My Wheel LifeThe stories of how I got this way, and the motivations that keep me rolling.
Ten Days (Part 3)
Days 6-10 in Orlando Regional Medical Center were a blur thanks to pain killers and other medications. However, I can recall the following events happening in no particular order: Once out of ICU I never attained a roommate in my room due to the amount of people that visited, and also the amount of cards, balloons, stuffed animals I had collected. A friend brought one of his wheelchair friends to visit. He made everyone leave the room and then told me the next few months were going to be extremely hard, but told me not to give up. About twenty friends gathered in my room one night to watch Happy Gilmore on the tiny hospital TV. My friend Diane stayed the night with me one night, and we told stories and laughed the entire time. The guy I had dated just three weeks before, and also the guy that threw me the ball the day I fell, brought his new lady friend to the hospital when he came to visit. A nurse showed up to take stitches out of my hip, and I hadn’t even known they were there. At some point I wondered when was the last time I pooped, but never brought the subject up because I was afraid of the answer. Soon after this thought I learned I had a neurological bladder and this meant a new way of going to the bathroom. The new way seemed horrifying. Small tubes called catheters would be need to be shoved up my urethra every 4-6 hours. Once, a nurse had been trying to teach my mom how to catherize me when I heard her say, “But I never wanted to be a nurse.” And finally there was the decision of what therapy center to attend.
Since I was injured on the job, I had options for care. I could choose to go to any of the five best spinal cord injury hospitals in the nation, all on the dime of the workman’s comp insurance. My options included the Miami Projects in south Florida, Shepherd’s enter in Atlanta, Georgia, Craig Hospital in Colorado and finally New England Regional in Boston. Ultimately, I chose to be sent to Atlanta because I knew my mom had a sister there. We had also lived north of Atlanta for a few years during my childhood, from second grade to the end of fifth. So I felt a sense of comfort in choosing Atlanta. In a new world of unfamiliar terms and procedures, choosing a familiar place seemed like the safest thing to do.
So on my tenth day of injury, I said goodbye to all my favorite nurses and I left Orlando Regional Medical Center via an ambulance. My mom and I were driven to the Orlando Executive Airport and loaded into a leer jet. Fifty minutes later we landed in a different private airport in Atlanta. I never saw the actual city, just a few seconds of clouds when being transferred from the leer jet to the next ambulance. Like cargo, I was shipped to Shepherd’s, a place my mom and I would eventually have to call home for the next 10 weeks.
The first few nights at Shepherd’s were difficult. Now that I had left behind all of my friends and family, the severity of my injury became prevalent and it was all I could focus on. At night I would dream of myself as an able-bodied person, running and jumping and doing activities that once seemed simple, and then awake to a nurse shoving a thermometer down my throat and cuffing me to a blood pressure machine. My body was still making adjustments to its new, lame form and so it was necessary to take vitals every four hours, even if it meant waking me up in the middle of the night. Once awake in the middle of the night, alone and with all the beeping machines, I’d quietly try and try to move parts of my body. When nothing happened, I’d stare at the ceiling in frustration and think of what I could differently next time. My body was clearly not ready to make it’s come back, even though mentally I was willing and more than ready.
My first room assignment at Shepherd’s was a single, meaning I had no roommates. My mother immediately took great care in decorating the vanilla colored walls with all the goods I had received in Orlando. My favorite part of the room was a tiny, yellowed colored television that hung by an arm right above my bed. By blowing into a straw I could control my television. One blow turned the TV on, and also switched channels. Two blows turned the TV off. Two days after my arrival, I’d watch the Thanksgiving parade on my little TV and feel proud that it was in my control. I couldn’t have known then, but this was my very first step to a very long journey of seeking independence.
It was in this room at Shepherd’s that i cried for the first time. Within days of my arrival, someone had sent a 40-year-old paralyzed man into my room to talk about life as a paralyzed person. I was watching my little television, which hung just inches from my face, when I heard a man’s voice say, “Knock, knock.” I looked over to my right and down towards the door by my feet. In the doorway was a robust man in an electric wheelchair. His face flushed red.
“Hi there,” he said.
I don’t remember if I responded. I was too busy staring and wondering what I possibly had in common with this person.
“My name is Don and I’m here to talk about being disabled,” he continued. I’m almost positive I stared in silence.
Nervously, he continued with his bit. He mentioned something about being paralyzed for twenty years, and that he was happy, and that he was married, and that while it sucks right now, eventually life will get better. I’m certain he went into more details, but I didn’t really care to listen to what he was saying. I was too upset. No matter what happened, I decided, I would never let my body go like he did. He looked like a wheelchair person. I was not. I would continue to work out as much as possible, if only to never have sausage fingers like him. And while I’m sure this man was very pleasant and had true intentions of helping, privately I loathed him. He looked sad, defeated and complacent. I analyzed other flaws on the man’s body as I watched his dry, cracked lips move up and down. The way his chest heaved before each time he talked. The way he sat, crooked and to the side. His fat sausage fingers. His clothes that looked too baggy, and twisted. All of him made me cringe. And suddenly, I became very angry.
“What was that about?” I shouted out at my mother. Don had just scooted his way out the door.
My mom looked at me blankly as I continued to rant.
“What the fuck? I’ll never be that guy. Why did they send him in here? And what’s he talking about being paralyzed forever? Has he read my charts? Gross. That guy was gross, right?”
My mom appeared shocked by my reaction. Perhaps because it was the first reaction and sign of emotion I had given since being hospitalized.
“Jana. Calm down. He wasn’t that bad,” she said calmly. “He seemed like a nice guy.”
My rage continued. “I have nothing in common with him,” I stated, abruptly. “Of all wheelchair people, why him?” If there ever was a time I wanted to kick and pound my fists into the wall, this was it. “How does he know what’s going to happen to me? I may start walking tomorrow, he doesn’t know…. Fuck that guy. I will never be him.”
My mom looked at me sadly, with her head tilted to the side. She had already begun grieving the death of my able-body. I hadn’t. With no friends or family to distract me, the truth was starting to seep its way into my brain and seep fast. I was no longer in control of my body. And now that I needed so much help, I felt like an infant. Confused and frustrated, I cried a single tear. My mom stood up, walked over and wiped it from my face.
“It’s okay Jana,” she said to me. “It’s all going to be okay.”
I thought of what my friends might be doing at the exact moment. I wondered if they thought of me.
They are two words no one wants to hear, even when they ring true.
Thank you for reading! Look forward to the next installment of my journey to be featured here at waringis.com on April 8, 2013.