Life Can Turn on a Dime – Part 8

Hi friends. This is part of a series about experiences related to a life change at age 18 when I lost control of my car many years ago and became paralyzed from a spinal cord injury. See part 1 for more background.

Almost ready to go home from the hospital in my brand new wheelchair. My half butchered hair is hidden as we pulled it back to cover the bald spots from traction and surgery.

Home Sweet Home?
Eleven weeks after the accident I was discharged from rehab. Coincidentally,  my accident occurred the day I left for my sophomore year of college and I arrived at home the day I would have come home for the Thanksgiving/Christmas holidays. Yes, that was an interesting semester and definite learning experience.  The true training was just beginning.

The transition to ‘every-day’ living was what I remember as the most difficult adjustment. I no longer had a host of new friends and therapists who understood my ‘different body’. It was ‘game on by myself’. Most of my friends were away at school, and yes, my family was there, but whoa…it was an awakening. A hospital bed was set up in the living room for the first six months while we worked on an addition to the house on the ground floor.

We set up a temporary shower in the hallway between the kitchen and laundry room right in front of the door going out to the garage.   I remember threatening to charge admission when someone needed to slip in or out during my shower.  When showering seems to involve the whole family you get a new perspective on life!

Finding Help
We had no idea how to hire helpers and we learned life lessons as we saw the good, the bad and the ugly up close and personal in our house. We tried both ‘live in’ and ‘visiting’ helpers. One night I was awakened to flashing blue lights at 2:00 AM as the police entered the house. One of our hired helpers took my mother’s wedding rings!  Redemption came when her father bought the treasured diamond from the pawn shop where she sold it.

It’s heart-breaking to see such desperate people. Gratefully, we honed our approach to hiring and I have developed many wonderful and lasting friendships through my dependence on others for personal care.  As you might imagine there are times of joy and challenge with this dependence and these relationships. I highly recommend a couple of my go to scriptures for courage and relief during the tough times….No kidding, I use these now to remember and to move ahead.  Yes, I still have my struggles just as I know you do. This very year has been replete with pneumonia and other health challenges. I repeat my short verses over and over:

March on my soul, be strong. Judges 5:21 NIV
Rely on the Lord! Be strong and confident! Rely on the Lord! Psalms 27:14”  The NET Bible

Friends Stick Close
Many friends helped lighten the family’s load and ministered to physical and emotional needs.  It is overwhelming to look back at the ‘mini’ miracles and the glorious evidence of God’s amazing grace.  A good friend, Julia,  cared for me during my first summer before she went to college.  I know it was difficult for her to stay with our family caring for a needy, exposed paralyzed friend, but her young soul offered safety and continuity as she served selflessly.

One of my former full-time helpers and friend, Michel, has a special gift of care giving and was with me for a good part of ten years as she lived with us and became part of our family. She helped when I first moved away from home and was a great support when both my father and mother died.  She was in our wedding and even went to Aruba to help us with care-giving on our honeymoon.  She now lives in Arizona and I rarely see her, but we had many memorable times together.  One of my most tender memories of her were the nights she spent at my mom’s bedside during her final days of fighting breast cancer.  Mom seemed to eat and move best with Michel…it was beautiful…and a great comfort to mom and our family.

Precious Gifts
A couple nights before mom died, unable to sleep, I drove to her house at eleven or so and Michel put me in the small hospital bed with mom in her semi-conscious state to cuddle.  A precious and priceless time.

You see, through the struggles and difficulties of my ‘different’  life I have seen the caring, loving touch so many extended to me and to those I hold dear. As if that was not enough of an example of God’s great love and faithfulness, he surprised me with the gift of a loving, caring husband!  Great is His faithfulness!

If you are currently struggling I’d be honored to hear your heart and pray for you.  Drop me a note or post a comment.  Love to you and more to come next time my friends.   – Madge

Life Can Turn on a Dime – Pt. 7

This is part of a series about experiences related to a life change at age 18 when I lost control of my car and became paralyzed from a spinal cord injury. See part 1 for more background.

A few weeks after my accident and shortly after surgery. The weather was nice enough for some relaxation on the porch in the late afternoons when mom stopped by after work.

So grateful I have learned how to take care of my skin without laying down every thirty minutes when the timer alerts! That was my first experience of ‘weight shifts’ for healthy skin!

New Appreciation and Caution
When I started sharing my story last year I had no personal experience with skin breakdown. Because of the intensive training I received during rehab, I was proud of the fact that I had good skin and avoided the commonly experienced complication of skin breakdown which can lead to surgery and many weeks of down time and further skin vulnerability. As I write this entry, I am healing from my first and only true pressure sore smack dab on my bottom!  Somehow I believed that my “perfect trouble-free skin” would never need such pampering.

This new-found caution concerns me, but more than that it gives me a chuckle as I look at these pictures and think, wow, a few months ago my outlook and appreciation for the ritual of regular weight shifts was entirely different.

A Class Disruption
A month after my discharge from rehab, the process of weight shifts in college calculus class was something that could have embarrassed me right out of the room. But somehow, by the grace of God, I was faithful to interrupt integrals and derivatives every thirty to forty-five minutes.

My big tan wheelchair sounded like a loud drill whirling into metal as a light touch of a button took me from an upright position to flat on my back…silenced for only a minute, the whirling sound brought me back up and erect. Classmates politely pretended like they didn’t notice.  I was a sight to see…half bald, in a big noisy wheelchair! I wore a metal brace to hold a felt tip pen that I used to scribble giant numbers in my notebook as I learned how to write without finger movement – pencils were out because they take too much pressure!

Grace Disguised
Yikes! Looking back, I’m amazed at God’s grace. I didn’t realize what a mess I was – a real disaster on the outside! But it was one day at a time then and it is one day at a time now just like everyone else.

One day at a time.  Yes each day of calculus class was precious and so is this very day.

Let’s use this day wisely no matter what circumstances we face.  This is our only today.

Love deeply.  Extend much grace to yourself and others.

Read on to part 8


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…