Photo by Arielle Canoza

Humans of UCSF: Happy Accident

Columnist
School of Dentistry

“It’s funny how a brush with mortality and debility can make you realize how fortunate you are. A couple years ago, during my last year of college, I was skiing with some friends near my hometown in Ohio. (What? You can ski in Ohio? Yeah, sort of. I don’t recommend it though.) I was cruising down a trail I had skied a thousand times when I hit an icy patch, slid through a plastic fence – you know that kind of orange mesh stuff you see at construction sites – and over a jump that was being built, falling several meters and shattering a vertebra. Laying in the snow with no control of my legs, on the helicopter, in the operating room, I couldn’t help wondering if it would have been a mercy to have been killed in the accident and spared living out my life in pain and confined to a wheelchair. How wrong was I.

“A few days later I was awake in the hospital, now with a spine made of Cobalt-Chrome. Every moment I had friends and family at my bedside, reminding me of fond memories and plans for when I got out of the hospital. A month later, they were still there. A nurse asked me, 'You’re from room 345a? Are you the one who’s got all these visitors day and night?' Those people kept me from dwelling on fearful questions like 'How will I manage my career?' or 'Will I find a girlfriend who’s interested in someone in a wheelchair?' I realized that my happiness was derived from the strength of the relationships I had with the excellent people around me.

“On top of that, because of the relentless hard work of medical professionals, I had started to regain function in my legs. Miraculously, two years later I can walk almost normally and I try to use my legs as much as possible to hike around the Bay Area! I guess what I took from it all is: don’t forget the people who are there for you. They are what makes your life great.”

Max Armstrong

Berkeley-UCSF Bioengineering, 2nd Year PhD Candidate