(This blog tells my family's story. To see more, click "blog" at the top of this webpage.)
When we arrived in Green Springs, Beth had a sunny hospital room to herself. We met the physical therapist who was an expert on spinal cord injury.
With a big heart and bigger personality, Laraine would not disappoint.
Laraine emphasized the strenuous work required over months and years for a C6-7 quadriplegic to be less dependent. Beth had zero strength—even in her arms and trunk where some of the muscles and nerves still connected to her spinal cord. I couldn’t imagine my youngest doing anything on her own, but she believed.
The first time in physical therapy, Beth lay face down on her stomach, unable to lift her shoulders. At all. Sitting with her legs straight out in front, she could not keep her balance. Laraine supported her every step of the way, along with Jill or Amy. There was little progress in the first weeks.
“At the rehab hospital,” Beth said, “the simplest tasks of putting my shoes on or sitting up by myself were the hardest challenges of the day. Transferring from place to place was impossible for me to do on my own. Wheeling myself any distance was difficult. My life consisted of two long physical therapy sessions a day where my therapists had no concept of being tired. They pushed me to exhaustion, but I knew how much they were helping and I appreciated it.”
Beth looked forward to mail deliveries, surprised at all of the well wishes. We were overwhelmed by the generosity of our hometown of Tiffin, Ohio. My co-workers at the Tiffin Developmental Center donated weeks of sick leave time to me. The maintenance workers at the Center also built a long wheelchair ramp that connected our back door to the detached garage.
John, Maria, and Ben brought more get-well notes and gift cards for gasoline and restaurants from friends and family. And news of an unusual gift. In elementary school, Beth had told her principal about the African Gray parrot she wanted to own someday. The principal collected donations from staff and students in the Tiffin City Schools to buy a young parrot and a large cage. Flowers arrived from the coaches of high school volleyball, the team she would have played on, and also from her club volleyball team, whose season ended weeks before.
In the evenings, Beth and I took turns reading aloud from the brand-new Harry Potter book, Goblet of Fire, another gift from my co-workers. She could barely hold the book, even though it rested on a small table over the bed. At first, turning pages was impossible and we used clothespins to keep the pages open. We put a fat tube around a pencil to use the eraser end to turn a page. That worked until weeks later when she patiently figured out how to use her hands to accomplish the job.
“Rehab was a great experience,” Beth said. “I was too busy to think about what had happened to me or to become depressed. Every new thing that I accomplished became a celebration. I was in another world. My family was always there. My best friends visited me often and even moved a birthday party to the rehab center so I could be there. The therapists became a second family to me.”
Five baby African Gray parrots visited Beth in Green Springs. Propped up on the hospital bed, she cradled the noisy babies on her lap and picked the one that would be hers when she moved back home. The kindness of family, friends, and strangers would be repeated by many in other times and places.
Sign up for my Just Keep Swimming Newsletter by typing your email address in the box. Thanks!