The Perils of a Quadriplegic Gardener (Part One)

by Patrick Muir on September 21, 2011

Next April will be ten years since that fateful night I was rendered a quadriplegic man.  For five years prior, I had been experiencing weird numbness symptoms on both sides of my body felt mostly in my sides and legs. My wife and I went to the specialists and the obligatory trip to Mayo with no explanations. The medical consensus was they were TIAs, or in layman’s terms, mini strokes. So I was loaded up with three blood thinners including Plavix permitting me to bruise like an overripe peach.  There were to be many emergency room visits and CAT scans but no explanations.

At some point at about the  five year mark I believe,  I noticed when I tapped my right foot there was a weird sensation in my neck. My PCP ordered a full spinal CAT scan, my first, and they discovered a small 1cm wide growth between the C2 -C4 vertebra. Yes, after five years of medical tests and specialists,  I uncovered it myself. Overjoyed, my wife and I tromped over to the referred neurosurgeon the next morning to get it removed. He said “Mr Muir, the growth on the scan is an AVM which is a mass of arteries and veins which has formed into a 1 cm ball. I believe you’ve had this since birth and it has grown over time to 1cm wide. I believe we have a six month window to remove it. Incredulously, he made no immediate plans for surgery. We learn there are three types of AVMs. Most common are those on the outside of the brain which are easily removed. The second are on the outside of the spinal chord another easy removal depending on the case.  Mine, however was on the inside of the spinal chord. A very complicated surgery as you can imagine.

We had come too far not to move forward right away. My brother Andrew is on the faculty at Duke and also on the faculty is a neurosurgeon with experience in this area. So we made plans to go to Duke and the first step was to begin to draw down on the blood thinners to prepare for surgery. We went into that weekend  full of hope and imagining what life would be like without hospitals and ER trips.

Sunday night, after dinner the whole family went to Diary Queen. Jackson, then four, and Colin at eighteen months had a typical warm Spring evening. Somewhere in the middle of the evening, I awoke to a pain more intense than I could have ever imagined. I began to run around the bed screaming uncontrollably for what seemed to last forever. Once, again we went through the familiar routine of calling a friend to stay with the boys and off to the ER. I was in no pain at this point. As we pulled up to the ER main door , I opened the car door and tried to get about and to my horror my legs would not move. After being assessed in the ER, I was rushed into surgery which was to last over twelve hours with many family and friends waiting at the hospital with my wife and mother. We heard afterwards, on the three blood thinners my blood was so thin multiple nurses were working at suctioning blood off so the surgeon could see what he was doing. Since he had to dig into the core of the spinal chord, there were many risks. I am grateful I have a fully working right arm. However the left arm is protracted and the fingers are turned up and of no working use to me. It looks pretty pathetic actually. While one could be bitter at the surgeon for his delayed lack of action, rather I credit him for my functioning arm.

Part Two will focus on the beginning of my life as a quadriplegic.

Patrick's Garden

{ 70 comments… read them below or add one }

Donna September 21, 2011 at 5:56 pm

I have to admit tearing up on reading your story. I can not even imagine being in your shoes, yet I admire you on writing the blog and including your story. I just subscribed so as not to miss your posts.


Patrick September 21, 2011 at 8:07 pm

Hey Donna,
Thanks for the very kind words. I’m so excited you’re subscribing. I


Dorothy Pepper September 21, 2011 at 7:51 pm

Thanks for your comments on my blog! I came over to check yours out. I’m terribly sorry about what happened to cause you to be a quadriplegic. Most days I forget to be as thankful as I should be! Thanks for reminding me.


Patrick September 21, 2011 at 8:04 pm

I share my story because I know it can move people to reevaluate their lives for the better. Thanks for stopping by.


Cathy and Steve September 21, 2011 at 9:42 pm

Patrick, Your story feels me with awe.

I, too, often garden from a wheelchair (in fact, I’ve been working on a post, Gardening on Wheels, for my blog.) I have severe MS and at times need a wheelchair, ventilator, suctioning.

Unlike your situation, which is permanent, mine is not so bad, although my MS is slowly deteriorating with a lot of ups and downs. I lost the ability to swallow and have a permanent feeding tube. But at times I can walk with a cane and help from my husband, and with wonderful “helpers:, I can do most things I truly want to do.

I have a severe problem with fatigue and heat, so gardening in the heat of summer is particularly challenging for me. I can’t be out alone (I’ve fallen out of my wheelchair and gotten wedged under the pedals – you kind of had to be there LOL) and other mishaps that make for humorous reading months later.

But still I garden, and so do you. Thank you for being such an inspiration for me, and for visiting my blog and loving my anemones!


Patrick September 21, 2011 at 9:52 pm

Thanks so much for sharing your story.. And we all have our stories and issues, don’t we. I’m glad you find the courage to overcome your disabilities and enjoy what you love. I’m inspired by you and your anemones.


tina September 22, 2011 at 4:02 am

This post brings tears to my eyes. So very sad for you but happy you see the positive that you have a working arm. I’m not so sure I would look at it this way.

There is another garden blogger who was shot and is also in a wheelchair. Her name is Marilyn and she is in Alabama. The name of her blog is Wheelchair Gardening. She, like you, is an inspiration for everyone who blogs and reads about your experiences. Thank you for putting things into perspective for me today.


Patrick September 22, 2011 at 6:31 pm

Hey Tina,
I hope you’ll subscribe and the additional part of my story will show you there’s no need for tears but I’m humbled by your reaction to this post.

I’ll try to reach out to Marilyn. Thanks for the tip-.




Rosie@mygardenhaven September 22, 2011 at 6:09 am

Thanks for visiting my log, Patrick. After reading what happened to you, I’m ashamed to let aches and pains keep me from gardening. I’m following your blog to be inspired. Thank you for sharing your story.


Patrick September 22, 2011 at 5:25 pm

Hey Rosie,
Thanks for your reaction to this posting. And I’m so excited to have another subscriber.


Kimberley September 22, 2011 at 7:21 am

I am looking forward to reading more. Thank you for sharing this personal saga. I am very impressed that you did not let this very large setback define the rest of your life. Despite being in a position that requires you to be very dependent upon others, you have held on to your interests, and found a way to maintain a very vital and seemingly satisfying life.

Thank you for the recommendation of the book about deer resistant plants, by the way. I will check it out. Honestly, though, they aren’t half the problem the woodchucks are! After living amongst them here for 8 years now, I have learned a few things, though, about (somewhat) peacefully coexisting with them. It may be the subject of a winter time blog post!

I hope you do not mind that I sent you a question via e-mail which did not seem to fit as a comment to any posts!


Patrick September 22, 2011 at 4:51 pm

Hey Kimberly,
Thanks for your kind words. I take all these comments to heart.

Besides the bulb cages, I can’t help with woodchucks. You might try orange or yellow friterllerias (sp?) only because the bulbs stink to high heaven, I can’t imagine anything going near them.


Patrick September 22, 2011 at 5:39 pm

Hey Kimberly,

Yes I consider my life satisfying especially after everything that happened to me. I pride myself in my resilience and I continue to draw upon it everyday.

Sorry I can’t help with the woodchucks but you might do a little research about yellow or orange friterlerias (sp?). Only reason is the bulbs stink to high heaven. They’re not cheap but after a little research you may want to give it a try.


Teresa O September 22, 2011 at 8:36 am

What an inspiration you are. It’s so easy to overlook blessings, but you ended the post with such a positive note that I can’t help but stop and count my blessings. As I looked over your blog I found lots of solid information and enjoyed the post on boxwoods.

Thank you for stopping by The Cottage on the Corner and leaving a thoughtful comment.

Have a wonderful day!


Patrick September 22, 2011 at 2:43 pm

Thank you Teresa for your kind comment. Yes, I feel blessed but I take my hat off to the full quadriplegics in their sip and puff chairs. One f my best buds is a paraplegics and he can’t imagine being in my shoes so its all relative. Thanks for stopping by.


Cyndy September 22, 2011 at 4:13 pm

Oh my, thank you for sharing your story – gardens and gardening are for everyone, regardless of abilities and I love that you are spreading that message. When my Mom lost her mobility due to cancer, I was impressed with how accessible gardening areas at her assisted living facility enriched the lives of residents – some were avid gardeners, others were simply glad to be close to beautiful plants and flowers.


Patrick September 22, 2011 at 9:13 pm

I take my hats off to the people who are involved in \some type of hort therapy. Before I had to move into my nursing home two years ago, I had a set of planters at my level and there’s a lot to be said for running the soil through your fingers. I hope to have the opportunity to do that again but it may be a while. Thanks for stoppi9ng by.


Melanei September 22, 2011 at 8:25 pm

God is so good isn’t he!! What an inspiring story! There is a purpose for all of us. .and I’m sure you wouldn’t have chosen your position for anything. .but it looks to me like God is using you mightily!! I’ll be eager to read the next part of your story!! And, so glad you enjoyed the “post like you have never seen before!” HAHA! I really enjoy entertaining people with the crazy things that go on in our lives! Blessings!


Patrick September 22, 2011 at 9:18 pm

Thanks for your kind words. And I hope to think there’s a purpose for my travails but most days I can be so big picture but there are still tough moments and by sharing my story it does help. So thank you for stopping by.


Tanya @ Lovely Greens September 23, 2011 at 12:40 am

Patrick, my heart goes out to you! I’m so inspired by your dedication to keep active despite your disability and look forward to reading more of your gardening adventures. Big hug :)


Patrick September 23, 2011 at 7:43 pm

Hey Tanya,
I’m very touched by your comment and really don’t know what to say but thank you.


Laurrie September 23, 2011 at 4:01 am

This is an incredible and scary story … and I know there is more to come in part two. When I originally discovered your blog I checked out the “about” section and already knew you were gardening from a wheelchair, quite remarkable! I am glad to have the blanks filled in, and of course distressed at the same time. Thank goodness you have function in your right arm (and can blog!!) (PS your blog feed links to an older blog of yours that hasn’t been updated, not this one.)


Patrick September 23, 2011 at 1:33 pm

Hey Laurie,
Glad I filled in some of the blanks for you and I do appreciate your feedback.
Yes I’m very grateful to have one good arm.


Foxglove Lane September 23, 2011 at 4:25 am

Greetings my dear friend from the South East corner of Ireland. Thank you for your lovely comment on my blog. It has been special to read some of your story this morning,I really admire the way you have shared it and what the sharing it has sparked off here. The truth and the pain are palpable. Isn’t the blogging and sharing on line world an amazing gift to us all, so glad to have connected with you, and hopefully we can stay in touch on the blogosphere:~)


Patrick September 23, 2011 at 1:20 pm

How are things in Ireland? Is your autumn almost over? I appreciate every one of these uplifting comments. Thanks for stopping by.


Alistair September 23, 2011 at 4:31 am

Hi Patrick, I am so very glad that I am in touch through your blog. You really are so inspirational and I like the way you say its all relative, just like my 90 year old mum who feels lucky because she is ten years younger than her 100 year old neighbour. Like Donna, I want to make sure that I catch up with your future posts, so I am off to subscribe.


Patrick September 23, 2011 at 1:16 pm

Hey Alistair,
Thank you, sir. I love your mum story. She sounds like a precious person. I always enjoy comments from across the pond


Pauline September 23, 2011 at 8:14 am

You are an inspiration to us all Patrick, I promise to stop moaning about my arthritis. It’s great that you can still garden – even though it is on a smaller scale now – and share your knowledge with us through your blog.


Patrick September 23, 2011 at 1:12 pm

Thanks so very much for your kind words. I hope you stay tuned for the next two posts of my story..


Jennifer@threedogsinagarden September 23, 2011 at 7:58 pm

Patrick, I have been sitting here looking at the cursor at a loss for words. This is a very touching post. What you have been through, I can only try to imagine from the story you sketch with your vivid words. I will have to check back to read the second part of the story.


Patrick September 23, 2011 at 8:08 pm

Hey Jennifer,
I’m very pleased you were touched by this post. Look forward to hearing from you again.
Thanks for stopping by.


Wanda September 24, 2011 at 4:41 am

I admire that you choose to be thankful for the functioning right arm, instead of bitter for what you’ve lost. I don’t see a following widget, but I shall follow. The flowers of your garden are lovely!


Patrick September 24, 2011 at 7:29 am

Hey Wanda,
Thank you for your kind words. No, I don’t blame the neurosurgeon but sometimes I wonder why. But it’s not good to have your life full of hate when you need to move on so desperately. Thanks for stopping by.


Lynne Kovan September 25, 2011 at 12:51 pm

Hi Patrick,
How courageous you are. It’s great that you are so active in the world of gardening. Makes me feel embarrassed at how idle I am with my own garden. I love to look at other people’s gardens but when it comes to my own, I lack motivation and knowledge to make a good job of it. I will now think of you the next time I start giving myself big excuses for not getting out there, and give myself a kick up the rear end! Thanks for the inspiration.


Patrick September 25, 2011 at 1:01 pm

Hey Lynne, thank you very much for the kind compliments. I’m thrilled to know I’m serving as inspiration to get you to get out there and garden. I hope you have a more fruitful garden next spring.
Take care, Patrick


Rose September 25, 2011 at 6:54 pm

Your story has left me at a loss for words, Patrick. Every time I feel sorry for myself for minor complaints and aches and pains, I have to remind myself that there are others with real problems and that I should be thankful for what I am able to do. Your positive attitude is inspiring, and I’m looking forward to reading the second half of your story.


Patrick September 25, 2011 at 9:11 pm

Hey Rose,
Thank you for your kind words. Whatever it takes to keep going onward and upward, feel free to use it if my story helps you.


Gardener on Sherlock Street September 25, 2011 at 7:05 pm

I am touched to be able to read your story. You are truely an inspiration and that you’ll share this with us is a gift. Thank you.


Patrick September 25, 2011 at 8:31 pm

You have no idea how gratifying all these comments are to me. I have a whole lot of family issues (don’t we all?) that I appreciate any diversion from right now so thank you very much for your kind note.


Rick September 25, 2011 at 10:55 pm

Patrick – I had to read your story after you dropped by my blog. Like many others, my little setbacks pale compared to your experience. I admire your courage and your attitude of thankfulness rather than bitterness for what happened. Since it’s rather late at night (or early in the morning), I will return for some additional reading.

All the best.


Patrick September 26, 2011 at 10:30 am

Hey Rick,
I’n still overwhelmed by the reaction to this post. I guess I need to get out Part 2 but there’s too much fall posts I have to get out first. Thanks so very much.


Wendy September 26, 2011 at 7:47 pm

Wow, this is a crazy story. I had no idea. I guess in the blogosphere, we value you more for the beauty you create in the garden, on your page, and your brain and written word. I appreciate you sharing part 1 of your story and look forward to part 2. I hope you’ll post about how you enjoy the garden today – I know your story will be very inspiring to others!!!


Patrick September 26, 2011 at 8:00 pm

Hey Wendy,
A crazy story indeed. Yes, Part 2 will be onward and upward. Thanks for stopping by.


Wendy September 26, 2011 at 7:49 pm

In fact, I bet a separate specialized blog about being a disabled gardener would bring many readers!!


Patrick September 26, 2011 at 10:05 pm

This may sound crazy but I don’t think I’m the right contestant to wear the Disabled Gardener sash and crown. Some purists would criticize me because I’m totally dependent on other people for my garden activities. When i think of disabled gardening I picture paraplegics using elevated planters and modified tools and literally with their hands in the dirt. Make sense?


alison@thisbloominglife September 27, 2011 at 2:26 pm

Hi Patrick, what more can i add? Thanks for sharing, it was a good kick up the backside (if you’ll pardon the phrase) for me too. Looking forward to more of the beauty you bring into your life and ours.


Patrick September 27, 2011 at 2:39 pm

Thanks for comment, I so appreciate all of them so much. Alison.


Dee/redddirtramblings September 29, 2011 at 5:03 am

Patrick, thank you for sharing your story. My mother had a terrible car accident 22 years ago, so I understand the doctors and the hospital routine. My sister and I are her support staff, and although she isn’t in a wheelchair permanently thus far, she’s been in one many times, and has had over 45 surgeries.

I’ve taken your experience down in my heart and will ponder it today. There is nothing I can really say except I am interested, and I care.~~Dee


Patrick September 29, 2011 at 5:24 am

Hey Dee,

I’m glad your Mom has you and your sister ass a support. There’s a lot of people out there without on or a shaky one at best.

Thanks for by and your caring thoughts. You’re one of my favorite bloggers and it means a lot.


Cindy, MCOK September 29, 2011 at 7:05 am

Patrick, I’ve gardened with a cast on one leg and the logistics were quite daunting at times. I admire you tremendously for your can-do spirit in the face of much more daunting limitations. True grit!


Patrick September 30, 2011 at 1:14 pm

Hey Cindy,
Thank you very much for your heart filled message.


Jayne October 2, 2011 at 1:48 pm

You are touching so many people and in so many ways – people you don’t even know and may never know, but you bring a gift to each of us. My son’s wife had a brain AVM a year after they were married. Who knows why these road blocks get thrown in our way, but how we meet the challenge means everything. You are a real inspiration, I am glad to know you through blogging.


Patrick October 2, 2011 at 2:31 pm

WOW, Jane. Thanks for your inspiring words. Right after I got paralyzed, I was lamenting to my priest friend about how could I evangelize stuck in this stupid chair and I’ll never forget his answer. He said “Patrick everyday you get out of bed and greet the world with that huge smile of yours, I can think of no greater evangelization than that. I have no idea how many people I touch and I’m humbled by it. Thank you for your kind words, my friend.


Corner Garden Sue October 2, 2011 at 7:06 pm

God has given you much grace in helping you cope with your limitations from that growth in your spine, and being able to articulate so well in writing.


Patrick October 26, 2011 at 12:48 pm

Thank you for your words of support.


Christina October 3, 2011 at 3:21 am

Three days running I’ve read blogs or one was a tv programme that has shown me how lucky I am and how brave others are. Your story is heartwarming in that your posts are so up and informative I’d never have guessed you had any kind of health problem. All my very best wishes in dealing with this. Christina


Patrick October 3, 2011 at 1:51 pm

Hey Christina,
Thank you for your best wishes.The overwhelming reactions to this post are giving me the confidence to aim higher and higher.


Karen October 4, 2011 at 7:41 am

Patrick, I broke my right wrist a few years back, slipping on the last known patch of ice left in Wisconsin in late March. Yes, I had to search long and hard for that tiny patch, and down I went, like a ton of proverbial bricks. (I will also note I was carrying a ‘cow’ flashlight…ever seen one? Carl gave it to me because of my farm background, it’s a toy for little kids and in the shape of a cow, when you turn it on, the cow’s mouth opens and she moos) but I digress. Poor Bessie the Flashlight went flying straight up in the air, but she came through just fine. No broken bones for her.

I still vividly remember how difficult it was to do the stuff I used to do with that blasted cast on my arm up to my elbow. And when I heard it had to be there for six weeks, oh, I was sad. Trying to learn to eat left-handed and type left-handed, oh, it was a Big Deal. Using a wringer washer one-handed, just opening a jar and trying to figure out how to shower, it was all daunting. And people noticed me in public, even though it was only a cast, their curious looks were a little off-putting. I wasn’t used to being ‘noticed’ in crowds, I’m one of the best chameleon-blender-in people you’ll ever meet, until the cast. Would I ever see the end of the six weeks?

Well, of course I did. What an eye opener that mere hunk of plaster on my arm was to me. What you face on a daily basis, Patrick, I cannot comprehend. My son’s best friend, Marty, passed away from Duchenne’s Muscular Dystrophy at the age of 17. He was unafraid of the stares of the kids in school, maneuvering his wheelchair through the hallways with skill until the day he could no longer push his own. Marty was in the high school band too, playing the tuba, which he had to have help holding, but had a real talent for. When the new chair arrived, he and my son would fly up and down our back road here, my son on his bike and Marty in his chair, and to see the breeze ruffling his hair and the smile on his face was always a joy. They also went out in the cornfield and would get cornstalks wrapped up in the chair, too. Marty spent hours here at our farm, watching Joel move rocks with the tractor and they had SO many adventures together. As the disease progressed, he wasn’t able to move his hands very well any more, but still, the spark in his eyes and his boyish grin were always there. I have to admit, I have never known a braver, more upbeat person in my life. Until I met you!

I have the aches and pains of any normal 53 yr old woman, and there are days I am very stiff and hobble around here for awhile and moan and groan and think, ‘Why am I doing all this blasted gardening?’ (Aw, poor me, I know.) Reading your story, Patrick, I am in complete awe. What a heart-rending journey you have had. To think the severity of your condition may have been avoided but for physician oversight is truly tragic. To see what you have accomplished since this has happened to you is simply amazing. The education I’ve received from reading your blog is priceless…your posts are a fountain of information and so wonderfully written. I am honored to know you, Patrick.


Patrick October 26, 2011 at 12:30 pm

Thank you very much for your words of support. Marty was only a teenager and look what he overcame. I was 36 when I was paralyzed so I’m a man dealing with my troubles so I take my hat off to Marty. He sounds like a very special and gentle soul. I wish I had the honor of meeting him.


Patrick October 26, 2011 at 12:46 pm

Thank you so much for your incredibly moving comment. Marty was just a teenager going through his troubles whereas I was a relatively well adjusted 36 year old man. He sounds like he laughed through life. I wish I had the honor of knowing him.


sweetbay October 19, 2011 at 11:14 am

Patrick I did not know until I saw your post from today and then scrolled down to this one. I’m so sorry this happened to you. Thank you for sharing your story.


Patrick October 19, 2011 at 11:28 am

Thanks for stopping by and I appreciate the feedback.


Catherine Callery October 20, 2011 at 3:22 am

I am sorry to hear about your codintion as for me I had convulsions that left my left side weak and I also epilespy when I was 11 months old and now I am writing a book on it and it is called My Happy Memories by Catherine Callery I am seizure free 21 years and you and your wife are in my prayers all the time Patrick you are a talent person and I am a fighter as I don’t let anything get in my way that is why I love what I’m doing needlepoint (tapestry) soft toys and card making and dad does the history side and I do the creative side you are fighter also and the lord will look after you


Patrick October 26, 2011 at 12:23 pm

Hey Catherine,
Thank you for your inspiring support. It really does mean a lot to me.


Anna Zinn January 22, 2012 at 12:50 pm

Patrick, you inspire me!


Patrick July 28, 2013 at 7:19 pm

Thanks, Anna


Dan Smith February 18, 2012 at 4:00 pm

Patrick, just thought I would tell you what an inspiration you are. Keep God close to you always. Great seeing you yesterday.


Patrick July 28, 2013 at 7:20 pm

Thanks for stopping by, Smitty.


Coco October 22, 2013 at 3:09 pm

Patrick just read part one on what happened to you,
I always wondered now I know. It’s such an inspiring
story you just never know how precious life is. But
I’m glad to see how strong that this has made you and
always keep your faith in our heavenly father and keep
that beautiful smile of yours and stay strong.

Love ya


Patrick October 23, 2013 at 9:10 am

When you’re focused on your housecleaning duties, there’s not much time to tell such a tale. Means so much to me our friendship is on another level. Love ya, back.


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