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.
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