11.01.2014

Day 4: Grateful whether able-bodied or handicapped

I'm grateful to my second cousin (who feels more like an uncle), Phil Rogge, for writing these poignant words about gratitude in his life.  I have to tell you, that Phil is one of the most inspiring people I've met--choosing to live a life of clear optimism, making ripples in the face of challenge that I can't imagine--and all the while just being normal and fun uncle Phil always laughing at the end of a table at a family get together.
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I'm not sure I was really grateful for anything until almost 23 years ago, when I found out just how gracious I should be.

Borrowing a line from Charles Dickens, "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times."  On February 23, 1992, I was playing golf with three friends in Arizona.  Two days later I would be curled up in a ball on the passenger side floorboard of my pickup, trusting in my faith in the Lord.

Photo courtesy of kwbe.com.
I thought I had the world by the tail, a wife and four young boys, twins who were 12-years-old, an eight-year-old, and a seven-year-old, a job that gave us a comfortable living, ability to travel to several countries including Mexico, Hong Kong, China, Bahamas, and Australia.  I was always busy trying to make that last deal and playing all sorts of games with my friends. And "Oh Yes" a husband and a father when I had time.

Upon returning from our golf outing in Arizona, I had a ton of catch-up work to do.  I told my wife that I was going to have to work late in the office, so I would probably just get a room in Beatrice and stay all night, that way I could work late and get an early start in the morning to try to make up for lost time.  Little did I realize my accommodations that night would be in the cab of my pickup.

About 7:00 PM I was ahead of schedule, so I thought I would just see if I could make one more call on my way home and surprise my family by being home before the boys had to go to bed.

I was nine miles from home when I thought I would give my salesman one last call just to see if there was any business that had happened with him that day, so I would be aware of what my work day would be the next morning.  After a short visit, we decided that I would just see him the next day and we could discuss our days.  That would be my last vivid memory for the next five weeks.

Setting my cruise control was something I did out of necessity to make sure that I did not exceed the speed limit.  So, with the speed set on 62 mi/h, I started out on my journey to make that one last sales call and then head home.

I am not sure what happened next, but I can remember driving down the highway right up to the mile that my pickup left the road.  After that, I drew a blank.  I'm not sure why, but my pickup went a quarter-mile off the road and hit a tree dead in the middle of my grill.

Sometime after the crash, I woke up in the dark on my passenger side floorboard with my cell phone laying on the seat.  I thought I would just grab the cell phone, call 911, and all would be fine.  Unfortunately, unbeknownst to me, I had broken my neck on the fourth and fifth vertebrae leaving me a quadriplegic with no movement or feeling below my nipple line.

Seeing that it would be futile to try and make a call with no use of fingers or hands, I used my shoulders and biceps to put my head on the seat, say the Lord's Prayer, and leave what ever would happen after that up to God.

My best estimation is that I went off the road around 7:30 PM the night of 25 February.  The temperatures that night dipped down to 25 degrees, bringing my core temperature down to a critical area.  Since I was going to "surprise" my family by being home that night, no one was looking for me until the next night after work.  Fortunately, someone driving down the highway noticed a pickup that had hit a tree, and called the authorities to see if someone had reported an accident the night before.  Around 8:00 AM the EMTs took me from my pickup to the Jefferson County Health Center where I was life flighted to what was then Lincoln General.  There I would spend the next five weeks trying to get healthy enough that I would be able to enter a Rehabilitation Center.

When I think about gratitude now, I obviously have so much to be grateful for.  Just a few of these would be:

  1. A wife who took the vows of for better or worse to heart, being my best friend, at times my nursemaid, and knowing what true love is without it having to be a physical ordeal.
  2. The power of prayer is an amazing thing.  I truly believe the number of people who were praying for my survival and recovery helped me to be able to come home and life as normal a life as I could.
  3. Four young boys who grew up not being able to play catch with their dad, or do any of the other activities that fathers and sons traditionally do together.  Dealing with a father who was never at home, now being home almost all the time.  And in spite of all that, have grown up to be four great young men that I am proud to have as my sons.
  4. Family that has always been there, even though I was terrible at making family functions.
  5. Friends that will still treat me as they did before I was disabled.  Yet, if I need help, they'll be there in a second.
  6. Health care that has allowed me to live long past the 10 to 15 year average lifespan of a quadriplegic to 23 years plus whatever the Lord has in store for me.
  7. A forgiving Lord who has given me a second chance to be the man that He wants me to be.
  8. A community that has allowed me to serve eight years on the School Board and three years and counting on the City Council.  Realizing a person can serve even without their extremities.
There are so many things that I am grateful for I could go on forever.  It's amazing, if you just truly look, there are millions of reasons to be grateful whether you are able-bodied or handicapped.  All we have to do is look around.

*This post is part of a 30-day gratitude challenge.  E-mail subscription is on the left side of the page.  



4 comments:

  1. With tears in my eyes, I am truly inspired by these words and by the heart of a man who proves that gratitude is life-changing. Thank you for sharing his story.

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  2. I can sympathize with Phil, watching my husband deal with a life-changing illness each and every day. God has great plans for both of these men, or they wouldn't be here. Phil's positive outlook, as well as, my husband's show us to not sweat the little things and to look at the big picture. God is in charge, it is His plan we live out each day. We need to be thankful for every moment He blesses us with each and every day! Thank you for sharing Phil's story. If we take the time to look, God's miracles are all around us.

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  3. Thank you for sharing Phil's story and his positive outlook in spite of such adversity. I knew Phil when we both attended PSC. He was a great guy then and has become an even greater person today.

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    1. Hi Mitzi! Thanks for commenting here--I didn't realize you had this connection with Phil. Small world. Love it!

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