10 months ago today, I lost my freedom. I went in for surgery and woke up 8 hours later unable to move my legs. I don’t blame anyone. There was no major screw-up. No law suits pending. My neurosurgeon is one of the most capable and knowledgeable surgeons in the world. Literally. My back just had enough. This was the 5th spinal surgery I’d had. Each one posed new threats with scar tissue and other medical things I don’t quite understand. It was a risk that there would be complications. But I truly had no alternatives. Avoiding surgery was a surefire way to end up permanently in a wheelchair. Right before my surgery, I could barely walk. My knees were raw from falling so often. I could barely take a few steps. It was miserable. And my bladder would have gone too. So I had to have surgery. And I chose the man who I think was the best at the job. My neurosurgeon, JPJ, is one of the best in the business. And, he trained under my pediatric neurosurgeon who truly was the best in the business. Number 1 guy. In fact, JPJ may have operated on me when I was 10 and had my first major, life changing spine surgery. He was a resident then. Funny how 23 year later, he was likely operating on the same back as he did when he was a resident. So while the outcome is momentarily unfortunate, I don’t regret it. I walked in to the hospital, and 8 hours later, I couldn’t move my legs.
Today I regained my freedom. No, I’m not walking. But, I did get hand controls on my car. 10 months of no driving. Of waiting for people to take me places. Of hoping that there was no emergency which required me to get somewhere, and hoping that if there were, someone was around to take me. I joked to my dad that I could just get a 3-wheeled motorcycle cause you don’t need legs for that. But he pointed out that I had nowhere to put my wheelchair. Curtains on that idea. 5 o’clock shadow told me about a local mechanic shop that only modifies cars. I called them and they had me immediately come down to chat. The guys who own the place were so friendly and reassuring. They could literally modify any car to fit any need. I have a little sedan and I want to keep it. They were able to put in hand controls that will fit my needs there. Now a bigger car could hold a lift to put my wheelchair in the car itself. Now I will be forced to get a lighter wheelchair to put in myself. But, to keep the car that I love, that’s all worth it to me! And the coolest part is that the pedals still work. So, the hubs or anyone else can still drive my car regularly.
The owner of the shop picked up my car this morning and then brought it back tonight. He then gave me an almost 2 hour driving lesson on how to use them. I thought that it wouldn’t be that hard. And it’s not. But it does take getting used to. My brain thinks that my right leg is going to just hit the gas or the brake. But, then it doesn’t move. So I have to train my body to think that the left hand now controls the brake and the gas. Brake- push. Gas- pull back. It seems pretty easy. And again, it is. But when you’re actually driving, it takes some getting used to. The hubs sat in the back seat the whole time watching. Apparently he also took a secret photo of me. I was so focused on not killing pedestrians that I didn’t even notice.
(Note: no people or animals were ever in harm’s way- we were in an empty parking lot.) The mechanic would tell me “kid runs out, stop!” to get me to see what it was like to slam on my brakes. Or he’d have me park between two imaginary cars and tell me that I hit one if I parked crooked. No pressure.
I was a natural! I met all of his tests and managed to pass without giving us whiplash. Yes, I did hit the brake hard once or twice. But that’s bound to happen. And it was weird to remember to push the brakes while changing from reverse to drive. It was all very awkward at first. But also weirdly easy. The hardest part was probably on the hubs who had to get my wheelchair in and out of the trunk like 8 times. Unfortunately every time I had to change seats, he had to get it in and out. But, he was a trooper and didn’t complain. Instead he took secret photos and sent them to my folks unbeknownst to me. I’m not going to lie, if I had known all that was going on, I may have “accidentally” hit the brakes once more. Maybe next time I drive.
Those words, and the fact that they mean I am mobile again now and have regained my freedom, make me so happy on this Friday the 13th. This 10 month paralysis anniversary.
As the great Willie Nelson says: On the road again/Goin’ places that I’ve never been/Seein’ things that I may never see again/And I can’t wait to get on the road again.
I definitely can’t wait to get back out on that road again!