Refinishing life

When I first became paralyzed, I thought my life would never be the same.  I was in tears when my physical therapists or occupational therapists would tell me to sit on the edge of the bed.  I didn’t think I could do it.  I had no faith in my body or what it would ever begin to do again.  Slowly, as time went on, my recovery progressed.  And I had a newly discovered faith in what I could do.  And what I could try to do.  I’ve always tended to be a cautious person, not one to really go out on a limb trying new things.  So when my body traitored on me, I was worried about pushing it too hard.  When I would sit there crying about sitting on the edge of the bed, some people would look at me, then the floor, then back at me again and try to figure out why a two foot fall would scare the living daylights out of me.  But when you’re injured and vulnerable, it can all be overwhelming.

So cut to today when I was out in the garage refinishing some dressers which my mom gave to me to use in the baby’s nursery.  They were her parents dressers, which then became hers which she then used for my brother.  They sat unused for a bunch of years and became chipped and cracked.  The hubs spent yesterday fixing the cracks with wood glue and clamps.  He then planned on stripping away the varnish, sanding and staining in the next few weeks.  I decided that since he does so much already, I’d surprise him with stripping the varnish and sanding myself.  It was half because I wanted to surprise him and half because I didn’t want to tell him in case I couldn’t actually do it all myself.  And since today was a court holiday but not a school holiday, I actually had some time to get to this project.

I was able to get all of the drawers out of the dresser (which for those of you who are able-bodied, this is actually somewhat challenging to a person who doesn’t have complete core strength), take all of the hardware off, paint the stripper on then sand it off.  By the time I was done, I was a sweaty, dusty mess.  But, I did it!  I couldn’t get to the front of the dresser because it was facing a wall and I couldn’t get in front of it.  And, when I tried to move the dresser, I was worried that I would re-split some of the sides which the hubs fixed yesterday.  Plus, a solid wood dresser is heavy and my spine is finicky.  So I left that to do when he’s home to help.  While I can do a lot of stuff, I have to be honest and know that I can’t do it all by myself.

sanding drawers

I took that picture and sent it to the hubs so he could see what I was up to.  And to get the proper amount of accolades, of course!  He was super surprised and excited.  And worried about the mess I left and whether there was still room on his side of the garage for his car when he gets home from work.  I tend to not clean up after my projects so well.  But, part of the surprise was that I actually did clean up after myself.  Yes, I’m very thoughtful.

So, it’s kind of fun to think that the snively scaredy-cat who was afraid to sit on the edge of the bed is now pushing limits and attacking projects that I never even did before I was paralyzed!  If I could go back to that cry baby in the hospital I would tell her that life rolls on and that she will adapt.  It’s amazing what we can do when we have no other choices!

An ode to my dogs

When I was in the hospital, one of the hardest things was the fact that I couldn’t see my dogs.  6 weeks of no dogs was like an added level of torture.  My dogs are pampered, to say the least.  They’re my little buddies.  My constant companions, if you will.  So to live without them for so long was awful!

This was the day I got home after 6 weeks in the hospital.

This was the day I got home after 6 weeks in the hospital.

Ever since I’ve been home, they’ve been glued to me.  Well, my boy dog more than my girl dog.  If my boy dog could permanently attach himself to me, he would.   (Even now as I type this my little guy is on my lap.  I have the tan fur on black pants to prove it.)  He seems to not be comfortable unless he’s sleeping on my lap.  This is sweet until you consider that living in a place where the average summer heat is 110 degrees plus, that gets a little toasty.  But, I don’t even mind.  His little face is so content when he sleeps on my lap that I wouldn’t have it any other way.

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What’s funny though, is that before all of this, I never really understood the importance of a service dog.  I mean, yes, I know that they can really help people retrieve things or alert to certain medical issues before they occur so the person can prepare.  I guess I just never thought about it beyond the obvious.  Beyond the superficial outer layers.

But I’ve come to an even deeper understanding.  The other night I was having a really hard time sleeping.  I couldn’t get comfortable.  Then my mind was racing with worries about being in one position too long and the fact that I am scared to death of getting pressure sores, because the treatment of those are awful!  And it would require lengthy bed rest.  So now I’m super freaked out about them.  So there I was trying to get comfortable and tossing and turning.  (To fully understand the impact of this let me explain: Say I’m on my right side.  I have to turn my body so I am on my back.  Then I have to sit up to uncross my legs.  I have to take off the sheet which has likely become tangled by this point.  Then I lay back down and turn my body to the left.  Then I grab my right leg and drag it over to be on top of my left leg.  And then I again try to untangle the sheet because somehow in my sleepiness, I always get too wrapped up.)  So tossing and turning and getting comfortable is not very easy.  And it get frustrating.  My girl dog will sometimes put up with a toss, but is gone before the turn.  But my boy will put up with it and stay in the same spot.  So on this particular night, when I was especially uncomfortable and frustrated, after I rolled and was still not comfortable, he came over and stretched out against my back.  It was so comforting and calming that I almost immediately calmed down and fell asleep.

So now I completely understand on a whole new level the importance of service animals.  I don’t trust mine to fetch me food as I know it would be eaten in seconds.  And I don’t trust them to not bark at birds or other dogs in public.  And I’m not going to tote them around in a giant purse in places like the movies.  I am lucky in my disability that I don’t need a service animal like that.  But I am so glad that I have my little pups in my life to help me in situations when I don’t even realize how badly I need them.  That is the amazingly beautiful thing about dogs, whether they’re formally trained or just naturally intuitive.

You making fun of me, Riz?

You know that moment in Grease where Rizzo makes fun of Sandy and then Sandy comes back into the bedroom and catches her?  Sandy says the infamous line of “You making fun of me, Riz?”  And Rizzo says “Some people are so touchy.”  I had a moment like that yesterday.  And let me tell you, it’s not that fun being on the Sandy side.

I was in court yesterday morning and my client was in custody.  In this particular courtroom, the bailiff places the in-custody’s in the jury box to await their turn in front of the judge.  We attorneys have to try to lean over the railings to talk to them.  To have any kind of privacy, this requires leaning over or standing on the sides and having the person moved to the end of the row.  This is normal protocol.  For obvious reasons (read: wheelchair) I can’t do that.  So the bailiffs let me wheel into the jury box opening to talk to my client.  Other attorneys normally aren’t allowed to do that.  For me, it’s the only way I can communicate with my client.

So yesterday I talk to my client then we have our minute in front of the judge.  I leave the courtroom with the family after my client is escorted back into his holding cell.  I’m outside in the hallway when the District Attorney tells me we need to bring him back in to see the judge one more time.  I go back in and see two female attorneys joking around near the jury box.  I don’t think they were expecting me to come back.  One of them says “Oh, we were just joking about how you’re allowed to roll in there, so maybe I should try staying in this rolley chair and she’ll push me and see if we can get away with it.”

I know there was nothing inherently mean spirited in this comment or in their jokes.  But, it really does suck.  I’d much rather be able to walk over and have to talk to my clients in the same way they do.  If they want to find a voodoo witch doctor and we can switch bodies, then by all means, let’s do it.  They can roll into the jury box and I’ll skip on down the road.

Maybe I’m touchy like Rizzo claims Sandy to be.  Or maybe some people just aren’t as funny as they think they are.  Or maybe I should sit back and really wonder why they’re jealous that I get to be up close and personal with my clients.  But next time I have a Sandy moment, I’ll be prepared to tell Rizzo to shove it.

Heels (or flats) to 2015!

I started out to write a typical new years blog. You know, talking about what I learned in 2014 and what I was looking forward to in 2015. All the things I was going to accomplish. It was going to be inspirational and motivational. The only problem is that it just wasn’t coming. All I could think of was “I want to walk” as a goal. But since that’s been an ongoing goal since August 13, 2013, that seemed kind of obvious. And easy.

I could make not quitting on 5-0 my 2015 goal. I wanted to not go to PT so badly today. I just wasn’t feeling motivated. The hubs said I could cancel if I wanted to, but that that was on me and he would not endorse or encourage that. (My mom is going to have a little chat with him if she reads this- not going is never an option on the table. She will take back her momentary lending of my rehab to the hubs if that behavior keeps up.) So, we went to Starbucks after I got done in court and then took my lazy butt to PT. I’m still not sure if that was a good decision or not. To say that 5-0 worked me today would be a gross understatement. To say he killed me would be an understatement. Let me put it this way- if my abs could jump out of my body and run away, they would. He’s gotten it into his head that merely walking isn’t good enough anymore. Now he’s focused on form. So rude, right?! The man asks so much of me. The good news is that I’m putting more pressure on my legs, so my legs, hips and abs are all dying. Well, he says that’s good news anyway. I think the good news is that I’m not putting as much weight on my arms, which means they don’t kill and hopefully will start shrinking a bit. I seriously am about to Hulk out of my suit jackets. Not cute. I suppose the good news is that I handled it like a champ. 5-0 has been playing really good music lately. My new favorite jam “All of Me” by John Legend came on and gave me a second wind.

So, tonight while I was repairing my sore muscles in a hot bath and debating whether I was going to ever have enough energy and mental power to get myself back to PT, I was flipping through a magazine. In the magazine was an article about how this writer grew to love heels after passing out due to 5.5″ heels or some such thing. She went on and on about how she used to hate flats and how now she appreciated this one famous model who wears flats. And how groundbreaking that model is.

Before I became paralyzed, if you had asked me what my biggest problem with my disability (I would have laughed at calling it a disability. It was more just my slight issues at the time.) was the fact that I couldn’t wear heels. I know that seems silly. Back then I walked with a limp. I couldn’t run and couldn’t walk long distances. Standing for too long was kind of tough. Balancing? Forget it. Yoga was not my friend. But none of that was terrible. I could walk. I could dance. I could walk. Oh, I said that already? I guess in retrospect that was kind of a big thing. My one complaint though: no heels. I’ve never been able to wear heels. At high school dances, all my friends would wear cute little heels. And I was relegated to flat sandals. In my single twenties when I tried to pick up guys at bars, it was flats. In Winter it was knee high boots which I could rock with a mini-skirt like nobody’s business! But they were still flat. My girlfriends in their stiletto boots were always cuter and sexier than me in my flats.

When I recuperated from surgery in 2006, I became obsessed with What Not To Wear. The message from Stacey and Klinton was always the same: women should wear heels at all times. They always went into explicit details about slimming and toning effects of the high heel. And about how it made a woman look sexy or more professional. Though I channeled them every time I went shopping and tried to tune out the shoe comments, it always rang through in my mind. There was also the fact that finding cute flats at the time was near impossible. The shoes I was forced to wear looked like something my grandma would have laughed at. It was a good thing I was always more of a tom boy, and learned how to dress up tennis shoes. And when it came to dating, I just hoped they wouldn’t notice my shoes. My love of dive bars made it easy to wear flip flops or tennis shoes on dates to play pool and drink beers.

The hardest shoe dilemma came when I entered the professional world. Despite all of my mother’s best efforts at pep talks, it was hard to not be envious of all the other female attorneys strutting down court corridors in their suits and shiny high heels. I often tried to hide my feet so no one would notice my lack of power heel. I loved pant suits as they better hid my feet. My suits were impeccable, and my briefcase on point. But I was always self-conscious about my footwear.

One of the best days of my life was when I discovered the Cole Haan female Oxford shoe. Not only could I wear them (i.e. they stayed on my clumsy feet and I could walk!), but they came in Rainbow Brite-esque shades. Blue with pink soles and laces. Gray with purple soles and laces. Red snakeskin with a gold sheen (USC colors- go Trojans!). So many amazing colors that looked great with a classically colored suit. If I’m wearing a black suit with a white shirt, who’s going to complain about my pink Oxfords? It’s become my thing! I specifically remember one day when I was waiting for a bus in Downtown Los Angeles to take me from the train station to the court, when a bus driver literally pulled over a bus to stop and ask me where I got my shoes. That was one of my top 5 favorite things to ever have happened to me.

But what is more important than the shoes themselves (is there even such a thing?!?!) is the feeling I get when I wear them. I’m not embarrassed of my shoes. I’m excited and confident. During a trial 2 years ago, my favorite client used to say to the bailiff “Check out my attorney’s kicks!”. Never did I think that anyone would brag about my style in footwear!

So now, reading this article about this girl finally trying to be OK with flats, like it’s a terrible thing, is pretty upsetting. The fact is that many people can’t wear certain things which society tries to impress upon us as being normal. Or sexy. Or the way to be. And it’s not OK to make us feel bad because we can’t. People are all different. If you love heels and feel better wearing them, then rock them! And if you love wearing flats, or, like me, are forced to, then rock those too!

So here is my self-motivating 2015 message: this year I vow to accept myself, flaws and all. And I will rock whatever I do. Or wear.

Happy 2015!

Persistence

Yesterday was a milestone.  Well, let me take you back a bit to put this all in perspective.

It was two weeks ago, Sunday.  I was sitting at home with the hubs when we decided it was time to do a little PT.  I strapped on my braces, grabbed the walker and went outside.  Decided a little fresh air working out might do me some good.  I wasn’t really sure how far I was going to go, but just set out.  I walked.  And kept walking.  And kept walking.  Well, I took two little seated breaks in the midst.  But the point was, I kept going.  When all was said and done, I walked about 200 feet!  With good controlled steps!  This was definitely the farthest I had gone since this little adventure began on 8/13/13.  Normally I’ve been walking about 30-60 feet on a good day.

The day after I had my marathon walk, I went in to see 5 O’clock Shadow.  I told him about my long walk and I think he was skeptical.  I did my warm-up, kill-me-now exercises.  Did you know that standing is actually harder than walking??  Yeah, who knew!  So then came time for the walking, and I walked across the room with pretty good gait.  But then I was pooped.  Then I think 5-O was definitely skeptical.  I tried to explain that I was just tired from the mileage I got the day before at home.

This week, I had another Monday morning session.  (Sidenote: I need to stop going in on Monday mornings to see 5-O, or I’m going to have to change his name as it seems Monday is shave day. I told him I was extremely disappointed and lodged a formal complaint. I’m not creative enough to give him a SECOND name!) I purposely didn’t walk as far on Sunday to preserve my strength for Monday’s session. We started out with the same warm-ups. He made me want to kill him by making stand. He pointed out that it is actually possible to sit too straight and told me he actually wants me to slouch a little, because what I think is slouching is actually the perfect amount of straight. Another “who knew?!” moment was had!

Then came the moment of truth. It was time for me to walk. I started out with a good walk. I made it to my normal stopping point with ease. Pressure on my legs, mostly off my arm. Smooth gait. Totally showing off for a therapist he was training who happens to know Drill Sergeant. Hoping that word will get back to Drill Sergeant about how good I’m doing now, because I was a hot mess when I was working with Drill Sergeant back in the hospital. He was a good sport (and by that I mean total mean jerk, hence the name) and I want to show him that I really did listen to what he said despite what my blubbery tears may have indicated.

So I made it to the mirror which is my normal stopping place. And then I angled the walker. “Oh, you’re making the turn?!” 5-O said as he pushed the walker behind me. “I’m making a circle. All your other patients do it, so why can’t I?!” I retorted. “I think you should!” he replied. About halfway through the circle of the whole clinic I said “Why am I showing off and pushing voluntarily?? Now you’re going to make me do this every time!” I despaired. “Probably!” 5-O laughed. By the end, I was exhausted, sweaty and my arms throbbed. About 2/3 into my walk, more weight went onto my arms and I was swinging my legs a little more than a controlled gait. But I still tried. I still focused. And most importantly, I made it!

I normally don’t talk too much about my clients on this blog. But, I have a new one who I will call Persistence. He is persistent in his determination to prove his innocence. He is persistent in growth as a person. He is persistent in his questioning everything I do (which he claims is to just help me, but I think secretly he’s persistently testing me, to which I reply “bring it!”). The reason I bring him up is that he inspired me to keep pushing through. Some days I’m too tired to fight for my walking. Some days I’m just bummed out by the situation. Some days I just find it easier to roll around than try to get upright again. But, as I wanted to give in to the fatigue and sit in the wheelchair that 5-O had behind me, I thought “If Persistence doesn’t give up in his fight, how can I give up in mine?”

So I made it to the end and sank into my wheelchair at the exact place from which I started. All in all, it was probably a 100-120 foot walk. The look on 5-O’s face really made it all worth it too! He was super proud of me, and I’ve said it before and will say it again: I respond really well to positive reinforcement. The bad thing is that he’ll probably make me do it every time now. But I accept that challenge and give myself a couple weeks until I’m doing two laps!

Struggle is not a dirty word!

When did struggle become a dirty word? It seems people are afraid to say they had to work hard for something, or that there were obstacles. Everyone is always competing for best and prancing around like some proud peacock. “I barely had to do homework and got 4.3 GPA.” “I don’t even have to work out to look this good.” “Everything in life just comes naturally to me.” [Insert condescending laugh here.]

But why is any of that something to brag about? And why do people think they can talk big and not have the world see right through it? What’s wrong with things not coming naturally? What’s wrong with falling? I would think the person who falls and picks themselves up only to finally succeed is the bigger person.

I admit my faults (and I have many!). I am terrible in math and had to have a tutor in high school to help me through Algebra II and Pre-calc. He barely hung in there through physics though. I played softball throughout my childhood and sucked at running, so I learned to hit the ball far, or to do a mean bunt, so I had a smidgeon of a chance to make it to first base. I took the LSAT twice to get a good enough score to make it into the law school where I really wanted to go. In that same vein, I took the bar twice. I’m not ashamed at that. I’m proud of myself for not completely falling apart when I didn’t pass the first time (despite almost every single one of my friends passing) and studying hard enough to make it through the second.

I feel like not admitting struggle or failure or hardship makes those experiences seem dirty. And that in turn, makes it harder on other people who aren’t perfect. They feel even worse about themselves if they screw up.

You may be wondering what brought along this rant. I’m just tired of looking to people for inspiration and them trying to pass everything off as easy. I watched a Youtube video of a girl folding up her wheelchair to put into her car so I could learn how to do it. She claims it was the first time and she glided right to her car, bing bang boom, put it away smoothly in 1 minute. The first time I tried, I ended up a sweaty, tire-marked, crying mess because it was frustratingly difficult. Now that I’ve been doing it for several weeks, I’ve gotten the hang of it, though I usually still end up sweaty and tire-marked. Those things seem unavoidable. But, I felt like I wasn’t good enough because I couldn’t do it as easily as her. And after my own experience, I question whether that really was her first time. If it was, kudos for her. But why phrase things that make other people feel bad if they can’t do it as well?

The one that really irks me is Amy Van Dyken-Rouen. I keep seeing interview with her where she claims that she’s not really had any mental breakdowns because she is just so happy to be alive. If that is true, then I am 100% genuinely happy for her. But, I 100% genuinely do not believe her. Being in a wheelchair sucks. Having your mobility taken away from you sucks. Learning how to function in a world meant for people on two legs sucks. Is it all bad? Of course not! But to not admit that it sucks is a bold faced lie!

I think that I am a pretty positive person. I think that I am able to look at situations and find the good in them, generally speaking. But to say that having your world ripped away and completely changed in a matter of moments is not hard just doesn’t seem believable. And pretending otherwise does a disservice to people who do struggle. When I was in the hospital, after spending a week in ICU, the psychiatrists came in and wanted to give me anti-depressants. It was normal for them for people to freak out. In fact, I think they were worried because I wasn’t depressed. (I tried to explain the difference between suckyness and depression, but all they ever responded with was “Pill?”) What worked for me was having the most amazing priest in the history of priests come by my room several times a week to let me just vent and cry. And then I would be ok and return back to physical therapy and my attempts at positivity.

When I got home from the hospital, adjusting to daily life was hard. Having to rely on care takers to get me places was hard. Having to rely on the hubs to help me shower or go out in public after he had a long day at work was hard. I felt like such a burden. And that is difficult for an independent person. That’s difficult for any kind of person. But I worked through it. Now that I have my independence back, I struggle with my wheelchair. And I still struggle through PT. And I still struggle with simple things like putting my pants on. A few weeks ago I fell to the floor in a public restroom while trying to transfer from the toilet to the chair. That was tough. (And so incredibly disgusting!!!! I’m still washing my hands just thinking about it!)

This isn’t a pity party. This is just meant to show that life isn’t easy. Life is full of struggles. And when people try to play it off like it’s easy for them, it makes the rest of us feel bad. That’s what creates depression. There’s no shame in admitting that things are hard. There’s no shame in saying “Yeah, that sucked, but I’m getting through it!” Maybe being truthful makes the better person.

One year later

One year ago today was the day that changed my life. Was it the worst day of my life? No. I still consider that to be March 27, 1991. That was the date of my first major back surgery, and the date that my grandpa died. Despite the fact that that surgery saved the ability for my young self to walk and regain a normal lifestyle, that was the worst day of my life. One year ago today, I lost the ability to walk. It sounds weird to phrase it that day, but I think it’s appropriate. It’s not gone completely, it’s just hiding somewhere within my inner being. According to 5 O’Clock Shadow, my nerves are like a congested freeway and we just need the lanes to open up for the traffic to go freely. It may seem weird when people break things down like that, but that’s where my comprehension level is. When it has to do with medical issues and my body, my brain turns into that of a 10 year old. I can wrap my mind around that. Other PTs try telling me in their scholarly fashion “nerves regenerate at 1 millimeter per month and so far you’re showing excellent growth patterns.” My eyes will glaze over. Freeways and traffic I can relate to! I grew up driving in the traffic mecca of the world: Los Angeles. Traffic I get.

I keep thinking back to last year. I wonder if there was a precise moment when my legs went limp. This time last year I was under the knife. Had it already happened? Was it happening around now, as I sit hear one year later, eating left over pasta from last night’s dinner and typing this blog? If the doctors had ended the surgery now, would I have been able to skip out of the hospital? It’s a weird thing to think about.

I don’t know how to feel today, other than amazed at the fact that it’s already been a year. Am I sad? Indifferent? Optimistic? I don’t know. Is it possible to be all of the above? Obviously I’m bummed. I don’t think anyone hopes that one day they’ll get to have a permanent seat from now on. Though, to be fair, that is a perk: I never have to worry about finding a place to sit in public. But am I that bummed? It’s not like life is over. I’ve still been able to work, although it definitely took some figuring out as far as logistical planning goes. But, I’ve actually had my best year yet at my firm. So that wasn’t impacted. And I just got back from an amazing two week road trip with the hubs (more on that to come in a different blog). So I can still travel. I’m still able to swim. I can drive now. I have a new wheelchair coming any day now, so I’ll be 100% independent. I plan on ordering an attachment for said new wheelchair which will turn my wheelchair into a tricycle, so I can go on walks easier with the hubs and the dogs. Then there’s the weekly pain in the butt sessions with 5 O’Clock Shadow which keep me hopeful for the future. And the therapy I do at home helps me keep fighting to be back on my feet. So, is life really so bad?

This past weekend was my baby niece’s second birthday party. I watched other people running around playing with her, or carrying her and that made me sad. There was a pony ride involved and I couldn’t help her. I can honestly say that not being able to keep up with her or do all the things other people can with her has been the hardest part of this whole thing. But then I look for the positive: at her birthday party, I was like home base. I was seated in my wheelchair in a particular area out of the way of all the playing children, and she knew I was there. She would periodically make her way over to me with a toy or a blanket.

Maybe being non-mobile isn’t a terrible thing. Maybe it’s taught me that it’s ok to sit down for a while. That you don’t always have to be moving about. It’s definitely taught me patience. I know how frustrated clients can be when it seems things are taking forever and they don’t understand why. It’s taught me empathy for that frustration. It’s taught me to be resourceful and how to figure things out. This past year has taught be to get over my stubbornness and to ask for help. That’s it’s ok to need people. It doesn’t make you weak to not be able to do something 100% on your own. It’s definitely taught me to trust and who I can trust. It’s taught me who is truly there for me and who my real friends are. It’s taught me to meet challenges. It’s taught me that gravity can be really fun when rolling down hill and the wind is in your face. It’s also taught me that gravity can be really scary when rolling down hill and the wind is in your face. It’s taught me that sometimes life just sucks for no apparent reason and you just have to keep rolling.

One year ago today was the day that changed my life forever. And I don’t think it was in a bad way.