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Paralyzed student turns adversity into self-help book

by Cursta McCullom
Master of Social Work Student Scoba Rhodes' book gives readers a look into his emotional state during the healing process. (Photo/VA Long Beach Medical Center)
Photo: Master of Social Work Student Scoba Rhodes' book gives readers a look into his emotional state during the healing process. (Photo/VA Long Beach Medical Center)

When Scoba Rhodes went to the hospital for a routine procedure to repair an abdominal aortic aneurysm, which occurs when the aorta becomes abnormally enlarged, he thought he would be back on his feet in no time. Eleven days later, he woke up paralyzed from the waist down.

Rhodes was overcome with shock, depression and hopelessness.

“As the months went by, I tried to think of the next move I would need to take to move myself forward,” said Rhodes, who had the ill-fated procedure in 2009. “I realized I needed more than hope or to keep the faith. I needed to have some practical steps that I could use to pry myself from out of the hole.”

The practical steps Rhodes created became the book Rules of Engagement: A Self-Help Guide for Those Overcoming Major Personal Trauma. Instead of giving an objective look on trauma, Rhodes’ book gives the reader a look into his mind and emotional state during the healing process.

“It’s not a book that’s three years from memory; it was written while I was going through it, so I think there’s a level of authenticity that [readers] won’t find in other books,” said Rhodes, now a Master of Social Work student at the USC School of Social Work’s Orange County Academic Center. “You can sense the early frustration and anger in my writing. That’s the space I was in at the time, and I don’t think I could recreate that.”

As Rhodes attended rehabilitation sessions to learn how to shower, drive and get dressed again, he found solace in writing a blog. The posts he created served as a type of therapy, and he eventually compiled them to form his book. Some of his “rules of engagement” include putting someone in your corner who will not let you fail, learning to be happy with nothing and not judging yourself by what happens to you.

“I tell people to get out there and embrace friends, see movies, join clubs — that’s where true happiness is found. They have to find their purpose,” Rhodes said. “One of the rules I have is to never stop dreaming because when you stop doing that, you eventually start losing your will to live.”

Rhodes, who is also a U.S. Navy veteran, followed his own advice by applying to the School of Social Work and for a Swim With Mike scholarship, which is awarded to physically challenged athletes.

“I wanted to go to a school that looks for pioneers and radical thinkers — people that are not willing to accept the status quo. One of my goals is to make changes in the counseling community,” said Rhodes, who noted that he didn’t receive any counseling following his ordeal in the hospital.

Russell Vergara, an adjunct lecturer at the school, said that Rhodes brought depth and perspective to class discussions that challenged everyone in the room.

“He’s very inspiring,” Vergara said. “You can tell that despite his disability and the emotional baggage that came with it, he never lost his fighting spirit to keep going to the next step.”

That next step for Rhodes after he completes his MSW is to pursue a doctoral degree to study whether the guidelines he has created expedite the recovery process for those who are experiencing trauma. After completing his education, Rhodes plans to become a mental health counselor for victims of trauma.

One benefit of Rhodes’ book is that it will allow him to help those he might never meet, and he said he hopes Rules of Engagement will be provided in major trauma centers one day.

“I want those who read my story and the rules I came up with to end up leaving the hospital ready to get out there with a plan,” Rhodes said. “I want to let them know that they will have a life that’s going to have more challenges than the average person, but it is still a life worth embracing.”

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