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In the skin of a paraplegic

Text: Baptiste Delalay

My name is Baptiste Delalay, I am 24 years old. Five years ago, I had a motorbike accident. I found myself in the skin of a paraplegic person. This is my story.

 My childhood was magic in my eyes, full of friendships, inventions, discoveries and adventures. I was dreaming about discoveries and magic and to me, school represented a huge burden. I was spending my time looking through the windows and imagining myself in search of new horizons. I did not see the point of being stuck in that building all day long and doing things I often found painful and without interest. I had no motivation for school whatsoever. How could I have some as I did not see the meaning and did not feel I belonged there? Hardly had the bell rung when I found my freedom and full happiness again.

Later, I oriented my path as an apprentice electrician then very quickly as an apprentice tinsmith. Working on roofs, out in the open, with a view over the world from above, represented to me the ideal job. I was feeling free as a bird. The frequent changes of construction sites partly filled my thirst for discoveries.

I was spending my free time with various hobbies and passions such as motorbiking which, to me, was really a true revelation. How happy I felt to be riding without knowing the destination and to let myself be guided freely to discover magnificent places. It was in my eyes the ultimate feeling of happiness: this sense of freedom, speed, autonomy. I also enjoyed very much practicing sports such as snowboarding, downhill mountain biking, football, swimming etc.

But there were also a lot of nights out, parties and alcohol.

In 2011, I decided to take a month off to discover Switzerland by motorbike. Two friends rode along with me during a part of the trip.

As a friend had lent me his bike, more comfortable for this trip, I decided to keep a diary to narrate him my craziest stories with his machine. I remember that on the morning of the 3rd August 2011, I woke up one hour before my two companions. Then I took some time to lean against a tree by the shores of the Neuchâtel lake and write down our adventures of the previous day. At that very moment, I was in a state of total well-being and I said to myself: ‘I feel so well, in my mind and in my body, anything can happen to me but I would still feel well.’ I experienced it as if I had crossed a step. And the Universe quickly took care of sending me other challenges. A few hours later, I had my motorbike accident in les Bouveret. I know that, deep within me, I had to go through this stage.

The road is wet, we slip. My buddy behind me carries an eleven-kilo bag. The weight of the bag throws the motorbike off balance and the machine ends its trajectory against the sidewalk. And there, the accident happens. Luckily, my friend falls into a grassy embankment and only suffers from minor injuries (stitches and pieces of glass in his hands). As for me, I have some blurred memories, like the one to have been catapulted and to end up in the lake next to the road. I do not remember if I smashed into the boat which was there or into the mooring post. Yet, I am already paraplegic at this very moment. Anguish starts to pervade me, my helmet fills up with water, my jacket and my motorbike protections drag me towards the bottom. I am fighting to maintain my head at the water surface, though I am unable to use my already paralyzed legs. Then I remember to be lying by the water. The friend who was following us with his motorbike looks at me with his big eyes and announces me that my right leg is the wrong way round. The ambulance arrives. Then I can call my father: ‘Hi Dad, I had a motorbike accident but don’t worry, there’s nothing serious. (the sound of the helicopter) I’ve got to go, the heli is coming.’

I flew to the Lausanne hospital. The surgical team operates me. During the surgery, I go through three near-death experiences. When I leave my body for the first time, I am a flat shadow moving away from my physical body and at the same time, it is as if I was part of the room, as if I could see through each millimetre of that space and as if time did not exist any longer. The feeling of the moment we leave our body is hard to explain. It is as if we were completely overjoyed; as if the weight of our emotions, of our body does not exist anymore. And then, I think about my sister again… It is as if I was grabbing my body and pulling myself towards it to come back. The second time, I think about my parents and I am coming back the same way. The third time, it is as if I was taking a leap into the future and seeing at church all the people that were part of my life. I am above them, standing at the highest point, stuck to the ceiling. I see people crying, unhappy people and I am saying to myself: ‘I cannot go away like that, without leaving a note, I did not leave anything for the people I love.’ So I decide to come back a third time.

I really felt the power to decide. Even though one really feels like letting oneself go in this cloud of love and well-being.

When I remembered that event, a few days after my awakening from artificial coma, I felt overwhelmed with emotion and I cried. I recall having explained to my sister what I went through. After a week and a half of intensive care, I was directly transfered to the Suva Rehab. Maybe a little too quickly. I still had the morphine pump on me and did not really know where I lived. But it was wonderful to be able to start the recovery path in the fastest possible way. I remember all this evolution step by step. The simple fact to be sitting on my bed or to make a bed transfer was enough to provoke a drop in blood pressure. A few weeks later, the simple fact to be moving from my room to the physiotherapist took me more than twenty minutes as I stopped every second time I was pushing my walking frame. I was falling asleep all the time, everywhere. Even on my wheelchair. Time went by and I started to pull myself together a little. It was as if I was in a bubble until that moment. I eventually started to realize everything I had lost: passion, work, girlfriend, autonomy. Nothing would ever be the same. I had lost all my bearings, my balance. Everything had to be started from scratch again, to be rebuilt.

A paraplegic patient, who is a friend today, lent me a book about spirituality. Though I could not stand reading a book at that time, it was a revelation to me. I found everything I was going through in the few pages I read each day.

I experienced difficult moments but I think we underestimate the strength we have in us to face life ordeals. After my eight months and a half of rehabilitation, I was finally able to leave the center. In the first place I was supposed to live at my parents’ home. As their house was not adjusted for my condition, I finally decided to take an apartment and live on my own.

Finding my balance again after such a trial is something far from obvious as health issues continued to set challenges every day. Paraplegia and tetraplegia do not only mean to be paralyzed. The consequences are of many different kinds. I could never have imagined such a complexity to merely survive. But it is thanks to those experiences that we learn a lot more than anyone else about ourselves. We learn to surpass ourselves, not to give up, to seek always further to regain a minimum sense of comfort in life. We become real warriors. I have a huge respect towards all the handicapped people for I know their issues. I consider them as heroes, as models, as people with an infinite amount of courage.

There have been numerous obstacles to my professional reinstatement. Whether it is in terms of very limited choices, trainings I was allowed to undergo, adaptation issues, class schedules. Despite my excellent grades, I had to stop because of my health and pain issues I was enduring. Once I had stuffed myself with pain relief meds and cut myself off from everything in order to focus on my work and training, I became extremely thin, lost my strength and energy and I got completely worn out.

Today, I have made up my mind an I want to take care of myself, to reconstruct myself. I have decided to authorize myself to believe in me and to live my dreams. To give a meaning to my life. I have been adopting this attitude since only a few days and life already brings me a lot of marvellous things. I also feel so much better in my body, I have regained some energy and I already feel less pain. This is the living proof that we always have to listen to our heart and do what we feel, not what we think is expected from us. If we are aligned with ourself, life is giving us everything. Having followed the philosophy of personal development to reconstruct myself, I have applied a lot of methods and attended seminars. I have always loved helping people around me. And today, I have decided to become a life coach and to give talks about handicap. I really feel like making this world move in the right direction and giving it a new shape for I have discovered an incredibly surprising world, a very inspiring world deserving respect and admiration.

It has only been a few days since we started working on this project with my friend and partner Yohan Delalande. He believed in my project and dropped out of his school to start focusing on OUR projects. He is the best person I could have hoped to meet in order to share projects and life stages. He is very talented when it comes to video editing, script writing, social networks and all the technologies. He is also a youtuber and I am sure that he will soon be very successful. We share a lot of values, like those to help as many people as we can and to contribute to a better world. We have just started to work on various projects and the supports are ready. The content will be available as early as December 2016. I am inviting you to follow us if you are inspired and to share this beginning of this adventure with us. We will be sharing inspiring content with interviews of magnificent people, sports and hobbies practiced by handicapped people, the story of my life in images as well as a lot of other surprises.

Thanks for having read my piece.

‘I think that everything is possible for the person who dreams, dares, works and never gives up!’ Xavier Dolan


Baptiste supports



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