Life Can Turn on a Dime – Part 3

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

Life Can Turn on a Dime – Part 2

Thanks so much for your responses to part 1. I hope to have posts on this story interspersed with other subjects for a while. Comments on Facebook have been fabulous, and I encourage comments here so others can appreciate them too. If you missed part 1, you can read it here.

What would be on your mind if you were facing certain death barring the curiosity and concern of a God-sent Good Samaritan?

After all, a steady, but sparse line of cars had passed my accident site without a notion of slowing down as I lay trapped and motionless for hours.  “Dear Lord, I’m sorry for the things I’ve done that didn’t please you. Even though some may have seemed like fun or pleasure on the surface, they didn’t please me either – not in any true sense – and selfish teenage attitudes didn’t help our family.”  Oddly, I don’t recall striking a ‘human’ deal with God in this predicament as I had in prior times of trouble.  You know, the ol’…”If you just get me out of my bind I’ll always do this or never do that.”  At least I don’t remember that type of bargaining tone or theme.  The climate was more submissive and thirsty, “Let me be right with you, and ready for my impending death should that be the outcome.”  Not pleadings for deliverance, but forgiveness.

That night I was trapped for hours down this embankment where the vehicle lay on its side.

After some rocky adolescence and early teen years I had grown closer to the Father.  Yes, I had drifted in the past few months, but no doubt I knew deep down that peace flowed steadily from His hand and I felt His peace.  Accepting forgiveness meant there was peace with God despite the regrets of my youthful indiscretions.  Amazingly, if I had fear, it certainly wasn’t a prominent emotion in this time of waiting and sacred communing…listening, talking, responding and resting in the resolute protection which only the Spirit could provide.

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid. John 14:27

The Rescue

About four hours later I heard the sound of a car rolling to a halt. Two doors slammed shut and I heard footsteps; these footsteps solidified hope for full recovery in my heart. Surely shock struck the couple when they heard my cries for help. I never knew the man and woman who jumped out of their car and rallied assistance that dark night.  All the aid the sleepy mountain town could offer came to my rescue. Secure that everything would now be fine, I slipped in and out of conscientiousness. No doubt, my body was in shock.  The EMT’s quickly ascertained that I had a potential cervical injury and instead of dragging me out of the car, they extracted me carefully by using the ear-piercing Jaws of Life to open my car like a can of tuna. “Don’t call my parents,” I emphatically told the young EMTs. I was not going to ruin their night with news of an accident – the news that all parents would prefer to live without for a lifetime.  After all, I knew I’d recover quickly.

The rescue team did more damage to the car than the accident!

After stops at two North Georgia hospitals the same cute first responders (funny I remember they were cute, right? I WAS eighteen!)  wheeled the gurney that transported my paralyzed body into Kennestone hospital, very close to my home. There, across the Emergency Room, at what must have been 3:00 AM, stood my mom and dad.

Oh, how I didn’t want to disappoint them. They were good to me and I was the baby, the youngest and only girl of five children. Looking back, I realize that my ongoing need for their affirmation and encouragement ran to the depths of my soul.  Even though I knew God was the source of my identity my stubborn and independent tendencies fueled my ‘alleged’ self-sufficiency, yet I still craved parental approval and affirmation just as any daughter or son does.

There would be grief, yes grief and new beginnings ahead for all of us.  Unbeknownst to me our long adventure to a ‘new normal’ was underway.  This baby girl had a new life to learn.  There would be no going back.

Thanks again for joining me on this journey. Here’s Part 3.

Pardon Us While We PACK

Travel is my friend and we enjoy a new place and new people! But I have to admit that I’m not a fan of packing! Somehow it seems to be a time when my disability frustrates me.. It’s comical as we pack almost as much when we travel for a weekend as we do for two weeks! It’s not the clothes (but we do take too much clothes) that make our packing a bit overwhelming, but the disability related paraphernalia and issues. Ok, I confess, choosing clothes to take can challenge me and that’s frustrating because it seems to signal that I have too much in my closet. But back to gathering necessary wheeling related luggage…

There is the shower chair, the tools to put the shower chair together – as well as any additional emergency items that we take – just in case. On top of that, we can’t forget the charger so that my power wheelchair continues to run. And if we are going somewhere that might not be fully accessible, we take a six foot ramp that folds neatly in the back of the van (for a drive) and we often check it as baggage when we fly. Let’s not forget Tahoe and his leash, identification, food, treats, toys, brush, bowls and baggies, etc.

I have a spreadsheet to track all the things we don’t want to forget! When we pack we check things off the list to make sure that we are not an hour away and say ‘Oh my, we forgot the —–‘, and it isn’t like it’s easy to buy ‘—-‘ on the road!

Every year we take a trip to Florida in the January-February time frame to attend a conference where Brent is a featured speaker. It is the perfect time for a break from the cold weather, but warmth is hit or miss. Sometimes we experience the coldest snap of the year or decade! In fact, for the last several years we have experienced weather that has kept us inside the hotel(s) for most of our visit. We seem to arrive when it’s either raining incessantly or the temperatures are dropping into the low 30s with winds. Last year we had a day or two where we actually spent ‘time’ outside and we found a dog park where Tahoe could run and enjoy the outdoors in the afternoons or evenings once Brent was finished with his sessions. This year looks promising!

Speaking of Brent, remember he is a techie genius. He presents and teaches workshops on geeky topics when we are on the road…this packs an additional punch into our already heavy load! Thankfully, a trip to Florida is drivable! For those times when we fly for business, we usually send Tahoe’s food as well as Brent’s teaching materials ahead of time. Did I mention Brent is a ‘snacking maniac’? He loves his morning, afternoon and bedtime snacks that keep his tall (and handsome) body on the go. We pack snacks and also buy snacks on the road. Yes, the popcorn is packed!

People with small children no doubt face a similar dilemma, but it’s all worth it when you are finally on the road or in the air and it always seems easier to UNpack! Hopefully your babies are as cooperative as Tahoe on your journeys. He curls up in the van and on the plane for a trip. You have to laugh at his ‘Please don’t pet me, I’m working’ patch! He looks to be working hard in seat 10B!

This year I prepared for the packing process with an added punch of prayer and my kind helpers put everything but the kitchen sink in our bag(s)! Really, just kidding about the sink, it is in there somewhere. And why not throw in the chargeable toothbrush this time? I love clean teeth!

  • I’m thankful we don’t have to travel with oxygen tanks.
  • I’m thankful Brent can lift me and we don’t travel with a big lift like one of my friends who has an injury like mine. Although, we do pack a lifting belt like the Home Depot employees wear!
  • I’m thankful Brent enjoys having me and Tahoe even though we represent a good bit of work for him.
  • I’m thankful for the cyber world that helps us continue our communication and activities and work remotely.
  • I’m thankful that processing through my perceived packing pains sparked prayers for our next trips! The time with family in the spring is destined for packing perfection.

I’m sure there are others with pack-aphobic tendencies. Please share your tips, struggles and stories with me. Today I need you!

My 50th Blog Post and 50th Birthday

In case you didn’t notice, it’s been a while since I posted. My plan was a grandiose 50th post giveaway on my 50th birthday so that you could have a chance to win a few nice prizes and celebrate with me. Don’t worry though, we will have a giveaway sometime soon!

Theoretically, my 50th birthday should have been a most delightful experience! It was a great celebration with parties and decorations, cards and presents, cakes and dinners out! It’s just that I did not feel the celebratory nature within myself that I had hoped. I wasn’t quite prepared like my friend, who has a 50th birthday next year, and has already been working on 50 things to do before her 50th year is over. Darn, I should’ve thought to do something to emotionally prepare before hand. Unlike many people, I did not have any issues with turning 30 or 40 or any other age….and then suddenly 50 hit, as if I didn’t know it was on it’s way. What was different? Well, as it turns out nothing is different besides having an extra reason to celebrate – that, even against odds, with my disability, I manage to live a productive and fulfilling life without too many unexpected health glitches for 50 years! Hooray!

Thankfully, I spring back quickly and don’t lollygag in my sorrows, realizing with gratitude the wonderful life I live. Gratitude is my recurring theme and medicine…my husband, my health, my family, my friends, my church, my hope in Jesus…the list goes on and on. Yes, you might be sick of hearing me say it.

Now that the ‘big’ day has actually passed, I am fully excited about the new year and all of the prospects of growth before us. My goals this year include a few that are quite a stretch for me – but that’s for another day’s discussion. Let us get on with our accomplishments and make a 2012 difference wherever we are called.

Have a peek in to my first week of 2012….it’s been a bit ‘me’ focused…

My friends for 35 years and pastors for over 25, John and Beth Fichtner, kicked off the first day of 2012 with an early birthday dinner.
We spent four days taking care of a friend’s golden-doodle, Hooper. Can you tell Brent is the dog whisperer?
We had to leave Hooper at home while went we to our Friday night church where Brent surprised me with a party afterwards! He amazed me with his impressive decorating and food coordination! Usually I lead the way when it comes to entertaining. Thank you Brent and thank you to my ‘seasoned sisters’ and all of the other friends that attended.
Special thanks to Andrea and Hannah who brought a toy for Tahoe who patiently waited in the van during the party.
‘The better part of one’s life consists of his friendships.’ Abe Lincoln

After the party, my present was Hooper and Tahoe…
Sweet sleep…

On my ‘actual’ birthday, I was greeted by mooing in the front yard. Maybe I should ‘Eat Mor Chikin’ – I’m glad I’m not among the obese in this nation…I might have taken the cows personally.

Don’t I look excited? Cows via one of my ‘over fifty’ brothers and sister-in-laws (Brian and Ann) and my precious nieces, Leah and Maya.
Topping off the day with flounder from an amazing new restaurant nearby. We had the best table in the house. Believe it or not, that was half a serving!

He is my hero for life. I love him.

Try it if you are in the Atlanta area. I read a review that said, ‘Finally, a real restaurant in Marietta’.

Door decorations…

Homemade brownies and candies in our ‘Christian Believer’ class the next day. One of my bffs, Cynthia, baked. After the food was almost gone I snapped a photo!

Oh yes, flowers and Godiva from my sister-in-law, Linda, arrived the day after, too. Nothing like making a celebration last…I needed the chocolate because I missed Hooper who had just gone home.

By the way, I was made for this year! My maiden name is Pentecost which means 50, and biblically, Pentecost is when the power of the Holy Spirit came to believers of Christ – and the Jews consider the 50th year the year of jubilee!! It’s the year of release and redemption! During this year all debts were canceled back in the day…guess America could use a concept like that about now.

Thank you everyone for a fabulous 50!. Let’s have a great 2012!

PS. Don’t worry, I’m emotionally stable….now.