“That’s not fair!” This statement has probably been uttered by everyone at some point in their lives. It could almost be the battle cry of teenagers everywhere. Despite how frequently it is spoken about though, most people struggle with the notion of fairness as it relates to life. The truth about fairness, which evades most people for their entire lives, is a lesson that I was forced to learn at a young age. Growing up in a wheelchair meant that there were things in life that I was going to miss out on. Even as a young child I came to terms with this unfortunate reality. Whether it was experiencing a water park, roller coasters, or the McDonald’s Play Place, there were things that other kids would get to do that I would not. However, I also quickly realized that I would get to experience things that I would have missed out on had I been born “normal” (i.e no lines at Disneyworld, meet Jack Hannah, be on TV). As a result of this, I came to a massive realization about life. Life is not fair. Read that sentence again. And again. Let it really sink in. Life is not fair, and further more, it is not supposed to be.
As a lover of playing cards, I often think of it like this, and explain it this way in my Roll Models talks. We all are given a hand to play in life at random. Some of us are dealt great cards and some of us are not. The hand you are given is not going to change though, no matter how hard you try or how unfair it seems. What you can change however, is how you choose to play that hand. You could choose to focus on how bad your cards are, “fold,” and give up, or you can play that hand like a winner and do everything in your power to win the pot. Anyone who has ever played cards knows that how you represent and play your hand is much more important than the actual cards. The reason for this is that no one knows what cards you have been dealt but you. If you approach your life like you are holding a great hand, no one will know whether you are bluffing or not.
I was reminded of this fact of life in the Winter of 2002. I had just survived my near death experience and gotten my trache 6 months before, and I was finally starting to get my life back together. I was getting used to dealing with my trache, had grown accustomed to having a nurse constantly by my side, and was going to school full time again. I got to see my friends more, could get out to do things, and was happy for the first time in what felt like forever. One Thursday afternoon I was getting transferred into my wheelchair by my nurse just like every other day, and as I was lifted into the air I felt a spasm of pain shoot across my back that knocked the wind right out of me. I was barely able to get out the words, “Oh shit, my back. Put me down!” As I laid there, trying to catch my breath, and feeling my back spasm over and over, I knew exactly what had happened. I had felt this type of excruciating pain before. I had torn a muscle along the lumbar vertebrae in my lower back.
I have had back problems my entire life due to the combination of the scar tissue and rods around my spine from my spinal fusion and my weak muscles from my Spinal Muscular Atrophy. When I pull or tear a muscle, it means about a week of terrible pain every time I move and bed rest. After I got home, painfully got into bed, and took a cocktail of muscle relaxers, anti-inflammatory drugs, and heavy pain killers, I started thinking about what had just happened. As I laid there, I kept thinking about how I had just gotten my life back to a place where I was happy, and once again my body had taken it away from me. I was so frustrated and angry about how unfair this was that I laid there and cried. I kept thinking what was the point of working and fighting to overcome all of the obstacles I have to face, if I never get a chance to enjoy the fruits of my labor by being happy. It just wasn’t fair.
Laying there wallowing in my own self pity, I realized that I had a choice to make. Life wasn’t fair, and I couldn’t change that. I could either give in to my body and stop fighting and working to make a full, independent life for myself, or I could just accept that life was always going to be difficult for me and that my disability was going to cause setbacks in my plan for my life but work to achieve my goals anyway. In making this decision, I thought about many things. I thought about my family and loved ones and how proud they were of me. I thought about all the things I had accomplished that everyone thought I couldn’t do. I even thought about how much worse off I could be. I thought about how even though the deck was stacked against me from the start, and I had been dealt a terrible hand, that I had accomplished so much in my life. I decided that I didn’t care how unfair my life was, because this was the only life I was going to get, and I was not willing to stop living it. I was going to overcome this setback just like all of the others for no other reason than because I had never let my disability dictate my life, and I was not going to start now.
A lot of people look at me and think, “Oh, poor Scott Drotar. He was dealt such a bad start. How unfair.” I don’t see it that way though. Not to toot my own horn, but I have a great life and have achieved a lot. I have loving friends and family, two college degrees, am incredibly good looking, and get to pursue my passion of helping people by telling my story. What more could I ask for? It is all a matter of deciding how you want to play your hand that life has dealt you. I hope my story helps you realize how even though you may have it much harder than most people, you can still achieve great things if you really want to. So the next time you are feeling like life is out to get you, or that life is unfair, remember that you control your life. Only you know your hand, and you can play it however you choose, so why not play it like a winner?