Oftentimes when people ask me why I am in a wheelchair, I tell them that I am one of the reasons that they raised the drinking age from 18 to 21.
I am a quadriplegic who was injured two weeks before my high school graduation in 1977 when I was drinking and driving. It was a single-car accident. And fortunately my only passenger was not badly injured.
I, on the other hand, was barely alive. I damaged my spinal cord at the C4-5 level, was in intensive care for two months and rehabilitation for six months.
As difficult as it was for me personally going through this completely life-changing experience, I have always been thankful that my parents did not have to go through the hell that the Rayborn family is going through. My parents went through a different type of hell. My parents got the phone call at 4 a.m. to come to the hospital — that their son has been an accident that is every parent’s worst nightmare. They were told that they should start considering final arrangements because my condition was extremely tenuous, but through the grace of God I survived.
Before my accident, I never thought something like this could happen to me. I never even considered drinking and driving to be much of a problem. After all, it was the 1970s and I learned both at the same time.
Plus, I was one of the cool guys. I was surfing, skateboarding, waterskiing and partying growing up in South Florida. I was 18. I was popular and had many friends who were doing the same thing. What could happen to me?
Fortunately some things have changed. It is not as easy to get alcohol as it was when I was in high school. Fortunately too, there are now groups like Mothers Against Drunk Driving and Students Against Destructive Decisions that try to make people aware that such accidents happen. However, the problem persists.
It is difficult growing up. Actions have consequences and learning the consequences of what could happen — not only to yourself, but others — is a critical part of the discussion when it comes to alcohol and drugs.
You don’t always die from an alcohol-related accident. I know many people with disabilities like myself who, unfortunately, had to learn the hard way.
Thirty-eight years later I am still paying for the bad decision I made to drive home after drinking.
My thoughts, prayers and condolences are with the Rayborn family.
Gordon Palmer has been an attorney for the state of Florida for more than 25 years and is originally from West Palm Beach. He volunteers with organizations that assist people with disabilities.