The youth-written stories in YCteen give inspiration and information to teens in foster care while offering staff insight into those teens’ struggles.

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My View From a Wheelchair
A different perspective
Perla Reyes
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All I remember is starting to cross the street when a car came speeding toward me. After three days in a coma, I woke up crying. I was in a hospital room full of balloons, teddy bears, and get well cards. I couldn’t move well. “Why am I here and not home? Why can’t I feel my leg and what happened to me?” I asked my mom. I was 10 years old.

Instead of answering me she ran out to share the happy news with the doctors and nurses that I had finally woken up. I overheard her say, “Everyone who witnessed the accident said she wouldn’t make it, that my daughter would die. Now she is awake!” My father came in and I wondered, “Why are you here? You left my life years ago.” I was sad that it took my being in the hospital for him to actually come see me.

My mom explained that I had been in a car accident. I was hit so hard and I was so small, I flew up and landed on the trunk of a taxi before sliding onto the sidewalk. The driver was a teenage boy. After he hit me he ran over to me crying. He picked me up in his arms. Someone called 911 and I was rushed to Harlem Hospital.

My mother and doctors thought it was a small miracle that I only broke my leg. I wasn’t sure when I would walk again.

Wheelchair Bound

A few weeks later, I graduated elementary school with my crutches and a cast on my right leg that went from my toes to the top of my thigh. The cast was big and heavy and I was only 10, so I wasn’t strong enough to be on crutches all day. I had to switch between the crutches and a wheelchair, and had monthly visits to doctors.

Initially the doctors told me I was only going to be in the cast for two or three months and then be fully recovered. But my kneecap ended up taking 10 months to heal. I had to have the cast changed every month.

During this time, I experienced what it’s like for someone with a disability. Whenever my mom and I needed a cab, a lot of availble taxis passed us by. Cab drivers didn’t want to deal with the wheelchair. Even though I knew they didn’t know me, this hurt my feelings.

Before the injury, I was able to jump out of bed and get in and out of the shower. And of course I could walk. But now I had to constantly ask for help. It was a strange feeling that I never got used to. And I hated getting up extra early because it took so much longer for me to get ready.

The other bad part was how much my leg itched and I couldn’t scratch it because of the cast. I would go on a mission and create little holes in it with a scissor point. I would carve out a square and then cut through the cast and cushioning. The doctors told me not to but I would still stick pencils inside to relieve some of the itching. It was also hard to sleep. I couldn’t move well and I got sharp pains in my leg at night.

Because I was using a wheelchair, my mom had to find a middle school for me with an elevator. That took a while and I ended up starting school a month late, in October. I was not only the new girl; I was the new disabled girl.

Stares and Whispers

image by YC-Art Dept

It was difficult to be at a new school and for my leg to be bothering me all the time, but the worst part was kids staring at me. And they would whisper. I felt so self-conscious and embarrassed.

For the first time in my life I felt like an outcast. In my old school, I was well liked. A lot of people gave me positive attention because I was friendly and they thought I was pretty.

Fortunately after a few weeks, some classmates became friends and started to help me. They would carry my books or hold the elevator for me. One girl, Gloribel, is still one of my best friends.

One day I was waiting for the elevator and a group of boys and girls were walking toward me. I heard one of the boys laugh and say, “Cripple.” I wanted to vanish. I was embarrassed and hurt. This was my first experience with verbal bullying. Gloribel suddenly appeared by my side and said, “She isn’t crippled, leave her alone; you guys don’t even know her.” I was grateful to her.

Still, these comments continued. “Look at the new girl. She is on crutches and needs help with everything.” I tried to ignore it, but I got emotional. I tried my best to make sure no one saw my tears. As bad as I felt I remember thinking, “Perla, this experience will empower you. You are a queen who will carry her head high even though you are in a wheelchair.”

This made me realize how much I took for granted. Now I know that one’s life can totally change in a second.

My Cast Comes Off

Finally, 10 months after the accident my cast came off. It was the day after my 11th birthday so it was the best gift. My leg was ugly, soft and weird-looking. I couldn’t walk properly but I was still happy. It took two weeks for me to be able to walk normally. I felt like a baby taking her first steps with a little fear in every step.

After experiencing life in a wheelchair and having to use crutches, I began to notice people in similar situations. For the first time I noticed that others treat them as if they are less important. Before the accident I would glance curiously at people with disabilities and wonder what happened to them. But now if I see someone who uses a wheelchair or is blind, for example, I offer to help.

I am now a 17-year-old who appreciates that I had a second chance at life; I am lucky to have almost completely healed. I can walk and run, and do everything I was able to do before. The only part of me that’s affected is my memory.

It wasn’t until I was a sophomore in high school that I noticed this. The doctors don’t know if this was from the accident or the coma or both. I used to be like a memory card that saves everything I learn but now I have to write everything down or I will forget. It is not a disability that people would notice, but I still feel disabled.

Still, I wonder why I was so lucky; how I’ve had almost a full recovery after an accident like that. I even call myself a miracle pearl. Am I meant to accomplish something extraordinary?

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(NYC-2015-11-16)

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