Is This For Forever?

I don’t remember much from the Trauma Center at Miami Valley, just bits and pieces. I was only ‘all there’, well, ‘mostly there’ for the last three or four days. I was still partially out of it and feeling the effects from more drugs than any one person should ever be on. During these days, there was a lot of talk about what was next. I also know I asked a lot of questions about my paralysis: Why can’t I move my legs?.. This can’t be for forever, right?.. This can somehow be fixed, right?…. Tell me one more time, what in the FUCK even happened..??? I’ve never had an injury so serious — An injury that I had to ask the question, “will I ever get better?” I don’t exactly remember most of my questions, but I can vividly remember one conversation. It was on the last full day at the Trauma Center. I was talking to my mom, getting packed and prepared for our flight to Chicago the next morning. I was really nervous because at that time I could only sit upright for about a half hour (while on pain meds) without experiencing a lot of pain. My mother kept telling me because I kept asking, “Modern day technology has really been advancing. It’s possible it will be forever, but we’re going to stay optimistic. Stem cell research has shown some really promising results within the past few years.” She was being a comforting mother, doing a good job, too. I had only known about my paralysis for a few days and I was still in shock about everything, waking up in a hospital bed and hearing about everything that had happened (to me?) within the past couple of weeks. I didn’t believe it at all. I knew I couldn’t move my legs and that I was in a hospital bed all scarred up, but still. –Woah, waking up and after awhile casually looking down at my stomach was awholenother story of its own–Everything people told me about what happened sounded made up, it was just a bullshit story, I first thought to myself, “I very well might still be asleep, or maybe I got really drunk, got ahold of some hard drugs, and I overdosed on both crack and acid?” “Well, we’re going to the best SCI rehab hospitals in the world, right? Everything will probably be alright, and as far as the time that I am paralyzed, it will be a great life experience at least,” was my response. I knew that spinal cord injuries were rare and very few people had the ‘privilege’ of experiencing what paralysis is like (I later found out that about 0.003% of the people in the world have a SCI). “That’s a good attitude to have. We’ve got to stay optimistic,” mom replied. At this point, I didn’t at all see myself being paralyzed for the rest of my life, or fully believe that I was then for that matter.

When at RIC in Chicago, I got to meet a lot of fellow gimps. The majority of the patients were older, but there were a handful of young guys close to my age. Almost all of whom were quadriplegics, but we nonetheless had spinal cord injuries in common. Probably my closest buddy at the time was a quad named Jeffery. Jeffery was a year older than me, and he was a true veteran of RIC (he had been there for 8 months). I was really glad he was still there when I was, he showed me the ropes of RIC and gave me some SCI tips, he was a beast. Jeffery, as well as all of the doctors had told me that the lower the injury–the greater the chance of recovering. Doctors never told me this in the case that it wouldn’t happen, but Jeffery would frequently tell me, “Your injury is pretty low man. I wouldn’t worry too much about what you can’t do now, I bet you recover.” He wasn’t the only patient that told me this. There was a psychologist (also wheelchair bound from being a quadriplegic herself) that lead a meeting with SCI patients every Monday night. This is when people would share whatever is on their mind, provide stories of being out in the real world during day passes, or talk about what they worry when imagining their life after RIC once returning to reality. I had a lower injury level than most of the patients, and we were all supposed to be supportive and optimistic, but everyone there would tell me that I was going to recover. Anytime I raised my hand and spoke about any future worry, this really kind lady who recovered herself would say, “Honey you’re going to recover from this. You’re going to walk out of this hospital, I have no doubt.” I started to believe it after hearing it so many times.

There were several patients that were in the process of recovering, their therapy consisted of walking around the big loop formed by the hallway. Therapists would support them by holding their belts tightly to keep them steady, or follow them closely while they use a cane or walker. Haha, I just remembered something. One woman was paralyzed when she came, but gained all of her muscle function back within the first week, however she still needed an oxygen tank at times because her breathing still needed some recovering. Pressure breaks were a h-u-g-e deal at RIC; everyone was told to lift themselves up from their chair, or for the quads recline their power chairs back more than 45 degrees, and hold this for two minutes… every thirty minutes. During group therapies, every half hour that passed the therapist would say, “Okay time for a pressure break, does anyone need some water?” All of us gimps did our thang to relieve pressure from our asses that get next to no blood circulation, and the one lady (we’ll call her Kim, I don’t remember her name) would lean forward and stand right up. After chillin’ on her feet for a couple of minutes, she would sit back down in her wheelchair. I thought this was hilarious. I never once saw her maneuver her wheelchair with her hands on her wheels; she would push off the ground with her feet to gain momentum and drag her feet when she needed to slow down. I would also see her performing therapy in the hall around the floor, outside my door. While watching tv after my day of therapies, I would see Kim walking around the big circle, no limp, no cane, no signs of anything wrong, only the therapist following her and sometimes holding an oxygen tank. She walked like a normal person, like my mom walked when she would come watch my therapy sessions. I always joked around with my mom, “Saw Kim out there again. I overheard the therapist tell her that she’s past squat-thrusts, she has her running sprints now. Go look, she’s doing suicides down the hall. Daayum! A 40 in 5 flat, she’s fucking quick!”

The calendar year changed, it was officially 2013. New years eve was ridiculous. I turned 21 less than a week prior, so me, Jeffery, and a couple of other guys played a game of poker and got trashed up in my room.. Yeahright. Instead I had zero sips of alcohol because I felt like hell (much like my 21st five days earlier), watched a couple of ‘Fresh Prince of Bel-Air’ reruns on tv and fell asleep before 9 o’clock. It wasn’t all bad though, they gave us the day off therapy for new years! After throwing up my breakfast again, I didn’t have to drag myself to the workout room!

Anyways, I was released from RIC January 10th and my mom and I went home. I don’t think I had been home since I started school in August, so I hadn’t been home in five months. I quickly started to alter my everyday activities to accommodate with being all paralyzed and everything. I had to. I mean, they had been altered already from living in the hospitals, but now I was home. It was like, real life. After being back a few weeks, it started to hit me harder and I knew everything was definitely real, “Well fuck, I guess this is what life is now? I’m functioning the exact same way I was months ago back when I woke up at Miami Valley..” This was definitely the biggest reality check that I had, well have had even up to right now really. I was told there is still a chance of recovery up to two years post injury, sometimes even past that. The greatest chance by far was during the beginning of rehab though, like within the first six months after the injury. No percentages were ever given, only stories of other people, but from everything I had heard the way I saw it — First month: 10%, 3-6 months: 5%, 6-12 months: 2%, 1+ year <1%. Three months had passed awhile ago, before being released from hospitals. Six months came and passed. One year came and passed. I’m down to a fraction of a single percent at this point, but I stopped thinking about recovering a long time ago. Not long after my big reality check did I have another, also pretty big. About five months post injury, I started hearing from some of my old friends from the RIC days (most of which were 1+ year post injury at this point). All of their bodily function was virtually the same. Through spring and summertime, I was lucky enough to meet a handful of paraplegics in the area whose injuries ranged from 2 years-40 years ago. I think this was at one point late spring-early summer, I was tired from my workout at ‘Xcel’, but I couldn’t fall asleep my mind was racing, “There were a few people that recovered within their first month at RIC. Nobody else that I’ve met has recovered. Why should I be any different from them? I’m well past my first month.. Apparently you can continue on with your path… this is gonna be an interesting life.”

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3 thoughts on “Is This For Forever?

  1. Kelly Kubasek

    Hunter, you are such a strong person with a wonderful spirit. Love you and your whole family! You have to stay strong for your mom. Her optimism is perpetual; she will never give up on you. I think part of being strong is accepting the reality of your situation, so that you can do what you need to do and move on from there. I hope school is going well!

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  2. Stefania

    Reading every post you write. I do not comment all the time because it is hard to find the words. Your posts make me cry and smile in the same time. I love reading them. You are a strong man and you can have a bright future. Those are facts.

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