Tuesday, December 22, 2009

It's Christmas Once Again

Twenty-three years ago I spent Christmas in the hospital...Shepherd Center, specifically. It was just over a month after my accident, & it was a very hard thing for me. I ADORED Christmas! I loved the decorating, the shopping, sending & receiving cards, the wrapping, the music, everything! And I was missing it. Worse yet was the fact that it was my very first Christmas spent away from home. Come to think of it, it's the ONLY Christmas I've EVER spent away from home. Oh, I've gone out visiting later in the day, but I've always awakened in my own bed...except for that one year.

At the time, I was very sad about being stuck in Shepherd for Christmas, but looking back I realize it really wasn't so bad. In fact, considering it was a hospital, everyone made it quite fun.

First, there was Richie Bear. At the time of my accident, I was working as a staffing assistant & customer service trainer at one of the Rich's department stores. Rich's was an Atlanta institution, especially at Christmas. Each year on Thanksgiving, the downtown store would have the lighting of the "Great Tree" on top of their 5-story building. They also had Santa & his reindeer & the Pink Pig - a pig-shaped train ride for kids. In 1986, Rich's introduced Richie Bear - a big, white, stuffed bear sold during the Christmas season as a charity fundraiser. As Customer Service Trainer, Richie became "my baby" for our branch, so to speak. It was my responsibility to train the sales staff on all things Richie. By the time of our Richie kick-off meeting, I was so tired of Richie that I, a (at the time) teddy bear collector, told the store manager that I never wanted to see another Richie again! So, naturally, I received FIVE of them as gifts while at Shepherd, the 1st being from the employees at my store, delivered by my aforementioned store manager. With a crooked grin on his face he said, "I know you never wanted to see him again, but we just HAD to." And those silly little bears DID cheer my room a bit.

Richie wasn't my room's only holiday touch. I received TONS of Christmas cards, which my nurses taped up all over my walls. I also got a few plants & balloons, & my stepmother's boss even sent me a decorated & lit table-top Christmas tree. They all helped make my room very Christmasy.

Throughout December we had a lot of visitors to Shepherd. They brought cookies, visited & went caroling down the halls.

On Christmas Eve, the nurses moved a cot into my room & my mom spent the night with me. That was wonderful. On Christmas morning, my sister's priest surprised us with a visit. He brought us Communion. That simple act touched my heart deeply & has always given Brother Joel a very special place in my heart.

Later, my entire (local) family came to spend Christmas together. Honestly, it was a bit surreal having my step-family & "real" family celebrating together. But there we all were - me, Mama, Daddy, my stepmother, her mother, my sister & her husband & 3 girls, my brother & his wife & stepdaughter, my 3 stepbrothers, 1 of their fiances, & my friend Mary & her boyfriend. We all gathered in the gym & they sat on the mat tables as we opened presents.

That year made such an impression on me that I even remember many of the gifts that I received. I remember thinking, "What can they possible give a quadriplegic besides sweats!?" Well, they did a pretty darn good job on creativity. My sister's family gave me a handmade teddy bear made by my sister out of an antique quilt that had been made by my mother's mother. My brother's family gave me a gold teddy bear charm for a necklace. My dad's mother - the families official "queen" of gift-giving - sent me a $50 savings bond (which I have never cashed). But the best things they all gave me were their love, their support & their presence. They will never know how much it meant to me to be surrounded by them on that difficult Christmas day.

Little did I know things were about to get even more difficult. As the day wore, on my mother started feeling bad, so my dad & stepmom followed or took her home, only to end up taking her to South Fulton Hospital. She spent a week there with heart problems, & ended up having triple-bypass surgery at Crawford Long Hospital in February . Then, on New Years Day, my dad came to visit & surprise me with a special lunch from Longhorn Steak House. He surprised me, all right, by having a heart attack as he walked through my door. Thankfully, it was mild AND, Mary & her boyfriend were with me AND we were in a hospital. (If you're gonna have a heart attack, have it in a hospital!) He spent that next week at Piedmont Hospital & St. Joseph's Hospital. Eventually, everyone turned out to be fine. We even started a family joke became that that my sister could now write a Fodor's Guide Book to Atlanta hospitals, having eaten & slept in so many!

Yes, that Christmas was a challenge, but it had what mattered most - family. Whether by blood or by love, family is what matters most at Christmas. So if you don't have a family, why not drop by your local hospital & "adopt" one. I assure you, they will be blessed, & so will you!

I wish each of you a very Merry Christmas filled with joy & love.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

23 Years Ago Today

Twenty-three years ago today, my life was forever changed. Twenty-three years ago today, I awoke from a deep sleep to the sound of crunching metal sliding across the ground. Twenty-three years ago today, I faced the hardest moment in my young life. I've written all about that before. Today, I'm writing about something different. Today, I'm writing about, well, today.

Over the years since my accident I have let most of the "anniversaries" pass by virtually unnoticed. I'd remember them a few days before or in the wee hours of the morning on the day, but then, most years, I'd forget about it. Not this year. This year it's been on my mind a lot. This year it's been different. This year everything has been...different. This year it's hit me

I don't know why everything has been so different. Oh, I know some things, but I'm not going to post those in a blog. They're personal. They matter to the "why", but they're more a part of the difference than a cause for the difference.

I think one of the biggest reasons for the difference is that I was 23 years old 23 years ago. This is the "magic" year. This is the year when I pass the halfway point...the point where I will have been a quadriplegic longer than I was able-bodied. I'm not quite to the exact point, yet. I'm still a few months away from that, factoring in my exact age in years, months & days like the good little numbers freak that I am. But this is the day the years add up. Twenty-three years ago today I was a 23-year-old who suddenly found her life forever altered.

And today, it's really hard. Today, I'm really over it. Today I'm really tired of being paralyzed.

As I said, I don't know why it's so different...so hard. Is it because of the number of years, or the fact that I've grown so much weaker (physically), or that I'm facing "mid-life" with all it's own issues, or those personal issues I won't explain, or that I missed out on having my own children, or that my parents didn't live to see me healed, or that I can't take care of my husband & home like a "good wife", or the fact that it's a cold, dreary, rainy day today? Is it the fact that I got a real understanding...a revelation...a "picture" of the cross this week like never before...that God showed me what it really meant for me?

Is it all of those? Is it non of them? I just don't know. I just know that, for the first time in a long time, I'm really over it. I hate it! I want it to stop! I want my healing, & I want it NOW! She, with the great attitude...with tons of faith...with an indefinable joy...IS DONE!

[PLEASE NOTE: It's important that you know that it has been about 20 minutes since I typed that last line above.]

Oh, Lord, you know my needs before they happen & You meet every single one!

Here I was having a perfectly good pity-party & what happens? God sends in...a kitty! That's right! While I'm trying to pour out my pain to the world, He puts up a road block in the form of a fluffy, sweet, needy furball! The kitty that almost never comes in my office or gets on my desk just jumped up, laid down & sprawled all over my keyboard! I had no choice but to stop writing! I tried pushing her away, but to no avail. She just flipped upside down, put on her most adorable look & demanded attention. Those of you who aren't "cat people" might not understand, but when a cat wants attention, a cat gets attention...or else. So I was forced to stop writing. And when I looked into the eyes of my adorable fluffball - eyes so filled with unconditional love - all of my self-pity just faded away. God knew, in that moment, I needed to be reminded that I am needed...I am important...I do serve a purpose...I can do some things. It may only be to be the "mommy" of a silly little kitty, but even as a quadriplegic, I do that job better than anyone on Earth.

No, my life isn't perfect & it's certainly not easy, but at least I'm alive! Twenty-three years ago today, my life was forever altered. Twenty-three years ago today, I learned what it meant to be truly thankful to be alive. Twenty-three years ago today I learned that I am truly loved. Twenty-three years ago today I began the journey that would prove to me that God had made me more than able through Christ Jesus...the journey that would teach me what is really important in life. It's not about what you do or don't have, or what you can or can't do. It's about what you do with what you do have. It's about what you make out of the cards you're dealt. It's about the hearts you touch & the lives you impact for good. It's about love.

Twenty-three years ago today I began the journey that would teach me the most important lesson in life...it's not about me. Yes, our individual needs are important, but it's only when we lay ourselves aside - when we sacrifice & surrender - that we every find true joy.

"Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends." John 15:13

Each of us will face this crossroads once or more than once in our lives. Each of us will, at some point, have to decide if we will let our trials drive us into selfishness away from God, or do their work & draw us to god...to The One "who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us" (Eph. 20:3) It is my hope & prayer that when you find yourself at that crossroads you will remember me & all that I struggle with everyday. That you will remember that, while my life is far from easy, I still find joy...I still give thanks. It is my hope & prayer that, in those moments, you will say, "If she can do it, I can, too. I surrender, Lord & I trust you." If that happens, then I know my life...the lessons I've learned from these twenty-three years...has had meaning. That stupid accident & all my suffering will not have been in vain.

Twenty-three years ago today...hum...it was raining then, too.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Where’s The Love?

A high school friend who is now a pastor in Seattle posed this question on Facebook yesterday:

“As we pray for God to intervene, why do some seem to be healed and others not? Is God indifferent or selective? What is up with that?”

Being someone who has been praying & believing for my own healing for nearly 23 years, the question interested me greatly.  In fact, I have asked some form of it myself through the years.  Since Jesus healed all who came to him (Matt. 12:15 & Acts 10:38) & said that if we have faith in Him, we would do the same & greater (John 14:11-14), why isn’t everyone healed?

First, I must say that I don’t think it’s really a question of why so many people aren’t healed as it is an amazement that so many people are healed.  I mean, we deserve nothing.  Every good thing we have has nothing to do with us – our works – but is purely because of God’s love. And since most Christians are, if we’re being honest, such a mess at being Christians, it is only by God’s great compassion that, when we pray for people, we see the miracles we do see.  Yes, it’s always by Him, but He likes using His earthly body – The Church – to accomplish His will.  And because of this, He has shown us in His word how we might be used.  And I think that’s the question my friend was asking…why aren’t we used more?

I was sitting in the warm, beautiful sunshine this morning & my friend’s question came back to me, so I started reflecting on it & talking it over with God.  I asked Him, “Lord, since Your word is true & always works, why aren’t more people healed?  Why isn’t everybody who is prayed for healed?  You’re word says it, so it can’t be You.  Yes, Lord, You are sovereign, but You said that if we have faith, we would do what You did & greater…that You would do it through us.”  As I sat there listening, I felt these words in my spirit:

Where’s the love?”

The bible says that faith works by love (Gal. 5:6).  So where is the love?  Jesus taught that all of the commandments were summed up by love (Matt. 22:36-40) & that love is the most important thing (John 15).  God is love (1 John 4:8).  Jesus came because of this love – that we might be saved.  He came so that we might see God in the flesh (John 14:9)…so that we could see love.  Yet what do we do?  What do we, the body of Christ, do?  Do we truly love?  Not often.  Too many times the body of Christ, instead of loving one another, is ripping itself apart.  “Arms” cut off “legs”.  “Legs” gouge out “eyes”.  “Eyes” cut out “tongues”.  And all the parts stab the “hearts”.  If the Church can’t even walk in love with our own body, how can people be healed?  How can we ask in faith expecting when faith works by a love in which we aren’t walking?

Jesus said,

"5I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. 6If anyone does not remain in me, he is like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. 7If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you. 8This is to my Father's glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.” (John 15:5-8 NIV)

Do we reap strawberries from the branches of a grape vine?  Do we reap tomatoes from the branches of a squash vine?  Of course not!  If we’re reaping strawberries, it’s not a grape vine & if we’re reaping tomatoes, it’s not a squash vine.  So the question is, what are we reaping?  Are we reaping hatred, anger, depression, cruelty, meanness, doubt, harshness &/or selfish desires?  If so, then we are not a branch of the True Vine.  If we are not reaping the fruit of the True Vine, then we are not truly abiding in Him – allowing Him to prune us to make us productive (John 15:1-2).

“22But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23gentleness and self-control.” (Gal. 5:22-23)

God’s word is always true & always works, so if we aren’t seeing & doing the miracles Jesus did, perhaps it’s because we aren’t walking in the fruit of the Spirit…we aren’t walking in true love.  Perhaps we haven’t allowed Him to have His full work in us.  I know I haven’t.  I am not a horrible person, but I can be unkind & selfish & mean & judgmental.  I can blow up in anger & be cruel at times.  In fact, these things come far too easily!  But I don’t want to be that way any longer – ever!  I want to obey Jesus’ command & LOVE!  I want to let go of all of me…all of my selfish desires…& let Him transform me into His “Love Machine”.  That is what will bring Him the greatest joy, and after everything He’s done for me, I want to give Him great joy!  I am not saved by works, but I want my works to give Him glory!

And if we allow Him to transform us…if we truly start loving…,I believe, as an added bonus, we will see our prayers for healing answered!

Those are my thoughts.  As always, your comments are welcome & encouraged!

Friday, April 10, 2009

A New Look

      For those of you who have been following this blog for awhile, you will notice it now has a new look – a very different look.

      When I started this thing, I had no idea how long I would keep at it.  For many years, I had been a self-proclaimed “anti-blog”.  You see, I come from the “old school”.  I grew up in a time when diaries were, by definition, meant to be private, not put on display for all the world to see.  They were a place to write out the most private, most secret, most intimate details of your life.  Heck, they even came with a cute little lock & key!  (Of course, anybody with an ounce of sense could easily pick those cheesy locks with a hairpin, but to an adolescent girl growing up in the 1970s, that lock meant WOMANHOOD.)

     I still remember my first diary.  It was a brown “leather” one that my sister had never used & had left in her drawer when she went off to college.  Following the rule that all 7 or 8 year old girls knew to be law – finders keepers, losers weepers – I claimed the treasure as my own.  I scratched through the days of the week part of the dates, wrote in the correct days, & then proceeded to record those most private, most secret, most intimate details of my young life – over the course of the next 4 years!  In the end, I believe I wound up with entries on a total of about 8 of the 365 pages.  What can I say?  I was a very sheltered, pre-pubescent girl with only 1 really close friend.  How many big secrets could I have had?  I think the most exciting entry wound up being that on January 17, 1974, I got my ears pierced.  Woo-hoo!  I just had to keep that tidbit under lock & key, right?!

     When the whole blog craze began, I was aghast.  I could not fathom how people could not only share their most private, most secret, most intimate thoughts & experiences with others, but actually put them on display for the entire world to read on the internet!  Well, blogs evolved, & I noticed that people were writing about every subject under the sun.  I was still an “anti-blog”, but then it was because I didn’t figure anyone would really be interested in anything I had to say.

     One morning in January, I was sitting in front of my computer & all of a sudden I thought, “I’m going to start a blog.”  I just knew I was supposed to do it.  Believe me – no one was more shocked than I!  It was such a total turnaround for me that I knew it was the Lord directing me.  I had no clue what I’d write about.  I also had no clue how to create a blog.  Well, the Lord told me the what – my story – & I owe the how to what I believe to be one of the greatest inventions of all time – Google!  (You can find anything on Google.)

     Well, after doing some Googling, I started with a generic template.  It wasn’t really “me”, but it was nice enough.  Over time, however, I noticed that other blogs were unique.  In there very design, they expressed the feel of the blog & the personality of the blogger.  I wanted that.  Since my blog was my story – an extension of me, if you will - I wanted it to express me, not only in it’s content, but in every area.

     I’ve noticed that I’ve been feeling this way about my home lately as well.  I recently told my husband, Jerry, that I really don’t like my furnishings or d├ęcor.  I told him that it’s just not me.  It’s nice, but it isn’t me.  I’ve realized that, until recently, I have never had my own style.  I have always drawn from the styles of others – my sister, my friends, etc.  I have never really discovered who I was.  I thought I had, but I now realize that I have spent my life as a follower rather than an individual.  Now, however, I am discovering the styles & tastes & even beliefs that God intended for His uniquely created “Sandra”.  It’s wonderful!

A few things that I’ve discovered I like are:

  • clean lines
  • lots of light – tall walls of windows
  • soft, ocean colors
  • glass tiles, sea glass, crystal, stained glass (get the picture)
  • abstract art – swashes of color blocks
  • post-modern, mid-century furniture
  • stainless steel
  • dark woods & blonde maples
  • black & white photography of nature, architecture, & really old people
  • simple black frames with white mats
  • jazz sounds, sultry sounds
  • water – the look, the sound, the smell

     Most of these things are very far removed from the old me – or rather the me I thought I was.  I do still have some of my old likes:

  • old barns
  • country junk (as opposed to upper-crust antiques)
  • high ceilings & wide moldings
  • wildflowers

& a few others, I’m sure.  The point is, that at 45 1/2 years old, I am finally coming into my own!  I have reached a point where I enjoy hearing the opinions of others, but I will no longer be defined by them.  I will respect their right to differ from me, & I will hope for the same respect in return.  I will continue to seek wise counsel, but I will trust God to be my final guide.  (I’m fairly certain, based on the other insights He has been “downloading” into me lately, that all of this is His preparation for the next major season of life to which He is guiding me.  It’ll be fun discovering if I’m right.)

     So all of this leads to my new blog layout.  It’s still not perfect, but I much prefer it.  I like the simple, clean lines.  I love the photo on the header.  I like the “label cloud”.  And, since I know absolutely nothing about code & HTML editing, I like the fact that I was, with the help of good ole’ Google, able to do this much.

     I realize this post has nothing to do with “my journey as a quadriplegic”, so let’s just chalk it up to the “and beyond” part.

     I’d really love to hear your thoughts – on the post or the new layout.  Since you are the one viewing this page, I value your opinion…& any computer knowledge you may possess that I can exploit to get this thing where I really want it!

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Part 8 - The Wal-Mart Miracle

On the Monday morning 3 days after my surgery, my nurse popped into my cubical in the Special Care Unit all bubbly & smiling & said, "Good morning. After we get you your breakfast we'll get you in a wheelchair & send you down to therapy!"

"Um...what?"

"You're starting therapy today."

"What? Just like that? No warning or anything? But, how? I mean, I don't have any clothes." (I'd been in some form of ICU for over 2 weeks. Who needs clothes for that? Mine were in my closet at the home I shared with my mom, who, by the way, was already at work & so couldn't bring me any of said clothing.)

My nurse replied, "Oh, that's OK. We'll just send you down in your gown until your family can bring you some clothes."

-- enter sound of screeching tires here --

"In my gown?! ARE YOU KIDDING ME?!"

"No. What's the big deal?"

What's the big deal?! OK, for those of you who have never been in the hospital, visited anyone in the hospital, or seen any number of TV sitcoms on the subject, allow me to describe the "big deal" of my going to therapy in this gown to which my nurse was referring. First, it was thin & white...a combination that always translates into "see-through". Second, it was short...not 60's mini-skirt short, but knee-length, which was certainly too short for rolling around on a therapy mat table in a gym full of 40-some-odd strangers. Third, & most importantly, IT WAS OPEN IN THE BACK! Oh, it had a couple of ties at the neck & shoulders, but the all-important bottom was WIDE OPEN! Oh, & did I mention that I had NO clothing with me...i.e. no undergarments either?

Yeah.

My crazy nurse was standing there, all smiles & sunshine, seriously expecting me to go to my very first therapy day in that gown! She thought nothing at all of the fact that my therapist would be stretching me by raising my legs & rolling me on my side in that see-through, short, open-back gown! I would be exposing myself to all of Shepherd Center & she didn't find anything wrong with that!

At this point, my mathematical mind began a mad dash for some sort of solution to my dilemma. I only had about 2 hours to get some clothes. My clothes were at my home 13 miles away. My mom was at work 6 miles away, so she couldn't bring me anything...& nobody could get in our house to get them, either. The only chance I had was to beg this crazy nurse to call my dad, who was 30 miles away & pray he had a solution.

My nurse agreed to call. She came back a few minutes later & said that my dad wasn't home, but she had talked to my stepmom & she said she'd do what she could. At this point I was down to only about 1 1/2 hours & time was ticking, so I didn't have much hope. I kept praying anyway all through my breakfast & my bath. Then, just when my nurse was about ready to get me in a wheelchair for the first time, the miracle happened. My stepmom raced into my cubical carrying a Wal-Mart bag full of sweats!

I call it a miracle for good reason. What else could it have been? She had managed, in under 2 hours, to get dressed, get in & out of Wal-Mart, & drive 30 miles into the city through rush hour traffic! The drive alone was usually a good hour + in those days, but the real miracle was getting in & out of Wal-Mart so fast.

For those of you reading this from outside the States who don't know about Wal-Mart, let me describe it for you. Wal-Mart - or as my husband & I not-so-affectionately refer to it, The Black Hole - is a one-stop discount department store where you can purchase everything from auto parts to Ziploc bags relatively cheaply. I say "relatively cheaply" because of that "Black Hole" effect. You see, although science has yet to prove it, it is my belief that all Wal-Mart stores contain a black hole that causes it's shoppers, upon entering the store, to become suddenly unconscious & then sucks their money right out of them, leaving them with a bunch of useless crap in it's place. Here's the scenario:

You pop into Wal-Mart to quickly pick up a jumbo bottle of laundry detergent for the great price of only $2.87. The next thing you know, it's 3 hours later & you're standing at the register writing a check for $267.16. That's when you discover you are now the owner of a bouquet of spring flowers, a bottle of shampoo, a blue purse, 6 greeting cards, the latest edition of Women's Day, a carton of eggs, a 6-pack of Coke, 3 fishing lures, a 10-pack of white wash clothes for only $1, imitation gold hoop earrings, a 5 pack of Hanes briefs, a cat toy with jingly bells, a tube of Crazy Glue, a bag of potting soil, flip flops, a 64-pack of AA batteries, a quart of oil, printer ink, a "Best of the 70s" CD, toothpaste, a Shamwow that they said could only be purchased on TV, a 50 lb. bag of dog food, 2 pairs of Faded Glory jeans, a box of Leggos for the kid next door & a Twix bar. Oh, & absolutely no laundry detergent.

I don't know how, but it always happens this way. It is humanly impossible to get in & out of Wal-Mart quickly. I personally think it's caused by some form of hypnosis preformed by the 96-year-old greeter when he says, "Welcome to Wal-Mart."

Anyway, that's why I say a miracle took place that long ago December day. My stepmom, who, by the way, loved Wal-Mart, succeeded at the impossible task of going in, choosing several outfits (including a rather pretty red velour warm-up suit that was perfect for Christmas stuck in a rehab center), getting out with only those clothes & making it to Shepherd in time to save me from unthinkable embarrassment.

Miracles happen everyday. You just have to know where to look.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Part 7 - Surgery & Spa Day

After my accident, I spent 2 weeks in the "ice tong" traction laying in the Special Care Unit waiting for my body to stabilize enough for surgery. My 5th vertebra was crushed on the right side & my 6th was broken, so surgery was required to repair the bones. There was nothing they could do for my spinal cord. Once a spinal cord is damaged, it's up to God to heal it (which, by the way, I totally believe in). At the time of my accident in 1986, research was underway for a medical cure for spinal cord injury & they felt they were having positive results. The doctors were saying that they believed a cure was just 5 years away. Funny. Every time I've ever heard of medical advancements for a cure, they have always said, "Just 5 years away." Never 3 or 7 or 10...always 5. It's been 22 years & still no cure.

My surgery was scheduled for Friday, December 5th. I had always been a very healthy child, so the time following my accident was my first experience with hospitals. Because of that, I was a bit nervous about surgery. They didn't give me any explanations of what to expect either. I just sort of found everything out as I went along.

The first thing they did was take me to a curtained area to allow the anesthesiologist to perform a procedure. He cut a tiny slit in my wrist in order to insert something he would use during my surgery. I have no idea what. Then they wheeled me into the operating room, which was FREEZING. I asked them why it was so cold & they said it was to keep down the risk of germs causing an infection.

The next thing they did was transfer me to the operating table, which was no small task. They had to insure that my head didn't move AT ALL because, if it did, it would cause further spinal cord damage. And they had to do this while holding the ice tongs & sliding my body over. Not only were the nurses there, my orthopedic surgeon (Dr. Apple), another orthopod (Dr. McDonald), the anesthesiologist & who-knows-who-else were there lending a hand in my transfer.

After I was placed on the table, Dr. Apple explained that they were going to give me something to make me sleep & then flip me over on my stomach to do the surgery. That explained the army of people in the room. How many people DOES it take to flip a quad? Today, as I understand it, SCI neck surgery can be performed through a front incision made through the throat, but in my day, a neck incision was the only option - which meant flipping me. Before I could say anything or ask any questions, they put a mask on my face & told me to count backward from 100. I think I made it to 97...then nothing.

While I was under, they intubated me (put a breathing tube down my throat), removed the ice tongs, did, indeed, flip me over, removed a piece of bone from my right hip to use in my neck, shaved the underneath layers of my hair from about my ears down (lovely), opened my neck, replaced the broken bones with the piece of hip bone, wired everything together, stapled my neck & hip closed, placed a hard collar around my neck & flipped me back over. Oh, & extubated me (removed the breathing tube.)

I have no clue how long I was out. When I say I remember nothing, I mean NOTHING...no dreams...no out-of-body experiences...no memories...nothing. One minute I was counting backwards & the next minute some nurse was calling my name. I was so blank in fact, that when I heard my name I started yelling, "Wait! Stop! Don't flip me over! I'm not asleep yet!" The nurse, giggling, said, "It's OK. You're in post-op. The surgery's over."

After I was taken back to the SCU, my family was allowed to visit. I don't remember much. I do remember my throat hurting terribly, which is when I first found out about the intubation. I also remember my mood being very volatile. Up until the surgery, I had loved it when people touched me where I could feel it...my shoulders, neck & face. I craved it in fact. I was always asking my family to rub my face. However, after the surgery, when my stepmom put her hand on my forehead, I yelled at her to get it off. Apparently, anesthesia does strange things to me.

Saturday was a blur to me, but by Sunday, I was back to reality. I remember that Sunday as being an unusual & very special day to me...what I call my "man day". My family had spent 2 weeks practically living at the hospital, but on that Sunday, they finally felt able to relax some. My dad's family & my sister's family were able to go back to church & my mom was ordered to stay home & get some much-needed rest. My big brother, Mike, decided to come & surprise me with a visit. We hadn't spent much time together since the wreck & never alone. I was very much looking forward to the opportunity.

Mike arrived just as I was being served breakfast & was put to work feeding me. He had never done that before & didn't even have experience feeding children. It was quite obvious that he felt a bit awkward. He did remarkably well though, especially considering the fact that he had to feed me cereal...with milk...in bed...with me laying on my side! I was thoroughly proud of him. He didn't spill a drop.

That day was also the only time I had a male nurse. At first, that was a bit strange for me. Maybe it shouldn't have been since I knew he was a medical professional, but I was a 23-year-old girl. The idea of having a strange man take care of me was weird. Yes, my doctor was male, but that was different. Doctors don't do the physical hands-on care that nurses do. I was really uncomfortable with the whole thing at first, but his kindness & quirky attitude changed my opinion, & he turned out to be one of my all-time favorite caregivers.

After he had conscripted my brother into feeding me, he made me a VERY happy girl when he announced that the two of them were going to wash my hair! Of course, my brother was even more nonplussed by THAT news than he had been about feeding me, but I was thrilled!! Because of the ice tong traction, my hair had not been washed in 16 days! It felt AWFUL! This was a dream come true, made that much more special because my "Bubba" was going to help.

My nurse placed a special board under my head that would allow the water to flow off the bed. Then he & my brother poured water over my hair, added shampoo & washed. IT FELT WONDERFUL!! Those two men did such a loving & caring job that it felt like a "spa day". I don't know if my brother realizes it, but his presence in such an out-of-character situation made me feel like a queen, & I am grateful to God for blessing me with such a wonderful bonding experience.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Part 6 - The Heart of a Father

One day as I lay in my bed in the Special Care Unit at Shepherd Center, my dad came to visit me. Although he spent many hours with me during my stay, I remember this particular moment clearly, like a snapshot in time. He was standing on my right side looking down at me. I suppose we chatted about this & that, all nondescript things I have long since forgotten. Then, out of the blue, he said something that I will never forget - something that, to me, would forever define true love.

My father looked down upon me & said, "If only I could change places with you & climb into that bed & be paralyzed so you could be healed, I would."

Well, of course I argued with him saying, "Daddy, no! I wouldn't want that!" He replied, "Yes, but I'm old & I've lived my life. You deserve a chance to live yours, too." I said, "Well, thank you, but I wouldn't want you to be paralyzed."

That was the whole conversation. At the time, it was what it was - my Daddy showing, in a moment of vulnerability, how helpless he felt that he couldn't help his hurting baby. Since then, however, the Lord has shown me the true depth & importance of my father's words.

"If only I could change places with you...I would."

That is the definition of true love - thinking not of oneself, but only longing to do whatever necessary to give the very best to the other.

That is the heart of a good father.

That is the heart of God.

My daddy looked down & saw my life -my hopes, my dreams, my future - shattered by that awful paralysis, &, out of his love, wanted desperately to fix things...to give me back my life. I knew he meant it when he said he'd trade places with me. If he could have, he would have done it in a heartbeat, but he couldn't.

But that is true love.

That is the Father's love.

That love that my Daddy felt & expressed for me is the same love that God has for all of His children. God created each of us & gave us the greatest gift anyone can ever give - free will. Just as I chose to use my free will to make the stupid choices that caused me to be paralyzed, all mankind has made the stupid choices that have brought sin & death into God's perfect world. What God created good, man used his gift of free will to mess up. Yet God still loves us.

When my daddy looked down & saw my broken body, he didn't think about my poor choices. All he thought was, "If only I could change places with you...I would." It's the same way with God. He looked down & saw his children laying in our beds of paralyzing sin - sin that held us back from being everything He created us to be - & he said, "If only I could change places with you...I would." But where my daddy couldn't do it, God could & DID do it in the form of Jesus Christ. God sent His own Son to come into this world & pay the price of our sin so that we could choose to walk whole...so that we could have hope, dreams & a future. Jesus took our judgment upon Himself. Out of His true love, He sacrificed Himself on the cross, said, "It is finished," & surrendered His life for us. He climbed into our beds of paralyzing sin so that, if we accept His gift, we can get up & walk in the fullness of life with God.

That is the heart of the Good Father.

That is True Love.

If you have never made a personal choice to accept God's gift of love, why not take a moment to do so right now. Maybe you've never heard of God's gift before. Maybe nobody ever told you that each of us has to individually - personally - accept God's love through Jesus for us. Maybe you accepted it once, but you've crawled back into that sin-bed. Maybe you've just been holding God at arms length lately & need to reconnect. Maybe you're not sure about any of this, but you just don't like where life's got you now. Wherever you are, God's love is waiting. He's a daddy who sees you just the way you are & loves you anyway. He's a daddy who is holding out His hand, ready to help you up & teach you & guide you through a life with Him.

It's simple, really. Just say something like, "Jesus, thank you for your gift. I need it. I accept it. Please help me."

If you accepted God's gift, please let me know. I'd love to rejoice with you!

Monday, February 16, 2009

Part 5 - A Time for Giving Thanks

A few weeks before my accident, I spent a Saturday night at my dad’s house. When I awoke Sunday morning, I found Daddy & his wife dressed up as though they were going to work – suit & tie for him, dress for her. At first, I thought I’d had a Rip Van Winkle moment & slept straight through ‘till Monday. I asked them what was going on & they said they had decided to go check out the church right outside their subdivision. I was surprised because, except for weddings & funerals, my father hadn’t been in church in years. He wasn’t an unbeliever, he just didn’t attend church. I was thrilled that they were going! I loved the Lord &, as I mentioned earlier, He had been drawing me back to church, too. (I didn’t actually recognize the similarities in Daddy’s & my situations until months later, but I was still thrilled they were going.) Well, they must have liked the church because they joined it on the Sunday before my accident. That would prove to be very much a “God thing”.

The folks from that church – Harp’s Crossing Baptist Church in Fayetteville, GA - became such an integral part of my family’s life & of my story. As I’ve mentioned, God tried to warn me to stay away from the accident, but He knew I wouldn’t, & because of that fact, He knew we would all need the people of that church very much. They continually exemplified the LOVE WALK of a Christian in so many ways.

My first contact with the Harp’s congregation (that I remember) came at Thanksgiving. My accident occurred just 5 days before Thanksgiving Day, & I was transferred to Shepherd Center the day before Thanksgiving. Now for those of you reading this from outside the USA who don’t know about Thanksgiving, it is a national holiday celebrated on the 4th Thursday of November. It was originally set aside as a day of prayer, remembrance &, well, giving thanks. In my experience, it has, however, transitioned into a day for family & friends to gather & eat WAY, WAY too much food – usually a turkey dinner – & watch a lot of football on TV.

Needless to say, holiday meal plans were no longer at the top of my family’s priorities. Well, God took care of that for my dad & his wife & stepchildren. When they arrived home from Shepherd on Wednesday evening, they found a complete Thanksgiving dinner waiting for them at their front door, anonymously given by one of the family’s in their new church – the church they had only joined 10 days earlier. The meal even included a big teddy bear for me & an unsigned card filled with love & prayers.

Thanksgiving was just the beginning of all the blessings given to us through the people of Harp’s. They faithfully mailed me so many cards that my hospital room wall was literally covered in them. The Single Adult group came to visit me & I gained a few close girlfriends out of that group. They prayed, prepared meals, visited, sent gifts & so much more. They didn’t even know us, but they loved on us with the heart of Christ – a servant’s heart.

There were two couples in particular that practically “adopted” me, if you will. The first was Kay & David. They had recently lost they’re only child – a daughter. She had been born with Spina Bifida, but died as a teenager, so they really understood what it was like to live with a disability . Kay & David visited me often, even ringing in the New Year with me. They gave me a special breath-operated phone so that I could make calls unassisted & a talking clock so I would know how soon my next body rotation or the morning would arrive, as I often lay awake in the dark. Those gifts were indescribably valuable to me. Kay & David were wonderful friends!

The other couple was Vance & Judy. They became my “spiritual parents”. Their story is such an integral part of my life that I will write about it in it’s very own post.

Harp’s Crossing’s pastor, Dennis Watson, became one of my regular visitors & dearest friends. He came almost daily at first &, later, at least weekly. He prayed with me, listened to me, talked to me, encouraged me, laughed with me & even cried with me. My dad told me Dennis mentioned me in nearly every service for all the months I was at Shepherd, reminding everyone to continue praying. He was the first person to have a dream about my healing. There have been several by now, but his was the first. He dreamed that I walked into the church pushing my wheelchair in front of me. If he didn’t truly have faith for my healing, he did a great job of faking it! Dennis was even the first Elder to “officially” pray for my healing from a biblical perspective:
James 5:14 – 16 (NIV) “Is any one of you sick? He should call the elders of the church to pray over him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise him up. If he has sinned, he will be forgiven. Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective.”
Several years ago, the Lord gave me the verse Psalm 27:13 as what I call my “rock scripture” – the scripture that He wants me to always stand on & put faith in no matter what. It says:
“I am still confident of this: I will see the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living.” (NIV)
I believe in God’s provision for healing & I KNOW that I will be whole someday. I can’t wait to walk up to Dennis, thank him & show him the fruit of his “prayer of faith”!

Harp’s Crossing was by no means the only church to offer my family care, prayer & love. I know there were MANY. My sister’s priest, Joel, brought me Communion on Christmas Day. My grandmother’s church in California prayed, sent cards, etc. I received visits from the church in which I’d grown up. The list goes on. I’m certain that there are many other stories of the wonderful acts of kindness given to my family by various churches that I will not know until I’m Home with the Lord. I am grateful to them all & to the countless others who were not affiliated with any particular church, but allowed God to use them as well.

God knew & provided for our need before it even existed. That is the heart of a good father. More on the “good father” later.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Part 4 - Tests, Test & More Tests

First, thank you for giving me the time I needed to not look back. That time & the warm sunshine we've been having (68 degrees F in February!) have brought me to where I can continue writing about my journey.

When I left off in Part 3, I was describing my time spent in the Special Care Unit at Shepherd Center. I spent about a week & a half in the Unit while my body was being stabilized for surgery. During that time, I underwent several tests - all of the usual pre-surgery things including blood work, x-rays, CAT scans & a myelogram. Some of these were no big deal, but others....

The Blood Work

As I said earlier, I was injured in 1986. This was at the height of the AIDS scare in the USA. Only a year previous, actor Rock Hudson had died from AIDS & the young hemophiliac, Ryan White had been ban from school for having the disease because people believed that his classmates could catch it through casual contact. It was a crazy time of unknowing, uncertainty & fear. Because of this, my family wanted to donate blood specifically for my use during surgery. I know that my father, a very regular blood donor, & my sister did donate blood (& perhaps others, as well). They were not allowed to donate for my direct use, however, because the Red Cross had, also a year earlier, begun HIV screening of all blood. The medical staff assured us that the blood I received would be safe, which it obviously was.

During this whole blood testing/donating thing, my blood typing had to be done to insure my receiving the right blood. When my results came back, my father just KNEW they were wrong & made them retest it 3 times! You see, my father was O Positive, & he was certain that I, therefore, must also be O Positive. Problem was, my results were A Positive. He couldn't for the life of him believe that my results were accurate - not until my sister piped in that she, too, had A Positive. It seems that it never occurred to my dad that maybe, just maybe, my MOM had something to do with our genetics! Boy, for a girl like me who actually spent several years thinking I was adopted because I couldn't find many early baby pictures of myself, this was not funny. Then I remembered that my dad, who could do almost everything well, had dropped out of pre-med in favor of economics in college because he had flunked biology! It was one of those rare "You were wro-ong!" moments that kids long for.

The CAT (CT) Scan

When I was first injured, my mom brought a teddy bear of mine from home to "keep me company". His name was Baby Bear, as in Goldilocks & the Three Bears. He was about a foot long & dressed in his PJs & I slept with him at home. Yes, I was 23 & still slept with a stuffed animal. Besides, Baby Bear wasn't just a stuffed animal, he was my friend. :-) Anyway, I think she brought him because it was all she could think to do to comfort me. There was her baby, broken, hurting & dealing with a life-changing trauma & she couldn't fix it. She couldn't "kiss it & make it better". All she could do was try to give me comfort, so she brought Baby Bear. What a terrible feeling for a mother (or father)!

Well, Baby Bear became quite a symbol for me. He started a gift trend that would prove epic, but more on that in another post. He also became very popular among the medical staff. They talked to him, always placed him beside me after my every-two-hour turns & even sent him with me for my CT scan. That's right! Baby Bear lay on my chest while I was wheeled into the big CT tube for imaging. I never saw those images & always wondered if his insides showed up because I always knew his heart must be extremely large for his little body.

The Myelogram

In a word, this test SUCKED!!! Please forgive my terminology, but to say it was "horrible" or "very unpleasant", wouldn't come anywhere near explaining how awful it was! For years, I thought it was an angeogram &, who knows, maybe it was. I'm calling it a myelogram because in my Googling on both, the myelogram description fits what they did to me. I may not have inherited my father’s blood type, but I definitely inherited his Biology ability (only I squeaked by with a D), so I could be wrong. All I know is that it HURT!

What ever the test was, let's just say it's never a good sign when you find your doctor/surgeon waiting to "lend a hand" with the "simple" procedure. (Thanks to Google, I now know why...& I'm glad I didn't back then.) In order to perform the test, the traction I was wearing had to be disconnected. Those tongs & traction were literally the only thing holding my head on straight & preventing further injury. It was Dr. Apple's (not the same Dr. Apple from Lifeflight) job to hold my head & neck still. (I guess the Orthopedic Surgeon & Chief of Staff is the only one paid enough for that job. One slip & I could have ended up on a ventilator or worse.) But that fear wasn't the worst of it.

To perform the test, a contract dye had to be inserted into my spine before x-rays could be taken. Here's the thing. Since I'm paralyzed from bout 3" below my shoulders & down, I have little or no feeling in about 95% of my body. With no feeling, needles mean nothing to me...no pain, no fear...UNLESS someone wants to stick a needle in the other 5%, which is exactly what they wanted to do. They had to insert a needle into my neck, while I was lying on my back, in order to get the dye to my spine. This was a "direct puncture" procedure. Dr. Apple gave me the usually song-and-dance of, "This may sting a little," but that was an extreme understatement. As I said earlier, it didn't sting, it HURT!!! As soon as they punctured my neck on the right, the left side burned like touching a hot coal. If you've every turned your head suddenly & felt a burn inside your neck, take that feeling & ramp it up about 1000 times & you might be getting close. Very unpleasant indeed.

Fortunately, this test is rarely used today because it has been replaced with MRIs. I've never had an MRI because they weren't used in 1986. In fact, my sister brought the January or February issue of National Geographic to Shepherd to show me because the cover story was about MRIs, including the cover photo of a spinal cord MRI. It was extremely cool.

Well, now that I have grossed out the squeamish among you & reminded myself why I hate going to the doctor, I’ll sign off. More soon. Thanks for reading & commenting!

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Looking Back

I haven't written anything in almost a week. I don't know exactly why. I just haven't felt like "looking back". Looking back can be a great thing. It helps us to see how far we've come in life. When I look back & remember my immaturity, my lack, my foolishness of youth - of which there was much - and then compare it to my life now, it creates in me an attitude of gratitude. I can see in hindsight how God has used all of my pains & mistakes to grow me into the woman I have become & I am grateful. I can also see in hindsight how blessed a life I've truly had. Yes, looking back can bring great joy.

Sometimes, however, looking back simply reminds us of what we've lost. This backwards journey is a dangerous slippery slope for anyone. If we allow ourselves to walk through that door of self-pity, we are asking for trouble. If we entertain those thoughts of loss - of regrets - we will fast spin into a downward spiral of useless misery. I don't often feel this way, but sometimes it does happen & when I see those bright yellow DANGER signs, I stop looking back. That's where I've been this week.

You see, 7 years ago this past week I lost my father to cancer. Well, I didn't exactly LOSE him. I know exactly where he is - rejoicing in the presence of the King of Glory - but he's not here with me anymore where I can talk to him & see him & touch him & share my life with him.....& I miss him. Most of the time I'm OK with his being gone. Of course I grieved in the beginning & I have had moments of sadness since, but I have reached that stage in life where I understand that death is a part of life. As long as I know the person has a relationship with Jesus, I know that when they die they are home & that I will see them again someday.

I have faced the death of a lot of loved ones in my life, & I have grown to accept the peace God offers us at times like that. I don't even always remember the anniversaries of those times anymore - at least not always right on the day. I don' know why this year has been different. Maybe it's because I've been stirring up all the memories of my accident. My dad WAS such an important part of that time. In fact, he was my rock. He encouraged me & believed in me & supported me in so many ways!

Of course, he always did. He was my Champion. He was my knight in shining armor. He wasn't a perfect man by any stretch of the imagination & he knew it. But I was blessed to have a daddy who always wanted me, always helped me, always forgave me & always loved me. Daddy is the one person in all my life who I have never - not for an instant - doubted his love for me. That is a special bond that transcends time & distance. As it should be, I have a new Champion now - my husband, Jerry, who Daddy loved & highly approved. But even though he has passed the baton & gone home, I know Daddy still keeps watch over us as he sings praises to the King, plays his trumpet in worship & dances with joy!

Thank you, God, for giving me the blessing of my daddy, even if the time was far too short. You, as always, made the perfect choice! I miss you Daddy & I will love you always!

Please give me a few days & I'll get back to writing about my journey...as soon as I know the slope is no longer slippery. Thank you.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Part 3 - My Days In Rehab

I really hate saying, "I was in rehab for 4 months" nowadays because it automatically conjures up images of substance abuse in people's minds. Twenty-two years ago when I was actually in rehab, the term was understood to mean PHYSICAL rehabilitation. Anyone who had a substance abuse problem went "into treatment" - unless they were rich & famous & then they "went to Betty Ford". Now, everybody & their brother associates rehab with drugs & alcohol. It's not fair. I want my terminology back. Of course, it could simply be ME who automatically associates "rehab" with substance abuse & I just assume everyone else does, too, but I'm not taking any chances. So, on that note...

After spending a few days at Georgia Baptist Hospital, I was moved to Shepherd Center for PHYSICAL rehab. Shepherd is located beside Piedmont Hospital in Atlanta, GA. It was a great blessing for me to have a spinal cord injury (SCI) rehab hospital in my hometown because there are very few around the country & far fewer back then. Most SCI patients had to travel hundreds or even thousands of miles for rehab, but I just rode a few blocks in an ambulance. The greatest part of this blessing was being so close to my family & friends. I had visitors every day, which helped my recovery immensely.

I spent the first couple of weeks in "the Unit". No, this was not a top-secret covert operations division of the Army. It was the SCU - Special Care Unit. Being in the Unit was different than being in the ICU had been. One of the first things that I had to get used to was the fact that there was no rotating bed (yay!) because Shepherd wanted to begin immediately to get my skin toughened up & used to staying in one position for long hours. You see, one of the biggest concerns for paralyzed people is the risk of pressure sores. I've been blessed by only suffering a few minor & only one serious sore over the years - a very rare statistic for SCIs. Trust me - they aren't pretty & can actually kill you if not treated. Georgia Baptist had made such a big deal out of my needing the rotating bed that I was a little scared at Shepherd's attitude. I thought maybe they'd put me in a Striker Frame - those beds that you've seen in TV movies that hold the person in straps & flip them over on there face suspended. They said they didn't use those anymore. All they did was put an egg crate pad on the bed, roll me on my side slightly (I couldn't go too far since my neck was in traction) & place rolled up pillows behind my back to hold me there. They alternated - side, back, other side - every two hours, all day & all night. Eventually they increased the time to 4 hours & a total side roll, side-to-side (no back time). Toward the end of my stay, they even tried getting me to sleep on my stomach - their preferred position because of the stretch it gives your muscles. I hated that one! Picture it - paralyzed from the shoulders down, unable to turn your head all the way or lift yourself & stuck face down for hours. Try it yourself sometime. Very unpleasant. (No, I didn't get any good sleep for months.) Actually, Shepherd's goal was for me to reach a point where I could do without the egg crate pad & just be rolled every 4 hours through the night. In the end, my father, who I went to live with immediately after rehab, decided we would keep the egg crate, put me to bed on my back with the head elevated (which is how I was most comfortable) & SLEEP through the night - a much more practical solution for the real world. He said he was too old to get up in the middle of every night & that good sleep was more important than any hassle of replacing egg crates every few months. God bless that man! To this day, that's how I sleep. I no longer have an egg crate because I have a special air mattress, but I sleep on my back, head elevated &, for the most part, quite comfortably under the circumstances.

I learned several things during my stay in the Unit. There were a lot of hours of just laying there with nothing to do but watch TV & talk to the nurses. During that time, things just came up in conversation.
  • One thing I learned was that you don't cover someone up to sweat them when they have a fever. My temperature ran over 102 for several days. They stripped off every cover & put ice packs (rubber gloves with ice inside) against the arteries in my thighs to drop my temp as quickly as possible. The whole "covers" thing had been ruled out years before, but nobody had bothered to tell my parents.
  • The whole "sweat it out covers thing" wouldn't work on me anyway because, as I learned, quadriplegics don't sweat when they're hot. Just one of the strange reactions of SCI on the autonomic nervous system.
  • Another thing I learned as a result of a soap opera. Back then I was big into soaps (dropped that habit about 10 years ago). One of the characters on General Hospital - a nurse named Bobbie, for those of you who followed along - had been shot. The doctors on the show were all worried because they HAD to take the bullet out because it was so near the spine. My nurse, who was passing by my cubicle & heard it, piped in, "No they don't! We leave 'em in all the time."
  • I was sad one day because I thought my chances of having children were gone. My nurse said, "No they're not. You can still have kids, only it's even better...painless labor!" The Lord never has blessed us with our own children, but thanks to my nurse, I know it's not because the SCI prevented it.
The most important thing I learned during my time in the Unit didn't come from a nurse, but from the Lord through my dad's wife. I honestly didn't have many "down" times. I really never got truly depressed. People are amazed by that fact. They're always telling me I have a great attitude. I guess that's because they assume they would be angry or want to kill themselves or something. Of course, no one knows how they'd really act in a tough situation & I personally think most people don't give themselves enough credit. Just look at how amazingly so many people fight cancer! Now THAT is amazing. Yes, I was sad a few times, but never really depressed. I couldn't be. My situation could have been so much worse. If my injury had been a fraction of an inch higher, I would have had to have a ventilator breath for me, but I didn't. I could have had a head injury, but I didn't. My face could have been cut to shreds by glass, but I didn't have one scratch or bruise. My family told me that there was one guy in the Unit who's injury was so severe that he could only blink his eyes! Can you imagine? No, I had no room for depression because my situation could have been a lot worse.

I did, as I said, have moments when I was sad, however. One such moment came during a visit from my stepmother. I had been raised as a Christian - a Baptist, to be specific. My parents didn't actually attend church with us or practice all of the Christian beliefs at home, but they considered it their duty to insure we had a Christian upbringing &, therefore, sent us to Sunday School & encouraged us in church involvement. As a result, I asked Jesus into my heart & was Baptized when I was 11. I was very involved in church & talked regularly with the Lord, even though I didn't exactly live the changed life of a Christian the other 6 days a week. I had fallen away from church after high school, but had recently felt the pull of the Lord to return to Him. I had even visited a couple of churches before my wreck. Anyway, on this particular day in my moment of sadness - or rather, great sorrow - I was crying & saying, "OK. If the Lord's plan for my life was for me to be paralyzed, then I'll live with it & I'll be fine. I just wish I knew why. Why me? Why did He choose me to be paralyzed? And if only He had told me to expect it so I could have been prepared!" You see, I had been taught somewhere along the way that God caused or allowed everything to happen - good & bad - for His purpose. The problem was that that just didn't line up with the God I knew as "Good Father". A good father doesn't hurt his children - he protects them. Anyway, in that moment of great sorrow, my stepmother looked at me & said, "Sandra, God didn't have anything to do with your accident! The devil did this, not God!" In an instant, I KNEW that was the truth. Those words of truth collided with my Spirit & totally erased all of the years of well-meaning, but wrong, misinformed teaching & "stinkin' thinkin'" as my pastor calls it. In that instant the power of Jesus' words in John 8:32 hit me: "Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free," & my life was forever changed. Even though I was physically trapped in a lame body, God's love - His Word - had set me free. THAT was the "Good Father" I knew! He had tried to warn me - to keep me from that accident. He sent my mom, who I ignored. He made me tired, which I ignored. He sent thoughts of finding another way home, which I ignored. He didn't want me paralyzed, but once I was, even though I had ignored Him, He was with me, loving me personally & through so many people, giving me strength every step of the journey.

More on that journey next time.

Monday, January 26, 2009

So, What Happened? - Part 2

First, let me thank everyone for the wonderful comments after part 1. I am so glad that God uses my setback to help & touch others! Now, it’s time for part 2 of my story.

As the wreck was happening, I awoke briefly to the sound of metal crunching & sliding across the ground, and then I passed out. The next thing I remember is the driver talking to me. I asked what had happened & he said we had wrecked. He said that the gas was leaking & that I needed to get out of the car. I already knew in that first lucid moment that I couldn't feel or move my legs. I knew was trapped.

I didn't panic. "Extremely calm in a crisis" is one of my gifts. I have that strange ability to detach from my personal feelings & focus calmly on others & the situation around me. I only fall apart AFTER the immediate crisis is dealt with. Because of this gift, I calmly said, "I can't move my legs. You'll need to pull me out." The next think I remember was seeing bright lights through my closed eyelids & hearing some strange man’s voice say, “I’m tired of fighting with these clothes. I’m going to cut them off of her.” My thoughts raced between, “No! I’ll be naked in front of strangers!” to “You can’t! These are Guess jeans & a Liz Claiborne sweater! They cost a fortune!” As you can see, my mind was functioning perfectly normally for a 23 year old girl. :-) After that, I passed out again. The next time I came to, the EMT was telling me that I had to stay awake. I answered him back in a, shall we say, forceful, yet calm voice, “I’m tired! I don’t have a concussion! I’m just sleepy! I was asleep when this happened! Just let me go back to sleep!” At that point, I heard the guy who had been in the backseat say my name & I instantly calmed down & passed out again. The next time I awoke I somehow knew I was somewhere different. I said, “Where am I?” A female voice, which I later discovered was that of the ride-along trauma MD named Dr. Apple, answered, “You’re in Lifeflight helicopter. We’re going to airlift you to Georgia Baptist Hospital.” I immediately said in a happily excited voice, “Oh, goodie! I’ve always wanted to fly in a helicopter!” As the flight crew was laughing at my response, we lifted off & a thought came over me & I said, “Oh, no! I’ve never flown before. What if I get airsick?” As the laughter grew, I again passed out.

When I came to again, I was in the ER surrounded by medical staff. They were asking me all sorts of questions – my name, did I live with my parents, my age, my address, my phone number, my dad’s address & phone number. I dutifully answered each one until that last one. When I told them I didn’t know Daddy’s information because he’d only been in his new house for six months, I guess I must have passed the head injury assessment because they stopped asking questions. At this point, my wall of calm began to crumble & I started asking to see my mother. Like any hurting child, all I wanted was my mommy. As they wheeled me out of trauma to move me to the ICU, they paused in the hall so that I could see her. I don’t recall what we said, but I remember her face leaning over me, trying to smile. That face both calmed & frightened me. I felt comfort having Mama near me, but her being there was somehow my first confirmation that what I was experiencing was very serious.

After that, events sort of blend together. I remember various things that happened, but my timeline is confused. I remember the first time I saw Daddy. It was an important moment. You see, I was always a big Mama’s Girl, but I was Daddy’s LITTLE Girl. I remember he came into my ICU cubical with his strong, fearless face masked with an almost too happy expression. At the time, I could still move & feel my arms because the spinal cord swelling had not yet set in. When I saw him I said, “It’s OK, Daddy. I still have my arms. I’ll learn to walk again through those parallel bars like they do on TV shows.” That moment defined my attitude throughout this entire ordeal. That’s who I was. That’s who I am. God made me an eternal optimist – full of hope & always finding the bright spot. Over the course of the next several hours, the swelling did set in & I gradually lost all feeling & movement up to 3” below my shoulders. That fact did not deter me. Oh, don’t get me wrong. I’ve had moments of frustration over the years, but I can honestly say I can’t remember a moment when I didn’t at least have hope. I’ll go into that more later. For now, back to the facts.

I remember at one point in those first few hours thinking that my legs had been amputated. I couldn’t feel them or see them, so I thought they were gone. My sister, Sharron, who at 11 years my senior has always been a second mom to me, went out & bought a big hand mirror just so she could prove to me that I still had my legs. Sharron also stood up to the medical staff & defied hospital rules in order to spend that first night with me. She slept (or tried to) in a chair in my cubical. I remember she kept checking my arms for feeling. She literally watched my injury worsen. I didn’t know at the time that the doctor had told my family that I would soon become totally paralyzed up to my neck & most likely spend the rest of my life in bed with my arms drawn up to my chin. Boy, was he wrong! Sharron told me sometime later that I had been in a lot of pain that day & night, but I don’t remember it.

**SQUEAMISH WARNING** I remember the Neurologist putting me in traction. He sat behind my head & literally drilled pins into my skull on either side near my temples. He then attached a contraption that resembled ice tongs. They suspended 30 lbs. of weight from it the first night, but lowered it to 10 lbs. the next day. I was in that rig for two weeks until my surgery. I never saw it that I remember. I don’t know why I didn’t use the mirror. Maybe I did, but I have no memory of it. I just remember feeling like a big ice cube. Perhaps those of you who saw me can comment.

I remember various visitors. Mary, who I had just met as a part of that Sociology class & is still one of my dearest friends, came with the class friends &, I think, the driver & his mom. My friend Joe came & had to collapse into a chair because of the shock. (He won’t mind my telling that.) I remember Susan, who I’ve known since we were 4 years old. I asked her to take on the task of telling everyone. Not a very nice assignment, but she accepted it & I am most grateful. There were others who came as well after I was moved to a different ICU, & I certainly appreciated every visit.

I WAS moved to a different ICU & I was placed in a rotating bed. The bed had a motor & it would roll back & forth from side-to-side 60 degrees. The object was to prevent pressure sores. Unfortunately, the staff didn’t get my head braced well enough & it slid side-to-side about ½ inch on every rotation, clunking into the supports each time – not a great thing for a broken neck & spinal cord injury. We’ll never know if that made the damage worse or not. Oh, well. C'est la vie. Also when I was in the rotating bed, they gave me prism glasses to wear. Those were cool. I would look straight up, but the prism in the glasses bent the line of sight & allowed me to see the foot of the bed & watch TV.

I was at Georgia Baptist for 5 days. Then I was moved to Shepherd Center on Wednesday, November 26th – the day before Thanksgiving. In my next installment, I’ll tell of my 4 months spent in rehab at Shepherd. If you have memories of those first few days at Georgia Baptist, please share them in the comments below. I also welcome all other comments.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

So, What Happened?

I've been asked that question a lot over the years. It's come in various forms - everything from the quiet & shy, "Um...if you don't mind, um...may I ask, um...why are you in that wheelchair?" to the bold & brazen (& usually loud), "So, why you in that thang?" Usually the question is asked by a virtual stranger in a store or restaurant or movie line or something, so I just give the soundbite, "I was in a car accident that left me paralyzed." (I have to admit that on a few occasions I've wanted to say something like, "Because I'm just too lazy to walk & I want the good parking & special attention," just to see the reaction.)

It's funny, really. The people that I'm actually connected to on a somewhat regular basis in some way - neighbors, church members, Facebook, etc. - don't usually ask at all. I'd like to believe that is due to the fact that my sparkling personality so overwhelms them that they simply no longer see the chair. Of course, the reality is that they probably just asked someone else who knew the story.

When I HAVE been asked & had opportunity to tell the long story, I've noticed that, over the years, my answer has changed. I find that interesting. The facts of the event haven't changed, so why is my story different? I believe it is because I am different. As I have aged & grown, my perspective has changed. The details that were once glaringly important to me just simply don't matter any longer. The things that I once glossed over are now the important standouts. I suppose that is true with all of life. I believe it would show us to be emotionally stunted in some way if our stories DIDN'T change.

So, here is what happened - the January, 2009 version anyway:

In the Fall of 1986, I was a 23-year-old college student who also held down a job as a Staffing Assistant. This was my, "get it right" attempt at college, having dropped out 2 or 3 times previously. This time I was doing quite well, having a goal & a plan...that is, until I let my social life get in the way. I became friends with a group from my Sociology class & started dating one of the guys. We all allowed our schoolwork to slip in deference to spending time with our friends. Because of this, on Thursday, November 20th, we had to stay up all night in order to complete the Sociology papers we had known (since the beginning of the quarter) were due on November 21st. We went to class that Friday & turned in our papers. After class, I, unfortunately, had to go work for 5 hours.

That night, exhausted, I went on a double date with my boyfriend & another guy from our group. The Lord tried in so many ways to stop me, but at the time, I didn't know about His still, small voice.
  1. I had to go by my dad's after work & he was nervous because I was late. (That was weird because I was always late.)
  2. My mom, who I lived with, fussed & fussed telling me I should stay home because we were going to my niece's gymnastics meet early the next day. (My mom never tried to keep me home on a Friday night.)
  3. Truth be told, I really didn't feel like going because I was so tired, but I didn't want to disappoint my date (stupid move).
  4. When we got to the concert we were attending, I actually tried to figure out a way to go home because it was so awful! (It was a punk rock concert - my first & only - & I spent the evening with my mouth gaping open in disbelief at how truly ridiculous the whole thing was.) I thought about calling my mom, but couldn't ask her to drive to downtown Atlanta at 11:00 at night. I thought about calling my dad, but didn't want a lecture. I thought about getting a taxi, but didn't have any money.
In the end, I stayed. On the trip home, well after midnight, I was so tired that I reclined the passenger seat of my boyfriend's Celica flat & went to sleep. We dropped off the other girl first. The other guy was asleep in the backseat. The driver, my date, knew he was tired so he said he couldn't turn the heat on for fear it would put him to sleep. Unfortunately, that trick didn't work & he fell asleep anyway. We ran off the road & flipped & rolled a few times. The guy in the back seat, who wasn't wearing a seat belt, was awakened by flying through the back window. His ankle shattered when he landed, but he was otherwise unhurt. The driver was unharmed. As for me, well, I took the brunt of it. Even though I was wearing my seat belt, because I had the seat reclined the shoulder harness was no where near me. As a result, my upper body snapped forward as the car flipped, my neck was broken & my spinal cord was compressed. I was paralyzed.

Well, this post is growing painfully long, so I'll end here for now. Next time I'll write about the events that took place immediately after the wreck.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

That Pesky "About Me" Box

As I sat here debating the idea of starting a blog, I decided that whether I did so or not, it wouldn't hurt to go ahead & fill out my profile. Unfortunately, that decision put me right smack dab in the path of that odious "About Me" box. There it was, taunting me, expecting me to sum up my very existence in 1200 characters or less. And even though it was only implied, I instinctively knew that not only did those 1200 characters have to be informative, they should also be witty, fetching, creative, interesting, or at the very least create a sense of longing in you, the reader, to discover more. What a daunting task! It's not that I don't "know myself". Far from it. By the grace of God, I have a very healthy self-image & confidence in who He has created me to be. It's the summing that up in a catchy little paragraph that I find so difficult. Should it be "just the facts, ma'am" - age, location, marital status (yes, I am blissfully married, BTW), the fact that I've been a quadriplegic for more than 22 years? Should it describe my blog title, which is something I had intended handling in this, my first post, until that silly box derailed my plans. Should it describe my interests, my hopes, my dreams, my beliefs? You see my dilemma?

In the end, I left it blank & decided to right this instead.

So tell me what you think. What do you put in those boxes? What would you like to see in mine?