The Big Question

Shiau Lee is a first-year physiotherapy student. She was doing research for her spinal cord injury project and got in touch with me through ICQ.

?Can I write a story about you in my project?? she asked.

Of course she could. I was more than happy to oblige. She sent me the questions and I sent back the answers.

One day while we were chatting, she asked me, ?After so many years, do you ever regret that dive??

She is the first person to ask me that in the nineteen years since I became paralysed. That is one question I have seldom pondered over. I rarely gave it much thought. It is something that I cannot undo. Why think about it? I had expected a harsh reprimand from my parents when I was admitted to the hospital after the mishap. Perhaps they realised more than me the severity of the injury that they did not want to exacerbate the situation by scolding me. They had never asked me why or how I could do such a stupid thing. Never ever.

Now as I think back, I wished they had asked me. I would have felt better instead of keeping this cooped up inside me until now. I would have told them I was really sorry for putting them through such a great emotional shock. I was sorry that I could not realise their dreams for me. I was sorry that they had to look after me in their advanced years instead. I was sorry for all the tears they shed for me seeing me in the state I was in. I was sorry. I am sorry. Dad, Mum, I am truly sorry.

When Shiau Lee put that question to me, images of that day came flooding back. The sun was shinning against my face. The breeze blowing from the sea made my wet body shiver a little. From the 5 feet section of the pool, I dived in, all 5 feet 10 inches of me. When I thought my body was going to slam into the surface because of my shallow angle of entry, I adjusted my posture. I must have over compensated. The next thing I knew, my head had hit something unyielding, my body flipped over and I was floating face down in the water.

All was calm for a moment. I could hear the gurgling sounds of water. It was crystal clear and the white tiles at the bottom of the pool looked exceptionally clean. Nothing moved. Nothing! I bobbed in the water wondering what had happened. My legs were there but they did not feel like they were a part of me anymore. I tried to stand but they just laid there motionless, unusually contorted. I attempted to swim to the side of the pool but all I could do was flail my arms feebly. My chest felt tight. I was running out of breath. I tried lifting my head but could only get my eyes above the surface. Not good enough. I tried lifting my head a little higher. It was futile. I was getting desperate.

Then I remembered the chicken that I had tried to slaughter during a Scouts? backwoods competition. I had seen Mum slaughtering chickens many times. I thought it was going to be easy. After plucking the feathers from its neck, I tried to slit its throat. Alas, the knife was as blunt as a wooden spatula. The chicken flapped it wings wildly as I tried again and again. It had to be slaughtered anyhow. If not we would be without a main dish to present for the cookout. As a last resort, I held it down in the river and drowned it. It flapped its wings even wilder. After a long while, it became lifeless. I looked down at the motionless carcass. That was the first time I had killed anything. I felt wicked. My heart ached for a long time after that. And I was going to die like the chicken that I had drowned!

My lungs felt like bursting. I flapped my arms helplessly. I was really going to die. Sad faces of my parents flashed before my eyes. Everything was in shades of sepia. I saw them weeping by my casket. I have so much more that I wanted to tell them. Do not cry, Dad, Mum. I am sorry. Please do not cry for me. A thousand images raced through my mind?s eye – things that I have done, things that I have yet to do, images of loved ones, friends, everything. On reflex, I swung my head from side to side, trying hard to hold my breath in, keep my mouth closed and prevent the water from entering my nostrils. Just when I thought I could hold no more, Ronnie pulled my head up. I pulled in a deep breath but before I could fill my lungs, he dropped my head back into the water. Sensing that something was amiss, he called out to my other classmates and they pulled me out of the water.

That one second when my head hit the bottom of the pool and fractured my spine, those sixty seconds struggling for air in the water and then being rescued from a certain drowning by my classmates marked the beginning of a life fraught with uncertainties, frustrations and shattered expectations. Spinal cord injury completely changes the way the body functions. I had to learn to accept the severe limitations that were to encumber me for the rest of my life. Nothing was the same anymore. Nothing.

Have I ever regretted diving into the pool that day? The few times that I had brooded over it, I felt no remorse. It is something that I cannot undo. I have to leave that behind and move forward. I am making the best use of what I have left and leaving the rest up to God. Will I dive into the pool again if I have the opportunity? I certainly will but much the wiser now, I will make sure that the depth is way way deeper than my height. Yes, I will do it again if ever the opportunity arises. No regrets! Now, where did I keep my Speedo?

Author: Peter Tan

Peter Gabriel Tan. Penangite residing in the Klang Valley. Blissfully married to Wuan. A LaSallian through and through. Minion to three cats. Wheelchair user since 1984. Columnist of Breaking Barriers with The Borneo Post. Principal Trainer at Peter Tan Training specialising in Disability Equality Training. This blog chronicles my life, thoughts and opinions. Connect with me on Twitter and Facebook.

10 thoughts on “The Big Question”

  1. Would I do it again? I think I would too. You were out for a swim. An accident happen. Accidents happen. Little ones and big ones. What I did to my feet wasn’t an accident. And sometimes, I do regret the things I did or didn’t do that led to it.

  2. Marita,
    We are survivors. We move on and continue doing the things that we love even though they are the very things that had traumatised us in the first place.

  3. Peter
    I’m glad to read ,you’d do it again if you could.
    I know my brother would also ride a motorbike again if he could.Did you find those speedo’s:)
    wish u a nice day
    tcz

  4. sometimes when things go wrong in the past, we just want to turn back the clock and rewrite history…but we just can’t. time’s a vicious…thing.
    the only thing we can do is to move on and make do with what we have (and make the best out of it too, i might add).
    as i was reading your entry, i was reminded of a song by u2: “walk on”.;)

  5. there’s no point crying over split milk (regret) over an incident, however fatal it may be. what happened, i believe, was god’s will. we do not regret and blame god (or ourselves).

    thanks for sharing ‘that moment in your life that it happened’, peter. i’m glad to see the determination in you… that you keep on surviving as normal.

  6. Sweetspirit,
    I still cannot find the Speedo. If ever I go swimming again, I will need a new pair. The pair that I wore on that fateful day can barely cover my modesty now.

    Dave,
    History cannot be rewritten, so we just have to make do with writing the present and the future.

    Lucia,
    You are welcome. We make mistakes, learn from it and move on. Truly there is no point in crying over spilt milk.

  7. Marita,
    We must always look ahead and advance. When we stagnate, life has lost its sheen. Take care.

  8. Lainie,
    The scariest part would have been feeling the water choking into my mouth and nose and rushing into my lungs.

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