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.

The Wonder and Wisdom of Cayenne Pepper

Many articles have been written about cayenne pepper and its benefits yet i’m compelled to write another one. Wow! I would’ve gone through less testing and chronic discomfort if I had known about this miracle powder three or four years ago.

My symptoms included all kinds of digestive problems which often triggered cold sweats. Yuk…let’s not talk about them (but if you should want a more detailed discussion – email me). I tried yogurt, probiotics, enzymes, elimination diets where I only ate bananas, rice, and applesauce and a bit of chicken for what seemed like weeks. Multiple trips to the doctors and many tests by the GI specialist revealed nothing but low salt/electrolytes and a lack of protein which was understandable with my symptoms.

It’s frustrating when you feel like you have no where to go for a chronic medical problem that you just know has an answer. The diagnosis was IBS (in my mind it was I‘ve Been Sentenced). Basically, ‘We are sorry we can’t help you.’

Last October, my hero husband told me about some cayenne pepper pills he had bought to help him, and he thought I should give them a try (you know from my prior post he had undiagnosed Celiac disease). Wow, we sound like we were a mess, but we functioned quite well even with our undiagnosed maladies!

The cayenne didn’t change the way he felt, but it was nothing short of a miracle for me! Within a day or two I was 90% better!! No going back now! Who knew hot cayenne in my stomach would make me feel better and not worse? I guess many people already had figured this out, but I had either never come across this research or was unwilling to accept that it could possibly help. Admittedly, when Brent suggested it, I was merely appeasing him and really didn’t think cayenne would help.

I’m not promising results for others, because I think it’s one of those things you have to try, but a friend of mind that had ongoing headaches has also had great results with cayenne.

The Solaray Cool Cayenne 40,000 HU capsules at Whole Foods is what we buy, but you can use the loose powder or buy a liquid form as well.

Cayenne has been used as an alternative medicine for years to fight infection, improve circulation, prevent heart problems and help digestion. Apparently, the capsaicin in the powder increases blood flow and research is widely available on the Internet. It’s a wonder that reading many forums never brought me to information touting cayenne!

My personal experience fervently attests to cayenne’s benefits. I feel so much better. ..and an added side effect is that it has reduced my cold natured tendency. Incidentally, when my Rehab Specialist heard how cayenne helped me, he was VERY interested and took notes on the information to share with his fellow MDs at the Shepherd Center! You have to love a doctor who is willing to incorporate alternative approaches.

My truly unbelievable experience with cayenne will hopefully help others! My habit is to take one capsule in the morning and sometimes a second capsule in the afternoon. Occasionally the capsule’s contents are sprinkled on my food for a little spiciness! Reportedly, it is good to taste the heat because it alerts the stomach that something hot is on the way, but I haven’t noticed any improved results from using it as a seasoning.

Give it a try! Geez! I’m thankful to God (and Brent) that I did!

‘If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God who gives generously to all’ ~James 1:5