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A quadriplegic’s story: ‘All I wanted was to die’

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Paralysed in crash: Curtis Dill broke his neck 35 years ago (Photograph by Akil Simmons)

Curtis Dill was paralysed from the shoulders down after a motorcycle crash in 1983. Here he tells The Royal Gazette how he had taken a cocktail of drugs and alcohol when he made the decision to get on his bike that day. His story kicks off the Drive for Change road safety campaign’s Impaired Driving Awareness Month

Curtis Dill learnt that he would be paralysed for life after a head-on crash nearly 35 years ago.

On June 17, 1983, Mr Dill’s motorcycle collided with a vehicle at the intersection of South Road and Devil’s Hole Hill in Smith’s.

The crash broke his neck between the C3 and C4 vertebrae and left him paralysed from the shoulders down. He was 24.

Mr Dill said he was “in a coma” at the time of the afternoon crash.

He explained: “Let’s just say I was under the influence of lots of things.”

Mr Dill said he had been drinking as well as using heroin, Valium and cannabis before getting on to his bike.

“On my way to the store, it’s like everything hit me.”

Then, he said, everything just went black.

Two days later, as he lay in a hospital bed hooked up to a respirator with “tubes all over the place”, he became conscious of what was happening around him.

Mr Dill said that he had somehow learnt that he would be paralysed during that two-day stretch while in a state of shock.

He said: “They told me that when I was in the hospital, in the early stages, that I had said ‘You might as well kill me because if I’m not going to walk for the rest of my life and if I’m paralysed please take me out now.’ I don’t remember it, but that’s what I said.”

He described himself before the accident as a guy who kept to himself.

“I guess some people would call me a bit of a loner. I didn’t really have too many friends.”

Before the life-altering crash, he considered himself an independent young man who worked as a landscaper and had a passion for photography and outdoor activities.

“All of a sudden, with a snap of your fingers, the world’s totally the opposite. Now you’re totally dependent. It’s a very difficult thing to deal with. I didn’t want to be around and all I wanted was to die.”

He said the dark feelings inside him lasted for a long time.

Mr Dill spent 4½ months in intensive care after the crash, followed by another 4½-month stretch in the Cooper Continuing Care Unit.

For the next nine years he called the hospital’s geriatric ward home.

He has left the island only once since the crash when he visited his sister and father who were then living in Thunder Bay, Ontario, Canada, in 1987.

Mr Dill said the trip is the reason he is here today.

He explained: “It took me to leave my country to go to a country that I knew nothing about to feel human.”

For the four weeks he was in Thunder Bay, he said he stayed in a facility similar to Summerhaven — the assisted-living facility in Smith’s where he has lived for more than 25 years.

“When I got out there I was treated normal. It felt good. That trip taught me what my life could be like.”

In 1992, he moved into Summerhaven, which sits about a football field’s length from the site of his crash.

The facility provides around-the-clock help to residents.

Mr Dill said: “I need assistance with eating, of course. They have to get me dressed. Physically, I can’t really do much for myself.”

Specialised equipment allows him to use a computer to communicate and also to do photo-editing work.

He said: “My computer is my life.”

Mr Dill said he has had no romantic relationship since his crash.

“I haven’t been that fortunate. Even before my accident I never really had a significant one. At one point I thought there was no hope.”

But he added: “I do know now that I could be loved for me.”

Mr Dill said that he had discovered peace despite his situation.

“When I was up on my feet, and had the world, I never had peace.

“Here I am — now I have every excuse to not want to be here, but I am at peace.

“That’s kind of ironic but it is my reality. I’m comfortable with who I am.”

Mr Dill said he decided to lend his story to The Royal Gazette’s Drive for Change campaign because it was “time to get real”.

He said of the crash: “My life is the way it is because of that.”

Mr Dill added: “A lot of people may look at me and not be able to see beyond it, but I guess now they’ll know why I’m this way. I was normal like them, at least physically, at one point in my life, but most people have never seen me that way. All they see is this.”