I am … a Survivor.
Living on The Side of Victory;
A Personal Story of Tragedy To Triumph
Letting Go of Anger and Embracing Faith, Acceptance and Contentment
For 25 years, I have been an amputee. Diagnosed with Lupus in 2005 due to a consuming infection in my residual limb, I had more of my limb amputated to my mid-thigh. Since then there were an assortment of health hardships and challenges, nevertheless God took me through each one.
On line shopping, had become one of my new past times. At 39 years of age with the miraculous capabilities of e-commerce I discovered an unrestrained freedom of arm chair ‘window’ shopping. I always considered shopping for clothing a task more than a pleasure, however, the summer of 2009 would be a special occasion and the first time in my life I would reveal my inner fashionista. It would be a delightful hiatus from ruminating on my previous health adversities earlier that year while offering me the opportunity to enjoy life outdoors away from home. My mom and I were planning the summer of our lives and a fine, red scooter was gleaming in our foyer, ready and promising easy-moving and merry mobility.
Then one night I had a dream. I dreamt I was getting up to go the bathroom. It was 1:30 a.m. As soon as I got into my wheelchair, a sudden and overpowering spell of dizziness and nausea consumed me, as if my head was a globe filled with water, vigorously swishing about. While managing to see through the booming crash of aching pain shattering in my head, I wheeled with haphazard haste to the bathroom. Unbalanced and stiff, I transferred from my wheelchair to the commode, when suddenly, my right side felt as though I were melting down to the floor.
A numbing sensation began to descend from my shoulder down to the palm of my right hand which felt as though it were turning to stone and shrinking away. I could not wipe nor adjust myself and was sliding off the commode. My trembling whimpers of distress, fear and panic crept fretfully into the still, Summer night. Minnie’s unexpected bark was a sounding alarm, jolting my mother out of bed. She rushed into the bathroom to help me while earnestly keeping hidden the terror of the moment from being revealed upon her face. Struggling to lift me up, she consoled me by reassuring that I would be fine. Moment by moment, my right side became an unmovable mass of flesh as I tried awkwardly to stand up. The first attempt was a failure with me plopping right back down on the toilet seat while my mother gave it her all to stand me up. Warm tears of despair and frustration spilled down my cheeks while I struggled to move my arm. On my own, this time, I grabbed onto the sink next to the commode with my left hand, pushed up with all my might only to find myself a second later crashing down onto the floor, uncontrollably vomiting and wetting myself.
My mother hurried to the phone and dialed 911. By the graces of God, I was conscious and able to tell my mother where to find my medical cards. Lying powerless on the cold bathroom floor, a brazen presence of certainty seized my attention, bearing with it the calamitous events of an inescapable nightmare manifested in absolute harsh reality when sickness strikes. I was having a stroke.
The bright summer of 2009 originally designated for holiday, crumbled mercilessly and washed away like suds down a drain, leaving only a cloud of despondency from its fanciful wake. “I can’t believe this happened”, a statement of incredulity that repeatedly echoed blankly from my shattered heart and stumbled hopelessly from my mouth in the sterile Emergency Room air. I never would have imagined being filled with so much anger towards God as I was on that Wednesday morning, lying trapped in a miasma of desolation in the Intensive Care Unit. Without warning and with crude force, my independence, hope and perseverance was snatched away. The Subarachnoid Hemorrhage affected the right side of my body which is also the side of my amputation. This had to be the most disparaging effect of the stroke. The shock of the stroke wounded my faith and broke my heart which intensified my despair and especially– my anger. Although the paralysis didn’t affect my left side, the muscle mass severely atrophied from the stroke, making it impossible for me to support myself when I stood up. The right side where I had my amputation, however, was like a block of cement. Attempting to stand up felt like I was being pulled down in quicksand.
As an above-knee amputee, I mastered walking with my prosthesis while also bending the knee, which initially was the most difficult, but became second nature over time as I acclimated to the device. Because of the stroke, I was forced to start all over from scratch and adding insult to injury, regain strength and movement in my right side and learn how to be me again. During my first week in Rehab, my mom, family and friends prayed for me. My Aunt Linda, an Occupational Therapist came all the way from Wichita, Kansas to see me bearing the prayerful hearts of our distant family members and a sweet, refreshing countenance of her own.
My entire right side was paralyzed, except for my fingers, and I had sensation in both sides. The miracle that my fingers could move meant that the nerves were still responsive and would return full movement to my right side. As promising as this news was for me, I couldn’t hide behind it and expect to get up and walk out the next day. The effect of the paralysis created a miserable dead weight on the side of my amputation, darkening my hope to ever walk again, let alone wear a prosthesis. But the silver lining that I could feel sensation, meant that an extensively rigorous Rehab awaited and demanded raw motivation, effort and patience from me and me only. The Physical Therapy sessions began energetically and increased daily in intensity the latter part of my first week. Self-doubt and an unusual sense of doom towards the effort I needed to apply in therapy, were interwoven throughout my attempts to work through tests and activities.
My mother and I endured all the tough days at the hospital together. Though she worked full time, she came to be with me at the end of the day and on the weekends. She would read the Bible and letters of hope and encouragement sent to me from family and friends. She would also read out loud from chapters of books she downloaded onto her kindle, but above all, she prayed for me. One day, while I was in therapy, mom came by my room and posted a statement printed on a sheet of golden rod colored paper on the wall facing my bed. The statement was a scripture from Philippians 4:13 “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me”. At first, the scripture was familiar but my spirit lost touch with its potency from the anger that stood guard over my relationship with God. Overtime however, simply looking at the scripture, then repetitiously reading each word, released a flow of newborn spiritual power. Speaking those ten words to my floundering body, mind and spirit throughout each day became my key to unlock my dungeon of incapacity. Little did I know, this gold paper was like a scroll sent to mother from God and would continue to speak liberation from then on, starting with my progress in therapy. At small increments, my energy levels increased following grooming and eating so I managed to make it to the sessions where I would receive therapy along with using exercise equipment to strengthen my side. Speech therapy was also engaged for me to regain cognition and perception in speaking. Committing the bible verse mom posted in my room awakened an interest in me to practice the routines assigned in therapy which also fueled my motivation to achieve more progress.
A perfect ending? Well, not so much perfect, but acceptable. My life is livable and to be living is a miracle. Looking back over the events that took place during and after my stroke, I see God’s hand of mercy. On the night of my stroke, my mom was home which was unusual since travel was a major requirement for her job. Only a week before, she was scheduled to attend a conference in Louisiana. Two days before the stroke, the conference was cancelled. I’m at home alone when my mom works and she is the only person I can rely on in an emergency. The stroke could have happened in the day when she was away at work or even running her regular errands. When mom called the ambulance, the arrival time was less than five minutes, which increased my chances for survival and a faster recovery. Even today, there are small remnants of the stroke, however, I don’t feel overpowered by them. Rather, I am touched by God’s love and freed from anger. Of course, my mom, the vessel holding God’s love is the reason I am here today. Our family unit consists of only me and mom and our little Yorkie. We were swept into a sudden whirlwind of calamity, but God was at the center, arranging all the needful elements in the right places for my full recovery. Life is richer after the stroke and perhaps, even because of it. Accepting my wheelchair as my faithful companion and my C-leg as my future victory of steel but for now ornaments our hall way as a “modern sculpture” of sorts gives me peace. While God kept me alive and restored movement to my right side, I am thankful for that. Based on these miracles and others that occurred during my recovery, I am convinced I will walk on my prosthesis again. As for now, I am content and blessed to be able to get around in my wheels of steel and enjoy life again with my mom and our Yorkie, ‘Minnie-Mo’. Today I am living and breathing and present in the now, to show that life goes on and I am going on with it, and you can too!