It was like an anvil fell out of the sky, went through the roof, and hit me in the back. It was that sudden.
I remember lying in bed thinking I had a cold, and I felt this horrible pain around my middle. Over an hour and a half, I became weaker and weaker and weaker.
I fell on the ground, and that’s when I panicked and called a doctor. I was unable to move my legs.
My wife, Ann-Marie, remembers that when I was being wheeled out to the ambulance, my eyes were like saucers. I was in shock.
At the hospital, a neurologist came in and immediately knew what it was. It’s called transverse myelitis. It’s a little bit like MS, but it presents itself differently. Somehow my immune system had messed up and attacked my spine.
I have been paralyzed from the waist down for the last twenty-one years.
I was in mourning for a long time. I lost half my body. I lost my legs. It was like I had to wait around for each brain cell to accept that.
Friends were very good. They brought food and Alfred Hitchcock movies and stuff. But I’ve also found that there were people who didn’t come, who didn’t call, who didn’t write letters. It struck me as really strange until I realized that, first of all, there are people who are scared of hospitals, but there are also people who are mortified by something like this happening to someone they know. Their reaction is just not to think about it. To withdraw.
Ann-Marie and I had some tough times because this was such a shock. And then we realized, "This is it, you know? This is our reality." So we had to change our life accordingly.
Ann-Marie thinks humor is what kept us together.
There’s a lot of dark humor that comes with dark events. If you can laugh at it, that is the best laughter in the world
We’ve both found a little humility and empathy for others. There is this phenomenon called post-traumatic growth, where people often, right after tragedy, reinvent themselves and grow as opposed to fall apart.
I changed careers. I used to be a television writer, but my work was kind of sporadic. Instead of making television shows, all of a sudden I started writing books.
People would see me in this situation and they’d go, “Oh my god, if that happened to me I’d lose any interest in life. I’d crawl up in my bed and stay there.” The truth is you have a lot more grit than you think you do.
Option B means realizing that you’re reinventing yourself. There’s no rulebook. There’s no guide. It’s about going back to life.
Learn more about Allen's story in his book, Best Seat in the House.