One hand and one leg - ... but Norris Matthews stands tall as mechanic and electrician
Norris Matthews had long harboured dreams of plying his trade as a mechanic, but a tragic, life-changing accident in which he lost his right hand and left leg seemed to cripple those dreams.
He told THE WEEKEND STAR that the accident slumped him into a tailspin, and he became despondent as he pondered his future.
The then 17-year-old added that his dreams seemed far-fetched, but his zeal for independence and self-reliance propelled him to rise above the circumstances. Armed with new determination, he was adamant that he would not be deterred by his disability.
At the time of the accident in 1989, Matthews had just graduated Central High, and had his heart set on attending an automotive school in Kingston. He said that getting automotive training was his dream, as mechanics classes at Central High were his favourites.
Matthews, recalling the day that changed his life, said that he was the rider on a motorcycle that was involved in a crash in Toll Gate, Clarendon in 1989.
“I was travelling on a motorbike and a car overtake and hit me off. The accident was so dangerous, they amputated the hand the same night ‘cause them say all of the bones break up,” he related.
His left leg was amputated some weeks later. He is convinced that his leg could have been saved if healthcare workers had been more meticulous.
“The leg being amputated was due to carelessness. They bandaged the leg and didn’t take out the splinters, so it stay there and decay,” he explained.
Speaking on the early stages of life as an amputee, Matthews said, “Life did hard because you don’t have two hands weh you can go around on a stick ... it was hard ... hard.”
With dreams of attending automotive school shattered, Matthews relied on mechanical and electrical skilss, the skills learned from his older sibling, and married it with the lessons from mechanics classes in high school. After continuous practice, he soon became one of the most sought-after tradesmen in his area.
Citing his passion for independence, Matthews said, “I don’t like to beg or depend on people. During my time at the hospital, I was saying I don’t want this to stop me. I knew I still had to go on and push on,” said Matthews.
The now 51-year-old, aided by a prosthetic leg, said that his clients have heaped praises on his mechanical skills, adding that people travel across parishes to visit him at his home in Howells Content, York Town in Clarendon, for his services. He laments, however, that is work is sometimes hurdled by his disabilities.
“Me would a probably reach even further in the mechanic work if me never meet in the accident ... give thanks fe life same way, you know.”
“With one hand, certain things me cyaa do alone. Me affi have someone with me. If me a pull something pan one side, someone affi pull supm on the next side.”
Matthews does electrical work and repairs motorbikes, lawnmowers and several other household appliances. He said he has ceased working on cars, following the advice of his doctor.
“I usually work on cars but, because I have the one hand and the car bolts are tight, when I pull them I have a terrible pain in my back and my doctor stopped me, but it’s my trade and I love it,” Matthews said.
When the work becomes too hectic, he enlists the services of a handyman, or his wife, Cherry, who has learned a trick or two by helping her husband.
She spoke feelingly of him, describing him as an ambitious person. Despite her family’s disapproval of her relationship with Matthews because of his disability, she shared with THE WEEKEND STAR that her relationship with Matthews is one of her best decisions.
“It’s about who makes you comfortable. The person have to be able to communicate with you, and, once you find that, the relationship can work,” she said.
“Talking to him for the first time, I realised that, in spite of what had happened, he still has the aim and zeal to achieve whatever he wanted. He doesn’t have a give up spirit — giving up is just not his thing,” she added.
Cherry shared that Matthews is family-oriented, and an excellent father to their children; ages 22 and 7.
“His biggest thing is that his kids must go to school. He put his children at the forefront of his life, so it’s the children, me, the car, then himself,” she said jokingly.
After 27 years of relationship and 11 years of marriage, Cherry says life with Matthews has been “very successful.”
“Everything we have, we achieved together — our house, car, everything,” she said proudly.
When quizzed on any advice for disabled people, Matthews said, “Don’t give up.”