Reader Profile - Emilie Olifant - My Story

Have you ever wondered what it would be like not having the use of your legs?

Me neither, until I found myself in a hospital bed unable to feel my legs or move them …

At High School I excelled in Athletics, Karate and Ballroom Dancing. After Matric I juggled my job as an examinations administrator for the JSE equities trading system, studying for a Communication Science degree with Unisa and three nights a week of gym. I sold my soul for the ideal body, toning my self-esteem to superficial perfection.

Everything changed after the motor vehicle accident in 2003 when the doctor told me: ‘Your spinal cord was dislocated on the T11/12 vertebra level.’

My friend, Kgosi, took control of my life for me; sorting out claims and police statements and updating my employers on my condition. His moral support enabled me to concentrate on rehabilitation. I worked hard at physiotherapy and weights, completing a three month program in just six weeks.
Even so, my thighs lost their tone and my self-esteem was crushed. Occupational therapy could teach me practical techniques for daily living but no-one could tell me how to get my life back. Able bodied doctors can’t tell you about life in a wheelchair. These were things I had to figure out for myself.

It takes a while to grasp that you are not the only one in anguish; that your family and friends are suffering right along with you. Healing for all of us had to start with me. Small steps such as cleaning my home and inviting friends to share a cup of herbal tea prompted me to greater achievements, like returning to work and joining the Employment Equity Forum, representing staff with disabilities.

The physical inactivity continued to bother me. I heard about a woman from California who teaches yoga for the Multiple Sclerosis Society in California. I tracked her down and in June 2006 organised a workshop for yoga instructors who were interested in working with the disabled. Yoga relaxes my body, reduces my stress levels and energises me. I also sketch, paint and write to relax. Using my own progress as a case study I also do research on spinal cord injuries.

It has been four years since my injury and I have managed to regain my independence. I bought a more spacious house that is wheelchair friendly and also bought a car and drive myself wherever I need to be. I love to travel, it takes more planning now, but I still go. In 2005 I drove a group of beautiful souls to Mozambique for a long weekend where we stayed in tents on the beach, at Ponta Malongane. It was a nine-hour trip and I drove non-stop with a leg bag. It made the trip much easier.

I have achieved a lot in my short life and have conquered my fears and face my apparent ‘limitations’ with an iron fist. I take great care of myself. People think that I must be coping. This is true – most of the time. I recently learnt that whilst my mobility differs from most people, the real person is simply another spiritual being going through a human experience! You and I are no different in essence. We laugh, cry, rejoice and mourn the same things.

Having a disability has made me more spiritually aware. I don’t focus on what I have lost, but on what I have. In some ways I have grown a lot more than I would have if this had not happened to me. The challenge turned me into a more mature and focused person, and I’m humbled by the experience.

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