Well, the holidays are upon us and I wish you the very merriest Christmas and a joyful New Years. Once upon a time I recall a Christmas wish being granted that was very upsetting and somehow at the same time special to me. You see, I have always wondered and, at times imagined, how I would feel if I were crippled and had to wear braces to support a body that I no longer truly controlled. Try as I might though, I just do not believe I could “feel” the part. Perhaps, because I had never been halted in any physical endeavor I attempted. I was by no means a superman, but had just never really been held back. I was driving home from a party about mid-December late in the evening. Snow was falling and the weather was starting to turn really nasty. I remember stopping at a stop light, then pressing on the accelerator and starting through the intersection. I also remember an extremely bright light and a loud noise, then, nothing. When I woke up I had a headache the size of Canada. As any normal person would try to do I went to raise my hands in an effort to hold my head together and found that nothing happened. Now along with the headache came the surprise of some part of my body not working. I lay there and tried to think back to what had happened. Ok, driving home, stop light, starting through the intersection, bright light and loud noise…bingo!!!!!!! That was it, something happened in the intersection. But what? Well, I’d just have to talk to someone. I started to say something and nothing was said. Now what? Once more I lay there, but this time I was sending out little feelers throughout my body to try and fathom what all was wrong. Unfortunately that headache came back and attacked like a herd of buffalo.
I must have lost consciousness then because I don’t remember much else until this voice seemed to crash into my mind. “Dave, Dave, wake up Dave.” I remember thinking I wanted to kill that voice. It reminded me HAL the computer from the movie 2001. It seemed like a couple of hours when it really was only a few moments and I stirred and came awake. This person dressed in a white uniform of some kind was looking down at me with concern. “And how are we doing today?” she asked? That is one phrase I wish the medical community would get rid of. I mean, how am I supposed to know how the other person feels and then balance that with the way I feel and come up with a combined “feel”. But I controlled myself and said I had felt better. Hold it!!!!! I know I said it but I didn’t hear it. What in the h…. is going on. I tried to move and successfully accomplished absolutely nothing. I was flabbergasted. This couldn’t be happening to me. She looked down with concern and said she would be right back with the doctor. Well, right back took about a week and a half by my calculations. Actually it was probably just a few minutes. But my mind was in a tizzy. What had happened, what kind of shape was I really in. I couldn’t talk, couldn’t move and who knows what else. Finally the doctor arrived and looked down at me. “Dave, the easiest thing you can do right now is blink your eyes, so we’ll use that for communication purposes. One blink is yes, two blinks is no. Do you understand?” he asked? Lacking for anything else I could do I blinked once. “Good.” He said. “Now, you listen and I’ll explain what happened with an occasional yes or no question, ok?” One blink. “You’ve been in an accident. You have been severely injured and at the moment are paralyzed. Do you understand?” One blink with tears in it. “You were brought in last night. A drunk driver ran the red light and hit you doing about 75 miles an hour. You have several broken bones and a lot of bruises but the worst of the lot was that you suffered severe upper back and neck trauma. In simple terms your neck and back are both broken. At present because the trauma to your neck was severely affecting your breathing we have put a tube in your throat so you can breath easier. This is temporary and should be removed no later than day after tomorrow. In the mean time you are also on an intravenous feeding system which will be removed at the same time. I will also tell you that you have a broken left arm, shoulder and leg and several ribs on you left side. Now, he said with a s… eating grin on his face, do you remember what side you were hit on?” he continued. Oh yeah, a real comedian…I’d like to have him guess which side I’d like to hit him on. He continued, “What is going to happen over the next few days is basically nothing. You cannot move at the moment and you will be taken care of by the nursing staff. You cannot contact them and they have been informed to check on you every fifteen minutes minimum. I’ll look in from time to time but nothing of note will happen till probably day after tomorrow.
With that he said something to the nurse and they both left. Well h…, I’d finally achieved my desires, in a way, but not the way I wanted them. I mean I wanted to “feel” helpless and I couldn’t “feel ‘ anything at all. Nothing for two days. Sounded like a long time to me. I was all alone with my thoughts, literally, as the nurse hadn’t returned. I needed to communicate somehow or at least hear something other than just hospital sounds. The nurse returned.” The doctor explained the communication method you two used and so shall we. I’ll also let the rest of the staff know about it and maybe you won’t feel so alone.” I could have kissed her. She asked if I wanted to listen to the radio and I blinked yes. She finally found a station I enjoyed and set the volume where I could listen without disturbing others around me, if there were any.
For the next two days I listened to the radio, held a limited conversation with several nurses and in general did nothing. Actually, once the headache was under control, I sent out those little feelers through my body to do a damage control and try to figure out what was going on from my side of all of this. The signals I received were kind of distorted. I’d tell myself to blink ok; feedback and sensory perception all concluded that I could blink. Hey, it’s a start. Next, tongue, yes I was getting feedback that the jaw could move, the teeth were there and all seemed well around mouth and lips. Moving on, I made a request for a finger to move…no feedback, not good. Same with other things like toes etc… Nothing from the neck down. Then the doc came back and checked a few things, said all looked promising and then the tube in my throat was removed. It felt like I hadn’t really been breathing until that moment when mouth and throat kicked in. I could swallow. It hurt like h…, but I could do it. Now to try talking. “Yo, doc?” What can I say I’m a clown at heart and head. “Yes?” he asked. Well, it came out kind of dry and wispy but it was my voice. “I’m thirsty.” I said. “Understandable under the circumstances. You haven’t had a real drink for almost three days.” he said. I also told him I was hungry. “Let’s give it another day for you to get comfortable, get some food, drink and “light” conversation and we’ll talk more tomorrow.”, and with that he left.
Next day by the time he came back I’d made a few discoveries. One was that my sense of feeling was coming back. This I could tell because the headache returned, but this time I had some idea of why. There were four pressure points around my skull that felt like they’d been driven in by a black and deckerl. Also there was some kind of ring around my head with bars attached to it that went down to my chest. By shifting my eyes to the side and catching a reflection of the tray stand it also seemed that my leg was in a cast from toe to hip, my arm from fingers to shoulder. This in turn joined a cast around my chest to which were attached the bars holding the round thingee attached to my head. How long the body cast was I couldn’t tell because of a blanket. One other thing I was certain of, at least to a point, was that I could feel. Well, maybe feel isn’t quite the right word, maybe sense? Anyway I was absolutely certain that I could feel the pressure from the casts and such. It was a comfortable feeling to me and I felt sort of safe and secure. Then the good doctor returned. Once again the age old question “And how are we feeling today?” he asked. To which I replied “Generally with my fingers and toes.” Great comeback, huh? He just got this pained look on his face and said something about a smart a.., but I could have been wrong. He checked a few things and asked if I was comfortable. He then got more pointed in his questioning. “OK Dave I said you were in an accident and were severely injured. Now it’s your turn. Have you any feeling or feeling of movement below the neck. I mean a finger or toe or what ever. Have you any feeling.” I told him yes and he kind of looked puzzled, so I explained. “Doc I’ve always had great control of my body. I’ve always been able to feel myself, each muscle used, each and everything I’ve touched or that touched me. I’ve been doing my own assessment and come to some conclusions on my own. One, I can feel things touch me. Not real well just kind of light and feathery but still feeling. An example is when the nurse gave me an enema, oh joy, I felt all of it but couldn’t put out much in the way of control.”
He looked at me and said “Let’s try a few things starting at your toes. You tell me what foot and which toe I touch.” “Right foot, middle toe.” I said. “Right foot between the middle toe and the one next to the little toe.” I felt him move a little. We did a few other things and he said “Ok, you do have feeling, actually more that I would have thought this soon. So, let’s try some feedback. I’ll press a foot or hand or toe or finger and you try to push back. Tell me which appendage I’m touching so I’ll be ready for you.” “Right foot, big toe. I’m telling it to push down, any response?” I asked. “No.”, he said. We tried several others with the same result. He was pleased that I could even feel and disappointed that I couldn’t push back. But, he said it was still early and that I was still showing remarkable progress in so short a time. He told be me that with neck trauma as severe as I had suffered that a temporary paralysis wasn’t all that uncommon. He also said that the recovery time could still be several months to possibly never getting back everything I’d had before the accident. By the end of the week I knew absolutely that I was in several casts and had had explained what the thing on my head was. It was called a halo and in this case it was attached to a cast. My shoulder and arm cast were also incorporated into the body cast they had me in. They explained that in this way they could keep traction on by back and neck without putting any kind of side pressure on them or have anything around my neck and shoulders that might allow movement. When I asked how long, they said the casts would probably be off in about 8 to ten weeks but the halo would be migrated to a “jacket”. I lived alone and that really made things difficult. I was placed in a care facility that was fully staffed and assured that it was a good one and that I had nothing to worry about. Yeah, right. The first person I met was the head nurse. How she ever got away from the Marine Corps still amazes me. Her name was Mz. Abernathy, but her nick name as I found out was Sarge. Go figure. The facility had its rules and Sarge was there to make sure they were followed, even by those of us who couldn’t follow. She had a schedule to follow and so did everyone else. Fortunately, she had helpers. That’s how I met Sarah. She was on the swing shift and I took every chance to occupy her time. One of the things I constantly worked on was getting some kind of feedback to show that I had some kind of muscle control. That was also part of my therapy during the day. I did light exercises for my unbroken arm and leg. Simple things, mostly isometric in nature, or so I hoped. I never got any feed back when I was in therapy. The therapist, whose name was Tony, kept telling me that if I could feel then I would control. He was really good.
Well, time went by and I really began to feel like I was starting to get some control of what was happening. It really hit me when Tony was working on my arm and stopped suddenly. “Do that again.” he said. “What?” I asked? “I’d have sworn you just put up some resistance to me moving your arm.”, he said. Well, I just about jumped up and shouted. Well, I did say almost. Instead, I told my arm to push against him and he grinned widely. “I’ll be dam…” he said still grinning.”It’s a start.” he said. That evening Sarah came in all smiles, like she knew something I didn’t. Not to be outdone, I grinned too. “You first.”, I said to her. “There’s actually three things. One, I heard about your therapy and I’m really excited for you.” Well, so much for my surprise. “Two, the casts will be coming off this week. And three, I’m engaged.” she said as she held out her hand with the ring on it. I was blown away, the casts were coming off!!! Maybe on to some real therapy now. Whoa there partner, did she say engaged? “Excuse me, but did you just show me an engagement ring on your finger?” I asked. She kind of blushed and showed it to me again. “Wow!” I said with genuine enthusiasm. “Seems like good news abounds tonight, when’s the big day?” “We haven’t set one yet but I’m hoping he isn’t one of those that likes long engagements.”, she said. “Well at least give me a chance to get into shape so I can steal a dance with the blushing bride.”, I said. We talked a while longer and she left. I didn’t know who I was happier for, her or me. The casts came off the next day and I almost fainted. Talk about weenie limbs. Like I said, I’m no superman but these limbs would have embarrassed Alfalfa of the Little Rascals. My robust muscles had been replaced by something like fettuccini without the Alfredo sauce. On top of that I was fitted with a jacket to which they attached my angel paraphernalia. Still down, but not near as far as I had been. I knew I’d dance at Sarah’s wedding. Now it really became a contest between me and me, with Tony as the referee. I really started working my arms and shoulders because I would really need their strength when I started walking. I was fitted with an arm and shoulder support to help with the exercising since my left arm was far worse than the right. At least we’d been able to keep a semblance of tone in the right arm and leg since they hadn’t been in casts. But now the left leg could also be worked. The halo and jacket kind of crimped things and kept me from doing all that I wanted. Of course still not having great control was also a serious deterrent. After several weeks I could feel the strength starting to return. I was told the halo thingee was going to be removed next week and I had a wedding to attend in 2 months. Well, one thing at a time first off I got my arms and shoulders in some sort of condition. It seemed that the more I worked the more control returned. After they removed the halo my neck felt like cooked fettuccini. I was given a soft foam collar for support purposes but that soon moved into what Tony called a Philadelphia type of brace to give me more support. He said it was because my head weighed so much. I’ll give him a fat head. He laughed as he said it and I guess I had to agree, I mean a 7 and « to 7 and 3/4 hat size is pretty big. With the neck brace and my arms and shoulders getting stronger I was on a roll. Then an orthotist showed up one day to fit me with leg braces. At first I didn’t want them, do it on my own. Then reality and that old dream of mine came back. I’d been through it and still had obstacles to overcome. My dream had been to feel restrained and restricted. Well, a broken neck, back, arm, leg, shoulder and ribs should qualify. The paralysis was really the kicker. In some ways I felt guilty that I’d wanted it and now that it had happened that I hadn’t taken time to enjoy it. Perhaps enjoy isn’t the right word. What I had wanted was to experience the situation. That, I had done and then some. I learned not to wish to hard or you might get what you wish for and not necessarily what you want. Well the leg braces came and therapy continued. Sarah kept asking me if I’d be in shape for that dance and I said “what do you think?” My neck and back muscles returned quite quickly according to Tony. And soon with the help of the leg braces I was crutching around. I left the facility and went home. Boy did I hate housekeeping now. I’d had a friend who’d come in and kept the place from getting to bad and he’d done pretty well. Brad was there when I finally came back to my apartment. He’d been to see me several times and brought along other friends of mine. It seemed a party was in the offing for the day I returned. That night I was surrounded by friends and loved ones, just no relatives. They lived far away and well, I liked being on my own. The braces fascinated some, repulsed others and all in all made me examine my own feelings for them. I actually enjoyed wearing them but did not want to on a permanent basis. Tony was still my therapist and was also my dancing instructor in case the braces had to be worn for the occasion of Sarah’s wedding.
The big day arrived and I showed up without the braces, neck or leg. Believe me I paid later for not wearing them but the joy in Sarah’s face was worth it. Her husband was a really nice guy and had been informed that one dance was for me. Sarah had explained what I’d been through and he seemed to understand. Well, the dance was great, at least the one I danced. My legs felt like I’d just climbed and descended a mountain. My back, shoulders and neck felt like my head must have weighed about 300 pounds. But, like I said it was worth it. It took several more months to get back to about 95% of what was still below normal to me but was considered normal to Tony. I still have the braces and when I feel like I need to do something comfortable I’ll put them on and go out on the town. My excuse is that I still have a bad habit of overextending myself and that causes some problems. One trip I met Anne. No, not a falling type trip, one of my trips out. She was sitting at the bar all alone. Well, I wasn’t going to look a gift horse in the mouth and she was cute. So, I sauntered up on my crutches with my neck brace showing and asked if I could buy her a drink. She looked startled at first and then said “Sure, why not?”. Well, we talked for a while and it seemed she’d been set up and stood up by a blind date who was also supposed to see her home. Well, opportunity didn’t have to hit me with a truck. As we both crutched out of the bar we were the recipients of quite a few stares. Oh, didn’t I mention that she had always wanted to go to a bar with a fake cast on her leg and get picked by someone.