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.
Times at Craig Hospital
Guest Blogger Ryon Barker, Elwood, KS
Paralysis isn’t the worst thing in the world. It’s a hard pill to swallow, but it gets better in time. I don’t think anybody in the world is prepared for it. Once the realization sets in and you accept what happened, there’s still a lot of questions that need to be answered and there’s still a lot to worry about. You just don’t know what’s in store for you. Your life literally changes over night.
Ryon Barker and sister Erin Shackelford at Craig Hospital
I remember my sister being really excited about the possibility of me going to Craig Hospital. She had a friend that got in an accident a few months before me that went to Craig. He told my sister this was the only place to go for a spinal cord injury. Erin obviously researched it and asked around and we eventually decided we would be going there. We watched a few videos on the internet and she read me some different things about Craig, and it definitely seemed like the right choice.
If there was some way to pick your nurses and techs that took care of you every time you went to the hospital, I would pick people from Craig every single time.
The people at Craig somehow have a way of making you feel like everything will be ok. I remember the first day or I was there, they put me in bed, and my nurse, (Sarah), kept saying “don’t worry, I’m going to take care of you.”
I wasn’t dying or anything, but she made it clear she was going to be there. And she was. She was the best nurse I ever had. The techs were no different. They helped and taught us so much about how to properly take care of somebody with a spinal cord injury. They literally did everything in their power to make sure you were comfortable and taken care of. Even if you were having a bad day, they still were nice. And it wasn’t just the techs and nurses. Every single person in that hospital is nice. If you walk around a normal hospital you probably won’t talk to anyone.
Ryon Barker during rehabilitation at Craig Hospital.
When you walk around Craig everybody talks to you. The night before I left one of my usual techs, (Debbie,) came into my room and cried for about ten minutes because I was leaving. That’s just how they are.
Craig has ways of making it easier. One of my favorite things they do is bring in dogs. They’d bring Labradors, Labrador puppies, and all different types of service dogs. They just brought them in so you could pet them. They also bring in these huge dogs on Monday nights called Newfoundlands. These dogs are the size of bears and they would bring them into your room and let them run around. It was always fun to play with the dogs.
This is where I can’t really put into words or explain to you on how much these people helped. Heather was my physical therapist, Caitlin was my occupational therapist, and Lesley handled my insurance issues among other things. Heather and Caitlin worked with me every single day and were always smiling. Even when I wasn’t. I think back on it now and I realize how fortunate I was to have them as my therapists. One time my catheter bag came open while Heather was stretching me and urine started pouring out and went all over her pants. She just went and changed her pants and finished stretching me. It was obviously gross, nobody wants somebody else’s urine one them, but she acted like it didn’t even phase her. I can’t tell you how many times Caitlin helped me get certain devices I needed for my wheelchair. She always came through. Caitlin made me work everyday and she always told me I could do things I wasn’t sure I could do.
And Lesley….I honestly think Lesley has magical powers. It’s unreal how much she helped us from an insurance standpoint. I was talking to Leslie one time and we were talking about types of ice cream we liked. I told her I get a certain type of blizzard from Dairy Queen, the next day she brought me that blizzard. I remember I was having a bad day, and when she did that just because it completely turned my day around.
When you’re at Craig you do a lot of thinking. Some good, some bad. I used to sit on the bridge and look at Pikes Peak. I sat in the same spot everyday and looked at that mountain. I sat on the bridge because it was really warm, and I looked at the mountains because I had never seen mountains before. It seemed like anytime I started thinking too much or getting down one of these people would walk by and bring me back up. I also met a lot of other people with injuries on the bridge and it made me realize how lucky I was to be able to still move my arms. I know what happened to me is bad, but it could be worse.
But going to Craig was the best decision we ever made.
I didn’t appreciate Craig when I was there as much as I do now. It wasn’t because I was unappreciative, there was just a lot on my plate. It’s easy to let your emotions get the best of you. I was just ready to go home at the end of my stay. But going to Craig was the best decision we ever made. It’s the best place to go for spinal cord injuries in the world. You will never convince it isn’t. I’m proud to say I went to Craig.
Ryon with friends from home visiting during rehabilitation at Craig Hospital (From left to right: Cullen Miller, Dakotah Murphy, Marcus Polson)
I go back to Craig once a year for a reevaluation checkup, and the first thing I do is go talk to Heather, Caitlin, and Lesley. They’re the best at what they do. They come second to none.