On July 12, 2007, Ralph Rekemeyer accidentally tumbled from high up a ladder to the ground while cleaning windows. His life changed instantly. Rekemeyer reads this column in the DeWitt (Iowa) Observer.
“About the only thing I remember about that day was a police officer hovering over me to assist an emergency medical technician,” said 58-year-old Rekemeyer in a telephone interview. “They helped me onto a stretcher before taking me in a helicopter to University of Iowa Hospital.”
Rekemeyer broke his sternum, all his ribs, and his spine at the T-7 level. He and his brother co-owned a successful window cleaning company.
“I woke up and my wife was there at the bed,” he said. “I was told I’d probably never walk again. My wife didn’t want to react in a way that would keep me down worse than I was.”
He spent three months in the hospital before transferring to a rehabilitation facility in Davenport. He began using a wheelchair. When finally returning home, he and his wife suddenly realized their home was inaccessible, so they built a new home with extra-wide doorways, wide hallways, lower door knobs, and a roll-in shower. They had to purchase a wheelchair-accessible van.
He said, “I still have good function in my upper body, but have complete paralysis from the trunk down. It’s been a tough adjustment for me. I’ve always been an outdoors person, and now I’m not able to hunt, fish or work around outside. Until you get into a situation like this, you don’t think of people in this position.”
For years, he said, he used to clean the windows of hospitals and large nursing homes. While doing it, he saw perhaps hundreds of people with disabilities, yet never really had been able to understand their situation.
He really would like a part-time job, but can’t find one that offers him meaningful work. And he bristled at the idea of doing make-work or shuffling papers. Rekemeyer has many years of experience selling services for the window cleaning company. “I want something in which I can be productive,” he said.
Rekemeyer has received a great deal of encouragement from his wife and 16-year-old daughter. “They try to make me be as independent as possible by not babying me,” he said. “That’s probably a good thing for anyone in a similar situation.”