April 11th, 2011.
That was supposed to be a crazy, jacked up day of back surgery, leading to an equally jacked up (and painful) week of recovery and then a nice stroll back into normal life. Instead, that day threw my normal life on the ground, stomped the shit out of it, lit it on fire, and blew the ashes out the window.
The first thing I remember after surgery is hearing someone screaming really, really loud. It was frickin annoying, and I kept trying to tell the nurses around me to shut her up, but I would pass out before I could get their attention. After a few rounds of this, I finally realized it was ME that was screaming. So much for a nice wake up call.
It took them three hours to get my pain managed after I began waking up before they could move me out of the back recovery area (a.k.a The Place No One Can Hear You Scream) into the regular recovery area. At that point I was so exhausted and doped up, I don’t really remember much else until they moved me to a room.
I was excited about this because it meant privacy and someplace people could visit me, but that excitement was tempered quickly by the realization that they put me in the completely wrong building in the wrong department on a floor where no one knew what to do with a spinal cord patient. So then my partner, my folks, and my doctor tore transport a new one, and I got another new room – this time in the right building.
The trouble with all this moving was that I was still in excruciating pain – which was no meager feat, considering the amount of narcotics they had pumping through me would fell an elephant. Also, I couldn’t really breathe when I moved (later we would find out that was because I had pneumonia), and I was just starting to realize there was something funny going on with my legs.
When I finally got to the Neuro Ward, they had to move me AGAIN, even after tearful begging and attempted bribery of the nurses on my part. Pain knows no shame, folks. So I let out a series of screams fit to bring down the house as they switched me to my new (and final, thank the gods) bed, shrieking that I couldn’t breathe once I had let all my air out. One of the more sarcastic nurses – who later was my favorite – informed me that if I truly could not breathe I would not be able to inform her that I could not breathe, so please just lie down and be quiet for a moment.
Once I got settled, I began to try and get comfy, letting myself come out of the blissful narcotic haze for a bit. It was then that I realized there really was something very, very wrong with my body. I could not feel anything from mid-chest down, and I could move very little. Also, I had no idea where my feet or legs were unless I was looking right at them.
That’s right – I was paralyzed. An “incomplete injury” they call it. Went in for spinal cord surgery to remove a small, benign tumor, and came out a paraplegic. That was SO not on my to-do list.
The next few weeks were spent trying to cope with what had happened, dealing with horrible catheter and other medically necessary crap, an entire IV services department who couldn’t hit the broad side of a vein, and everyone around me crying when they thought I wasn’t looking.
Eventually, I began to have some movement in my legs and feet, although not much feeling at all, and got transferred to a rehab facility. (Physical rehab, not Amy Winehouse rehab.) It was there I got stronger, mentally and physically, and there that I was surrounded by people who had it so much worse than I did.
There’s no better cure for self-pity than meeting an 18-year-old girl who had just lost complete use of her lower body for the rest of her life with no hope of recovering any part of it. From that viewpoint, things weren’t so bad in my corner.
I went through Physical Therapy, Occupational Therapy, Aquatic Therapy, Neuropsychological Therapy, and Recreational Therapy. They taught me how to live and work and cook and eat and just BE from ‘chair level’. That is how I went home, and how I remain at this moment.
I will not sully my experience by telling you I’m doing just fine, because I’m not. I’m still angry, I’m still frustrated, and I’m still sad.
But I’m also thankful. I can still hold my children. I can still sing them to sleep. My brain and wit and candor are all unaffected, if not improved. I know now whom I can trust as my friend and whom I cannot. I am reminded of just how very much my parents love and cherish me, and how everything small falls away in the face of something this big.
And I am beyond grateful to have a partner that is willing to stick by me, to go and grow through this with me. Who is okay with loading up a wheelchair and two children every time we have to go somewhere; who is okay with having to switch roles and take on so much more than she ever expected; who is okay with realizing this could be for the rest of our lives. Or if she is not okay with it, she loves me enough to push through anyway, and that is even better.
I have complete control of my upper body and my mind, and therefore am going to be right back on the writing as of now. I thank anyone who is reading this, and I hope to be providing much funnier and wittier stuff to you very soon.
And by the way, if there is something unsaid or undone between you and someone you love, do it now. Say it now. Now may be all you have – trust me on this.