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Occupational therapy at the hospital focused on Beth's hands. We learned about the tenodesis reflex which some quadriplegics used to grip items, though it required persistent practice to use it well. I tested the reflex. I set an elbow on a table with my forearm straight up and my hand falling forward. Keeping my fingers loose, I pulled my hand backwards at the wrist. As my hand tilted back, the tenodesis reflex automatically closed the space between my fingers and palm.
Sitting in a wheelchair at a table, my youngest was determined to manipulate objects with her hands. To grip a pen with a fat handle, she held it between her index and middle fingers by tilting her right wrist forward and up, her hand entirely closed. At first, she couldn’t press the pen down enough for the ink to show.
Beth also observed and listened.
We heard about the 1995 accident that left actor Christopher Reeve immobile and dependent on a breathing tube. His spinal cord injury occurred one inch higher in the neck than Beth’s and required nursing care around the clock. I tried to be grateful for my daughter’s ability to breathe independently and move her arms, but I wanted so much more for her.
We met others with spinal cord injuries at rehab. One had a brain injury in addition to a bruised cord. A middle-aged man with an injury like Beth’s had lived his life in a nursing home. A newly-injured young man with paraplegia (paralysis in two limbs, the legs) refused physical therapy and moved to a nursing home. He had full use of his hands and arms. When another boy was paralyzed during fusion surgery to correct his scoliosis, his mom told me that he would not get out of bed for weeks. Then, he would not go back to school.
“I learned how some people given the same situations react in opposite ways. I have seen how people take so much for granted,” Beth said as a 14 year old. “Some people had a tendency to stop. They wouldn’t try to be independent. That’s always been a goal of mine—to be independent.”
Beth’s outlook stayed hopeful, but in a vague, trusting way. She had no idea where our future adventures would take us.
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