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Packers don’t complain

Part One

As I stood at the packing belt, all I could think of was how badly my back hurt.  I would never complain because I know that the majority of my workmates’ backs hurt as well, but the pain was getting excruciating.  I carried on packing, packing, packing, packing those pouches full of cat food.  Suddenly I could feel myself going faint.  I crashed to the floor, and everything went black.  Before I passed out I felt that my back was so unbearable it would explode.

I was in the Operations Room when I heard yelling (quite a feat over the loud machinery.  I quickly made my way to the packing area where I saw one of my packers crumpled on the floor with worried workers huddled around her.  As the line leader it is my job to keep an eye on the packing area.

“What has happened here?”  I ask them.  One of them tells me that the girl suddenly passed out.  She didn’t tell them she was in pain or anything, it just suddenly happened.

Concerned that she may have injured herself on the concrete factory floor, I called one of the “Green Hat” first aid workers.  The associates in the factory who have taken first aid wear green hard hats to make them easier to find.  Zoe, the quality control officer/first aid worker came quickly and immediately helped us move Carise into the nurse’s office.  Thankfully it was the morning shift so the nurse was still here.  She had us place Carise on the bed and she started checking for her pulse.

“How long has she been unconscious?”  She asked the packers.

“A couple of minutes I think, we brought her over as soon as she collapsed,” Molly (a friend of mine) answered.

“We’ll wait for her to wake up again and see how she is, it shouldn’t take too long.  Hang on; she’s coming round now…”

As I drifted back into consciousness I still felt the splitting pain in my back.  My head hurt terribly and I noticed that the feeling in my legs was fading.

I started voicing my concern as I tried to get up, “what happened to me?  How did I get in here?”

“Take it easy Carise!  You collapsed in the packing area, can you remember what happened?”  The nurse said to me, as she gently pushed me back down.  It wasn’t before I noticed that I couldn’t sit up properly, I didn’t have a chance of going anywhere if she did let me up.

“I had just come back from the tables, I always have trouble there.  You see because I’m always either bending over the lower trays or stretching to reach the higher trays my back constantly feels sore.  Today it seemed worse.  I went back to the packing belt and as I stood there all I could think about was how excruciating the pain was getting.  Suddenly I passed out.”

“How is your back now?”

“My back?  It feels worse…oh no!”

“What is it Carise?”  My line leader asked.

Suddenly I brought my focus back to my legs.  “I can’t feel my legs,” I sobbed, “I can’t move my legs, what is happening to me?”  I suddenly bent over the bed and vomited.

The nurse looked at the line leader with a worried look on her face.  She said to him, “We shouldn’t have moved her; we need to get an ambulance.”

“What do you think has happened to her?”

“I’m not completely sure; we need to get her to a hospital.”

I lay there in uncontrollable tears as the nurse rang 1 1 1.  She asked for the ambulance services and gave them all the details.  As she hung up the phone she looked a little relieved.  She turned to us and told us we were really lucky, one of the ambulances in that town was not in use so they will be here any minute.  She returned by the bed and held my hand, what else could she do but wait?

“Hello?  What do we have here?  My name is John and this is my partner Alyssa.”  The paramedic turned to me and asked, “What is your name honey?”

“Carise” I managed to choke out.  They saw I was in too much pain to talk much so the nurse filled the paramedics in on the details.

“Ok Carise, we’re going to give you some pain relief and then get you out of here.  Alyssa can you get the back board?”

They prepared me for the journey and bundled me into the ambulance.  Any movement sent shooting pain through my spine but it dulled down as the pain killers came into effect.  I was almost asleep when they got to the hospital, as they started to move me out of the ambulance; I was jolted back into consciousness.  I quickly drifted back to sleep while listening to the words “your going to be fine”.

As I awoke I noticed the ceiling looked very white.  It was then that the past events flooded back.  The last thing I remember is being taken into the emergency department.  I heard a noise coming from my left so I looked over (or at least tried to).  It was then that I felt pain shooting through my back, but it was a different kind of pain.

“Carise, calm down!  You are in a ward in the hospital; you are still recovering from surgery, calm down.”

“What surgery?  What has happened to me?  I still can’t feel my legs!”

“My name is Paul Fletcher; I’m your doctor while you are here.  How much do you remember of last night?”

“Up until being taken into the emergency department.”

“Okay that confirms the head injuries.  You were just conscious before the surgery but you were confused and disorientated from the concussion.”

“What surgery?”

“Let’s start from the beginning.  You had slipped a couple of disks and while you were working they were starting to cut into your spinal cord.  That will explain the pain you were in.  We had to take you into emergency surgery to stabilise your spine but unfortunately, because the people in the factory moved you, the paralysis you feel in your legs are permanent.  You are what we call a L2 complete paraplegic.  I’m sorry to bring such bad news but I felt it was important that you know this.  In about a weeks time we will be flying you down to the spinal unit in Christchurch to fully recover and start rehab.  But for now, a lady from your employment agency wants to see you, shall I call her in?”

“Okay, I guess so.”

Dr. Paul left me to digest what he had just told me.  I’ll never walk again, at the moment I can’t even get out of this bed.  While I was lost in thought Brenda came in, I didn’t notice this and jolted when she touched my hand.  Fresh pain went shooting up my spine and a fresh load of tears welled up in my eyes and streamed down my face.

“Carise?  I’m so sorry that all this happened.  I heard from your doctor about your injuries, if there is anything we can do just tell us.”

I slowly shook my head and buried it deep into my pillow.  “I felt like complaining was the worst thing in the world, you just don’t do it.  It’s the first thing my brother told me when I started there.  Would I still be here if I had?”

Silence followed as Brenda filled in the gaps in her mind.  Slowly she started, “You wouldn’t have been complaining, it would have been better if you had told someone.  Now we have a lot of paperwork to sort out.  Speaking of which, I’ve been talking with the managers where you work and we decided that you will have full ACC support.  We just need to fill out your part of the paperwork; your doctor will help you.”

I tried to take this all in but everything was fresh in my mind.  Brenda sensed that she should go and excused herself.  Wishing me well and telling me she would be back.

As she left, a nurse came in with a bedpan and something else in hand.  “Hello Carise, you haven’t had a bowel movement yet and this concerns us.  We couldn’t safely deal with this while you were unconscious.  What I’m going to do is push these suppositories in and put this bedpan under you.  After that I will turn you over, check your vitals, that sort of thing.  I’ll explain it as I go along”

With that, she rolled me onto my side and pulled my knees towards my chest.  She then explained that she wanted me to hold them there with my hands while she inserted the suppositories.  I had never seen or experienced this before so I didn’t really know what was coming.  In a way I still don’t know, I couldn’t feel it but she explained as she worked.  She pushed the suppositories deep into my behind and then placed the bedpan against my bum.  She then managed to roll me back onto my back with the bed pan under me.  We waited a while and eventually I heard a plopping, sloshing noise, I figured it was the melted suppositories and excrement falling out (yea I know that’s gross, but being a para can be gross).  I was then rolled back on my side and cleaned up.  She pulled my nightie back over and began charting my vitals.  “Hmm, they are looking good considering you had surgery last night.” She thought out loud.  She then placed pillows around me to keep me on my side.  While doing so, she told me I was lucky I wasn’t a quad.

“Right, that’s you sorted!”  She said as she pulled my covers back up, “I’ll be back in an hour or so to turn you again, don’t try to turn yourself!  If you need anything push this button.”  As she said this she placed the button in my hand.  She then turned and left the room.  I was finally on my own to think these things through.

I had often seen people in wheelchairs and wished I was them.  I would read spinal cord injury sites and knew that being a paraplegic wasn’t easy.  You lose control over your natural bodily functions.  You have to keep your body to a schedule or it will catch you out, whether it be wetting your pants, or developing a pressure sore.  I also read the different forums and liked the definite “community” feeling that was there.  They all looked out for each other, helped each other, and encouraged each other.  You would think that wanting an sci would make me overreact over the little things that went wrong.  In my head I would try to think my problem into something bigger.  Like when I sprained my ankle, three times, in the space of four weeks.  As I think back to that I knew that I should have taken better care of myself.  Like the first time it happened, I was playing basketball at a youth group camp.  I caught the ball (big thing for me), and this HUGE guy lent over me trying to get me to drop the ball.  As he was leaning on me he put too much weight on me, and my foot rolled.  One of my friends that were playing was a Physical Education teacher at my school and she took over.  She helped me limp to a bench and put my foot on a pillow, and found some ice.  If she hadn’t have been so fussy I would have done my “dance and hop and yell” in circles dance until the initial pain had subsided enough to limp on with life.  This plan wasn’t discarded completely I’ll confessed, the PE teacher made the mistake of leaving me to my own devices, and after about 5 minutes or so I was hobbling round, and then eventually shooting hoops in a game of line, half line.  This was where you would stand at the first line and try to get the ball in the basket, when you did you would move to the next line, and then the next line.  If you missed you had to let the next person in and wait for your next turn.  I’m rather short and so I was jumping to give extra “force” to the ball.  That night while everyone was watching a movie, I went to bed, and the pain in my ankle was soooooo bad I couldn’t walk properly anymore.  I went to bed and somehow managed to get my shoe off.  Because I had spent the whole day relatively normally wandering round, my friend assumed my ankle was better and nothing was said about it.  A week later I was walking to a friend’s house after school.  The field we were walking over was quite uneven and I stepped/rolled my ankle into a hole.  I did my “dance” and then carried on.  Then about one and a half weeks later I rolled my ankle again!  You starting to see a pattern?  I guess you could think of me as a guy in this aspect…I won’t go to the doctor unless I’m “dying” and I can’t stand people fussing over me when I hurt myself.  It’s hard to explain, I hate people fussing over me, but at the same time I love it and crave it.

These things consumed my thoughts for an hour, they were only broken because my nurse came back to turn me onto my other side.  If I got a pressure sore I could die from it!  Deep aye?

“Well Carise!  It’s amazing!  Normally we wouldn’t move someone in your situation until a week after the surgery, but you seem to be recovering so well that we feel safe moving you this afternoon!”

I could hardly believe it myself!  It was only four days after I first woke up in this room, and they were finally going to move me to Burwood to finish my recovery and rehabilitation.  I had read a lot about Burwood in my pretender/wannabe days.  I read a book on the history of spinal care in New Zealand and it mainly focussed on the Christchurch Spinal Unit (later became Burwood Spinal Unit).  This book had stories in it from people recovering from SCI’s.  Right back to when it was first started in the corridor of Christchurch hospital, to its flash, custom built unit in Burwood Hospital.  I had then found the Burwood website and saw photos there; there wasn’t much else on it.

I had been at Burwood for six months now and was ready to go out into the “Big Wide World”.  I knew there are a lot of people who would be shocked when they saw me.  I had read on the net about how terrible some people’s reactions are, and I hoped that that wouldn’t happen to me.  I had gotten a RGK Maxlite chair through ACC, and there was an adapted home waiting for me in Wellington.  I wanted to continue the web development course I had started at Burwood, and Wellington was the best place to do it.  I would be flying to Wellington where my parents would be to meet me.  Mum had been to see me at Burwood but they couldn’t afford to have the whole family go, so my dad and two brothers hadn’t seen me since that night I started my shift at the factory.

I had been told at Burwood what would happen to me on the plane and everything, but I was still nervous.  The staff at Burwood made a point of getting me out on social outings outside of the hospital but this would be my first time out in the public on my own.  It’s one thing to pretend in public because you actually want that attention.  But as a paraplegic, I wasn’t too confident about it all.

“Carise?  Are you ready to go?”  I turned to see Emily, one of the volunteers at the door.

“Yeah I guess so,” I said as I placed my bag on my lap.

“Don’t worry about it, you will be fine,” she assured me as we wheeled down the corridor.  All my friends and the staff that worked with me were at the door to wish me well.  Tears formed in my eyes as I remembered the good times, and the not so good times in Burwood.  It felt like I was being pushed back into reality.  I shook myself and told myself, “just think of it as you would when you were pretending, only now you are genuine, and you don’t have to stop, or hide, or anything!”  I then wheeled out the door to face my new life.

Packers shouldn’t complain…but they shouldn’t get spinal cord injuries either!!!!

Part Two

Carise was so happy to be back in her chair again.  She had no idea how inconvenient domestic flights were in New Zealand for wheelers.  It was a challenge trying to find an aisle chair in the airport and they almost took her wheelchair away before she had the chance to grab her cushion.  The flight was short enough that she didn’t have to worry about cathing, but the thought of having an accident was always in her mind.

Carise was almost sure they’d forgotten about her when they finally brought an aisle chair into the plane to get her off, as soon as she got into her chair she thanked the attendants and wheeled to the luggage belt.  Carise picked up her bag, lay it on her lap and wheeled out of the airport.  Her family were waiting outside, Carise was so happy to see them.  Her older brother treated her like she was glass, her younger brother marvelled at her chair and her father spent five or ten minutes talking about saving for the exact chair Carise wanted…his opinion, why settle for second best?  Carise’s mother was still waffling on about breathing exercises, she hadn’t changed at all.  Carise transferred into the car and broke down her wheelchair for her dad.  He loaded it into the boot and got in.

When they parked the car outside the apartment block Carise took a second to take it in.  Carise hadn’t seen the apartment at all.  There was an elevator that took her straight to her floor.  She rolled to the door and her dad handed her the key.  She opened it and wheeled in.  This apartment was much nicer than she expected.  There was only the furniture she needed to create more space.  The kitchen had plenty of floor space and there was a table in the centre that she could wheel under and work on.  When they went into the bathroom Carise saw that the shower had been altered.  It was already fairly new, grab bars and a seat had been installed and the showerhead had been changed to one Carise could hold in her hand.  She then went into her bedroom.  Her jaw dropped when she saw the queen sized bed.  Carise had never had a queen sized bed.  She wheeled up to it and transferred onto it straight away so she could enjoy it.  While she sat on the bed her mother showed her that all her clothes had been put in the wardrobe and draws, all her little things had been put there as well.

“Carise, there’s one more thing”  her father told her.  Carise transferred back into her wheelchair and followed him into another room.  She saw that it had been turned into an office.  On the big spacious desk her computer was sitting there, with it’s 19” lcd monitor and wireless desktop set.  Even her keyboard was setup.  There was also a nice heater sitting in the corner to keep the room warm.  Carise felt so much at home in this room; she knew she’d be using it a lot.  Her brother then told her he had installed a satellite card and connected it to the digital tv aerial.  She could get all the free channels right on her computer as well as on the nice tv in the lounge.

Carise had spent the next week getting used to life in Wellington.  She had never lived there before; she’d only ever been there twice alone. Wellington is well known for having lots of hills, and being really, really windy.  Carise lived by the docks.  She was near a lot of the shops, the train station, a supermarket and many of the campuses.

Carise’s friend lived in Wellington studying at Victoria University so Carise got to spend some time sitting in starbucks chatting with her.  Gabby, her friend was a bit of a party animal and spent most of her time drinking with her flatmates.  Occasionally they would host a big party in their flat and Gabby was generally the one left cleaning up, what was even funnier was that she complained every single time.  Gabby tried to get Carise to come with her to some parties but Carise didn’t think a drunken paraplegic was a good idea, besides, who knows what she’d tell people in her drunken state about her former life.  Carise was happy just spending time with her friend (and Gabby’s friends) out of the drinking scene.  Carise had always thought it a bit unnerving how Gabby’s behaviour would change depending on who she was with, but the fact they’d stuck together through thick and thin through high school kept them together.  It may not always look like it but Gabby and Carise were closer than you could be.  Gabby knew about Carise’s pretender/wannabe feelings before the accident at the factory and she had supported her 100%.

ACC had paid Carise enough to study and live each week, on behalf of the factory.  Carise was hoping she would be through school by the time the payments stopped.  She knew that life wasn’t as perfect as some of the stories she read on the web, and she hated it how these stories always said the person was sorted for life through some financial miracle.  A week and a half, on a Monday, after arriving in Wellington Carise wheeled to the campus where the web design course she wanted to take was being run.  She went into the registration building to finish signing and filling the forms she had started while in Christchurch.  She provided all the necessary evidence to enrol in the course and they took the photo for her ID card.

Carise was really looking forward to starting this course.  She’d always loved spending time on computers, and she prided herself in the fact that she knew a little more than most people.  It took her a lot longer to learn, simply because the guys in the computer clubs didn’t trust her enough to teach her themselves.  Most of her skills were learnt from trying to do things herself, stuffing it up, and calling her brother for help.  Her brother would give her vague clues (he wasn’t bothered to help, never was) and she would then try to figure out what she had done wrong.  She’d taught herself HTML, but then a friend who was already in the web design business told her that HTML was not the “in thing”.  She tried to learn CSS of the internet but got bored after the first sentence.  Carise sincerely hoped she could get through this course.  If she did she could start thinking about options in terms of jobs.  Apply for jobs in web design firms; maybe be a freelancer.  At this point she just wanted to get through the course.  One thing was for sure, she never wanted to go back to a job like the one in the factory.  Her job options were severely limited as a wheeler.

The people at the campus were unnervingly nice.  It was one thing Carise found herself struggling to get used to.  She knew she could do things for herself, and she was perfectly capable of telling people this…but she still came across new people every day who insisted on being sickly sweet with her.  It was like they were walking on eggshells.  After handing in all the forms and papers Carise took a wheel round the campus to get used to it, by the time Carise got back to her apartment she was exhausted.  She simply turned the tv on, plopped into the couch and dozed for an hour or so, it wasn’t until her hunger woke her that she bothered to get moving again.

She turned the tv off, and turned her stereo on.  This time it was Lifehouse.  Carise loved her music, she listened to all sorts.  Evanescence, Simple Plan, Green Day, Tree 63, the list went on.  Her music file on her computer was enormous; it took up one and a half DVDs.  Carise wheeled into the kitchen and pulled the chicken out of the fridge and placed it on the table in the centre of the room.  She then got her chopping board and big knife out and put them on the table as well.  Carise then got a sieve and the rice out and measured and drained enough rice for the night.  After setting it going in the rice cooker she turned her attention back to the chicken.  Carise was always a lazy cook.  She loved nice elaborate food but after being accused of cooking “mega feasts” by her parents while at home, she looked for as many short cuts she could find.  Carise chopped the chicken breast and laid it all out in her cast iron frying pan and set the heat up fairly high on the hob.  She left it to its demise and went to change the track on the stereo.  When she returned she turned all the pieces over so the other side could brown.  She then stirred the chicken round for a bit and added the satay sauce.  She then dished her tea out and went into her office to check her email and messenger.

After several hours on the internet Carise knew she should start getting ready for bed.  She went into her bathroom and transferred onto the toilet.  She had learnt that cathing was easier on the toilet.  She then washed her hands and went into her bedroom.  She removed her t-shirt and bra and laid them over the chair next to the bed.  She pulled on her nightie and transferred onto the bed to remove her pants and socks.  She then snuggled up in bed and drifted off to sleep.

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