January 10, 2020
Words by Tereza Koňaříková, edited by Emma Clayton
Photography by Tereza Koňaříková
Martin is tattooed, in a wheelchair, and still has a job. He smiles all the time. For these reasons and many others, I was pleased to interview him.
Since July, Martin has been in hospital in the Czech Republic due to some complications. He says he’d love to get back to work but says it’s better for himself to concentrate on healing and therefore he has chosen to stay in the hospital. The hospital is for people who need long term treatment, so he's there mostly with old people who have restricted mobility - for example, a nice old guy Andrýsek, who used to be homeless and lost his leg because of that. I think it must be very hard for Martin to stay there, but he is always very positive.
Hi Martin, I have to ask a classic question, how did it happen?
We used to go to Rock Cafe after school. It was 11pm and I missed my train, so I tried hitchhiking. My brain is beautiful in not remembering the accident. I came to know the details from the police note only. It was a stolen car with a drunk driver with no license. It was December, so we skidded and crashed into a tree. I was lucky enough to fly out of the car window, because the front of the car ended up in a mess. I was in a coma for a month after that with six vertebrae crushed.
What about the driver?
He ended up with a concussion, but he was careless–he didn’t even show up to the court so I never saw him again. I don’t even need that. What would I say to him?
When they wake you up from a coma, you experience the best trip of your life, because you are high on the best of opiates¬–crazy dreams. When I woke up, the first thing I wanted to do was to get in a wheelchair so I didn’t have to stay in the hospital. The most important thing is to learn how to dress by yourself and how to get to the wheelchair from the bed. Otherwise, you’ll end up back in the hospital pretty quickly from falling and blacking out! Plus, you want to be able to have a beer in the pub!
What’s it like to get drunk in the wheelchair?
You look sober, but it’s all in your head. I guess smokin’ weed is the best anyway. I don't do ecstasy anymore because I couldn't handle it. You’ve got so much energy, you wanna move, but you just can’t.
When I come back from a festival after a few days partying in the chair, my legs lift themselves when I get to the bed. There's nothing I can do about it, just wait 'till it stops. CBD helps me a lot to relax my muscles, it’s much better than taking regular medicine. In one month, it will be my 18th year in the wheelchair.
“The Brain is beautiful in not remembering it“
Didn’t you ever want to lecture about it?
We did a lot in the past, mainly at school during summer because of people jumping into the water. I also worked with mentally disabled people and then I started to enjoy working at a bar.
So you work at pub that doesn’t pose barriers to you?
No, it’s a regular pub, they just pull me up the stairs and I do my job there. There's the logo of the bar tattooed on my back.
Do you have any accident-related tattoos?
Yes, it was the first one. It’s a character with a wrapped head, with a gun and no legs. The meaning is “surviving my death”. To be honest, I had wanted that since I was 15, but that character used to have legs back then. Other than that, I’m not really into meaningful tattoos. For example, I have nurse tattoos because I admire them for what they do.
One tattoo of yours was done with a sewing needle…
Yeah, we got a surgical needle and thread. I wanted to try it because I saw aboriginal tribes doing it with a bone-made needle. I made a needle out of chicken bone, but we used the surgical one in the end–haha! You soak the thread in ink and you just sew through the skin, the only difference is there's no knot. It’s the dagger tattoo I have on my left breast.
But you felt this tattoo, right?
Yes, this one I did.
How is tattooing your legs, which you don’t feel?
I don’t feel anything from my breast down, so I can't feel anything in my legs at all. The thing is, the nerves in my legs are still there, so I gets cramps immediately. You need a lot of power to hold it still, and a patient tattooer too. This killer whale I got tattooed in America–my sister had to hold my leg, I held my thigh, and the tattooer had to push down on it a lot too. Coloring is ok, you only have to be careful with healing because of bad blood perfusion.
What about this Jesus tattoo?
We were drunk, thinking about the most stupid tattoo you can get. My friend is a tattooer so we went straight to the tattoo studio and that's how my Jesus playing basketball on the cross was born. My girlfriend doesn’t like that.
You have a wheelchair logo on your hand…
It’s just 'cause you always need to show your card when you park at a handicapped parking lot, so I just thought it would be a lot easier.
How about 269 vegan?
I have been vegetarian since I was 15, and then three years ago I became vegan. Doctors told me that my spine might heal better if I ate meat. The truth is I started to eat meat because it’s easier for me in the hospital, because you are not offered many options. They have no will to make that better. I order salads a lot, ‘cause you can't get any veggies here. Before I got here I didn’t eat meat for five years.
You got tattooed in America, how is it to travel in a wheelchair over there?
All good, I flew alone. They put you on the plane first and you are the last to leave. You sit next to people, have a regular seat. The only thing is that you can’t get to the toilet so you get a sack. I was sitting next to the window, watching my wheelchair fall over while they loaded the conveyor belt. America is a no barrier country and you can get anywhere–it only felt weird because nobody wants to help you because of possible law suits.
Can you say how this has all changed you?
I see life in a different light. I still party, but I see many things differently, especially people. There are no limits for me, I go anywhere I want and do what I wish.
You can support Martin by visiting his Instagram (@martinsyslo)
BcA. Tereza Koňaříková (@terkatetris) is a freelance photographer, traveler, and writer based in Prague. She likes to photograph alternative lifestyles, tattoo culture, bands, and subcultures. She uses analogue photography for her personal projects. You can see more of her work online (terezakonarikova.cz).
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