Throughout the whole process, I'd laugh and portray confidence in my future, telling everyone, "I just want to go back to Africa and finish the job." But in reality, I was scared to death and had lost any sense of invincibility and independence. Before this, I could have written pages full of clich's such as, "get back on the horse after you've been thrown off," while telling anyone that they needed to face challenges head-on, but in dealing with my biggest challenge, the reality of rising up in the face of difficulty was harder than I expected.
Friends and family were tolerating the new "needy" me, but when things started to heal and I knew I'd be able to get up again, I had no idea who the real me was anymore. I used to be this independent guy who ran around the world trying to make a difference, but I had since become a whiny shadow of myself that cried all the time and couldn't seem to do anything on my own. "I can't walk—help me" turned into asking for help with even the simplest of tasks—any confidence had been completely erased. If I did something, I wanted someone next to me to make sure I did it right and then praise me afterward for a job well done. I began to not recognize myself, as the need for someone to take care of me physically took over mentally as well.
Before the accident, my gut reaction to someone telling me I couldn't do something was to smile kindly while plotting how to prove them wrong. I think back, and no one ever said, "You'll never get better," because if they had, I think I would have tried to prove them wrong and fought harder. Instead, I just received praise and pity, and for some reason I couldn't find anything within myself to get the old me back.
Around this time, I got an email from Anthony Ayebare, one of my Ugandan volunteers taking care of the Batwa project, saying, "We are all so sad that we'll never see you again, because you would never come back after such a horrible event." Finally, a simple fight I knew I could win, and I said, "I'll be there for Thanksgiving."
I set things in motion and went to the doctor to be cleared for travel. There was a cheap flight available, I could get around fine on crutches and I had someone to go with me. No more excuses...I was going back to Africa. I had a goal, but even though my body was nearly ready, my mind was far from it.
I had built up so much fear regarding each detail, and I didn't know how to get past it. What if I get hurt? What will happen when I pass the crash site? What if the project wasn't doing well, and I get back only to realize it wasn't worth it? I started feeling like a hypocrite, telling everyone they could do anything they wanted, but when faced with my own challenge, I was wavering. There wasn't one part of that trip that I knew with confidence would work out well, but I just knew I had to go back.
My nerves overwhelmed me as we prepared to go, but as the plane touched down in Kampala, I felt surprisingly normal. "What? I'm not bursting into tears returning to the country of my near death experience? Maybe it's just because I haven't been to the actual place yet..."
I went to visit the nurses who had taken care of me in Kampala and felt surprisingly light and just happy to see them. Maybe the dreaded meltdown would happen when I got to further south. We made it to Kabale to spend Thanksgiving with loved ones: Marie McGee, the missionary nurse who tended to me after my accident, and my Ugandan friends Anthony, Saul, Nestory and Ignatius. The reunion was emotional and beautiful, but again, I was surprised that there was nothing more overwhelming than a few welcome-back tears and the gratitude that we were together again. Where was the crippling meltdown and failure I was expecting?
Barton visits the crash site.