The X-Rays revealed a dislocation of two bones in my neck. No big deal, right?
The neurologist told my parents I had a serious spinal cord injury and reportedly communicated little hope for a productive life. That doctor obviously got it wrong! Two vertebrae in my neck pinched my spinal cord. Swelling had begun so the medical staff prepared me for traction to alleviate swelling and to prevent further damage.
Below is the gist of my traction set up except this picture doesn’t show the two VERY bald spots for the ‘tongs’ on the scalp.
There are drugs and much more effective protocols for acute spinal cord injuries today and it may or may not have impacted my recovery. In case you need a refresher, the spinal cord is that oh-so-important bundle of nerves that runs from the brain through the spinal column and is a conduit for information to the body – the information highway of the body so to speak. A spinal cord injury interrupts the body’s ability to transmit messages from and to the brain. For example, when my brain tells my foot or finger to move they don’t move. My injury occurred at the 5th and 6th cervical vertebrae and you can learn more about such an injury here.
In the Emergency Room those attending to my needs discussed preparations as they cut the clothes off my body…”No please don’t cut them, these are my favorite ‘very hip’ jeans, you’ll ruin them forever and I love this soft short-sleeved peach top!” I thought in my semi-conscious state, “and wait, NO, NOT my hair – are you seriously shaving part of my head? This IS a nightmare”.
Looking back it is sadly comical how my concern was so superficial. Nothing is wrong with caring about our clothes or hair, but in the grand scheme of life, they were my concern? I still thought everything would be ‘fine’. I’d be back to school in a flash. Darn, I would miss that pre-class conference!
A day or two in ICU led to over a week in traction on an orthopedic floor directly across from the nurses’ station where I was turned every two hours like one big hamster wheel with two resting positions. When I was on my back the nurses would fasten a cot-like contraption that had a hole around my face on top of me making a ‘human sandwich’. They would turn the wheel to move me from a face up to a face down position where it seemed like I was every time visitors would come.
Legs and shoes became the faces of my visitors. It wasn’t hard to identify one close friend who wore bright kelly green pants to visit with a group one night. As they prayed for me I thought, “Didn’t they know I hated those pants?” I’m shamefully smiling now because I’d likely still think the same thing, so we might as well laugh about it. My precious friends filed in and out by the droves and my family stayed nearly all the time. Mom went into ‘super-woman’ mode holding everything together as she kept working her job and juggling hospital visits. Dad did the same, but I hear he was more obviously distracted by the situation. People were praying and I know their prayers were heard and answered even though the physical issues were not outwardly changed. I was engulfed with prayers that I believe continue to contribute to my ongoing years of physical health, emotional health, and most importantly, my spiritual health and growth, not to mention the practical provision of every need for my tedious ongoing care. Let’s not ever underestimate the the power of our prayers!
As my condition stabilized discussions about extensive rehab ensued. This must have been when I began to grasp the reality that I would not make it to school, probably not at all that semester. A man I worked for as a lifeguard told my parents about Shepherd Center where his friend recently rehabbed due to a spinal cord injury. We began to learn that Shepherd would be a place with many people recovering from similar injuries. If we stayed at the current hospital’s rehab center I would be surrounded by primarily older stroke victims. Mom and dad wisely chose to transfer me to Shepherd Center.
It was a gray day outside as they moved me from my hamster wheel bed to a Stryker frame for the ambulance ride. I’m sure my father was encouraged as we traveled twenty-five minutes by ambulance to the southeast’s premier spinal cord injury rehabilitation center. As I settled in my hospital room awaiting surgery to stabilize my neck I was permitted to break my ten day ‘clear liquid’ fast with what seemed like a feast in the best bologna sandwich and apple I have ever had – and I don’t even like bologna. Any solid food would delight me as my dad fed me like I was his baby girl all over again. It was the first of many times my dad would devotedly take on this role by feeding, lifting, and even showering and helping me with the bathroom – humiliating, humbling and sacred are memories of this devotion.
Just as I finished my sandwich and juicy apple it was time to turn on my stomach. It was the first time I recall pain gripping me. It was the first time I remember my father and I crying together. There was something about the way my traction was set in this new Striker bed that was different, and unlike the first hospital’s quick response and ‘special’ attention, I was now another spinal cord injury in need of tough love. It would be part of my path to healing and path to a new normal. The evil Stryker frame turned me by rolling me like a hotdog
When I speak of a path to healing and to a new normal, I can’t help but pause to say that while it would be fabulous to walk, to serve in physical ways and not to be so obviously dependent, I realize that my challenges are no more than what God knew my family and I could handle. These challenges have strengthened me, taught me, matured me and given me a unique way to help others. There are days my circumstances are a struggle, but I’m not under any illusion that you don’t have difficult days or seasons as well. Everyone does. I wouldn’t trade my contentment and peace for a life of ‘walking’ without it. I choose to focus on the rich life I have and not on what I do not have or cannot physically do. For there is no question that He has indeed richly blessed me.
Stayed tuned for surgery, rehab and life outside a hospital…as the story continues in Life Can Turn on a Dime – Part 4.
Madge, as you probably know, I’ve worked at the Shepherd Center for 12 years. As I read your story, I cant help but to think about all the people that have been in similar situations as you. I wish they could all read this. It’s like reading/watching the History Channel. You are able to look back on what went on and somehow articulate what you couldn’t articulate then. It’s amazing, fascinating and beautiful. I’m constantly amazed at the path of thankfulness you continue to walk on. So many people are drawn to you because of that. You radiate Christ’s wisdom and joy and your story can and does inspire so many people that come in and out of the Shepherd Center. Much love to you, mighty, sweet, warrior of Christ!!!
Laura, you don’t know how much it means to read your comments. Thank you! I hope people can gain some encouragement from my journey and from so many others’ journeys. You are doing a great work at Shepherd! Thank you. Miss seeing you and your beautiful family regularly! Hope to see you soon.
Madge-You are a remarkable woman of God. By the way, I love the way you intermix humor, truth, and pain into your story. Thank you for being such a bright, blessing in God’s kingdom.
Your story could help so many people going through the same thing as you did. I really thing you should write a book. I remember when your accident happened. This is the first time I have heard it from you directly. Robin and I both visited you at Shepards. As I said before, you are an inspiration to everyone that comes in contact with you.
Madge, I’m catching up on your story this morning. Thank you for putting it together for us…I met you long after the accident and so love getting a glimpse into your past. Sending love and thanks to you for inspiring me.