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After two lost weeks, one in intensive care and one at home, I carried a nebulizer to the high school at lunchtime for Beth’s breathing treatment. Pneumonia had set back her stamina by months. A shortened day of school wiped her out, again.
On edge and anticipating the next crisis, I felt an initial flash of fear when the phone rang, and relief when it wasn’t an emergency. For the first time in my life, I understood the compulsion to try to feel better through food. That didn’t work, but not for lack of trying. I joined the ranks of emotional eaters and had to buy bigger clothes.
The completed elevator at school led to second floor classes for Beth, which created the need to carry her down the stairs during fire drills. I wrote a detailed procedure and helped a therapist from Green Springs lead the staff training. Several teachers volunteered to attend. The principal had bought a heavy vinyl sheet with four handles, two on each long side, like firemen used. Four teachers carried her on the sheet while a fifth moved her empty wheelchair. Concerned about hitting her head on a step, they lifted the sheet higher with extreme caution.
“It took awhile for them to realize I don’t break,” Beth said. She also had a new favorite saying: “I’m not broken and I don’t need to be fixed.”
During one drill, her Spanish teacher wore a football helmet to make her laugh. She put up with the drills, but disliked being carried outside on the vinyl sheet into a crowd of students. As more time passed, during a pre-planned drill, Beth talked them into breaking the rules with an unplanned stop inside the building at the bottom of the stairs, to lift her into the wheelchair. From there, she pushed herself outside.
Riding the elevator every school day with a friend turned into entertainment. Sometimes they added their own elevator music. They flirted with boys on crutches, injured athletes who also used the elevator. When she accidentally bumped the alarm button and nothing happened, hitting the alarm on purpose became a joke.
Beth loved to laugh and found humor in her situation that her close friends and family shared. Being a quad (quadriplegic) meant that you could not flip someone off with a middle finger, so raising a fist instead became a inside joke—though I knew that when she could do it the usual way, she wouldn't. At school, a friend scolded her for not standing up during the Pledge of Allegiance. They made summer plans to go to Cedar Point, famous for its roller coasters, to be first in line because of her wheelchair. At friends' houses or at ours, Beth liked to sit on the couch; when she was asked to get something in another room, she quipped about being tired from too much walking.
“Everyone I know with an injury who is doing well has a sense of humor about it,” Beth said. “You need that.”
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