Lived Through This

How I Broke My Neck and Became a Quadriplegic

16 years ago, my entire life changed in an instant

Matthew B. Johnson
Human Parts
Published in
12 min readJul 4, 2021


Photo: Jr Korpa/Unsplash

No, this isn’t the story about the worst thing that’s ever happened to me. Don’t get me wrong, it was a singularly miserable experience filled with pain and tears, frustration and depression. But if you’re looking for “sorrow porn,” look elsewhere.

If you read the title and thought, “That sounds like the worst thing that could happen to anyone,” you would be partially correct.

For some people, suffering a spinal cord injury and becoming a paraplegic or quadriplegic is the worst thing that will ever happen to them.

For me, it wasn’t.

For starters—spoiler—I survived. I’m here typing this in an air-conditioned coffee shop, enjoying a big-ass iced coffee. Also, this is only one scene in a much larger story that has a happy ending, at least so far.

And if you’re wondering what, then, is the worst thing that’s ever happened to me, that’s another story for another time.

But enough introspection. Let’s get on with why we’re all here.

July 2, 2005, was the day it happened. On the first day of a long holiday weekend, I was excited about the 4th of July festivities my friends and I were planning on enjoying.

Photo: Michael Fousert/Unsplash

The first of them was a pre-4th party at my shithole apartment with my shitbag roommates and some friends from work. One of those friends was my former co-worker, Jane. At that point, I had been single for a little over six months, having gotten out of a five-year relationship with my high school sweetheart.

Jane and I had worked together for a year or so, and after my breakup, I developed a crush on her. She was tall and blonde with an athletic build and a great smile; I looked forward to going to my shitty pet store job when I knew we’d be working together.

Well, “looked forward to” might be too strong a phrase. Maybe “hated it less” is more accurate. Anyway…



Matthew B. Johnson
Human Parts

I’m a Sacramento-based writer, English professor, track coach, C-5 incomplete quadriplegic, diehard 49ers fan, comic book geek, and lover of all things coffee.