The injury shows you your true self
Veronika Hublová comes from Brno. “I was born here and went to all but one school here. I went to a primary school for the mathematically gifted. Then I ended up at a business academy which I thoroughly despised,” Veronika recounts. “It was around the time of the Velvet Revolution – nobody knew how the economy would evolve so I endured four years of boredom.”
After graduation (maturita), she packed her bag and left for England, where she spent a year working as an au pair and housekeeper. “I experienced London from the perspective of an immigrant, working for families from Nigeria, Greece or Thailand. All in all, it was really taxing, but I am grateful for it. I learned a lot of life lessons, and English.”
Interest in psychology
She kept working as an au pair for a while after returning to the Czech Republic and then she got admitted to the Faculty of Humanities in Prague (the predecessor of today’s FHS at Charles University). “Our classes were in the building which used to house a burn unit where Jan Palach died. Very interesting people like Tomáš Halík were giving lectures there, broadening my horizons immensely.” She did not finish the program though. During her studies, she started to gravitate toward psychology and succeeded in her admission to psychology at the Faculty of Arts in Brno. “It was impossible to do simultaneously. Nevertheless, to psychology I added English, which I enjoyed for being notably less theoretical than psychology.”
While studying, she traveled back to London as a tour guide. She graduated in both English and psychology and was hired as a researcher at the Masaryk University Faculty of Medicine, on track to earn a doctorate. “I wanted to do clinical psychology, but when I was finishing school, no such jobs were available. So I kept on studying, shifting my focus to schizophrenia, which was at once tremendously intriguing and challenging.”
The fateful injury happened in her second year of doctoral studies. “I was studying part-time so money was in short supply, and I needed resources for my psychotherapeutic training. Looking for extra income, I juggled about five different activities, from traffic psychology assessments to proofreading. I was overworked.”
She found a better paid job at an old people’s home in the Vysočina Region. On the third day of her employment, she had a car accident. “Microsleep, probably. I wasn’t even driving fast, barely 60 kph. I drifted off an unpaved curb into a roadside ditch. Unfortunately, there was a tree. If it hadn’t been for the tree, I would have driven the car into a ditch and nothing serious would have happened. Just sheer bad luck.” Veronika has been in a wheelchair for over ten years now.
Never to walk again
Veronika spent several months at a spinal injury unit where she continuously suffered from a decubitus ulcer. “That was really painful – they positioned me wrongly and the bedsore just would not heal,” she recalls. Afterwards, she spent over half a year at the rehabilitation institute in Košumberk-Luže. “There was a point between the spinal unit and rehab when I wasn’t sure whether I would walk again or not. It dawned on me in Luže. I saw the difference between me and the patients making progress who started slowly to pace on their own. I came to understand that I wasn’t one of them,” says Veronika.
Reliant on others
“My arms weren’t improving; my legs were completely lifeless. I did not have the physical strength to take care of myself, which was the hardest part for me. All my life, I had been active and independent, and suddenly, I had to rely on the help of others around me,” she remarks on the drastic change.
“The way I’m describing the events does not sound very positive, but the truth is the injury will unveil your true colors. And I have learned that I’m not the one to give up. I put all my energy into winning my independence back.” The progress was rather slow and rocky – Veronika suffers from a lesion in the cervical spinal cord which affects her arms too. Moreover, the right side of her body is considerably weaker. “That really complicates my situation. I’m still having trouble moving around. It took a lot of hard work, but I have been able to regain the freedom of independent movement. Today I’m able to drive a car and load the wheelchair into it by myself, which is crucial.”
I did not like psychologists
Veronika returned to work at the spinal injury unit already, focusing on proofreading and academic writing. “I knew I needed to keep my brain busy, so I simply worked from the hospital bed.” She concedes that early after the injury, she did not like psychologists. “I was not in the mood to be examining my predicament every day. At the time, it felt as if the sessions with psychologists were draining me. When you’re stabilized, you can reflect on why you had the injury and its meaning. But at the spinal unit, it’s just too early.”
Need my own place. End of discussion
After rehab, Veronika spent the following year as a resident at the Kociánka center. She was determined to become self-reliant, no matter what it took, so she waited until the city council allocated an apartment to her. A lot of people tried to talk her out of living alone. “Even my brother asked me not to go it alone. But I was adamant, knowing that if I were to keep it together and function, I had to have my way.” When she was eventually provided an apartment, her brother helped her remodel and modify it for her needs.
She took up where she left off in her doctoral studies and later added English translation studies and translating of scientific literature. The part-time doctorate nicely complemented the full-time translation studies. “I mostly did it so that I could socialize and keep my head busy again,” she explains. She finished her doctorate but dropped out of the translation study program. It proved too time-consuming to try to manage studying and translating alongside the responsibilities of a postgraduate.
Fewer people around
Just like the majority of people who have gone through a similar experience, Veronika admits the wheelchair purged her circle of so-called friends. She has nothing bad to say about her colleagues from psychotherapeutic training and the Brno University Hospital psychiatric clinic. Her memories of fellow students are not so fond: “A lot of them stopped seeing me and wouldn’t want to meet up. That was mind-boggling to me. Those were the people who were supposed to be helping others, yet they must have had unresolved personal issues of their own.”
People’s behavior varied. “Sometimes people’s approach was excellent. At other times, I was taken aback by folks telling that the best thing for me to do would be to commit suicide. Someone even offered me a pistol. That sounded insane to me and solidified my resolve not to give up. Those kinds of thoughts and ideas are beyond me.”
Veronika says she is the most satisfied she has been since the injury. Working as an analyst for an IT firm – the first job in the private sector, as she says –, she makes use of her language skills. She has a boyfriend and leads a happy life. “It took some time after the accident to realize that the injury set me in a certain direction. I wasn’t happy and didn’t know what to do with myself. I did many things somewhat patchily and none of them wholeheartedly. The injury put me on the right path. Other than that, I don’t think I’ve changed as a person too much. I was the way I am before the injury. It just gave me a certain perspective and a refined attitude toward things.”
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