which restricted any movement in his upper body, other than his arms, was taken off at night and while he was in his bed, but put back on during the day or whenever he was to be rolled over, which was not too often or for too long. It extended from the base of his skull to the area of his hips. Pete had no ability to move his legs and his head was locked into a fixed position, not allowing him to turn it to his left or his right. He could see only straight below and as far as his peripheral vision would allow him to. He was eating regular meals, though since he wasn’t sitting up yet, it wasn’t easy. He had been fed intravenously for the first few days and when there were sounds and signs that his bowels were functioning again, they had allowed him to begin to eat solid foods. The catheter that was inserted in him during surgery remained in place and allowed his bladder to function at somewhat regular intervals. His body continued to be plied with pain killers and antibiotics. He was still in a state of denial and remained optimistic that a miracle would still occur, despite whatever the odds were against him. His brain and his thought processes had not been otherwise damaged in the accident and the resulting consequences. He continually ran through how to deal with his changed circumstances and what options he had. He wasn’t bored, even though he had little to do. His mind raced continuously, thinking that it was a bad dream and he would wake up and be alright. It was more like a bell sounding in his head, like a fire-drill, that wouldn’t go off. It was more like being in a constant state of panic. But for the continuous presence of his mother, and her constant assurances that things would get better, morbidity could have taken root. Not long after the day shift had arrived, Joy, the rehabilitation therapist, appeared at his side, ready to begin the daily exercise regimen. “Good morning, Mr. Collins, and how are you today?” She asked cheerily. “I’m not sure how you expect me to respond.” “Let’s go with ‘Fine, thanks,’ that always works for me.” When Pete didn’t say anything, she continued, “Are you ready to break the record you set yesterday?” “What is the record?” he asked gloomily. “I have it officially recorded as 7 seconds.” Pete thought to himself that he would do everything he could to get from where he was to whatever the next step would be and he mustered a response of “I’ll do my best.” “That’s all I can ask of you.” She said as an assistant again inserted the apparatus which was Pete’s exercise bar. The ‘clam shell’ was put back on Pete after the Rolo-bed was turned off. When all was ready, again Pete struggled to pull himself to an upright position. What had previously been an unconscious, almost reflex type action, had become a monumental chore. “Damn, I can’t believe how hard this is!” he exclaimed through gritted teeth. He pulled himself upright and then had to hold tight to keep himself there as the weight of his torso would have otherwise caused him to fall back to a supine position. It was like lifting weights used to be, except now he was the weight. After he had tried, and failed, Joy and her assistant moved the gurney next to Pete’s bed and placed the transfer board between the two. Again they pulled on the bed sheet and moved Pete onto the gurney. Again they raised the back of the gurney to bring Pete’s head up. Once he was up to a 45 degree position, he was able to look around and see the assistant standing in front of him, at the foot of his bed, another man lying in a bed with tubes and wires and an assortment of contraptions in front of him. He was able to move his eyes to his left and see a second man lying in a bed, and out of the corner of his eye he saw the third bed. All three men, whose faces he couldn’t see, had large, circular objects around their heads. He was held in that position until he began to get dizzy again and they immediately lowered him back down. “Very good, Mr. Collins. Tell us when you start to feel light-headed and we’ll lower you down. We don’t want any abrupt movements and we would prefer that you not lose consciousness.” “You would prefer that I not lose consciousness? What do you mean by that?” “We expect that you’ll pass out a few times when we do this. It’s normal. We try to avoid it, but it happens. We went over this yesterday, Mr. Collins.” “I wasn’t paying attention. Now I am. So did I set a new record?” “You did.” “What was it?” “I’ve got you down for 14 seconds on pulling yourself up and you sat up for about six.” “When do you start counting?” “From the moment you lift off to the moment you set back down.” “I wasn’t upright for very long. I know that.” “You did just fine. You’ll be sitting up before you know it. We’ve got to strengthen those arm muscles some. You’re doing it all with your arms. You may get a visit from another physical therapist today.” “Another physical therapist? I thought that’s what you are. Why do I need two?” “I’m a physical therapist, too, and we all work together. We have different responsibilities regarding the care we give to our patients. I’m going to help you get yourself out of your bed and into a wheelchair. She’s going to help you strengthen your body and help you to be as healthy as you can. She works more with your general strengthening. I work more with your mobility and transfers.” “At this rate, I’ll be out of here somet
Pierce Kelley is an attorney in Cedar Key, Florida. He has been a lawyer for over thirty years and has taught at various Colleges and Universities as an adjunct professor for over twenty five years. He is a member of the Author's Guild as well as Florida Writers Association. A Foreseeable Risk is his seventh published novel. He has also published a legal textbook, Civil Litigation: A Case Study, and a how-to instructional book, Introducing Children to the Game of Tennis In A Foreseeable Risk, Mr. Kelley tells the tale of a virile young man in the prime of life who is injured while riding a horse, rendering him paralyzed from the waist down. It is based on the true story of a friend of his. The book explains what is is like to live in a wheelchair and, as with all of his other novels to date, it involves a legal issue that could befall anyone who engages in a dangerous activity and is required to sign a release before doing so, that being whether or not a release signed before going on the ride is valid.