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.

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.