Remembering a milestone
I passed a milestone Dec. 2, 2017. Fifty years on that day, I fell, hit my head and became quadriplegic. I was 19 years old. My doctor put me on tranquilizers two weeks prior. A dizzy spell at work almost caused me to fall a few days before. I was going to the doctor to get off those tranquilizers that fateful day.
I was getting ready and bent over to pick up clothing and throw it into the hamper. When I stood up, I got dizzy, fell and hit my right shoulder on the bathtub. I felt OK, so I got up. I had another dizzy spell and fell again. That time, I hit the edge of the closet door. I felt a blast of pain and lost consciousness.
I felt like I was floating above my body on the floor. A bright light shone about me and a voice asked if I wanted to come or go back to the floor. I looked at the light shining down, gazed back at my body and said nothing. The voice asked two more times if I wanted to come or go back to the floor. I finally said, "Go back." Instantly, I was back on the floor and conscious.
I could not feel anything. When I tried to talk my mouth sounded full of mush like a stroke patient. Then, my father and sister lifted and half dragged my 114-pound body to my bed.
I was put in pajamas. The ambulance, then from a funeral home, arrived and took me to the local emergency room and then to the nearest large city hospital. I was X-rayed, my head laceration was sutured and was moved to the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) for the next 72 hours. I laid there conscious, hearing others moan in pain, with minimal light and no TV. My parents could only visit 15 minutes every four hours.
The neurosurgeon made me spend the next week in bed. I learned to feed myself left handed and practiced the ABC's and 1-2-3's to improve my speech.
I was unnerved when some adults visited and teared up. I quickly learned when a visitor's eyes welled or mouth quivered, I quickly went into my funny act to lighten the mood.
On day 13, I went back to my parents' two-story home without a wheelchair—or a plan. The neurosurgeon thought brain swelling caused my stroke symptoms. He said when the swelling went down, I would be better. Though I wanted to, I could not believe him.
I got around at home holding onto furniture. The neurosurgeon eventually said I had a brain or spinal cord injury and referred me to an orthopedic surgeon. Three months later, I began physical and occupational therapy with a brace on my right leg. My parents learned my therapy routine and did it twice daily, then daily for several years. I saw a physical therapist for long and short stints over the years. Every day I walked outside with someone and by myself inside using a cane or walker to improve my strength and coordination.
Fifteen years and too many head lacerations and concussions later, it was time to sit down and use a wheelchair. Falling and frequently ignoring concussion symptoms made me realize I could damage my brain so badly that I would be unable to do anything fulfilling in life.
No longer walking for exercise, I still moved around some on my own and stood, sometimes for hours, doing my own personal care, hobbies and other activities.
Surprisingly, 16 years later, I returned to the job market. I started out as a volunteer working part time and then had a full-time job as director of a small disability/independent living services nonprofit. That led to another independent living services nonprofit in a larger city. I also spent one year developing and managing a statewide disability conference.
More than 21 years ago, I moved to a nursing home when reliable care and security became difficult to maintain living at home. My first nursing home helped me bring my computer, get on the Internet and stay busy and involved in both my own life and facility life.
Through those years, journaling allowed me to record the good and the frustrating parts of my life. Sharing my views and facilitate experiences in these blogs has allowed me to leave the facility's confines and spend quality time in my writing zone.
I would not have chosen disability. But when I told the voice, "Go back," I committed myself to adapting and making the most of my intellectual talent. Using my innate curiosity, determination and available technology, I was able to widen my world.
Kathleen Mears is a long-time blogger who has been a nursing home resident for 21 years. She is an incomplete quadriplegic and uses a power wheelchair to get around. Her computer is her “window on the world.” This blog shares her thoughts and view of life as a nursing home resident as well as ideas of how it might be improved in the future.