Rick Lewcock: “You’re used to doing things on your own, and that stops.”
Southcott Pines resident Rick Lewcock has used a wheelchair for the last 17 years after a car rollover left him unable to use most of his body. He is now a member of the Lambton Shores accessibility committee.
As told to Casey Lessard
It was August 25, 1991. We were coming back from the Michigan International Speedway and we were just outside West Lorne. The car went into the gravel and flipped eight times. I sustained a neck injury, C-5, C-6 vertebrae. I’ve been in a wheelchair ever since.
That day, I remember coming to from time to time and people talking to me. I remember the ride in the ambulance. I remember being in the emergency room. From then it’s just all a blur. I think I went into shock because my family said they came up to see me and I was alert, but I don’t remember that at all. I think I was pretty medicated.
I was in intensive care and that was a blur. I had sustained a neck injury plus the bottom of my buttocks was burned because the car caught fire. I also shattered my right elbow. They were able to put it back together, but I’m limited in my use of it.
I can use from my chest up. I have limited use of my hands. I can hold a glass. I don’t have fine motor skills for picking up small things. If I dropped a penny on the floor, it would take me a while to pick it up.
I met with the surgeon at Parkwood a couple months after the accident. When he did the surgery on my neck, I know he came out to my parents and was quite hopeful that I wasn’t going to be paralyzed because there wasn’t a lot of damage he could see. A lot of times when you do have a spinal cord injury, it’s the swelling that does a lot of the damage. Even three months, I was still hopeful I would walk again. I don’t think they ever said I wouldn’t. There’s always hope.
I was in Parkwood six months for my rehabilitation, but your real rehabilitation starts when you leave hospital. That’s when you hit the barriers for things you could do but can’t do now. I think that’s probably when it really sank in. You’re used to doing things and getting around on your own, and that stops. You have to rely on people.
It’s tough. Relying on someone to make your meals, clean your house, go to the grocery store. You can’t go out yourself and you have to rely on somebody else. When you stop and think about it, everything you do is a challenge.
I was a very outgoing person before my accident. I used to camp and I loved the outdoors. The accident was the end of the road for me working. I worked at Ford Motor Company in Talbotville. There’s no way I can go back to that; it’s impossible. You have to work your way through that and move forward. Change your way of thinking and carry on.
Most of the time I’m in my manual wheelchair. The power chair is for long walks so someone doesn’t have to push you all the time. My house is completely accessible. I drive my own van and am able to travel a fair distance.
Independence is important. No one wants to depend on somebody else. I have my own home and can live somewhat independently. You still need to rely on others; at least I do. I’m limited to what I can do as far as dressing and making meals. They’re almost impossible for me to do. Bayshore and March of Dimes come in the morning to get me washed and dressed. The rest of the day I’m doing woodworking with my brother. I can put myself to bed, so I have that freedom.
This house was a cottage to begin with, and eight years ago I got a divorce and chose to move up here full time. London was too busy for me. Here in Southcott Pines, I have the trees and it’s cool. I spend a lot more time outside here.
The elevator is a big excitement for me because it was supposed to be installed for the 2001 Summer Games. I was disappointed then that it wasn’t installed, but now that it is installed it’s great, it has a beautiful view and it’s going to benefit a lot of people.
There are so many barriers still. You can’t get into buildings, they don’t have proper ramps, the washrooms are inaccessible. I can see now I’m limited to certain businesses. It would be great if people thought about it for a minute. It’s only going to benefit them financially. There might be something in there I would like to buy, but if I can’t get in, I’m not going to buy anything.
The town needs to improve some of the infrastructure. And they will. It’s going to take time and money. I’m sure that’s what’s holding a lot of businesses back. We are a town that’s seasonal, and people don’t have the money to spend on ramps and accessible washrooms. Hopefully, as Grand Bend grows, people will start spending the money to do those things.
I don’t think a lot of people realize how difficult it is to get around and into places. They see a little bump and think, He can get in there. That’s a barrier to me. I don’t want to go into a place where someone has to help me go in, because I know I can’t leave on my own.
The biggest thing for me is not depending on people. The biggest challenge is trying to be as independent as I can be.