We live in a society where instant gratification takes too long. We do our best to get everything we need, wish or want yesterday. There are circumstances, however, where forces greater than us take over and instant gratification is replaced with baby steps. Grasshopper baby steps.
Sustaining a spinal cord injury was one of those circumstances. Prior to being injured, I lived life going in ten different directions at once. Get a mental picture of how the Tazmanian Devil moves around and you have an accurate depiction of me.
Well, the brakes went on when I was injured. My body stopped moving, and there wasn’t anything I could do about it. My doctors explained to me the medical community did not know how to fix a spinal cord injury, plain and simple. But they did say I would slowly get better and heal.
The not knowing how to fix a spinal cord injury I understood right away. I had an injury, causing permanent paralysis, and currently there was no known cure. What’s not to understand? Doctors are human, not magicians.
It was the “slowly get better and heal” aspect I wrestled with. If you couldn’t fix me, what was there to possibly heal? I couldn’t move anything. I couldn’t feel anything. What was going to change?
I didn’t understand at the time the degree of shock my body received. Our spinal cord controls so much more than just our movement and sensation. It controls our breathing, regulates our temperature and aides in digestion. Simply put, getting a spinal cord injury initially kicks your body’s ass.
I was as weak as a newborn kitten. My body needed time to rest and get strong again. Sustaining a spinal cord injury is being reborn with a body that works very differently than your old one. You need time to learn how your new body works. This process doesn’t happen in leaps and bounds. It happens in baby steps.
To look for improvement is torture. To “see” progress in the acute phase of a spinal cord injury, you would need to plant a camera in your hospital room and let it record for about month. Then, you would need to fast forward so the entire month viewed in about fifteen minutes.
One day I was having a particularly challenging time all around; physically, mentally and emotionally. The name of the nurse I had was Ann. Twenty years later, this memory is as clear to me as today.
Ann could tell I was struggling to keep myself together. She pulled a chair up to my bedside and asked me if I wanted to talk. She had perfect timing.
I told her I understood my spinal cord could not be fixed. But I told her I was really struggling with believing how I was going to heal enough and get strong enough and progress enough to get out of the hospital and have some sort of life.
When I shared my fears with my doctors, (who were family by this point), they assured me things would get better. It was just an extremely slow process, and unfortunately, I would just have to do the time.
I told Ann I could deal with that if I could only believe it. I had been in the hospital for over a month at this point and I still felt as weak as a kitten. And I was trying my hardest to just let time take over and work its magic, but I was failing.
Ann listened without interruption. When I had gotten everything off my chest, she was thoughtful for a moment. Then she said, “Well, you can’t see hair grow, but we all know it does.”
Some how those words shifted my perception effortlessly. I worked hard, and time went by. I spent three months in acute care, three months at a rehabilitation center, then home.
I got stronger, I healed and I have a life. A beautiful life. I never saw Ann again after I left the hospital. That was twenty years ago. I wish I knew her last name to attempt to find her. I would be so happy to tell her she saved my life. She shined the first light for me in a very, very dark place.