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Beth’s days in the rehab hospital focused on long physical therapy sessions.
It didn’t seem fair that it took so very long for her damaged muscles to respond in some slight way.
At Beth’s follow-up with the surgeon, we viewed her latest x-ray, a side view of the neck that showed 6 screws instead of 12 holding the large titanium plate; the other set of 6 lined up perfectly behind. In spite of the doctor’s impressive surgical skills, Beth’s motor function remained absent below her level of injury, complete. The muscles in her hands and legs began to shrink, unattached to her spinal cord. No leg movement, besides spasms. No bearing weight on her legs. No standing. No walking. No request for mechanical braces or experimental treatments. No envy of those with expensive equipment, such as standers, or those who spent hours strapped to bicycles and other machines. And no waiting for a miracle.
Beth was eager to start her freshman year of high school on time with her friends.
On discharge day in early August, she hugged the nurses and aides goodbye, but not her therapist friends. She would continue to work with them three times a week in outpatient therapy.
Beth could sit in her new blue wheelchair without feeling dizzy and pushed the big wheel rims to slowly move forward. With taxing exertion, she rolled her body on a flat bed to get more comfortable or to attempt getting dressed. Weak and wobbly, she sat up by herself and put her shoes on and off, though she couldn’t tie the laces. With effort, Beth could shift her bottom on the wheelchair cushion to prevent pressure sores. She ate and drank mostly on her own and kept trying to use her hands. She moved from the wheelchair to the bed more easily—with total help and a wood sliding board, newly made by my dad.
“I was in another world at St. Francis," Beth said."Wheelchairs were the most common sights, everyone was completely accepting, and nothing about my injury seemed out of the ordinary. High school was different.”
When we left the hospital room behind on a sunny August day, it felt like a fresh start. I returned Beth’s smile, hiding my apprehension over what the future might bring. The titanium plates had fused to fragments of bone, so she no longer needed the neck brace. She tilted her head a little towards the open car window, happy, as we turned up the radio and drove away on the country road towards home.
A co-dependent team, we plunged into uncharted waters together.
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