Saturday, February 6, 2016

ICMA report 3: Tears in the morning

Chris Norton delivers Iowa Newspaper Association Kickoff Address (ironic name) Feb. 5 in Des Moines, I was there for the Iowa College Media Association meeting.

At the advisor’s lunch meeting, one of the DMACC people commented: “I didn’t expect to be crying by 9:30 a.m.”

For me, that wasn’t completely true. I didn’t really tear up until about 9:50.

Chris Norton gave a powerful morning speech as the first session of the Iowa News Paper Association/Iowa College Media Association Friday events Feb. 5 in Des Moines. He spoke about his experiences losing sensation and mobility below his neck during a 2010 Luther College football game.

Norton, a freshman, sprinted across the field to tackle an opponent on a kickoff return. He says he dove a fraction of a second too early. The opponent’s knee met his head. And, as Norton describes it, it was like a switch was thrown: nothing below the neck—no sensations at all.

He kept telling the trainers he would be up in a minute. In fact, it took months of effort before he could get into a wheelchair.

Norton is better, now, but not fully recovered. He uses a wheelchair to get around, although he can take steps with assistance. He uses his arms and hands to move his wheelchair.

When did I tear up? It was near the end. Norton spoke about many of the ordeals that he went through, but also the good things that happened to him since the injury He managed to walk to receive his Luther College diploma in 2015. He has written a book with his father and has established a foundation that has raised close to $500,000 to aid people with disabilities. He met, and proposed to, his fiancé.

“If I could go back and change that play, I wouldn’t,” he said. Cue waterworks.

Chris Norton
Along his journey, Norton described two contrasting doctors. When he was feeling very down early in his long hospital stay, a woman named Dr. Georgia knelt down by his bed to get to his level and said : “Look me in the eyes.”

Norton says he wasn’t sure what was coming. “I’m from Wyoming, and people from Wyoming don’t lie,” Dr. Georgia told him, staring him in the face. “You will beat this.”

“It was just what I needed to hear,” Norton said. He urged us to be the “Dr. Georgia” for others in our lives, to encourage when we can—and avoid being the other doctor he called “Dr. Phantom.”

One day, lying in his hospital bed, Norton felt an “exposed” chill in his left big toe. He was very excited and reported the sensation to his doctor, who acted pretty unimpressed, and explained that people with spinal cord injuries often have phantom sensations, and that sensation was what Norton was feeling.

The explanation devastated Norton. However, weeks later, Norton was able to prove Dr. Phantom wrong. Over time, the sensation in his toe increased, and he was finally able to wiggle it. His father didn’t know the toe news, but had developed the habit of giving Norton’s feet “pep talks.”

That Thanksgiving Day, Norton asked his dad to give his left foot a pep talk. “Sure,” his dad said, and leaned over. A few seconds into the talk, Norton wiggled his toe at his dad.

Talk about shock and awe.
Norton, with his dad,
chats with INA attendees after his speech.

Anyway, after hearing Norton, my pile of J-term grading that’s overdue, the many preps and quizzes to write for next week—they don’t seem so onerous or burdensome. Each day is a gift, each challenge a chance to find my better self.

Now I’m writing like a motivation speaker. It’s not what I am—but given the choice, I would sure rather be Dr. Georgia than Dr. Phantom.

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