Three months after surgery, I was still focusing on both physical and occupational therapy for my neck and to help re-gain use of my arm, hand and fingers. I attended therapy three days a week, three to four hours each day. I began each routine with the infamous hand ladder and even after three months I struggled. My husband was driving me to my appointments and we were fortunate his employer was flexible and the therapy center had early morning and evening hours.
I worked hard to re-train my brain to communicate with my spinal cord and ultimately my arm, hand and fingers. As part of my routine, the therapist would place items in a large bowl of rice as I searched for them using my right hand. Idid activities with clothes pins, picking up medium-sized items, as well as, dipping my arm and hand in hot paraffin wax to help stimulate the nerves. During therapy I got to know the employees quite well. They were kind, caring individuals with tremendous patience.
A week or so after coming home from the hospital, my husband prepared an email to my bosses updating them on the surgery and telling them I was unable to use my computer or Blackberry. Since I was on strong medication, I wasn’t going to be checking in like I normally did when on vacation or out sick. Both responded they wished me a speedy recovery and told me to concentrate on healing. My husband also spoke to the disability nurse handling my case. Since I was going to be out of work longer than the four to six weeks planned, the doctor and I had to complete additional paperwork so my Short Term Disability would continue.
When I wasn’t in therapy or seeing the neurosurgeon for bi-weekly appointments, all I did was sleep. I remember friends stopping by to bring food, flowers and gifts, but I have no recollection of our conversations. To this day I don’t know if I sent thank you notes. My husband was working full-time with an hour commute each way, driving me to appointments, running the household and certainly not getting rest. My daughter, who was a young teenager, was helping as much as she could, but I knew it was hard for her to watch her mother in so much pain.
I learned during the three months that life has a way of continuing even when something bad happens. During my recovery, I was still a wife, mother, daughter, sister and sister-in-law, aunt, friend and employee. While I had very understanding family and friends, my employer had some unrealistic expectations for a person who was out on disability. Sadly, there was a tragic incident that occurred at the workplace and I was called by my boss who asked me to prepare a statement about the accident. While it felt good to be needed, I had just finished a long therapy session and could barely stand, let alone put an official statement together. However, I rattled off the sentences and my daughter typed and emailed it to the proper people.
Even though my arm felt as if it had been burned and was still hypersensitive, I found that wrapping a heating pad around it helped with the pain and I was able to sleep for short periods. During one of my afternoon naps, the heating pad came unwrapped. While checking on me, which had become part of his regular routine, my husband walked into the bedroom and immediately woke me because he could smell burning skin. The Emergency Room doctors said I didn’t feel the pain because of the medications I was taking. I had third-degree burns on half of my abdomen.
As if that wasn’t enough, a few weeks later my husband and I attended a Back to School event at the local high school. After getting out of the car, my husband held my hand as we walked from the parking lot. As we got close to the main building, I fell face down on the pavement. While still in shock from the fall, I tried to reason how this could happen. I knew I hadn’t tripped, stumbled or missed my footing — I fell because I was unable to lift my right leg. Following the fall and cleaning myself off, I managed to meet my daughter’s teachers; however, I was shaking from head to toe as I sat in the classrooms listening to each discuss their curriculum.
Later that evening, we arrived home and I couldn‘t wait to go to sleep. I wrapped my arm in the heating pad (being careful not to let it get close to any other body parts). I woke up at 3 a.m. and thought I was dreaming. Only I wasn’t — I had lost control of my bladder and my pajamas and our bedding were wet. I woke my husband and the first thing he did was give me a hug and then helped me into the shower while he changed the bedding. I remember thinking this was probably the lowest point in my life. I was so embarrassed and couldn‘t imagine anyone wanting to be married to me. There I was — 41 years old — covered in urine.
The next morning, with tears in my eyes, I called the neurosurgeon’s office, but was told he was out-of-town attending a conference and could not be disturbed. I asked to speak to his assistant, but was told not to expect a return call until later in the evening. Out of frustration, I called my General Practitioner of 10-plus years. He personally took my call. He told me to come to his office immediately. I didn’t have clearance to drive, but I knew what I had to do. I got into my car and drove the three miles using only my left arm and hand. When I arrived, the receptionist told me to go back to the exam room. Before I could turn around to sit in the exam room chair, the doctor walked in and said “What in the Hell did this doctor do to you?” Words that still resonate in my mind even today.