August 21, 2013Martha Washington said that the greater part of our happiness or misery depends upon our dispositions, and not upon our circumstances. That it is not our circumstances that define who we are as a person, it is our reaction to those circumstances that create the sum of who we are.
On Jan. 11, deputies responded to a residence along Benham Mill Road, near English, and found one of their own, Jesse Belcher, 26, injured from an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head.
Photo Courtesy of Crawford County Sheriff's Department
The bullet passed in front of his frontal lobe, missing his brain but damaging his optic nerves, orbital bones and sinuses. Belcher, who had been a deputy with the Crawford County Sheriff's Department for just a few months, would go on to lose all of his eyesight as well as his sense of smell and the tip of a finger, but he would keep his life.
That was eight months ago.
Since then, there has been a lot of conjecture about his accident and he would "love nothing more than to be able to set the record straight about that night." But, there's just one problem.
"I honestly cannot remember what happened entirely," he said. "I have what they call post-traumatic amnesia, and I can't remember it all."
Post-traumatic amnesia often occurs after a traumatic brain injury. Many people are unable to recall their own names. Belcher has what is known as retrograde amnesia. He is unable to recall many events that happened shortly before his injury, as well as random bits of information throughout his daily life.
It makes creating a timeline of the day for himself difficult.
"I'll be listening to a basketball game and I'll say, 'I didn't know he was on this team,' and then they'll tell me that he's been on the same team for two or three years," Belcher said with a laugh.
While he can't recall what happened the day of his accident, he can tell you exactly what he's thinking now.
"I'm happy to be here, and that's all that matters," he said. "I have to learn how to do things in a different way, but I'm here."
Belcher said that he is adapting to life without his eyesight well and that there isn't anything he can't do for himself, with the exception of driving a car.
"I can read, use a computer and write," he said. "I can even cook for myself."
"Who would have thought I'd ever be able to brown hamburger and be able to tell if it was done or not without actually looking at it to see if it was brown?" he said. "But I can."
Because he can no longer rely on his eyes to tell him what he needs to know, Belcher uses his senses of touch and hearing.
"The consistency of the burger changes depending upon how done it is," he said. "And you can tell by listening if you have the heat too high."
One of the things he enjoys has been learning to read Braille. Braille is a tactile writing system for the visually impaired. The system utilizes characters set in a cell that contain tiny raised dots. The number and arrangement of these dots distinguish one character from another.
"It's really more like a math equation than an English language system," Belcher said.
"It's very straightforward."
Belcher is also intrigued with the many gadgets and machines that he's found to make his daily life more manageable.
"I have a pen that I can scan something and record what it is on a label," he said. "When I scan the label with my pen, my voice recording tells me what it is."
He's also learning to get around without help. He travels to Jasper weekly and is learning to walk around the city with the help of his cane.
"We go up there and practice," he said. "I can tell you exactly what I'm walking on; if it's hardwood, concrete, asphalt, linoleum, tiles, I can tell you exactly what I'm on."
Belcher's doctors have given him high praise and say that his recovery is taking less time than previously expected. Last week, Belcher celebrated being released from his next to last doctor.
He's only required two major surgeries in order to prepare his right eye socket for a prosthetic eye.
"That's the exit side, and because of that, there was more damage to those bones," he said. "They had to do a skin graph to build it back up, and now they're going to prepare the eyelid for a prosthetic."
While he has done remarkably well, there have been difficult days for him to get through.
"You know, I miss the small things like being able to watch a TV show or see the words on a page, but I can still listen to my books on tape or read my Braille books or listen to the TV," he said. "But the thing I miss the most is seeing people. Especially when I'm talking to someone, being able to see their face and the reaction they have to you when you're talking … that is the biggest thing I miss."
"When it first happened, I didn't think I was going to have much of a life," he said. "I guess we just all had this notion that I was going to be disabled and that was that."
That attitude soon changed when he found out just how much he'd be able to do for himself, and now he doesn't take anything for granted.
He credited his family and friends and the community support he has received as one of the biggest boons to his recovery. The response, he said, has been overwhelming and humbling.
"There were so many people who showed up to my benefit," Belcher said. "So many people just came out to show that they cared and to say hi and see how I was doing."
So, what does the future hold for Belcher?
Well, he's a member of the Crawford County Republican Central Committee where he has been working on the Todd Young campaign and is hoping to be more involved in the community in the future. But he stresses that his involvement isn't limited to politics and, after he is finished with his therapy, he'd like to become involved with the Chamber of Commerce, Court Appointed Special Advocates or other community organizations.
"You know, I wanted to work in law enforcement for a reason," he said. "And it wasn't because I wanted the prestige or the reputation that came along with being a police officer. … I studied criminal justice because I wanted to give something to my community and I wanted to leave Crawford County a little better place than when I came."