From his hospital bed, hooked up to a ventilator, Goetzke listened while his brother read him the newspaper articles describing his accident. Goetzke's brother paged a reporter with a complaint: the fact that there was still hope for a full recovery was not mentioned prominently enough in the story. Paul Goetzke wanted everyone to know that he might walk again.
A year and a half later, Goetzke no longer holds out that hope.
The best chance for that type of recovery is during the first 18 months, when the swelling can decrease, when physical therapy can increase movement, he says. Goetzke has developed more control of his arms, but he remains paralyzed from the chest down. He says he does not follow stem cell research or other experiments that some hope will lead to a cure for spinal cord injuries.
Still, he's thankful.
After Goetzke left the hospital in Falls Church, he spent almost two months on the second floor of Good Samaritan Hospital in Baltimore in a ward filled with patients with spinal cord injuries. Many of them seemed to have little family support, while Goetzke, the eighth of 10 children, could rely on family and friends to visit him often and help him adapt to his new life.
His friends and family raised about $200,000 for an elevator to be installed in his Davidsonville home and a van to help him get around.
As he worried about his return to work, he met several patients -- including a bricklayer, a professional scuba diver and a carpenter -- who were coming to grips with the reality that they would have to find new professions.
"I knew I'd have to develop new systems, but I never doubted I'd be able to work," Goetzke says. "I was very lucky that I made my living with my head rather than my hands."
Goetzke began working from home in January last year, five months after his accident. In February, he argued -- and won -- a case in federal District Court.
However, he was back in the hospital on the anniversary of his accident, suffering from a high fever. Doctors were unsure why.
Goetzke spends some days working from home and significantly less time in the courtroom. Before his accident, he handled city litigation and passed contract work and other such matters to outside attorneys. Now, he says, he focuses more on that kind of work, because it can be done from his office: "Trying cases involves a lot more choreography than it used to."
Patience has increased
During the last year and a half, Goetzke has learned a lot about himself. Known to be assertive and a bit brazen, he has become more patient with others -- at work and at home.
Before, if Goetzke wanted something done, he did it himself. Now he has to rely on others, Suzie Goetzke notes.
He spends more time with their children than he did before. Sometimes, he spends afternoon watching cartoons with them. Before his accident, he frequently took 8- year-old son, Hobey, and 5-year- old daughter, Kathryn, for rides on the back of his bicycle. Now, the children -- and their cousins and friends -- like to ride on the back of his wheelchair.
While Suzie cooks dinner, Paul often joins her in the kitchen just to spend time with her."`Call me when it's ready' is how it used to be," she says.
Goetzke has been approached by disability advocates asking him to take on disability cases. Although he won't turn away such work, he says he has no desire to be "a professional quadriplegic," and he wants to continue his work in municipal law. Some who know him have suggested he seek a judgeship or enter politics. Goetzke says he might consider those options.
He does not want to talk about the possibility that his days as city attorney might end now that Ellen O. Moyer has been elected mayor. Instead, he is content with his new approach to life.
"I see attorneys now who are busy with their practices and I tell them, `The work will always be there, but your kids will grow up before you know it,'" he says.