Beauty Blooms Above the Swamp
*This is a shorter story of my accident, as compared to my second post in this blog, and how I received my spinal cord injury*
I found myself in midsummer, and in my arsenal I had a car, a lovely new N license, and the perfect sunny weekend I could spend up in Kelowna with my Mom. I was my first long distance drive and I was rearin' and ready to go.
Cruisin’ down the highway in my 'new' little 89 hatchback, I breathed easy and listened to some amazing music at a volume much too loud, (what else is new), with the windows down and the breeze beautiful. I made it to Hope, called my Mom for one of our little check-ups, ate a chocolate bar and checked my simple route for the fiftieth time. Getting back on the road, I slid easily through the Coquihalla tollbooths and enjoyed my first taste of a 110km speed limit.
Somewhere on the connector near Kelowna, something happened. I still don't know how - I must have zoned out, or possibly fell asleep? - but abruptly I'm no longer in my lane; I'm driving on the left shoulder of the road. White plastic pillars are smacking the front of my car, a beating panicked heartbeat. Suddenly the legal limit seems much too fast.
I want to get back on the road.. how did I get here? Smack, Smack, Smack.
I pull right.. Too hard. I'm new at this. I fly across the road.
'Oh god, this is happening.'
There's a jolt and the car is stopped. All I'm aware of is that my head is on the driver’s seat, my left arm curled up around me, and there's a seatbelt tight around my neck cutting off my breath. I try to move, to get up, but only my left arm does this strange little twitch. It then occurs to me I don't know where my body is...
I've broken my neck.
The next thing I knew I was being flown to Vancouver General Hospital with my Mother by my side. I was put into surgery that night after a myriad of MRI’s and other tests. I don’t remember much, but I do remember seeing the tear stricken and seriously frightened faces of my family and friends leaning over me. I saw my father's ragged face and red eyes, my step-mother telling me she loved me, and my friends, shaky and wild eyed.
I came out of surgery with a brand new and expensive neck - my C4 and C5 vertebrae fused together with some fancy new titanium hardware and a small piece of my hip. This, and a chilling diagnoses of an almost completely paralyzed body with a 10% chance of walking again. Safe to say we were all very frightened.
VGH was my home for the next five weeks, four of which I always had someone with me. Someone from my family, or a friend, was near 24/7. They worked in shifts to ensure I was never alone. Honestly, I can attribute a massive amount of my success to their determination and love for me. Any time I tried to get down on myself and lose my resolve or drive to succeed, they were right there with a healthy dose of, "Don't you dare!" and kept me encouraged and motivated. A body doesn't heal well if it's stressed, and we truly are more in control of our bodies than we give ourselves credit for. But we need to try to heal. If not, we will accomplish nothing. I believe this. I am proof of this.
Over the following weeks I met some amazing doctors, therapists and nurses - some of whom helped me more than they know – and gradually arms began to move, my legs began to move, and every new movement, however slight, was a cause for bountiful tears of excitement and hope.
I have what’s called an ‘incomplete’ spinal cord injury. This means my spinal cord was only pinched and bruised, not severed. It’s for this reason that I recovered at all and am not still laying motionless on that distasteful hospital bed. A complete injury reveals itself in someone who has absolutely no sensation or movement below the level of their break. An incomplete injury, however, is challenging in a different way: the damage is mysterious, and so the recovery is unpredictable. There can be a lot of hope, and painfully, no results.
For me, amazingly enough, my results were nothing short of phenomenal.
I then spent seven weeks at GF Strong Rehabilitation Centre. Two weeks into my stay I was given the all clear, and I stood up for the first time.
I cannot tell you the feeling. After having been bed and chair-ridden for weeks, and after all the fear and worry that the 90% chance I wouldn't walk would be the winning side of the ratio; I stood. And seeing the world from my height - such a simple thing - just standing at my height and looking around, I couldn't stop crying. In fact, I had pretty much the entire physio gym in tears; in celebration, in envy, and in an inspired resolve to get where I was. They talk of miracles... The word doesn't hold the weight of how incredible I felt.
From then on my therapists had a rough time keeping me in my chair. I had, and still do have, difficulty pacing myself to avoid the fatigue issues that plague spinal cord injured patients. My body has to work harder than the average bear in order to do the same amount of work as a healthy person. But I couldn't - and still can't - stop. At first they tried to have me use walking aids, but I threw them off as annoyances, my desire to heal outweighing their need for safety. And what did I say to them with a mischievous little wink? “Don’t worry, I’ll be running in no time. Imagine trying to stop me, then.”
So here I am today, almost three years later. I do still have a limp and (okay, okay), I’m unable to run, (for now!), but all things considered, I’m beyond lucky. It was hard work. Incredibly hard. But with belief, passion, and determination, (and a whole lot of love from family and friends), I blew that 10% chance out of the water. I am convinced that if you don’t push yourself past your limits, you’ll never know where those limits truly lie. And I can guarantee you they are further than you may realize. Again, I am proof of this.
My rehabilitation wasn’t all candy and popcorn, though. Complete functionality didn’t magically come back and I didn’t hop, skip and sing my way back to my old life. I had to give up dreams, and make new ones. I had to struggle and compromise: scream, kick, yell at, and finally give in to some things. But I learned incredible lessons. I learned that there is so much more strength in me than I realized. That when you give up dreams the world doesn’t come crashing down. Instead, new possibilities emerge. Fantastic people you’d never meet are found, new passions and desires emerge from the woodwork of your life, and an inner strength that may have been hidden, but was always there, blossoms right before your eyes. Beauty does bloom above the swamp.
Believe in yourself. Push yourself. Be amazed by yourself.
But please, for heavens sake.. don’t break your neck figuring it out! It’s in all of us. It's in you. Right now.