I lost my leg riding motorcycles. We're not sure if a car hit me or what happened exactly, but I hit a guardrail, a pole, and fell off a 40 foot cliff. I woke up on the side of the road and tried to move my left leg. I knew it was a compound fracture, but I didn't realize that the whole leg was basically off. I tried to move my right leg and it didn't work from the pelvis down. So I reached into my motorcycle jacket and pulled out my cell phone and called 911.
I spent three and a half months in the hospital and had 27 surgeries, that's basically one every three days. The recovery process is literally peaks and valleys. There's great value in it and there's great pain in it. But I learned who my family was. I learned who my friends were and weren't. I had people come out of the woodwork like my aunt who brought me food almost every day.
In the hospital, I was given the option to have my leg rebuilt where they were putting rods into it to give me about 5% of usage. The other option was to amputate, which would give me about 10%. I had a lot of other issues that I was dealing with and I didn't want to waste any time, so I decided to get rid of it. Psychologically, I put it into the column of ‘this is logical,’ I'll deal with the emotions later. Which I did and still am today.
At first, I tried to hide my prosthetic leg, like many people with disabilities do. And I realized that it was a way to protect someone else's feelings, someone else's being uncomfortable, somebody else's difficulty in processing what they were seeing. What they might perceive initially as a weakness, is one of my greatest strengths. I started realizing that showing my leg and talking about it was not only my strength, but my difference. It was a portion of my existence that I was simply ignoring.
Very frequently, writers ask me ‘How do I write a disabled character authentically?’ It’s actually pretty simple: you write a character and then cast a person with a disability. You don’t have to explain it, it just exists. A wheelchair is not a character trait, it’s a mode of transportation. It’s irrelevant to someone’s character.
Every single person is going to become disabled at some point in their life. It's a club that everyone can join instantaneously. I was one of the people who was able bodied, running around full speed, who became very, very disabled overnight. The process of learning and understanding the stories from people with disabilities is the most valuable lesson I got.