The hospital I had been taken to was trying to get me into their local Healthsouth Rehab facility. I would have been there with mainly older people who had hip replacements and knee surgeries. Thankfully, I had parents that knew that wouldn’t be a good place for me to go and I needed somewhere that specialized in paralysis. So my parents had to search around and they worked really hard to get me into Shepherd Center in Atlanta Georgia. Their determination paid off because this was the place that helped shape who I am today.
I had been accepted into Shepherd Center but now we were just waiting on TMH to release me. That’s when my dad told me, “They’re not gonna send you to rehab when you’re on all this pain medication, Carrie.” So I just stopped asking for it. It didn’t take long and I started going through withdraws. All I recall is feeling like I was freezing to death one minute to them only minute later being so hot I felt like I could die. Then, the vomit. I still wasn’t allowed or able to sit up in bed. So my mom basically held rags up to my mouth and caught my vomit. I think during all that I was okay if I died because it was brutal. But thankfully it finally went away and I got back to feeling good again. Just a few days after that, I was getting ready to be transported to Atlanta.
I remember being scared to death to be in a car. And this time, I was in a hospital bed laying in a van, where I couldn’t even see out the window. That made that ride way more terrifying. Did that guy know how dangerous it can be to run off the road? I wasn’t sure he had learned the lesson I had just recently because so accustom with.
I was really happy when we arrived and it was time for them to get me out. I recall seeing the art on the ceiling tiles as they rolled me in. As an 18-year-old, I didn’t have the best attitude at that moment. I had never gone to a summer camp as a child, and here I was feeling like that’s exactly where I was, and I was too old for camps. I think I was nervous too. More doctors, different nurses, new therapists. I really didn’t know what to expect.
Not long after I got settled in my room the nurse came in and told me I had some other patients that wanted to welcome me. Again, I wasn’t really thrilled because I wasn’t here to make new friends, I was here to learn how to live again so I could go back home and get back to life. I’ve never been a rude person though and I wasn’t going to start then when people were just trying to be nice. And when those two people rolled in I was blown away. Who was I to be rude to these people? They were in wheelchairs and they were happy. You also have to understand, I had never encountered anyone with a spinal cord injury before. This was a whole new world to me I knew nothing about. And I honestly don’t think it had even sunk in yet, that I was a new member of that world.
I can’t remember the guy’s name, but he had an injury level comparable to mine. He came in and leaned his chair back on his wheelie bars and I thought that was pretty cool. But Cindy, Cindy is who I will always remember. You guys think I am in an inspiration? Well, Cindy is mine. She came in blowing in a little tube. The only thing she could move was her head and she was happy. She was possibly the happiest girl I had ever met with the biggest smile. I remember her wheelchair started to beep and I immediately thought she was dying and went to call the nurses. She quickly told me it was okay and it was just time for her to do a weight change. A weight change? What the heck is that?! I later found out those were necessary to avoid pressure sores.
When those too left my room I was much more open-minded about this “camp” I had accidentally landed myself in. My situation could have been worse and I felt lucky. I remember thinking, I have no idea how Cindy is happy because if that happened to me and all I could move was my head, I wouldn’t want to be alive! We haven’t kept a friendship alive but I follow her via social media. She has done some amazing things and has never let her situation slow her down.
I got t rehab on the weekend so there were no classes or rigorous therapy like there would be on the weekdays. But they took me to our main workout room. It was full of raised mats and equipment for us to work with. They laid me on a mat next to an older guy probably in his 30’s to show me a few of the stretches I would need to do to keep my legs limber. All of a sudden the guy next to me was in a bit of distress. The therapist got on top of him and said to him, “On the count of three I want you to breathe out”. She started counting and as she got to three she pushed his chest in. As he took his breath out mucus came with it and they took a suction hose and sucked it out.
I laid there in a bit of shock watching this take place next to me. And then it hit me. That’s why all those nurses got on my nerves asking me to cough every single day in the hospital. Some people can’t. But I can. When I need to cough up some mucus I’ll be able to. That means I’m going to be okay, right? Cindy was the first person that made me realize how lucky I actually was, and now this man was the second. My situation could have been worse and better yet, I could have died, but I didn’t. I was thankful I had every bit of feeling and movement that I did still have, I felt lucky, and I knew I was going to be okay!
When the week started I quickly found out they had me on a tight schedule. I was basically in a boot camp for injured people! How did this happen? There were people there with all levels of injuries but we had all messed up our spinal cords to some degree. Even though we all had different feeling and range of motions we had something in common, and that was a wheelchair. Well, at least in the beginning. Some of them were lucky enough to regain the ability to walk. And those are transformations that still amaze me today! They also had a few employees who were in chairs. Some days they had volunteers come in and meet with us. Meeting with those people was always weird and I always glad when it was over but those interactions were crucial. I didn’t think about it then but it was because of those volunteers and employees who I saw living normal lives and the other patients that were going through the same things as me, I never felt any different. Thankfully that attitude has stayed with me.
I hated being woken up at 6 but they didn’t care about that. I often very much disliked some of the stuff they made me do. Like making a bed, or cutting vegetables. But I learned quickly, I just needed to do stuff like that once, then they would check it off and move on to the more difficult stuff. So I tried my best to do keep a good attitude, do what they asked, without complaining. I was willing to do whatever I needed to so they would just let me go back home!
I found one of my very most favorite therapist I had during my Shepherd stay on Facebook, Patti. We have done a pretty decent job of just keeping up with each other via the web. A few months ago when I knew this blog was going to become a reality I reached out to her and ask what she could remember of me during my stay there. Here is what she said, “It’s been a long time Carrie girl. I just remember you taking on anything I was handing out with a smile and good humor. You didn’t seem to skip a beat as I recall but plugged forward learning how to take care of yourself”. Carrie girl is always what she has called. My very own Patti nickname! Patti was always one of my favorites there. She was just as concerned about my eyebrows being “tweezed”. I used to say plucked, but Patti also taught me that I am not a chicken and only chickens get plucked! She was also willing to help me dye my hair. Those were indeed things I was also going to have to learn to do while always sitting down.
She had a few things wrong in her statement though and I think I am the only one allowed to call her out, right?! I did not always have a smile. I was not always excited about the tasks that laid before me, but I knew they had to be done. I think I even at times probably asked her and other therapists if they were crazy. I thought they were at times trying to kill me! Some times I felt like a star on the hit movie Mission Impossible. I always did end up figuring it out though even if that involved 87492 failed attempts. They never let me give up. Because of their determination and the encouraging words and faith they had for me, I was able to believe in myself also.
Sometimes in life we need people to believe in us so we can also believe in ourselves. But, there are other times in which we are the only people that believe in ourselves. It really doesn’t matter which way it goes. As long as you believe in yourself, you can achieve things some people may have always thought were impossible, even you.
Have faith in who you are, your goals, what you believe in, and what you want to accomplish. Believe in yourself and then go out there and conquer your goals!
In a nutshell, I had a goal when I got to rehab and it was quite simple. I wanted to leave! I just did my best to do what needed to be done to get me released and I tried to keep a good attitude while I was there. I knew it didn’t matter how mad I got over any of it, nothing was going to change. It was up to me to make the changes that needed to take place for me to get out.
That is the mindset that has made me who I am today. Mind over matter. When your mind is right, everything that matters will fall into place with a little determination. Attitude is step one in achieving true happiness. So do your very best to keep a good one!