May I present ‘the most beautiful girl I ever met, so I married her’ Story
love in the grass

I had been building a wheelchair ramp for a Vietnam Vet who had his adult son visiting while I was working on his home. At the point where I needed the Vet’s input on the pitch of his ramp and the space required for him to access his bathroom door, his son leaned over the man and whispered to him.

The Vet immediately exclaimed, “Of course!”

P1000861The Vet then turned to me and told me I needed to go help his son’s school teacher. Now imagine the impact this woman made on students that when they are in their 20’s and 30’s that they still refer to Patti as their school teacher! I was impressed.!

I finished the projects for that Vet and set out on a quest for this school teacher who had made such an impact on her student that he was still thinking of her years after he had graduated high school. I wanted to meet her simply because she was so impressive in the young man’s description. I searched for her online and I searched for her in county records, but I was unaware that the name that the young man had known her by was no longer her last name. She had remarried and had been widowed since he had been in her class.

When I did find her, It was because she had joined an online social website and she was on Facebook. She wanted to make sure I was legitimately trying to help her and not take advantage of her so we went through a period of time where we used Windows Live Messenger to chat with each other and get to know one another. We had both had unpleasant experiences and I was okay with getting to know her first as I had also had people playing on my sympathies to convince me to give them all kinds of services. I would pour out all kinds of effort only to find out that they had plenty of resources to cover the cost of their own needs and thus shorting someone else I could help that didn’t have resources.

The photo at the head of this article was taken the very first time I met Patti. It was that day in front of her house when I saw her, that I knew I had found my wife. I made up my mind that I would marry her.

I went through a huge adjustment in my life when Patti and I married. I had assumed I could handle anything, but I found that many things in life are so trying and frightening and difficult that they can overwhelm our senses and break us down emotionally. I found just like Patti that it was those times that only my Faith would carry me through. We had some very dark times dealing with infections, ulcers, cancer, Traumatic Brain Injuries and three car accidents. Through it all Patti would lose more ground and when she recovered she has not come all the way back to the place where she was before. So there has been a steady decline in her health and quality of life.

When I fell through the open manhole, which I have written about in earlier articles, we had just come through a very rough very difficult time dealing with a family member who is suffering from Paranoia. Patti had also come through a particularly trying time with her health again. She indeed had been in one of her darkest struggles. In the following article written by Kevin Parker the editor of the Baptist New Mexican, a state church newspaper, she referred to being in a deep pit a couple years ago. That was the deepest that we would have to go I hoped. But my health was no longer good, as I was struggling with my severe back injury and it was becoming more and more clear that I would need surgery.

After my surgery, Patti and I became each others caregiver. I might be feeling better than her one day, and the next day she might feel better than me. Thus, we muddled along at times, and sometimes we both felt good and were able to enjoy a day together. Recently we have been able to start doing more things together. Patti has to rest a lot more than the first years we were married. She gets tired much quicker, and she can succumb to infections much faster. But we know we are going to do okay. There is not much that can worry a person after they have shaken hands with disaster over and over. Things are still hard, still difficult, and still very frustrating. But we have known each other in the worse of times. It makes the good times that much sweeter. And for me, it has renewed the dedication and love that I have for my sweetheart.

As you read Kevin’s article below, you are reading about what the world sees from the outside. The people on the outside do not see what we as caregivers see. They do not even for a moment comprehend or understand the hours of sitting and waiting for doctors to declare a prognosis or diagnosis. The world around us does not have a clue of what it is like to go for weeks on a few hours of sleep per day and quick catnaps. But they will never know the feeling of triumph we feel either when finally we see a light at the end of the dark tunnel and hope comes alive again.

This is Patti’s story as written by Kevin Parker, in the Baptist New Mexican. I am still the proudest husband in New Mexico too.

Paralysis stirs Patti & her husband to compassion

by Kevin Parker, posted Monday, March 28, 2016 (4 days ago)

ALBUQUERQUE (BP) — A message about compassion resonated with David and Patti Waterman at New Mexico Baptists’ 2016 State Evangelism Conference.

The speaker, Sonny Tucker of Arkansas, had no idea the Watermans were in the audience as he told story after story of reaching out to people who many Christians avoid.

Patti is a wheelchair-bound paralytic.

Baptist New Mexican staff encountered the Watermans, members of Hoffmantown Church in Albuquerque, in the exhibit area on the last day of the Feb. 29-March 2 conference.

The table at the information services exhibit had a pneumatic cylinder, so, as the conversation turned serious, BNM staff lowered the table to accommodate Patti in her wheelchair for a microphone and recording equipment. The conversation turned into a spontaneous interview for an upcoming podcast.

Thirty-eight and a half years have passed since a motorcycle accident left Patti paralyzed from the chest down. Reaching 40 years from the accident “will be a great landmark,” she said.

“I praise God every day,” she noted, smiling and delighted to share her story. “Thank you for asking.”

In Elgin, Ill., she recounted, she had been a cheerleader through both junior high and high school. She also had run cross-country track during high school, something that made soon-to-occur events difficult to understand at age 17. Four months after her graduation, the motorcycle accident in which she was a passenger changed everything. She flew over 80 feet through the air, landing on her head and shoulder. The choices she made that day have shaped her life.

In the hospital, the medical staff told her family Patti likely would not awaken from her coma but, if she did, she would be little more than a vegetable. The doctors were being honest and sincere. Yet, Patti indeed woke up and was not a vegetable.

Doctors told Patti she would never leave the hospital. “They told me I should have died,” she said. Yet, she both lived and left the hospital, though struggling through the new experience of being a teenager in a nursing home filled with elderly people.

The journey of her recovery required resolve. People Magazine ran a story in May 1978 about a Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago chaplain who served Patti among her patients. Nina Herrmann briefly chronicled Patti’s struggle with patience after her 18th birthday. “I’ve been arguing with nurses and doctors because I want to do things for myself,” she reported Patti saying. “If you can hang on to your patience,” Herrmann counseled Patti, “you have the key to discovering yourself and God.”

Thankfully, Patti had become a Christian at age 12 as her parents were going through a divorce. “I was able to find my strength in living,” she recalled.

After her accident, and as a former cross-country runner, Patti had asked God, “What’s up with this?” She recalled telling herself, as she sat in bed, that she would never be able to work or have a career. “I’m never going to marry. I’m never going to have kids. I’m never going to go to college. I’m never going to get a job. I’m never, never, never.”

Before then, Patti said she had been an optimistic person, positive and hopeful. Then, “All of a sudden my world fell apart, I saw no hope in living.”

Patti began to see some light in life because of her faith. Ultimately, she experienced all those things she thought were lost.

Her story and dramatic progress attracted the attention of television star Barbara Walters, who interviewed Patti in 1979 and released the inspiring story of her determination to a national audience.

After graduating from college with a degree in teaching, she taught in southeast Texas and northwest New Mexico, impacting kids. She also married and became a mother to two children.

Her husband recalled meeting some of the students she influenced and hearing their stories. David called the stories “glowing accounts,” and recalled one in particular of a young man who told of how Patti, unknowingly, kept him from committing a school shooting.

But Patti’s successful recovery from her motorcycle accident didn’t mean leaving hospitalizations in the past. During the ’90s she had one surgery every year for seven years. Between 2007 and 2009 she spent another 18 and a-half months in the hospital with her life deteriorating. Despite the effects of serious infections and multiple surgeries, she survived again. Most recently, she’s suffered several additional injuries. Through it all, she trusts God. David describes her as “stubbornly optimistic.”

The impact of compassion

The evangelism conference message by Sonny Tucker, Arkansas Baptists’ executive director, resonated with Patti and David because they know what it’s like to need compassion, yet be avoided.

David recounted, “When I met her and started courting her, my friends would tell me I should look for a woman who could walk because I would be dealing with all the issues that ‘crippled’ people have.” They suggested he avoid her.

David, himself wheelchair-bound temporarily in the past, noted that “sometimes, in spite of the fact that society and the church really know very little about the life difficulties of the disabled, most really don’t want to know.” He believes that “the families of disabled people can be won by how we treat the disabled in our midst” — winning them to Jesus with compassion, just like Tucker was preaching.

Today, Patti sees her unique situation, surviving and living in a wheelchair, as creating opportunities rather than limiting them. Because she is disabled and coping both spiritually and emotionally, she was invited to help run a Bible study for disabled people called Living Hope through New Covenant Church not long after moving to Albuquerque. Just before the opportunity arose, she had been asking God, “Where do You want to use me? Lead me.” After spending 25 years in Farmington, N.M., she was new to Albuquerque, with few connections and few opportunities.

The Bible study role excited her, enjoying the activities of leading and helping others. “God has your life set up, that whatever ails you, whatever you feel nobody else has, God has a plan for everything. No matter what happens … it doesn’t go by without Him decreeing, ‘Yep, that’s OK; that’s fine; she’ll do fine or he’ll do fine; she can make it through that,'” she said. She knows. She’s been there.

The Bible study includes people in walkers, people with physical issues and people with various mental and emotional disabilities, each having encountered some debilitating obstacle in his or her life. Patti calls their obstacles isolating setbacks. “They are having a hard time getting over it and moving on,” she said. “God uses us with setbacks in life to move forward in the most beautiful way where He will be glorified.”

David thinks the biggest message his wife brings is that “by being there, they look at her and see that she went and got a teaching degree and did all of this stuff. Suddenly, people have this hope that starts to grow, ‘Hey, she did it; I can, too.’

“If we can show them that they have worth as Jesus sees them and that they can contribute to their family and their community, that gives them hope,” he said.

After telling about a recent injury stemming from her condition, Patti described “coming closest to God in her deepest pit.” She wants others to know they can find Him there, too. In such moments, she talks to God out loud. She feels His presence and knows she’ll be okay. And she hopes her struggles open doors for others to interact about the struggles of disabled people. God has given her the kind of compassion she and David hope others will discover as well.


EDITOR’S TAKE:

Patti and David’s story is packed with many takeaways for every Christian. They especially bring to mind the Bible’s story of four friends who dug through a roof and lowered their paralytic friend down to Jesus. They (1) had a friend who was a paralytic and (2) wanted to take him to Jesus. Each of us needs to look for the “paralytics” around us — people who are different from us and need our compassion. We need to befriend them, and we need a heart that wants to bring them to Jesus. So, who do you see around you? Who is avoided? Become a friend. Take them to Jesus. What can your church do to extend compassion to people hungry for it? What can you do? Read. Ponder. Plan. Then do something.

Kevin Parker is editor of the Baptist New Mexican (http://bcnm.com/bnm-current-edition), newsjournal of the Baptist Convention of New Mexico. The recording of the Baptist New Mexican’s interview with Patti will be released as a podcast at www.bcnm.com/bnm. If you’re interested in having Patti share her story with your group personally, contact the Baptist New Mexican at 505-924-2311.

Accompanying Boxed Text:

Albuquerque’s Patti Waterman appeared in many news reports from 1977-1980
under her maiden name of Flannery. The following appears to be a public service
announcement she did with CBS during 1980. She tells the story of her teenage
accident in her own words.

“I am Patty [sic] Flannery, and at 19 I have seen more and done more than most
people at 60. I had made the drugs and drinking scene by the time I was 17.
Then came that fateful Labor Day – September 4, 1977. I became a holiday
statistic people read about. My accident was right out of one of those crazy,
wild, movie chase scenes.

A group of us had been partying on drugs and wine just before I hopped on the
back of my friend’s motorcycle. We were going 70 miles an hour in a 30-mile
zone when I joined hands with my sister who was alongside me on another
cycle. We dropped hands just as we approached a curve. I was thrown 85 feet. I
was luckier than my friend. He will never walk again. The doctors say I have a
50-50 chance to someday stand and walk with braces. Two years is a long time
to spend in a wheelchair, especially when you are a teenager. Now, I have a
lifetime to regret my foolishness. There is no dumber combination than drugs,
wine and motorcycles. Don’t let it happen to you.”
Reproduced from a CBS radio transcript printed in an Ann Landers column
during July, 1980.

I have found that as much as we have struggled in our lives, and as much as we had to deal with, that when I was in the Rehab Hospital, I met people who were in far worse condition than we are. So I will continue to take care of my sweetheart and I will continue to help those who are also struggling. We who are caregivers are our own best resource. We can all tell of how we overcame the tough times, and even though those people who have never walked in your shoes don’t understand you, we can all strive to understand each other and encourage each other.
But it does not stop there. We also need to educate the public and the people around us in our immediate circle. I have found that in spite of family members often being nearby every day and others being in touch by phone or email, they don’t always grasp what is necessary to take care of the patient. I was often very frustrated that I could not get the point across to relatives that I needed help. I have learned that family is often the people who are closer than blood relatives through friendship and compassion. We have learned to look to that ‘family’ more than we look to relatives for help to deal with the hard times.
David
Written by David Waterman
I am a spousal caregiver. I have had a lot of serious accidents in dangerous construction jobs. My recovery has not always been smooth but I did learn how my wife feels when she is bed bound for long periods. With similar experiences in our past I have a better understanding of what she needs to be comfortable. I also spent years involved in Christian ministry and the principles of Christianity apply so well to this life I lead now and give much needed stability when all other things are so often in the air.

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  1. Most people don’t even start to know themselves until they are overwhelmed by something.

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