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.