By Susan Christensen
Health and Research News Service
In his last official act as chaplain of Methodist Rehabilitation Center, Bruns Myers III of Madison rolled his power wheelchair to a microphone and obligingly blessed the food at his own going-away party.
It was a fitting farewell for a man whose care and concern nourished the spirits of center patients and staff for 16 years.
“Just by coming to work each day, Bruns gave hope to everyone who has ever faced a disabling illness or injury,” said Mark Adams, chief executive officer of the Jackson hospital. “When he told patients things were going to get better, they knew it wasn’t just sugarcoating. They could see he had experienced the same challenges and prevailed.”
Many of those challenges became the stuff of hospital legend, particularly those involving Myers’ frequent adventures in his joystick-controlled van. Adams said he’ll never forget the day his wife called to say she had seen Myers’ van being towed away by a wrecker. “I said: How do you know it was Bruns’ van? She said: Because it has a Methodist Rehab sticker and Bruns is in it!”
“They could not get me out of the van, so they just put me on the wrecker,” explained Myers, who had gone off the road when the van’s controls went haywire.
Myers can laugh now about such perils, but his sense of humor is hard won. In the first years after his injury, “I felt like I had lost everything that meant anything to me,” he said.
Myers always thought his life’s work would be training horses. But he became uniquely qualified for his role at Methodist on May 7, 1970. On that sunny spring day, the Mississippi State University sophomore dove full-speed into a shallow lake and broke his neck. As he lay paralyzed underwater, “I knew with absolute certainty I was going to die,” he said.
A swimming buddy saved Myers from drowning, and doctors kept him breathing. But his carefree lifestyle wasn’t so easily resuscitated. Mississippi didn’t have a rehabilitation hospital then. So the 19-year-old returned to his parent’s home, ill prepared for his future as a quadriplegic. “I wondered why the world went on,” he said.
The answer eventually came after he began asking “big questions” about the meaning of life and existence of God. “In struggling with the reality of quadriplegia and its life-changing repercussions, I turned to the Lord, reaching out in faith to Jesus Christ,” he said. “The work of Christ in my heart and mind completely altered my perspective on living with quadriplegia.
“No longer did I see life in a wheelchair as unbearable. Instead, I realized that life could still be rewarding and fulfilling, knowing God’s grace was sufficient for my needs."
When Methodist opened in 1975, Myers became among the first patients to take advantage of the state’s first and only hospital devoted to rehabilitation medicine. And the experience turned his life around. “They taught me how to write, to use the telephone, to feed myself. They freed me."
Methodist staff also introduced Myers to a power wheelchair, a moment he compares to a bird being let out of a cage. “I was able to enjoy independent mobility, something I had not been able to do for the past five years."
Myers often thought about attending seminary, but didn’t think it was possible given his physical limitations. Then he made an important connection while recovering from pneumonia in a local hospital’s ICU. A visiting Reformed Theological Seminary professor learned of Myers’ ambitions and arranged transportation and assistance so he could attend RTS.
Fifty hours of coursework later, Myers decided he needed an undergraduate degree if he were to fulfill his dream of obtaining a master’s of divinity. He earned a bachelor of arts in biblical studies and philosophy at Belhaven College in 1986. Two years later, he received his master’s from RTS.
Myers said one key to his success was the devotion of his parents, Evelyn and Bruns Myers Jr. “Their assistance and faithfulness enabled me to be involved, productive, and accomplish my goals."
After graduation, Myers began volunteering one day a week at Methodist and was hired as a part-time patient representative in 1990. He was named Director of the Chaplaincy and Ethics Department in 1993, after a year as interim chaplain. “I could not have found a better place to work or better friends,” he said.
Myers’ duties included administering the hospital’s patient care fund, as well as chairing Methodist’s Institutional Review Board and the Ethics Board. But he’s best remembered for the connections he made with patients and their loved ones.
“The fact that he was in a wheelchair meant more to the patients than I think we will ever know,” said Janice McGee, vice president of nursing and program director at Methodist. “He could counsel and support people in a way that was unique.”
“I could show them the possibility of the future,” Myers said “I was a living testimony to the mission of rehab.”
Myers left his chaplain post in March because long periods of sitting were affecting his health. But that doesn’t mean his ministerial days are behind him. Myers will work part-time as an associate to the rector at St. Phillips Episcopal Church in Jackson. And he plans to continue to support Methodist in any way he can.
“I always was a believer in what Methodist was founded for and what it could do. I can remember people coming in young, frightened and uncertain and I saw their lives change and they had hope again.”