By Maxine Bernstein
PORTLAND — Officer Paul Meyer drove back to work this week, arriving at the Portland Police Bureau's Central Precinct about 10 a.m. Tuesday, a remarkable feat considering he was paralyzed less than a year ago on the job.
Using specially equipped hand controls in his family's 2006 Audi station wagon, he parked near Southwest Jefferson and First Avenue in downtown, eased into his wheelchair and rolled himself into the precinct.
He was dressed in a black Training Division polo shirt and khaki pants, his service gun on his waistband. His doctor gave him the green light to work four hours, four days a week.
"It was surreal to be back, because it's something I've been trying to get to for nine-plus months," Meyer told The Oregonian on Wednesday. "To finally be able to do it, it's like a sense of relief almost."
On Nov. 19, Meyer was paralyzed from the waist down. A 110-foot tree snapped, striking him on the head and upper back as he was doing ATV training drills on Hayden Island. The officers were readying to break for lunch, riding on a trail toward their cars when the tree suddenly split.
The blow cracked Meyer's helmet. Firefighters had to rescue him on an ATV because of the trail's remoteness. He underwent four hours of surgery after sustaining several crushed vertebrae in his neck, mid- and lower back.
Through months of demanding physical therapy, Meyer maintained a desire to return to his police job in some fashion.
"From the beginning, from day one when this happened, Chief Reese has said he's got a job waiting," Meyer said. "I can still do a lot of things that I did before I was in a wheelchair, which makes me very lucky. I'm completely open to anything."
Meyer, 43 and a 20-year bureau veteran, was a lead instructor on special weapons and an active member of the tactical squad before the accident. He said he'll now be working in the bureau's armory. He'll repair firearms, do inventory of weapons parts, research best police firearms practices and equipment, write training plans and conduct classroom instruction on use of force.
"With the loss of my legs, my role as a father has been changed forever. My role as a husband has changed. My role as a man has changed," Meyer said. "But what remains constant is I have a way to provide for my family. It's given me hope."
His first day back, Meyer made sure he could easily access the Training Division on the 11th floor of the Justice Center and the armory in Central Precinct. By about 11:30 a.m., his commanding officers made up a ruse that he had to take care of some paperwork in the Personnel Division.
Instead, he was welcomed by co-workers and friends at a surprise luncheon that his wife organized in a large conference room.
"Life will never be as it was, but we are confident that with everyone's support, Paul will continue to amaze us with his speed of recovery," said his wife, Mary Meyer.
Officer Daryl Turner, president of the Portland Police Association, said officers throughout the bureau are heartened by Meyer's love for the job."His dedication, his hard work and his willingness to come back to work in less than a year after that horrific accident is a huge boost to all police officers," Turner said.
To maintain his law enforcement certification, Meyer must meet training standards established by the state's Board on Public Safety Standards and Training. He'll have to continue to qualify on the firearms range, but that doesn't deter him.
"I'm a little more stabilized now that I'm in a seated position," he said.
On Wednesday morning, he renewed his driver's license at the Sherwood DMV after taking a 12-hour driver's course.
"I felt like I was 15 today," he said. "I was so nervous."
No longer having to rely on his wife to drive him everywhere will be a welcome change. "I've got that freedom back," he said.
Meyer sees his doctor every month and hopes one day he'll be cleared to work full time.
Meanwhile, a remodel of his Tualatin home began several weeks ago, and he and his wife are hoping to move back in by Thanksgiving or Christmas. This summer, he started riding a handcycle and bikes to a nearby park with his two sons.
"Life is starting to get back to closer to normal. It makes things a whole lot easier on all of us," Meyer said. "My cheeks are hurting because I've been smiling so much in the last two days."
McClatchy-Tribune News Service
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