Ed Smith is a writer of humour. From the Ashes of My Dreams is the story of his struggle to come to grips with quadriplegia after a motor vehicle accident, and describes his adventures and misadventures of seventeen months in rehabilitation centres in Newfoundland and Toronto. The author details his frustrations and triumphs and, from his own experience, offers critical observations on certain aspects of health care. With the help of family and friends, and support from people all across Canada, Ed Smith persevered despite many personal challenges to return to what he loves: family, home, and, of course, writing. Winner of the 2003 Newfoundland and Labrador Book Awards - Rogers Cable Non-Fiction Award
I am conscious only of noise.
I know the Ford Explorer is out of control and plunging down over the embankment because of the noise. The rattling and banging as the vehicle bounces over ground and rocks and trees is deafening. I can see nothing from my prone position in the rear except roof padding. Then I close my eyes tightly. Curiously, I feel no movement, no sense of being thrown around. I know when the vehicle comes to rest because the noise is over.
There is a great silence. I open my eyes and discover several things at once. The upper half of my body is outside the side window and lying on the ground. My right arm is on fire. Already there are excited voices as other motorists climb down from the highway to where we are. I realize we are upside down because lying on my back I can look up and see the wheels. Then a voice comes from inside the car.
“Okay, I’m all right. Is everyone else okay?”
It is the take-charge mode of my youngest daughter’s voice. Almost immediately, I hear my wife’s response.
“I’m okay.” A slight hesitation. “Ed?”
“Yes, I’m fine.” And enormously relieved that we have all lived through this with hopefully nothing more than a broken arm.
Men are clambering down over the side of the road and through the snow. They gather around and prepare to lift me completely out of the car. The fiery pain in my right arm is increasing, if that’s possible, and I ask them not to touch it. It seems to be broken in several places. And then I’m aware of something else.
“I can’t feel my legs.” It’s a matter-of-fact statement, said to no one in particular. None of the men say anything so I feel obliged to say it again.
“I can’t feel my legs.” Again, no one seems to notice.
I hear Jennifer trying to get to me through the inside of the car.
“Don’t move him,” she calls. “Don’t move him.” She, at least, has heard me.
“We can smell gasoline,” a male voice answers. “This thing could explode any minute.” And they continue their efforts to get me away from the car.
This time Jennifer’s voice is a shout.
“Do not move him!”
The men stop trying to move me. But now I have another concern.
“Is my wife out of the car?”
Jennifer is kneeling beside me on the ground.
“Yes, Dad,” she says, “Mom is okay.”
Moments pass like lifetimes, like milliseconds. People are talking above me, but no one seems to be talking to me, lying down here on the ground, on the snow. I seem to be a bit player in some vague drama, and I have the ridiculous feeling they’ve forgotten all about me. Jennifer is talking to me, asking me questions. Am I answering her? I don’t know.
Then Marion is bending over me.
“You’ll be okay, my love.” But there is no conviction in her voice and I know she’s only trying to comfort me.
“No, no!” I say desperately, trying to reach out to her, trying to make her understand. “It’s not okay. I can’t feel my legs. I can’t feel anything.”
Which is not exactly true, since the fire in my right arm is burning almost out of control. But it is nothing compared to the fear now rising rapidly in my throat, threatening to overcome me, to suffocate every other feeling, every other thought.
“It’s okay, Ed, it’s okay.”
Marion’s words cut through the thick, heavy panic that lies on me, surrounds me, engulfs me. And although I know it’s not okay, her voice reaches out and touches me. The fear that gripped me only moments ago like a giant bird of prey slowly releases me from its clutches.
I can’t feel my legs. The impossible thought remains, but the great bird is gone. It’s only when the words are spoken, I realize, that I’m seized by the talon-fear. I won’t say them aloud again.
I hear the voices of many people. Something is being placed around my neck, and I’m in an ambulance. I know it’s an ambulance because of the flashing lights which mean someone is hurt or sick or having a baby. I hope, as I always do when I hear the siren and see the flashing lights, that it’s a baby.
Someone is asking me if I can feel this or that, but I don’t know if I’m responding. I’m on a table and I see Marion and a man who seems to be talking to me or perhaps to Marion. I’m not sure because everything is getting fuzzy and then there is nothing.
A gut-wrenchingly honest read.-- The Telegram --
From the Ashes of My Dreams is a story of courage and hope told by a man whose journey into darkness ultimately illuminated the richness of his life.-- The Chronicle Herald --
The story of Ed Smith's ordeal is without a doubt one of his best.-- Downhome --
A testament to his delightful sense of humour . . .-- Canadian Press --
Compelling reading.-- The Northeast Avalon Times --
[Ed Smith's] book moves the reader to both tears and laughter and is hauntingly powerful.-- The Executive Secretary's Page, Newfoundland and Labrador Conference, The United Church of Canada --
n the nightmare of medical catastrophe, miracles are few. But after his own body-shattering experience, Ed Smith has created one. This book is at once painful and joyous, angry and tender, tremendously moving and uproariously funny.-- Karen Levine, Producer, CBC, Toronto --
This is a compelling story, told in a unique way from the perspective of the entire family. A worthwhile read, indeed.-- Barbara Turnbull, author of Looking in the Mirror --
From the Ashes of My Dreams is about where we go for comfort when we are hurt. Ed Smith went to family, the tribe, religion, writing, friends, and a sense of humour. It is a hymn of hope, a song of family and love.-- Tom Moore, author of Angels Crying and Plains of Madness --
Throughout this whole tragic story, Ed’s inimitable sense of humour comes shining through.
-- Ron Young, Publisher-Editor, Downhomer --