Dr. Matthew Wetschler is a physician, artist, and surfer. In 2017 he suffered a spinal cord injury while body surfing near his home at Ocean Beach. During the event he drowned and had a death experience - his heart had stopped for approximately 10 minutes. Prior to his accident, he had completed his residency in Emergency Medicine at Stanford University and was practicing as a part-time physician and painter living in the Outer Sunset of San Francisco. His injury leaves him with right sided weakness and without feeling or fine-motor coordination of his hands. His work explores our relationship with limits, edges, and the space beyond.
We often forget, but we are not entirely in control.
Life is a co-authorship, a continuing dance between our intentions and the outside world - our own will pressed against a topography of opportunities and blockages. In the broadest sense my experience of spinal cord injury is reflection of that frequently obscured truth. My life had a trajectory which was suddenly disrupted by an unassuming day in the ocean. Daily life reveals another relevant metaphor; My limited physical capacity giving shape to how I am able to express an internal energy and desire to participate in the world that, despite catastrophic injury, remains undiminished.
My current process draws on the limitations of my body. Either through positioning, stress, or duration I'm constantly seeking a point of failure - and then a space beyond failure. The ultimate shape of line or an object isn't dictated only by my ability but also my limits and the relationship I have with those limits.
Art making in the context of disability is my exploration of limitation and effort. The relationship I have with my altered body echoes a relationship we all have with the world around us. What is our response when we realize that our lives are vulnerable to disruption? Does limitation lessen us? Should we fear loss as much as we do?
It is true that we are not entirely in control of our lives, but perhaps it doesn't matter as much as we think it does. In each of us is a fire, that if nourished, can find a way into the world; its ultimate shape is unique and beautiful, but not entirely our own.
On November 15th 2017 I was pulled out of the ocean without a heartbeat and not breathing. I had broken my neck surfing and, technically, had been dead for several minutes. Through the heroic use of CPR by a passerby, I was brought back to life but woke paralyzed from the shoulders down.
I had been a physician and an aspiring artist prior to my injury, finding replenishment in the ocean and the studio between shifts in the Emergency Room, where I cared for people in crises. Now I was the patient, with a broken body. I knew that I my time as a doctor could be finished but I committed that I would continue to make art.
From the moment I could move my arms again I insisted on painting, dragging canvases and supplies into my hospital room. Though painful and challenging, I progressed to being able to hold a brush independently. Over two months I made unexpectedly rapid progress and was able to walk out of the hospital with crutches. I now live in San Francisco, at my home near Ocean Beach. I am still unable to practice medicine but continue to create.
My story, however, isn't about art, it's about the raw human energy in all of us; a thread of light that makes it past the wall should any of us find catastrophe or crisis. Continuing to create is about continuing to have a voice, insisting that one can be present in the world despite unplanned limitations. Its shape may be different than what we had expected, but its intensity no less valid, and its purpose no less essential.
KTVU: South Bay ER doctor makes miraculous recovery after surfing accident left him a quadriplegic
Dec 22, 2017 - SAN JOSE, Calif. (KTVU) - A true "Christmas miracle." That's how some people describe the extraordinary case of Dr. Matthew Wetschler. The Valley Medical Center emergency room doctor had a surfing accident in November that left him a quadriplegic.
ABC: Pioneering spine injury protocol leads to holiday miracle for surfer injured at Ocean Beach
Dec 22, 2017 - Thirty-seven-year-old Matthew Wetschler was body surfing off Ocean Beach last month but crashed head-first into a wave. His spine was broken and he had no pulse when another surfer was able to get him back to shore.
NBC Bay Area: New Guidelines for Spinal Cord Injuries Helping Bay Area Surfer Walk Again
Dec 22, 2017 - Matt Wetschler became the first person to benefit from newly-created guidelines developed at Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital. By Laura Malpert.
Mercury News: Remarkable recovery: Bay Area surfer who broke neck takes first steps
Dec 22, 2017 - Dr. Matthew Wetschler, center, works with physical therapist Danielle Nekimken, right, an therapy technician Marion Leano, left, using the Zero G technology at Santa Clara Valley Medical Center's Spinal Cord Injury Rehabilitation Center in San Jose, Calif.