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A Patient's Perspective: In Ryon's Words

January 09, 2014

As part of this series, get to know 21-year-old Ryon Barker of Elwood, KS.

Two years ago, everything changed when Ryon Barker sustained a spinal cord injury after diving into a pool at a party, just weeks before going to basic training for the U.S. Air Force. Ryon was paralyzed. His path has taken a different direction, but through it all he has kept his optimism.

These are his words, in excerpts from his blog.

“It was all a dream…”

Guest Blogger Ryon Barker, Elwood, KS

Ryon Barker when he first arrived at Craig Hospital
Ryon Barker when he first arrived at Craig Hospital
Ryon Barker and sister Erin Shackelford at Craig Hospital
Ryon Barker and sister Erin Shackelford at Craig Hospital
Ryon Barker during rehabilitation at Craig Hospital.
Ryon Barker during rehabilitation at Craig Hospital.

I used to lay in bed at night and wonder what it would be like to be paralyzed. And it gave me really bad anxiety to think about it. It wasn’t my worst fear in the world, but it was something I thought about. I would lay there and not move my legs and act like I was paralyzed, then think about how I would have to live if I was paralyzed. I always wondered how hard it was for somebody to live like that.

June, 14th, 2011, was a normal day. It was a Monday, so it was a weird day to have a party on, but that has never stopped any college aged kids. I remember most of the night. It was a pretty normal party. I bought an 18 pack of 16 oz cans and that was running low. At some point people started jumping in the pool.

Those would be the last steps I ever took.

I remember not wanting to get in at first, then deciding I wanted to get in. It was a normal pool, just one of those 3 foot, big circle ones that you see sitting in yards in any given neighborhood. This one had a wraparound deck on it. I had a friend growing up that had a similar set-up and I dove into that pool, probably, 1000 times in my life. This is where it gets kind of blurry. I remember taking a few steps and diving into the pool. Those would be the last steps I ever took.

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When I dove in, I hit my head on the bottom and crushed 4 vertebrae in my neck. I remember hitting the bottom, and it felt like a bomb went off in my head. It didn’t hurt, but I knew it wasn’t good. It instantly paralyzed me from the shoulders down. I just remember trying to move and it being really dark.

I drowned at the bottom of the pool and the next thing I remember is waking up in the hospital. Thankfully somebody bumped into me when I was at the bottom of the pool and pulled me out. They had to give me CPR, because I wasn’t breathing, so in reality, two people saved my life that night. They said I was awake and moving, but I don’t remember any of it. They called an ambulance and I was rushed to a local hospital.

This is where it gets kind of confusing. The people at the hospital thought I was just some kid that got drunk and almost drowned. Nobody knew I was paralyzed until a day after I got hurt. I knew I couldn’t move, but I thought they already knew that when I woke up. I was awake for an hour or so, but I had a tube down my throat so I couldn’t talk. This whole time I thought they knew I hurt my neck. I knew I hurt my neck, but wasn’t sure how serious it was. It’s easy to look back now and realize it WAS a big deal, but during that time it was kind of confusing.

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“After a few days reality set in, and we realized it was going to be a long road.”

“I can’t move.”

They finally pulled the tube out of my throat and asked me if I wanted something to drink. I said yes and the nurse tried handing me a cup of juice. I just kind of looked at her and said “I can’t move.” Then everybody started fearing the worst. They immediately rushed me out of the room and gave me every scan, x-Ray, MRI, etc they had. And everybody’s worst fear then became a reality. I broke 4 vertebra in my neck and I was classified as C4-C7 incomplete quadriplegic.

I don’t exactly remember how it happened or if anybody even told me I was paralyzed, but from the look on my sister’s face after she talked to a doctor, I could basically put two and two together, and I understood what was going on. I honestly thought it was a bad dream at first and kind of treated it like it wasn’t a big deal. I was also on A LOT of pain medication. After a few days reality set in, and we realized it was going to be a long road.

I know what happened to me was really tragic, but I never understood why when people came to visit it was always seemed like they didn’t know what to say, they just kind of looked at me and let me talk. I always found myself trying to comfort them, and explaining to them I would be ok. It didn’t bother me, but you would have thought they were just told I only had 3 days to live or something.

I found out I would never walk again.

I don’t know if it’s the way I’m wired or it’s something else, but I don’t ever remember having a break down after I found out I would never walk again. I don’t know why, because that’s a completely normal thing to do. Once I found out, it took a day or two to set in then I just accepted it for what it was. I knew I had to be strong because I thought that was my only option. It probably seemed like I didn’t care, but my mindset was, ‘you’re never going to walk again, you probably should be dead, so get over it.’ And I guess that was the right thing to do because it’s been 2 1/2 years and I’ve never had any type of depression or anything like that. That probably wouldn’t work for everybody but it worked for me.

I was in a hospital outside of Kansas City for two weeks after my accident and decided I was going to go to Craig Hospital in Denver, Colorado, for my rehabilitation. This ended up being the best decision we could ever make.

To read more visit his personal blog.