Like many other folks, I am cleaning out some files at the end of the year. It really feels good to get rid of stuff, doesn’t it? It makes the impending new year feel more like a clean slate.
In tossing out old medical files, I came across the discharge packet I was given when I left Rehabilitation Hospital of the Pacific back in 2012. I had never looked at it before. The hospital discharged me several weeks early because I was doing so well and because I had the best possible home care helper: my husband , an orthopedic surgeon, Jerry Mayfield.
I was shocked to read the Rehab doctor’s diagnosis in words I had never actually seen in print before:
C6 ASIA D SCI with incomplete quadriplegia
Never has the word “incomplete” been so welcomed. The fact was that I had a fracture and dislocation of C6-7 in my cervical spine. The dislocation meant that my spinal cord was penetrated, but not cut through. A few centimeters more and the quadriplegia would have been complete. I would have been paralyzed from the neck down for the rest of my life.
At some level I always knew this was a possibility. When I first awoke (I had fainted and fallen in my bathroom at home), Jerry asked if I could move. No, I couldn’t. Then he asked if I could feel this…and this…and this…but I could feel nothing. I can’t imagine what that must have been like for him. I was in shock and sort of a la-la land (remind me to tell you about my “Greenies” sometime if you’re interested) and it never occurred to me that this paralysis could be permanent.
I began to move my toes in the ambulance and by my second day in Straub’s ICU I was finally able to move my left leg, the last appendage to behave. Then there were months of physical therapy to get me back walking nromally and balancing and managing mobility with a neck brace. Then months of occupational therapy to get my hands to work again so I could hold things, pinch, pull and twist. What bliss when I was finally able to turn the key so I could drive again!
My brilliant neurosurgeon, Dr. Mark Gerber, calls me his “miracle patient.” He says: “There were two angels on each of our shoulders that day in the OR.”
When I get mad at my body because of the numbness and tingling and cramping and discomfort (which may be permanent but maybe not), I think of all the spinal cord patients who were not as fortunate as I am and are living as complete quadriplegics. And I feel such joy, elation and gratitude for every moment and every move I make.
– Paula Rath