The Paralyzed Man Who Moved Us All

The True Story of Josh Nahum: The Unwitting Face of Healthcare Infections by Victoria Nahum, Co-founder of SAFE CARE CAMPAIGN (

Once there was a little boy who liked to jump up and down on his bed.

Whenever the mood would strike him he’d bounce relentlessly on the soft mattress until the covers were messy and the sheets became untucked. He would laugh and laugh until he ran out of breath, his face flushed and warm as he dared to jump off the bed as far and as high as he could, onto the smooth wooden floor with a bang and a jolt that shook everything hard and made a noise so loud it got everyone’s attention.

One gray cold winter’s day when he was 12, he climbed out of his bedroom window onto the roof so that he could throw himself off and fall into nearby high-piled snowdrifts, all tall and white like those soft-serve ice cream cones, cold, vanilla and creamy – just waiting for someone to eat them. Overlooking the snowdrifts before he jumped, he imagined himself sinking all the way to the bottom of them, leaving a funny boy-shaped hole all the way down, like in those cartoons where the roadrunner runs so fast he goes right through the tree trunk.

So when he became a man, no one who knew him was surprised that the boy still jumped, only now he jumped out of airplanes with his friends from great, exciting heights into thin, crisp air through puffy white clouds that hung there in the nothingness, patiently anticipating his arrival. Yes, the man who had been a boy had to jump into the beautiful blue sky; it was like he couldn’t help it.

And to make matters worse, jumping once wasn’t good enough. No, that would never do.

Now the man jumped and jumped and jumped until he had jumped one thousand times. And still, for him, he was not satisfied. He knew he had to jump from as high as he could as OFTEN as he could for in doing so it caused his very heart to beat faster underneath his ribs, making the small, coarse hairs on the back of his neck stand straight up on end – the outward physical evidence of an inner thrill he could hardly contain.

To the man who had been a boy, jumping made him feel like he could FLY; like he was new and light and wild and free. But really, the true reason the man who had been a boy could not stop jumping was because - simply - it just made him smile.

Oh, yes – jumping was for him, for every time he plunged downward through the billowy clouds, the wind would gently call to him in this amazing musical way, speaking wonderful words only he could hear as it whipped playfully in and out of his ears as he fell, fell, fell fast toward the dull, brown ground.

One day the man who had been a boy jumped out of the airplane just like always … except this time it was different. This time he did not enjoy his usual graceful descent landing easily with both feet steady upon the solid earth. This time he crashed hard, very hard - much, much too hard to walk away from the unforgiving spot where he landed. The man who had been a boy who liked to jump became paralyzed. And then he died.

But this is not the end of his story.

The man who had been a boy who liked to jump had died doing what he loved to do. And isn’t that what we ALL want - to have lived and died, doing and being what we wanted to do and be all along?

Indeed. It is the legacy and swan song of patriots and pirates and prophets.

But this is not the end of his story either. It is only the beginning.

The man who had been a boy had NOT died because he jumped too often or because he fell too hard from his most treasured place in his most precious sky among the birds whose wings he had envied and near the stars that shined so bright.

Instead, he died because, as he was being cared for by the many who truly cared FOR him, he caught a single germ that caused an infection in the fluid around his brain. The germ created so much pressure that it pushed part of his brain into his spinal column and damaged him so badly that it took away his ability to breathe on his own ever again. Or walk. Or jump. Or fly.

Now the man who had been a boy could not even feel the cool wind that flirtingly blew at him, still beckoning him affectionately from the window of his hospital bed. Nor could he feel his fathers’ last loving embrace or the drop of his mothers’ bitter tear when it fell wet and warm upon his arm as she bent over to kiss his forehead one last time.

In the end, the man who had been a boy who liked to jump
so that he might BECOME
the bang and the jolt that shook everything hard and made a noise so loud it got everyone’s attention because dying from a “healthcare-acquired infection is not an acceptable way to die”,
… said the wind.

And when the people found out what happened to the man who had been a boy and when they heard what the wind had said, they all agreed that the wind was right. And so it was.

After that, hardly anyone ever died in that same way. Eventually, healthcare acquired infections became a thing of the past. And that was a good thing indeed.

The real wonder of this story is that it came to us not with bang and a jolt that shook everything hard and made a noise so loud it got everyone’s attention, but instead it came to us as a gentle whisper in the ears of caregivers that made its way to their hearts, uttered by and carried on the very wind the boy himself had loved so much.

And that is the true story of a paralyzed man who, while he could not move a single finger for himself, ended up moving us all.