Bob Bell, unable to move, was on his back helpless in the hospital. Dreading the neurosurgeon’s dire verdict, he finally found the courage to ask, “Will I ever walk again?”
“Son, you’re a quadriplegic,” said the neurosurgeon.
And Bell thought to himself, “I’d asked him if he knew whether I’d walk again. I had no idea if quadriplegics walked. Actually, let’s forget this walking crap. I wanted to know if I’d have sex again.”
Bell is the author of a true-life book with an odd title (Un Moving Four Ward: Tales and Tips for Keeping Perspective Despite Life’s Challenges). Bell is a survivor, and his book is brimming with a deadpan sense of humor that comes from facing impossible odds – and winning. Comedian Carol Burnett once said humor is tragedy, plus time. That well describes Bell’s book.
Published in 2014, Un Moving Four Ward (a double-meaning pun) is an inspirational book with a kick. Unlike so many advice books that wallow in goo-goo pablum, this one packs a real punch, alternating between trauma and hilarity, from no-nonsense survival tips to good insights into the art of living.
Bell is an associate professor of accounting and finance at the College of St. Benedict/St. John’s University.
Raised in Pensacola, Fla., he decided to study at SJU. He was on campus only a few months before the life-changing moment happened at 6:30 a.m. Tuesday, Nov. 21, 1989, in a dorm hallway. A fellow Johnnie, in a fit of horseplay, put a full-nelson headlock on Bell. In the process, he broke Bell’s neck. At the hospital, the Johnnie visited Bell and, crying inconsolably, told Bell how sorry he was, that he never meant to cause such suffering. Bell decided then and there to forgive him, an important start of his healing process.
Bell’s book recounts the agonizing struggle to adjust to life as a quadriplegic. It’s a rough-and-tumble journey, but along the way there are plenty of triumphs. Readers learn quickly that “quitting” is not part of Bell’s vocabulary.
How can a book so filled with pain and suffering be called “enjoyable?” Well, it is just that – enjoyable, mainly because of Bell’s ferocious love of life and his comical remarks and observations. As a youth, Bell was a bit of a goof-off hooligan, a smart-aleck, a wisecracker, but an amusing one with lots of friends. That kind of off-the-wall, irreverent humor pervades his book.
Un Moving Four Ward is also a pleasure to read because of Bell’s vivid descriptions of the campuses of SJU/CSB and student life in Collegeville, St. Joseph, St. Cloud and Bell’s journeys throughout the world. He has visited more than 50 countries.
He alternates his life story with short chapters of his hard-won wisdoms and tips for readers.
From Life is Short – Make the Most of It: “Bizarre as it may sound, I believe my ability to handle my injury – both in the early days and today –has been helped by knowing so many people who died much too young.”
From Hospital Tips: “Ask questions of nurses. Nurses often know much more than the doctors. Avoid any doctor who disregards the opinion of a nurse or disrespects a nurse.”
And here’s an example of Bell’s deadpan humor:
“It’s certainly not that I was the worst kid in the world, it’s just that I wasn’t always the best kid either: held back by the Juder (his mother’s nickname) in second grade, a regular cigarette smoker by third grade, arrested in front of my class for burglary and vandalism in fourth grade and started drinking alcohol by eighth grade . . . As my sweet, skinny, church-going granny used to say, ‘We pray for C’s for Bob.’”
I bought Bell’s book via amazon.com, but it is also available at local libraries. It was recommended to me many times. I finally read it. Glad I did. Now it’s happily my turn to recommend Un Moving Four Ward.