To all my friends

I’ve been seeing a lot of talk lately about friends as relates to people getting SCIs (that’s “spinal cord injury” for all you not in the know).  In some of the SCI groups that I’m a part of, this has been a big topic lately.  Many people find that their friends deserted them when they became injured.  I know that happens.  And that sucks.  But, if someone is quick to ditch you in times of trouble, were they really friends to begin with or were they merely fun acquaintances with whom you hung out?

When I was in college I used to brag about all the friends I had because I partied with literally every single person on campus.  Ok, maybe not literally, but close.  One day my sister pointed out that while I knew a ton of people, how many were actual friends?  It wasn’t the same.  Quantity is not quality.  I took that to heart and really started focusing on real friendships.  In the course of my life, I’ve still made it a point to be cool with everyone and know a lot of people.  But, the ones I call friends is a much smaller group these days.  In college everyone was “such a good friend!” But, now you have to pass a very strict test to make the list.  There’s even a secret handshake.  (There’s no secret handshake, but now I am seriously considering creating one.)

The point of all this (have you noticed a trend that in my blog I often have to bring things back around to my point because I get sidetracked way too easy?) is that I didn’t have a big falling off of friends when I became paralyzed.  I consider myself lucky.  My family is amazing.  Obviously.  When I was in the hospital, my parents visited me pretty much every day.  My mom actually stayed overnight with me for at least the first two weeks.  Probably even longer.  The hubs came to see me everyday when he was on summer break and then weekends when he was back to work.  My sister came several times a week.  My brother came a ton of times.  It’s funny, because to me that’s what family does because that’s what my family has always done.  When I’m hurt, they always circle the wagons and make sure that I am OK and taken care of, physically and mentally.  I’ve learned though that I am super lucky because many families aren’t like that.

Beyond my family, my friends, my really good, close friends, rallied.  One of my best couple friends Dr. Barbie and her husband Mr. Dr. Barbie  came to see me at least twice a week.  This is saying a lot because they would work all day (she’s a dentist and he’s a lawyer- power couple, I know!) and then battle the dreaded evening traffic from Orange County to Los Angeles to come hang out with me for a couple hours.  The first few visits I barely remember (hey-o drugs!) but they kept coming back.  I’m pretty sure they were recording my drug induced state for future blackmail.  One of my favorite nights was when they came to the hospital on a Saturday night all dressed up because they were meeting friends in Hollywood.  I had just gained hospital privileges and my nurses trusted me to roam the grounds.  The hubs, Dr. Barbie, Mr. Dr. Barbie and I went down to the cafeteria for gross cafeteria food (sidenote: CS actually had delicious food).  It’s just funny to picture a super hot dolled up Dr. Barbie and her handsome dolled up Mr. Dr. Barbie husband ready for a night of dancing in Hollywood hanging out with their not dolled up hospitalized friend eating stale pizza (or whatever we ate).  But, that’s the kind of friends they are!  They didn’t care and still made a point of trying to make me feel included and loved.

The It Couple (my best friend from law school and her husband who was also a good friend in law school) came all the way to LA from the OC as well.  We had kind of gone through this weird phase where we had gone from spending every day in school together to me moving two hours away and learning how to adjust our friendship to that.  But then when I landed in the hospital for 6 weeks, she didn’t hesitate to be the amazing best friend that I had had and came to see me.

My bestest estest friend (my best friend from high school who is more sister than friend at this point) came all the way from England to see me.  Ok, that’s not entirely true.  She lives in England now and was home for a visit and came to see me a couple times with her mom and her babies.  Let me tell you: if you’re ever in the hospital and need cheering up, hang out with toddlers with British accents.  There is quite possibly nothing cuter in the universe!

One of my closest friends from high school came.  She and I don’t spend a lot of time together since we are both super busy and don’t live close by.  But she was absolutely amazing and came a couple times to see me.  She even brought me pizza!  Our high school was amazing and truly created this bond of sisterhood that when you really need something, these girls will come through.  But she came a couple times and hung out for several hours, helping to keep my spirits up.  That is a good friend and a genuinely good person!

The person who came through who was probably the biggest surprise and also not the biggest surprise (yes, wrap your mind around that) was Lennon.  Obviously not his real name, but this cool cat is a HUGE Beatles fan.  Lennon and I go way back.  Like, way, way back.  All the way back to my being a dumb twenty year old and him being the hip (slightly older) guy who everybody loved to be around.  He was the guy who just made you feel cool by being friends with him.  He was the guy who made me feel cool because somehow I made it into his counsel of friends.  He was the guy who patiently listened to my mom lecture him for like 45 minutes on how to take me out in public after my previous surgery, while I sat there beet red dying in mortification.  But he got it and he didn’t make a big deal and listen to all of her rules on how to treat me like a nearly shattered, barely held together porcelain doll.  During this hospital stay, he came to see me weekly.  He came to see me when I was upstairs (not sure if I was still in ICU or if I was in a normal hospital room) but was super drugged out and in so much pain.  He sat there through that.  He came to see me when I was in the rehab portion and wasn’t allowed outside of my hall.  We sat in the recreation room and talked.  He brought his daughter to see me when I was allowed outside of the hospital (escorted by hospital staff, of course) and we walked (I rolled) the two blocks to the Target on a “field trip” of sorts.  He came all the time and made me feel so special.  I don’t even know if he knew that until now.

All of my other close friends constantly kept up with calls, emails, texts, flowers, everything under the sun to make me feel special.  And I truly, 100% did feel special.  The point of all this is twofold: 1) I want to give a shout out to all of my amazing friends, because I wouldn’t have gotten through this ordeal without you.  And I feel bad that it’s taken me nearly 3 years to get this on paper.  Well, you know, virtual paper.  And 2) I want other people in my situation to know that real friends are there for you when you need them.  They don’t abandon you in times of trouble.  They schlep all the way to the hospital to visit you.  They don’t make a big deal about having to adapt to your new lifestyle, even if it’s hard or awkward.  If someone ditches you because of something nasty that you’re going through, then count yourself lucky because why would you want that kind of negative energy in your life anyway?

Drill Sergeant, et al

You know those people who compare everything they’re doing now to things they did before?  And the things they did before were always so much better?  (Ex: Oh, I like this bakery, but the bakery in my hometown made the MOST delicious cupcakes.  They were so fresh and yummy.  But, I mean, these are good too…….)  There’s a word to describe those people: annoying.

I hate to admit it, but I am one of those annoying people.  I hear myself doing it, and I can’t stop it.  The words spew out of my mouth before I can shut it.  Before I can even think to shut it.  But, to be fair, I find myself only really doing it (that I notice anyway) when it comes to my rehabilitation.  This is so not fair to my current physical therapists.  They’re really great.  I see them two to three times a week and they push me and encourage me.

The problem is that I had the benefit of going to the best in-house rehabilitation facility in the world.  I’m pretty sure I read that somewhere.  Possibly it was in the reviews I gave them.  But no matter, it was the best.  I was there for a little over four weeks.  I went in a crying, sniveling, scaredy cat.  (I left in a similar state, but that’s beside the point.)

Drill Sergeant:  My main physical therapist was often referred to (by me) as the Drill Sergeant.  Sometimes, when he was especially cruel, I referred to him by other names.  But, that was usually under my breath or after he was gone.  Also, besides the point.  He was seriously the best though.  He pushed me and did not let me get away with any of my normal tricks (read: trying to fake through exercises to just get them done with).  I remember one set in particular when I got stuck on the number 6 because he kept. making. me. do. it. over. and. over. and. over.  If it was sloppy, redo it.  If it was weak, redo it.  If he wasn’t paying attention, redo it.  I used my never fail trick of crying in frustration.  He let me sit for a minute to calm down.  Then he made me redo it.  I know, you’re thinking why was he the best.  It’s because even though he put the “UGH!!!” in “tough”, he was super fun and hilarious.  He cracked jokes while torturing me and made it somewhat fun.

Dr. S: Because Drill Sergeant seemed to always be on vacation or on days off, my other main physical therapist was Dr. S.  She was the complete opposite of Drill Sergeant.  While Drill Sergeant was crazy hyper and silly, she was mellow with an awesome dry sense of humor.  She pushed me just as hard and was always quick to answer all of my technical “But why?” questions.  She was a PhD which, I think she should have bragged about more.  Seriously.  If I had my doctorate, I’d probably throw that into any conversation several times.  “Would you like bread on your table?”  “Well, since I’m a doctor, yes.”  See, it works very naturally.  Dr. S and I also had a ton in common, which probably also led to me liking her so much.  We had the same first name.  We got married on the same day.  She often vacationed (and got proposed to) in the city where I live.  She’s from Chicago and I love the movie Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.  Her husband is English and mine speaks English.  See, the similarities are endless!  We’re practically the same person.

All of the other PT’s there were amazing as well.  I worked with just about all of them.  And the aide’s were great too!  They all got used to my emotional roller coaster of a recovery and were quick with the support and encouragement or with the kleenex.  I’m surprised none of them obtained stock in Kleenex.  Seriously, I cried a lot.

[Sidenote: My OT’s were so amazing that they will get their own post later on.  I mean, the people who gave me my first shower after 2.5 weeks and taught me how to pull on pants while sitting on a toilet deserve their own post for sure.]

When I was an inpatient, I was in therapy 1000 hours a day.  Ok, I think it was really 3-4 hours, but it felt like 1000.  I was always drained by the end.  OT started out fun.  They brought in Connect 4 for me to play.  Um, yes.  I can play a game.  They got more cruel from there.  Making me sit on the edge of a bed.  For a few days, that was one of the scariest things I’ve ever done.  I specifically remember saying that I hang out with criminals on a daily basis for work (I’m a criminal defense attorney) and that doesn’t cause me any worries.  But they want me to sit on the edge of the bed and I was going to hyperventilate.  It’s really a very scary thing when you’re in pain, have no control of your body or legs, and can’t even feel them on the ground.  But, they got me going little by little.  They knew exactly what they were doing and how to do it.  In PT, it started out as torture.  My very first session, they tried to have me stand while strapped, buckled, barred and cushioned into a frame structure.  I stood for a “nanosecond” as that PT told me, all while crying, yelling, cussing and snot flowing.  The weird thing was that for all my freaking out, my go to reflex was to hold my breath and close my eyes.  Apparently I felt it was better to pass out blindly.  To this day, the common trend in my rehab is the command “Breathe!”  But, I eventually went from a nanosecond to an entire second to minutes.  They never pushed me more than I could do.  They mixed it up so I wouldn’t burn out.  They answered my annoying questions.  They put up with my emotions and terrible jokes.

So, it’s no wonder that at my new outpatient facility they’re going to hear repeatedly “Oh, at CS they had me do it like [this].”  Or “My PT at CS would have me do it like [that].”  You’d think they were rockstars the way I talk about them, or that they were the inventors of physical therapy itself.  But, in my limited world of rehabilitation, they are and they did.

The beginning

The first thing I remember is asking for my mother.  I was groggy after my surgery, slowly coming awake.  I was too out of it to be in much pain at that moment.  But I wanted my mom.  While I was waiting for her to come back I had a terrible realization: I couldn’t move my legs.  When she arrived at my bedside, I started to cry and panic.  “Mom!  I can’t move my legs!  I can’t move my legs!”  She didn’t seem phased by this information, but instead tried comforting me and telling me to calm down.  My surgeon appeared in the next minutes.  I told him the same thing.  He did not seem surprised either.  What surprised me though, is that he seemed very concerned and almost sad by this.  Somehow he already knew.  Maybe I woke up before I remember and they knew.  I was so out of it that I really couldn’t tell you.

I had walked into the hospital ten hours prior.  It wasn’t supposed to be a major surgery.  Well, let me qualify that.  In relation to my other surgeries, this one wasn’t going to be major.  My last back surgery had been 15 hours.  The one before that 13.  This one was only supposed to be 4 hours.  Although, when the doctor go in there, things were worse than he had thought.  I guess that MRIs and all those other tests can only show so much.  This surgery ended up being 8 hours.  I felt bad for the other patients waiting on my surgeon that day.  I definitely threw off his schedule.

The hard part for me was that I walked into the hospital.  True, I had been on a cane.  And also true, I hadn’t been able to do a lot of walking.  But I walked in.  Now I couldn’t move my legs.  Because of this, they took me up to the ICU for intense recovery.  I had the best nurse in the ICU.  She took such good care of me.  On the first of second day (I lost track of time) I had to go for a MRI.  She went with me to make sure I was taken care of.  I remember telling her that the transport guy was flirting with her.  I may have been heavily medicated and in intense pain, but I can spot flirting from a mile away.

A few days into my hospital stay I met my priest.  According to my husband, I was in the middle of a panic attack and was in so much pain when Father John walked in.  (I remember Father John coming in, but don’t remember the rest.)  He said I instantly calmed when I saw the priest.  Father John was amazing.  He sat down with me and let me talk and cry.  He blessed me with Holy Oil.  He was truly amazing.  He visited me often while I was there.  I joked around that they kept moving me to different rooms but that Father John was very good tending his flock cause he always found me.

I spent about 4.5 of the 6 weeks in the rehabilitation unit.  When I first got there, I was a blubbery mess.  I couldn’t stop crying.  I was scared and in pain.  That’s where I first heard the “P” word: paraplegic.  When they referred to me as a paraplegic, I knew they had to be wrong.  The non-moving legs was just temporary.  My surgeon is one of the best in the country.  There’s no way I’m not walking again.  This made me cry.  But then I’d realize that there was a chance my legs wouldn’t come back.  That made me cry more.  They sent in a man who had been a paraplegic for 20 something years to inspire me.  This made me cry.  Then I felt terrible for feeling this way, but I couldn’t help thinking that while he was able to do amazing things, I just couldn’t be permanently paralyzed.  That made me cry more.  The staff gave me freshly baked chocolate chip cookies.  This made me cry less.  But then the thoughts would come back and I’d cry again.

The first day the therapists wanted me to do things like transfer from the bed to the wheelchair on a wooden board.  I told them they were smoking crack.  They wanted me to sit on the edge of the bed.  I would cry and tell them I would fall.  I was scared to do anything.  And did I mention the pain?  I was trying to not take pain medications for fear of addiction.  My doctors had to repeatedly tell me that it was in my best interest to take them and that there was no way I would get addicted if taking them as they instructed.  I complied, but with the secret thought that my goal was to get off of them as soon as possible.

So, that’s an introduction of me and the start of this crazily scary journey.  But at the end of the day, I hang on to my cautious optimism as it’s all I have to get me through.