Life Can Turn on a Dime – Part 4

The Surgery
Surgery was next on the agenda. My fifth and sixth vertebrae were ‘wire-tied’ together and bone from my hip was packed in for stabilization. As I mentioned in part 1, my father had the same surgery a year earlier and I don’t recall any fear regarding this procedure. Unlike my first head-shaving experience during preparation for traction, I wasn’t worried about my hair as Nina, my nurse, ran the sharp razor across my scalp and neck from the top of my ears to below my tanned shoulders . “You are my very first surgery prep,”  Nina confided. No worries for me, I was no novice in head shaving!

I should have been worried..this WAS the haircut of my teenage life! From the back, my thin hair would be nearly invisible after my two head shavings. Unknowingly, I had laughed and visited with Nina while she over-zealously impressed the surgeons with a MORE than adequate sterile surgery site! Weeks after surgery my brace was permanently removed and revealed my scar and peach-fuzz..

Rehab Begins
With surgery completed I was on my way to a vigorous boot camp along with twenty-five other soldiers…I mean patients…who had spinal cord injuries. No longer a special case that required the TLC I received in the first hospital, daytime visitors were prohibited during the week and exercise was required no matter how we felt. The first day after surgery, almost two weeks after the accident, I was strapped down and lifted on a dark navy, vinyl-covered tilt table that slowly raised my body from a horizontal position higher and higher until my stomach was queasy and I was on the verge of fainting. I’m sure I would have vomited if my paralyzed abdominal muscles supported such a raging reaction. Any one would feel unsteady after a couple of weeks flatly reposed in fancy hospital beds!

This day I didn’t like ‘rehabilitation’…no…not one bit.

Workout times with physical therapists maintained my range of motion and strengthened the muscles I could still use. Gail, my occupational therapist,  patiently taught me how to eat, drink, write, hold objects and navigate many essential daily activities. She and others taught me and my family how to care for basic needs like dressing, transfers, showers and using the bathroom.

We learned the importance of weight shifts to relieve pressure points and to prevent pressure sores that could put the spinal cord injured out of commission for weeks.

Weight shifts were predominately focused on the pressure points on my bottom where I sat all day, but my feet and elbows were watched closely too. The cuffs on my ankles helped prevent blood clots and pressure sores when I was in bed.

Not to happy here? Exhausted physically and emotionally and ready to transfer to bed.

We used a Hoyer Lift for transfers. I felt like a car engine being cranked out of its body!

Now, since I’m such a light weight and know how to assist, even a small woman can lift me without the Hoyer using good technique.  We still have a Hoyer for lifting emergencies, but rarely use the awkward device!  It’s a fool proof back protector for helpers.

Day after day my paralyzed friends and I attended classes and group therapy sessions to help us learn about our new bodies and to adjust emotionally. We laughed at times while we watched somewhat juvenile, yet memorable cartoon characters on video like Nick the Nerve, Belinda Bladder, Mr. Bowel and the Kidney Brothers.  They taught us the basics!

Other group sessions revealed the hopelessness so many experienced as they openly contemplated suicide. I was shocked because in my wildest dreams I had not fathomed that my paralyzed friends had the physical ability to do such a thing – much less contemplated the helplessness and depression associated with feeling like it was a way to escape this life change. Thankfully, no one I knew chose that escape, although some turned to addictions to numb their pain.

Hearing others’ hearts made me even more thankful for my faith, family and friends as I took one day at a time.

There is Hope
When our life turns on a dime the foundation we’ve built upon inevitably reveals itself.  Life’s turns may require strengthening or rebuilding with a whole new slab of concrete. My foundation was sure, but boy did I have strengthening ahead…

I’m wondering how your life might be turning on a dime…even in small ways that cause anxiety and confusion…it is happening all around us. Sometimes it’s obviously packaged in a newly paralyzed body, but more often it’s hidden in a heart pricked or paralyzed by loss, uncertainty, fear, regret or grief.

My hope is that we will turn to the One ‘who comforts us in all our troubles, so we can comfort those in trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God‘ ~2 Cor. 1:4.

Here’s part 5…read on my friends…


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.

Life Can Turn on a Dime – Part 1

A Car is Required

It was a warm day in early September. The sun was setting on my little yellow Toyota Corolla as I drove the winding roads through the Georgia foothills. I was an active 18 year old on my way to embrace my second year of college. My first year was full of academics, adventure and astronomy as I worked part-time assisting in the planetarium. I looked forward to the leadership conference that would be held just prior to our new year.

There was a lot on my mind…my summer was spent basking in my love of the water as a life guard and swim instructor, as well as a hostess and waitress. In my spare time I chose to goof off and party a bit instead of staying focused on God as I had been for the prior few years. I needed to go back to school. I needed a ‘reset’ and boy did I get one!

Let’s step back a few weeks – Madge wanted a car. “What 18 year-old did not need a car?”. My parents thought it would be prudent if I went back to school without a car, but I disagreed and bought the functional, not so stylish, little vehicle. Sometimes we learn our lessons the hard way. Hindsight is always 20/20 – a new journey for me, my family and friends was about to begin. My unwise decision impacted me in a huge way, but I quickly learned that our choices impact others – family members, friends and classmates.  I’m not a parent, but I truly believe that my parents suffered more than I when they faced what was about to happen.

A Loss of Control

The slightly curvy road was more than my driving experience could handle that September evening. I ventured back and forth with both hands on the steering wheel and moved at a reasonable pace as dusk set in. My eyes were a little tired and I thought about stopping for a steaming cup of coffee before I continued on the more mountainous last hour of my ride. Then my vehicle moved near the yellow lines and I jerked the wheel to the right. “Oh my!”, I thought as the wheel was pulled to the left to compensate for the overcorrection to the right…and then again…right, left, right and left…and ‘BAM!’. The car tumbled on it’s left side and slid across the road onto the embankment on the right.

“Oh xvjt! I have wrecked my car! I’ll just get out and push the car upright and be on my way even if I have to flag someone down to help. I have insurance and can get any damage fixed.”, I reasoned. Can someone say stubborn and independent? 

As I lay immobile, my legs felt like they were straight up in the air and a collection of cheap metal clothes hangers I had packed in the car with my ‘back to school’ items covered my face. I tried to move the hangers but could only turn my neck, which I did repeatedly. Note to self – when your neck is potentially damaged don’t move it. Still thinking, “I’m sure I can get help from someone and be on my way. If I need a doctor, I have my own insurance and can take care of it. Mom and Dad don’t even need to know and won’t have a chance to say we told you not to buy a car. Hmmm, let’s see, what shall I do since I obviously can’t just jump out of the car…” I shouted, “Help! Help!” what seemed to be a thousand times before realizing no one could hear my muffled voice as they drove. As minutes became hoursI knew I would likely die without help. If someone found me I was certain everything would be fine and had no fear of paralysis.

You see a little over a year before my accident my father had a collision in the blue VW bug he used to teach me to drive in the high school parking lot a couple of years earlier. His accident sent the beetle to its grave. Dad went to the emergency room, but they missed the fracture in his neck!  I distinctly recall how he suffered from extreme pain the summer before I left for my freshman year. Within a month of my departure dad refractured his neck while playing basketball and a quick trip to the ER revealed the potentially paralyzing injury. He immediately was put in traction and admitted for surgery. This operation was the same surgery I would have a year later, but I would not walk away from it like he did.

On a mountain overlook: Me and Dad and his temporary neck brace the year before I wore one.

Guess what?
Mom and Dad never said we told you so and….I wasn’t scared.  Here’s Part 2.