May 14, 2014 marked six months since my bike accident in which I landed on my head and broke my neck and back in multiple places (plus ribs, left scapula, right ankle). The accident not only changed my body but also my outlook, priorities and just about every facet of my life. Below is an update on my progress, some challenges, and victories (even those that are a little embarrassing).
To set the stage for where I am today, 6 1/2 months later, this shot shows an exciting milestone on December 28. I could lift my body in the wheelchair!
Just about every muscle in my body atrophied from the paralysis. That “turtle shell” (with neck brace) was necessary every time I got out of bed for 3 months. It took 5 months before I was completely weaned off that white plastic shell.
That was then…
Field Trips Out of the House
I started going out on field trips “shell-free” in mid April, just in time to make it to church for Easter. Here’s what I wrote in my journal:
“We went to church! It was just a week ago that I stopped wearing the turtle shell…My stomach muscles hurt, and my butt and legs hurt from nerve pain. What matters most is I was able to make it! My hand had enough flexibility and dexterity that I was even able to put on mascara for the first time!”
Mascara! Did you catch that? It’s not perfectly applied, but remember that my right hand was, well, inoperable for months! I started going out with friends and family on “field trips” – short jaunts to lunch and even a little grocery shopping.
The big thing about going to a restaurants is that I’m able to sit for short periods in a regular, non-supportive chair. This means my stomach and back muscles are getting stronger. (Caveat, I can’t be out and about for more than a few hours at this point. Each outing is followed by going supine at home in my hospital bed, for now.)
AMGEN Tour of California
I was overjoyed to attend the AMGEN Tour of California stage 2 time trial in Folsom as a VIP thanks to Robert Goss, Director of Parks and Recreation. In the VIP area, we were able to watch the racers at the finish, so close we were practically looking into their eyes! Getting out to see friends and fellow cycling fans from Folsom, Monterey, Los Angeles and Minden, NV did a lot for my psyche. It also motivated me even more to get back into lycra and on my bike!
I experienced my own race of endurance with this VIP field trip. This was the longest I’ve been out and about (nearly 5 hours).
Tip: Notice that I’m standing in these photos. That’s because I can WALK (with assistance of a walker or cane) if it’s a short distance. YES!
The First Steps
I started walking with a walker on February 19. My physical therapist, Phil Stoddard, suggested it after I had stood 3 minutes. (That was then…) He believed in me. I walked about 9 feet and then 7 feet the second try when my right leg wouldn’t go forward anymore.
Then… I walked 22 steps WITHOUT any assistance on April 3! Heck, on March 31 I was simply excited that I could stand up from the bed without pulling myself up from the walker.
The Walking Dana
Andrea Gareth Jax Scarpetta created a poster for a fictitious movie, “The Walking Dana.”
I don’t walk without assistance very often, yet. My right hip and leg are very, very weak. (I call it my “healing leg.”) My six-month walking progress includes:
- 4 laps around the pool (plus some) with a walker for approximately 500 feet.
- 3 laps around the pool with a four-pronged cane
Recall, that the doctors said that I was quadriplegic and would live the rest of my life in a wheelchair! I’ve been told multiple times that I’m:
“A walking miracle!”
Since April 7 I have climbed the stairs to the second story of our house a few times. That’s 14 steps that cause my quads to burn like climbing a mile long hill. There is a chair at the top of the stairs so I can rest.
Lately, I’ve been practicing going up and down with my right foot. I have to swing out my right foot to ascend these 8-inch high stairs, but I’m getting a good workout! In outpatient PT, I can clear the 6-inch stairs – most of the time.
Challenge: My right hip flexor is very weak, and it’s difficult for me to lift my knee and toes.
Yes, it’s fabulous to walk and climb stairs… Amazingly, I celebrate the small things. For example, I was thrilled when I got my socks on by myself on April 10 and then put my hair up in a ponytail!
My left scapula was broken, and I had a frozen right shoulder. My right hand and wrist require daily work, so the ponytail was big doin’s.
I’m also now able to tie my shoe laces. It may take a few tries, yet I continue to work toward increased flexibility. Also, on May 3, I noted in my journal:
“Progress: Able to bend my knees toward my chest. For the first time today I grabbed my toes!“
Pedaling on a Recumbent
Yes, I can now to get on a recumbent bike and recently an Aqua Bike (more about that later). This was the first time I’ve been able to elevate my heart rate in 6 months!
I started out with 2 minutes on May 7 and comfortably pedaled 13 minutes on May 24!
The MOST EMBARRASSING but Exciting Milestone
I no longer have a catheter! This isn’t something I was comfortable discussing before. I had a neurogenic bladder, and they (doctors) thought I would have to self-catheterize to fully empty. BUT, they were wrong, once again! On May 13, the catheter was removed after I passed a urodynamics study. No more foley! No more leg bag! In other words…
No more carrying my pee around on the outside of my leg!
Unfortunately, I do have nerve pain, called neuropathy, from the spinal cord injury. It BURNS my legs and feet and my right hand. If I sit too long my butt hurts. The two best drugs for this cause massive side effects, so I’ve been relying on a vitamin formula, B-12 shots, and ice packs.
But… I recently learned that keeping the ice packs on at night are escalating the nerve pain by constricting blood flow. Poor circulation to the affected areas escalates the pain. I will admit that there are incredibly hard days. My pain level is never below a 3 and is often a 5 (on a scale of 0-10). But… I press on.
A Few other Challenges
- I also have spasticity, or muscle spasms, in my legs, right hand, and stomach. This occurs mostly at night and sometimes when I stand initially.
- My stomach muscles have been weakened from the spinal cord injuries.
- I have a TIGHT 3-inch band around my ribs and back that feels constricting, constantly.
- I’m not able to sit very long at the computer or in the wheelchair.
- I cannot use a computer mouse for an extended period of time.
- My right hand is not fully functional. It looks (and probably acts) like it has bad arthritis and cramps up. I cannot spread out my fingers nor grab many things. Atrophy has set in.
I have many, many challenges to this day, but they are nothing like before. I’m holding onto this thought from Life Without Limbs:
“Often the very challenges that we think are holding us back are, in fact, making us stronger. You should be open to the possibility that today’s handicap might be tomorrow’s advantage.”
I have hope in a God that’s bigger than my challenges!
I’m exhausting every possible form of therapy reasonably (and financially) possible.
I have a great “recovery team” that includes:
- Physical therapy
- Occupational therapy
- Orthopedic/sports massage
- Lymphatic/bodywork massage
- Chiropractic treatments
- Nutritional advice from my naturopath and B12 shots
On average, I have 8 or 9 therapy appointments each week.
Multiple forms of exercise at home are part of my regular routine outside of PT & OT. The whiteboard in my office/bedroom is filled with a few of the exercises I do on a regular basis:
Other exercises and paraffin bath dips with my right hand are routine. I recently started aqua therapy in our pool.
The result of the endless (and time-consuming) “training” is that I’m making big progress!
Another result… Sleep
I sleep 11-12 hours each weekend night and as long as possible on days I don’t have early appointments. My days are becoming more full with activities, plus I am working a few hours a week. I’m often exhausted. Someone mistakenly made the comment…
“At least you have plenty of time on your hands.”
I have help and support (and love) from a huge community. You can follow updates and see videos via Facebook – Updates about Dana.
Costs of Recovery
We do not yet know the full costs of my accident. We’re jumping through hoops with insurance. For example, I had a surgery to remove an IVC filter from my vena cava. It was inserted to catch possible blood clots. Our insurance says the removal of the filter was “an experimental procedure” and that we have to pay $23,500 for it. BUT, they paid for the insertion of it. Huh? Oh, we’re fighting…
Out-of-pocket expenses for therapies run about $2,000 per month.
We are taking donations to help cover costs via Paypal.
I COULD NOT do all this without generous donations. THANK YOU to many who have given!!! (My hand is getting strong enough that I can start writing thank you notes.)
Gifts of Encouragement
Cards, visits, and thoughtful gifts of encouragement continue. Jack Leblond took a piece of recycled wood and further distressed it to give me the following inspiration.
“It occurred to me that the wood I use is a bit like you. It’s been beat up and worn out. But it looks better than ever, still gets the job done, and people smile when they hear the story behind it.”
Jack, thanks for the artistic constant reminder that my bike accident will NEVER DEFEAT ME!!! As I write this, I’m brought to tears at all the care and support I have received.
The following words from “The Outsiders” ring in my ears often in recent weeks.
“That was then… This is now!”
It’s not easy and not far, but today I CAN WALK!
I’ve made a lot of progress and thank God for the healing that has astounded doctors!
My husband reminded me that given where I was six months ago, everything right now is a bonus! I’m celebrating every little victory!