Even after becoming a one-legged feller on the 4th day, 6th hour, 12th minute and 26th second of October 2005, not that any of us knows or thinks about that exact moment, I still find it somewhat scary just how incredibly fast events in our life can change for the better, or worse. Of course, winning the lottery would be a welcomed “incredibly fast change” that I’m still waiting to happen. But, my guess is, if you’re reading this, you might have had better days. The way I see it though, if you’re able to read this, you could have had a worst one. I know I almost did. Even more confusing is the fact that the magnitude of the change can range from the best event ever or the worst nightmare of all time, depending on the direction the wind blows that day. I, for one, think Life should be required to give us advanced warning before everything we know is dumped on its head unexpectedly. Or, would that always be a good thing?
In the millisecond before my wreck into an old cedar tree alongside a Kentucky country road, I was an extremely healthy and vicarious young man of 33 years with everything going my way. Three weeks earlier I had been awarded my police department’s highest honor, the 2002 Officer of the Year. Even better than that, I was a father of two small kids, happily married, and had a great career and a wonderful home. And then on April 4, 2003 while riding my beloved red Honda Interceptor, I unexpectedly hit a terribly-built patch of roadway that sent me out of control and into the tree at 60 MPH. Out of nowhere and without the pleasure of the aforementioned warning I just wondered about, my wreck overshadowed everything good I had going for me as I fought for my life. To make matters worse, prior to my police career, I had spent my entire life in “manly” positions such that these billets defined who I was to myself and others. As a teenager, I lifted weights and played football. As a young man, I lifted more weights and served in the Marines. As an older man I became a police officer and you guessed it, lifted weights more than ever. As the big 6’2”, 245 pound guy I was when I hit the tree, I commanded respect from people on the streets and amongst anyone I had contact with. Then Life woke me up and reminded me of what was really important!
After having my accident, the millisecond right after I slammed into that old cedar tree which broke both my legs, an arm, a hand, an elbow and a hip, and of which would result in 38 future surgeries, I felt vulnerable for the first time in my life. And suddenly I went from having no worries to worrying about my career, my marriage, my bills, my future, and if all that wasn’t enough, worried if I’d ever walk again. From athlete to disabled in a millisecond, my entire world was literally flipped 180 degrees from what I knew my entire life. Want to talk about a hard pill to swallow? The athlete and cop and tough guy who wasn’t about to ask for anyone’s help now was faced with the prospect of spending the rest of his days test driving wheelchairs and durability testing walkers and crutches. Gulp! Fortunately for me, the wheelchair was eventually replaced by a walker, the walker changed to a pair of crutches; the crutches were replaced by a cane and, after voluntarily having my leg amputated two years after my accident, the cane was replaced by an Ottobock C-Leg. Then what?
I still didn’t have my job back as a cop, and frankly I honestly can’t think of one person, including my family, who thought I would. Thank God I was still just Type-A enough to not listen. But what would I have done if I hadn’t gotten my career back? It was simply; painful yes, but still simple. I would have accepted my department’s opinion and gone on with life to do something else great and inspirational to others. That’s it! You see, after my accident, I learned that my life wasn’t about being a cop because being a cop wasn’t what defined who Kevin Trees was before that career. I was so many other things before then, and the one thing I had was my power to persevere. That’s who Kevin Trees was.
In closing, don’t you remember how scared you were when you first heard the word amputation? I do. And that’s why I believe we all have a duty to move forward the best we can and show the up-and-coming new amputee’s that getting some skin and bone and muscle cut off doesn’t mean it changes who we are. That is our new purpose in life. After all, I was nuts before my accident and amputation, and today I’m still mentally unstable. See, nothing changed! Being an amputee is not about who we were, it’s about what we will become. Kind of exciting if you ask me.
For now, peace out, set your example and never let life beat you. Life is running out so don’t waste it. If I can ever help, reach out to me on Facebook or send me a message to firstname.lastname@example.org
To learn more about Kevin Trees follow his blog at http://www.thediaryofaoneleggedcop.wordpress.com or check out a copy of his book “The Serious Business of Laughing at Life”. The second edition will be out later this year on e-books.