Facing new challenges and uncertainties after sustaining a spinal chord injury have emboldened Kissinger's outlook; in this post, the paralympian describes how his experiences have shaped his attitude.
The white sands of Norway
We arrived on the 15th December at Gardermoen, Norway. We didn’t have winter clothing, and we were convinced that the snow outside was white sand. It was freezing cold - had I made the right choice? Was this going to be a good opportunity for us? We were brought to a reception center in Brøttum. And on the flight to Norway I developed a new pressure ulcer, which I had to treat myself. After 3 months with this ulcer I got admitted to Lillehammer hospital. I was there for about 4-5 months. Coming from Africa, they were afraid that I might carry infectious diseases, so they cleared a whole floor for me at the hospital. Every nurse and doctor who came to look after me was dressed in yellow plastic and had masks covering up their faces. My family stayed in Brøttum and had to get used to this new country by themselves.
After 5 months I was ready for my very first rehabilitation. Sunnaas hospital became my new home for the next year. I had to learn how to use the wheelchair, dress myself and many other skills. This was the first of many long stays at Sunnaas.
After all the let-downs I had experienced after injury, I wanted to find something that motivated me. I needed to stay strong and in good shape both physically and mentally. I started to play wheelchair basketball. The only team was in Oslo, and I lived in Lillehammer, about three hours away. The distance was too long and it became difficult to travel back and forth all the time. I found a team to play with a bit closer, in Toten. I kept playing and I went to a Folk High School, Lundheim, to finish high school. I was very unfortunate and picked up yet another new pressure ulcer. In 2006 I was back again at Sunnaas for a new round of rehabilitation.
In 2007 I got an opportunity to move to Oslo. My basketball practice had declined as there was no team to play for. I had to look for a new activity and that was when I discovered sledge hockey. In 2008 I started as a goalkeeper for Oslo Sledge Hockey team. This was very new and exciting for me. My mom though it was very impressive, she had never seen a (dark) African on the ice! I told her: I am going to be the first one :-)
Paralympics Vancouver, 2010
In 2010 I was made it onto the Paralympics team. We went to Vancouver and won the bronze medal. On the flight back to Norway I got another ulcer. The nurses from homecare were going to take care of it so I could avoid yet another stay at the hospital. But the routines didn’t work and I got worse and worse. It ended with a surgery but because of diasgreements between two hospitals I ended up waiting for almost 3 years before I was operated on. I had to lie on my stomach all the time, three years spent inside my flat. After the surgery I was admitted to Sunnaas again, and the rehabilitation took longer than expected. In December 2013, I was finally discharged.
In February 2014 I got a job offer from Sunnaas; they wanted me to work for them as a motivator for the newly injured patients at the hospital. With all my experience and ability to motivate other people in the same situation they felt that this job was perfect for me. I work 2-3 days a week and I feel lucky. I get to meet old and new patients and I appreciate working with each one of them.
"Life goes on"
This year it is 20 years since my accident. I look back at all these years and think about all the ups and downs. How much I have learned about myself and about life. In one way it feels like it was yesterday I was laying in my bed thinking about the tournament final I was going to play with the under 17s team. But at the same time it feels like all of this happened in another life.
I have spent 14 of these 20 years at the hospital. I have been through more surgeries than I care to remember and a lot of times I have wondered if it is worth fighting for. But every time I feel like quitting, I think about all the things I have in life which are worth fighting for.
My biggest supporter and helper since the day I injured was my mom. She was an amazing woman. We were five siblings and she had enough time for all of us. Not only us, but everyone who came to her. No one was ever overlooked or ignored by her. It must have been a very tough situation for her too. Her son was injured and hurt. But she never said anything about that. She always looked forward, stayed positive and did her best . I can not describe with words what she meant to me. But one thing is sure: without her help I would never have gotten to where I am today. Not physically nor mentally. She taught me how to be strong and that life has to move on no matter what. And that is my life motto: Life goes on.
In 2013 my mom died. It was a shock for all of us. I did not only lose my mother but my best friend and the most important person in my life. I know that she still looks after me and helps me through tough times.
Rest in peace mama, I love you and miss you every day <3
We all have a story to tell
A lot of people ask me if I am bitter or sad because of my injury. And it would be a lie to say that I never think about it or feel a bit down from time to time. But that’s the same for everyone I guess. Not only if you have an injury, but in life in general. I have so many things to be grateful for, and a lot of these things I might not have discovered were it not for my injury. I appreciate every day that I am alive, because the reality is - I could have died! My whole perspective of life changed after that day. I have a lot more respect for every person I meet and the fights they are fighting. We all have a story to tell and it is important to help each other to deal with tough times.
After 17 years in Norway I could not be more thankful for the opportunity to take my family with me here. In Norway you have a future as a disabled person. I learned quickly that I can live a normal life here and do all the things I want to. Some things require a little extra effort, but that is never a problem for me. I get the medical care and all the medical equipment I need without having to worry. People also meet me with the same kind of respect they would have if I didn’t sit in a wheelchair. These are things we take for granted here in Norway, but I appreciate it deeply.
What if I got the chance to go back and change my past?
Almost everything in my life changed after that day 20 years ago when I fell off a roof and sustained a spinal chord injury. And since that day there have been many times when I could not see anything positive about it at all. But when I think of it, there is a lot of positive changes as well. My family learned a lot from all of this. We became stronger together. Learned to deal with the tough times together. And we spent more time together. I learned to appreciate all the good people I have in my life, and that was very important for me after my injury. Because together we are stronger.
Sometimes I reflect upon a question that becomes harder and harder to answer. What if I got the chance to go back and change my past? If I had never injured myself, would I still ask myself this same question? The first years after my accident I was sure of the answer; yes! Of course! But now, after 20 years, I have experienced so much in life I never want to be without. All the people I have in my life mean so much to me. That is why my answer is totally different now. Even though it would be amazing to be able to walk again, I do not feel that it can compare to all the good things I have in my life now. I love you all and without my friend and my family my life would not be the same <3 And not without my kind girlfriend<3
I never got to be number 23 like Michael Jordan on the basketball court, but I got to be so much else. Life does not always go as you planned, but that doesn’t mean it can not be good. If I had not injured myself, I would never have gotten to live in Norway. I would never meet all the great people I have in my life and I would not have been able to share my story with you!
My family. I love you all. Thank you for always standing by my side. Without you guys, I am nothing.
And Thank YOU for taking the time to read this.
Life goes on :-)
Stay blessed <3