“Sometimes we encounter things that profoundly change our outlook on life and when it happens, it doesn’t matter that former joys have lost their allure or that our foundations have been shaken. ~Will Kautz
From Wheelchair to Walking
It is nothing short of a miracle and a testament to the human strength and spirit that I survived two major surgeries in less than six months. The skills of each of the specialists, together with my undeniable grit and gumption, saw me through one of the more difficult years of my life and thankfully returned to me the gift of walking without debilitating pain.
To say that I am grateful is an understatement.
After a back injury at the age of 17, years of competitive sports, and a 60-pound weight gain with my twin pregnancy, my back was in need of some serious TLC come the age of 45.
I had done all the “right things” leading up to this: chiropractic care, deep tissue massage, physical therapy, acupuncture, rest, ice, heat, and a prayer that the pain would go away. Sometimes it would, most of the time I just dealt with it and brushed it off as part of my ever-evolving reality in this thing called life, always hoping for a better, more pain-free tomorrow and the ability to continue my active lifestyle.
Like A Turtle on Its Back
The whole “no guts, no glory” mentality has carried me through my life and in my physical prowess (competitive runner, rower, kickboxer and equestrian) I have found the stronger, never-give-up, courageous parts of myself. This time, however, was different.
During my afternoon yoga practice at our home in San Miguel, I felt a searing pain down the left side of my body, never imagining that I had just herniated two of my discs. Collapsing to the floor, I called out to my husband Frank, knowing right then and there that there was no amount of strong will nor determination that was going to get me back up on my feet. Trust me I tried.
Unable to move or stand unassisted, my husband and a wheelchair were my only forms of movement and transportation in the days leading up to my surgery. “In good times and bad“ was definitely put to test, as well as my tolerance for pain.
I hoped and prayed with all my might that my neurosurgeon Dr. Salvador would successfully put “Humpty Dumpty” back together again and that I would not be sentenced to a chair for the rest of my earthly years. I refused to accept that possibility.
Flat out on the hospital bed like a turtle on its back, I had never felt so helpless. The stream of tears flowed without restraint as I lay alone in that dark hospital room, consumed with the surreal reality I found myself in. Having to use a bedpan and receive sponge baths by complete strangers–including one male nurse which was super out of my comfort zone–the sense of “rock bottom” was enormous. I refused to accept this state as my rest-of–life reality.
Put Your Own Oxygen Mask on First
I was in and out of a pain-induced trance of sorts, experiencing some truly powerful revelations about myself and my life–about balance and honoring oneself–like in the airline safety instructions of putting on your own oxygen mask first.
Silver lining, lemonade out of lemons…always. It is a choice, and one that I choose.
My Higher Power and I got to spend some one-on-one, quality time together during these long hours prior to my surgery. We have always been together since I was a little girl, like the Sclemeel, Schlemazel, Hasenfeffer Incorporated song of the good ol’ Laverne and Shirley Sitcom that I so loved as a kid. Connected at the hip, Spirit and Me, always present in my little girl heart.
🎶Lyrics from Laverne & Shirley: “Making Our Dreams Come True”
“One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight.
Sclemeel, schlemazel, hasenfeffer incorporated.
We’re gonna do it!
Give us any chance, we’ll take it.
Give us any rule, we’ll break it.
We’re gonna make our dreams come true.
Doin’ it our way.
Nothin’s gonna turn us back now,
Straight ahead and on the track now.
We’re gonna make our dreams come true,
Doin’ it our way.
There is nothing we won’t try,
Never heard the word impossible.
This time there’s no stopping us.
We’re gonna do it.
On your mark, get set, and go now,
Got a dream and we just know now,
We’re gonna make our dream come true.
And we’ll do it our way, yes our way.
Make all our dreams come true,
And do it our way, yes our way,
Make all our dreams come true
For me and you.”
Puttin’ My Big Girl Panties On
I knew that I would need to to dig deep and confront with courage that which lay ahead, to move forward literally one step at a time. That was the only option I would entertain, the only reality I would accept–getting to the other side, out of the wheelchair, functioning at maximum capacity and enjoying my life again with my family and friends.
During what ultimately ended up being a six-hour surgery (not the two that was expected), Dr. Salvador Galvan removed my L3 L4 disc and replaced it with a 12 mm silicone prosthetic spacer. My L4-L5 was so severely damaged that it was just a matter of time before it failed, so it was fortified it with a 10mm spacer. The trauma to my spine was so severe that I lost over three times the amount of blood that is normally lost during one of these surgeries. That alone was a huge part of my recovery.
Spinal Surgery Success
My surgery was on a Tuesday morning and come Wednesday night I took my first assisted steps! By Thursday I was able to take my first, slow, unassisted ones and was discharged home.
Power of the polkadot pajamas!
I had a a bit of a road ahead of me, literally taking one step at a time. Walking back and forth to the bathroom, taking a shower and being able to stand long enough to brush my hair and teeth were huge accomplishments. I learned how to put my underwear on with BBQ tongs, true story.
Poco a poco, I got there, back to a newer, improved, and “bionic” version of my former self, with my family and friends right by my side cheering me along and picking me up when I would fall.
My running, kickboxing and horseback riding days are a thing of the past, but I am learning a new “new”. I can walk, dance, trot, stretch, yoga, swim and live a very fulfilling life with 90% mobility. My limp is gone, the cane (fashioned from a bamboo stick from our garden) has been thrown away and joy and gratitude are forever imprinted in my heart in a way that escapes words. Looking at me, you’d never know.
We all have scars. I hope that in the speaking of mine and in the bearing of my story, that I am somehow helping others.
Several of my nurses questioned why I didn’t return to the States for my surgery where the “medicine is more modern”. “Because Mexico is my home”, I would tell them each. “This is where my heart is, where my family is, where my life is.”
Mi Querido México, I love you for all eternity.
I want to express my extreme and eternal gratitude to my physical therapist Dra. Rosario, to Dr. Salvador Galvan my neurosurgeon, to Dr. Paolo my pain specialist and to all of the nurses and operating room staff at Hospital Santiago de Querétaro.
You will forever be my earth angels.
The gift of walking and of health is not to be taken for granted.
May we all pause to give thanks for the many blessings in our lives. They are there.
Peace & Health to you all….
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