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?