Monday, December 31, 2012

So Long, 2012

On Christmas Eve in 2011, we all stayed home together, my husband, the children, and I.  I had only been out of the hospital for a couple of days, and wasn't strong enough or steady enough on my feet to try going to my husband's family for the usual Eve festivities.

On Christmas Eve in 2012, we piled into the car and drove the forty-five or so minutes to a cousin's house, where my husband and I did our patented arm-lock dance to hold my balance while my legs did all the work of getting me up three stairs into their home.  Then, without stopping to sit and rest, I sent my husband to the other side of the room, and asked his cousin to hold my canes for a moment.  Then I walked over to my husband and gave him a hug and a kiss, and said, "Merry Christmas."  I hadn't held onto anything at all.  Just walked.  Granted, it was pretty shaky and not entirely stable.  I hadn't counted on how tough the three stairs coming in would be.  But it was 10-12 feet of unassisted walking nonetheless.  We both cried.  Happy crying, which by great effort we've done about as much of as unhappy crying in 2012.

On New Year's Eve in 2011, we sat at home, as we're doing tonight, watching movies and making anything-we-want-on-them sundaes.  I got up from the couch and walked to the dining room table for dessert with the family, and then went back to the couch, with great difficulty.  We were telling ourselves my legs were just having a couple of weak days, and that the next day I would surely wake up feeling stronger again, but it would be the last time I would walk for four months.  The next day, New Year's day, I could barely stand in the morning, and every time I had to go to the commode was a three-person production.  Monday was the observed holiday, so I had no therapy that day, but I was still in denial and didn't call the off-hours nurse.  It just wasn't possible that I could be losing my legs again, I just had to wake up stronger the next morning... 

That Monday I couldn't stand at all.  We were resorting to sliding from one seat to another and wriggling my clothes up and down my legs each time I had to go potty.  It was miserable, but not as miserable as seeing my nurse the next morning, and having her gently explain that this wasn't some inconsequential weakness, that I really ought to go back to the hospital and get checked out.  I'd just spent 8 weeks in the hospital, the last thing in the world I wanted was to go back there after only being home scarcely more than a week.  

That Tuesday was the beginning of what would be an 87 day incarceration including surgery, radiation, therapy, and far too much loneliness and homesickness.  But it was a worthy road to have walked, to reach the place I am today, at home, with my family, watching movies and eating ice cream, and bragging to my husband how I walked to the kitchen and got my own water refill yesterday.

Here's to 2012, a long road that had to be traversed by any means necessary, by wheel, by walker, by cane, by foot.  And here's to 2013, may it be a little easier on all of us.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012


Today, my husband and I piled into the car in the freezing early morning to drive downtown and see my neurosurgeon.  I had been told to check in at 7:45am on the first floor of his building for a CT scan, and since we're not allowed to take on any endeavor without complications, we promptly found out we hadn't been told I was scheduled in a different building.  Back to the car we went, around the corner, and thankfully still got to our destination in time to get a nice quick and easy scan done.  

Back to the car again, drive back to the first building, and head up to the 5th floor to see the man with the magic fingers.  I was eagerly anticipating showing off my walking with canes abilities, and he didn't disappoint by being suitably impressed with my progress.  Then it was his turn to give good news:  my CT scans showed a nice, solid bone bridge has grown from the posterior of T2 to T4, which means the fusion surgery in November 2011 has done what we set out to do.  Bone growth has permanently joined my thoracic vertebrae in a rigid line that will help prevent future spinal cord compression that could have been caused by the lack of support where shattered T3 used to be.

He decided that I've done so well, I don't need to schedule any more follow-up appointments with him.  In his words, "I'm always happy to see, but I don't think you need to drag yourself down here anymore."  We can call him anytime something new comes up, but we won't have to juggle any more pre-set appointments with him.  We've graduated from Neurosurgery post-operative care!

To celebrate this event, we took ourselves out to a lunch/movie date to see The Hobbit.  And still made it home in time to welcome our son home from his last day of school before winter vacation.  Good thing there's already no school tomorrow, since the forecast calls for snow tonight.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Pushing The Limits

Today we braved the threat of rain and the crowds to do some holiday shopping.  Knowing how much wandering we would need to do inside Walmart, we brought the power chair with us, which of course always makes for a nerve-wracking driving experience.  I'll never stop being paranoid that someone's going to smash into my large, expensive chair when it's strapped on its tow rack on the back of our car.

We had a lot of fun toodling around the store picking out presents and stocking stuffers for our kids. And we finished up in time to head over to our favorite Indian restaurant for the buffet lunch.  The trouble with this tasty little joint is that it's located in an out-of-date little strip mall with scarcely any handicap parking and only one ramp access to the sidewalk for the entire length of the strip, and that was at the opposite end from where we were.  And the tiny little storefront doorways didn't look like they would accommodate my big chair.  No matter.  No amount of buckled and cracked asphalt or sloping sidewalks was going to keep me from nan and vegetable korma.  We decided to leave the chair at the car and walk to the restaurant with my canes.

My husband parked the car as close as he could get to the restaurant while still having room for both of us to get out of the car (some of the parking spaces there are very narrow) and came around the side to hand me my canes.  I turned out of my seat and stood up, slipped my hands through the wrist straps so I couldn't drop the canes, and headed toward the sidewalk with my husband close beside me.  When we reached the curb, we went back to our old safety dance that we developed in my stronger, stairs-everyday days last fall, where he walks backward in front of me, and we clasp forearms for balance and strength.  One big step up and I was on the sidewalk, but I still had another 60+ feet to go before I reached the restaurant table where I could finally sit down.  Slow but steady I cruised down the sidewalk, which was literally a gentle downhill slope toward the restaurant, finally reaching it after one brief rest of leaning against a wall.  My husband and a server held the inner and outer doors for me, and I asked that we be seated at the closest possible table, which was only about 15 feet from the front door.  I sure was glad to finally sit down and catch my breath!  It had been quite a workout getting there, but I was thrilled to arrive and to enjoy the variety of delicious, exotically spiced foods on the buffet for my reward.

If you've never had Indian food, you don't know what you're missing.  This place we like specializes in Northern Indian cuisine, and our favorite dish of theirs, by far, is chicken korma.  The korma sauce is a sweet, nutty, creamy concoction that I'm almost certain has some kind of nutmeg or cardamom in it.  On the buffet they don't have the chicken variety, but a vegetable one, which is full of tender peas, small dices of cauliflower, and soft lumps of potato.  Another favorite dish is chicken masala, with its spicy, Georgia red clay-colored tomato curry sauce, which is very mild on the buffet, but can be ordered with as much heat as you like when you're dining off the menu.  And to support all these hearty meat and veggie dishes, and more importantly to sop up all their delicious gravies, are basmati rice and fresh-baked nan.  With endless cups of hot, creamy chai to wash it down.  It just doesn't get any better than that.  

I knew I didn't want to push my luck or my wobbly knees when we finished lunch though, so I had my husband go ahead of me to get the car and bring it closer as I slowly made my way up that sidewalk.  We did our clasped arm dance while I stepped down off the curb, and then I made my way to the car and sat down in my front seat.  It was a total success from start to finish, and now I've earned myself a nice afternoon of rest.  I'll need it, since tomorrow is my son's bowling birthday party!

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Birthday Redemption

When my son was turning 8 years old, we planned a party for him at the hospital where I lived.  Cancer had not  yet come into our lives, and I was making promising strides in therapy where I walked with a walker and did arm exercises to carefully increase the mobility of my recently operated-on upper back.  So we were full of optimism, not yet knowing how many more months I would remain in the hospital and how much worse things were going to get.  

We reserved the community room and invited close family.  We were going to have cake and presents, all of us there together.  His party was going to be on a Saturday.  But on that Friday, during my physical therapy sessions, I found that whenever I stood up, it got difficult to breathe.  It was hard to do much in therapy, being so short of breath.  I kept getting dizzy from it, too.  My therapists became concerned, and left messages for my doctors.  So sometime in the middle of the night technicians came and took me from my room, and wheeled me down to ultrasound, where they made a discovery that ruined my son's birthday.  I had lungs full of blood clots, and was moved at 4am from the rehab unit to the acute care unit, where there could be no party for my son, not even any visits from my children.  My son's party was hastily relocated to his grandparents' house where it was celebrated without me, and I spent most of that anxious weekend crying and using my deep breathing apparatus.

Today my son turned 9 years old.  We had doughnuts for breakfast, all of us, together.  We played his favorite video games together in the morning.  We had cereal for lunch.  After lunch, my son and his dad played kick ball in the yard, while his sisters watched preschool television and I took a nap to prepare for dinner.  Because for dinner my son chose one of his favorite restaurants, IHOP, and we all walked into the restaurant together.  We all walked into the restaurant together, and we all walked to the car, together.   Mommie's wheelchair, relegated to emergency-only use, stayed in the car, while the pretty matching metallic blue canes came with me.  

On Saturday, we will all go to his bowling party together, and we will all bowl, and I swear he will never have another ruined birthday as long as I live.