KAMLOOPS — If Glenn Dreger closes his eyes when he’s standing up, he can fall down in a matter of seconds. But that among other setbacks won’t stop him from doing what he wants.
Being confined to either a wheelchair or a scooter isn’t easy, neither has learning how to breathe again, losing the use of one thumb or adapting the home he built himself to become wheelchair accessible.
But, motivated as they come, Dreger figured he would tweak the objects around him to suit his lifestyle instead of the other way around.
There were no warning signs before it happened November 2011. Took about a week. On the day before life changed for Dreger, he was making plans for a Ducks Unlimited banquet and, coincidentally, hunting ducks when he noticed a touch of back pain.
"Everything was fine. I was able to load the boat and stuff like that. I had a bit of back pain and then that night I had really severe back pain; so bad I went to the hospital,” he says. "In the morning I could not get get up. By Friday night I was stumbling and falling on two canes. I thought: ‘Well I can’t go to the banquet tonight; people will think I’m drunk coming through the door.'"
That night was followed by seven months in the hospital.
Doctors diagnosed the former teacher with Guillain-Barré Syndrome — a common affliction which temporarily affects the nerve endings within muscle groups. Most people's condition improves, but Dreger's didn't; his became much worse.
"By January, I was a quadriplegic and I stopped breathing,” he says.
It was a series of minor setbacks strung together which created Dreger’s greatest challenge — finding a way to get the movement back through a lengthy physiotherapy term. Doctors are still studying Dreger’s affliction and have recently diagnosed him with Chronic Inflammatory Demalignating Polyneuropathy, a permanent degeneration of his nerve endings. His doctor told him most people would have the same odds of winning the lottery as they would at getting the same disease.
“I have very little strength anywhere in my body; I just don’t have enough muscles left,” he says. "A lot of them have been destroyed."
Many would see the odds as stacked against them, but Dreger sees it more as an inconvenience; he doesn’t let much stand in his way. Yes, there are some things he can't do, but that's only after he's found out by trying.
Pulling up to Dreger’s rural property, it’s clear the spot belongs to a hobbyist. The boat sits proudly in the side lot ready for its next fishing trip, the lawns leading to the vegetable garden are groomed and the ramped path to the front door smells like smoked meat. Indoors, the smell of comfort food — cabbage rolls, maybe — and a small sprinkle of leaves from outside trail toward the living room.
“You don’t have to take your shoes off; I don’t,” Dreger says.
Dreger and his wife built the house themselves and his hobbies serve as the artwork in their grand room. Two mounted buck heads and a ram head watch over the dining table. And while they may be from the past, the wheelchair didn’t stop Dreger from hunting with the affable Perro (Spanish for dog).
“I’d rather be walking for sure. I’d rather be able to get out and walk around. There’s a lot of frustrations with expectations you have of yourself to be able to do something and know you can’t,” he says. "But with hunting that’s not the case. I know what my limitations are. On my all-terrain-vehicle I go on my own and I make sure my wife knows where I'm going."
The provincial government gave Dreger a special permit to hunt from a vehicle — in this case his ATV — and he’s made good use of it. He mounted handles on the front of the vehicle to hold equipment — even his kill — and there’s a bar to rest his gun or his camera depending on what hobby he’s chosen for the day. A chain is screwed to his rifle clip for quick access.
He notes that while he hunts alone, his friends and family still offer him assistance in case he can’t make it out of a spot. But Dreger will try to solve each scenario on his own before calling for help.
Sure, not every outing has been a picnic. One time after he backed his truck up to collect his game and after securing it (while on hands and knees) found out he was unable to pull himself back into the driver’s seat.
"I reached it, put the brake on, started it up put it in gear. I’m hanging onto the door with one hand and tried to ease the throttle with one hand. I just eased it ahead a little bit but there must have been a bump which just caused the truck to leap ahead full throttle. It just shot across the road,” he says. "Fortunately the back wheel missed me as I was face down in the ground and could hear it crashing through the trees. I thought: ‘Here’s my brand new truck; it’s going to be all smashed up. Finally I could hear it idling. It was about 100 yards down in this gully. So I crawled down there and from where it was sitting I could get into it."
Beyond operating his truck on his hands and knees, Dreger assists himself with a host of instruments big and small. In his woodworking shop, he’s built stairs for himself to get into his boat, ramps to access his backyard and relies on small hooks and gadgets to do the small things we don’t even think about, right down to buttoning shirt cuffs.
It's a matter of staying focussed, motivated and confident. But above it all, Dreger credits most of his progress to family and friends for encouraging his confidence to push forward.
“It’s friends. I couldn’t do a lot of this stuff without somebody with me," he says.
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