I sat in the front of a classroom at the University of Cincinnati feeling as if each word I shared with the audience was more jam-packed with wisdom than the last. There was an unexpected assuredness in watching 20 people furiously writing down every word out of my mouth, as if simply stating my date of birth was something profound. (I guess I understand why my high school teachers didn’t like me texting under the desk while they were trying to teach.)
When I received an email a few weeks prior inviting me into the classroom to speak and give the University of Cincinnati physical therapy students a chance to work with someone with a spinal cord injury, I was skeptical to say the least. An afternoon of driving back and forth, wheeling across campus in below freezing weather and, to top it off, being used as a test dummy for two hours did not sound appealing. However, something kept gripping me about that invitation.
I have long gotten over the fact that strangers are often quick to look at me in public as if I am some kind of spectacle. I’ve experienced enough double takes, long stares, and condescending words and smiles to no longer think twice about it. That wasn’t the issue here. Conversely, I had done the best I could to avoid anyone in the medical world since that first taste of freedom upon arriving home from the hospital in April 2010. Since the night of the accident, I had been told in every manner possible by medical professionals that I would spend the rest of my life in a wheelchair and I was tired of it. Who gave them the right to speak that over my life? I thought. What did they even know?
The truth is, they know a whole lot. I guess I initially felt as if by saying these things, they were speaking negatively about me or doubting my work ethic and mindset. However, as I’ve come to realize, speaking facts from a textbook is vastly different than speaking negatively about who I am as a person. In addition, as I wrote in “Seeking the Healer” I’ve learned I cannot work myself out of this situation anyway. It is utterly ridiculous on my part to take personally the sheer facts: My spinal cord is not correctly transmitting signals and based off of scientific evidence and statistics, this is highly unlikely to change. A medical professional is only doing their job by relaying this information to me.
This is just where my thinking may come in a bit differently. The Bible speaks on Jesus’ healing nature, including getting a few paralytic dudes up on their feet again. It also makes it clear that God is the same today as he was 2000 years ago (Hebrews 13:8). I believe for physical healing for myself, and people can think I’m crazy. I’m okay with that. At the same time, having full faith in physical healing does not mean I need to shun the medical field. Luke, one of the Bible’s key biographers of Jesus’ life on earth (who wrote about countless miracles) was a doctor himself. Why should I cast aside the benefits I’ve received from the medical world?
The ventilator? Lungs continuing to work was probably necessary.
The feeding tube? The only reason my body did not waste away.
The pacemaker? Keeping my heart beating sure came in handy.
These three medical devices that literally kept me alive at various stages are just a small taste of the blessing that the medical world has been. As for the opportunity to visit the physical therapy class, it only reinforced this idea in my mind. With each question, touch, and test, old mindsets were gradually transformed. I was left to realize there were no agendas on the table aside from a group of my peers desiring to learn more about the amazing creation that the human body is and how they will be best equipped to help others in the future.
While I will stand firm on the truth of the Bible always superseding any textbook, medical study, or statistical analysis, it would be a shame if I choose to dismiss the many aspects of the world of medicine, both technological and people oriented. As it turns out, an afternoon sharing my knowledge and experience of having spinal cord injury with these students was not only helpful for them, but for myself as well. By the end of the afternoon, the veil had been lifted and and it was more freeing than I could’ve imagined. I now have peace that faith and science can co-exist.
Contact info: Ryan.S.Atkins@Gmail.com
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