Life’s difficulties

By Anne and Sam

July 10, 2012 is a day that I will never forget. I went in for surgery to correct my congenital scoliosis. The surgery was complicated, expected to last 3-4 hours with two weeks of recovery. I had everything planned out and handed everything over to my sister, Michelle, who was going to take care of me for 2 weeks.

Heading into surgery, Anne, as usual, had everything under control. She had compiled a massive binder with all the relevant information: surgeon’s name, health insurance, full medical policy, questions to ask the doctors at every step of the procedure, etc. After sharing a few jokes and prayers, she was taken to the operating room, around noon, and we headed to the waiting room. Hours passed. Around quarter after six an anesthesiologist updated us. After they had stabilized her spine’s curvature, but before they could straighten it, the sensors in her legs stopped receiving signals. As quickly as they could, they closed her up, woke her up, and tested her nervous response. She could neither move nor feel her legs.

I woke up with a breathing tube still down my throat. Michelle and Sam told me what was going on, but my brain didn’t register that I couldn’t move my legs. I was very tired, groggy, and my entire body hurt. For four days, I was kept in the surgical ICU while doctors and nurses poked me and ran test after test. Family and friends visited, and pretty soon I won the award on the floor for having the most visitors! I even had a doctor who looked like Ryan Gosling, who made the poking and prodding seem so much better. (Sorry, Sam.) After a week, I was transferred to an in-patient rehab facility because there was still no movement in my legs. They had a rigorous schedule lined up for me, with occupational therapy, physical therapy, art therapy, and even cooking therapy.

The first day of therapy was torture. My brain finally registered that I couldn’t move my legs. Sitting uncomfortably in a wheelchair in the middle of the therapy gym, I was terrified. I couldn’t move. I couldn’t get up and leave. I had to rely on someone to help me out of the chair, rely on someone to get me dressed, and I couldn’t even shower or go to the bathroom.

I drove up to the rehab center every day after work. At first, the doctors told us that they didn’t know when Anne’s legs would “wake up.” It could be a week, a year, or it could be never. However, it didn’t take long for Anne to start showing signs of progress. First her left leg began to feel sensation, then she could wiggle her left toes. There was still no feeling in her right leg, though.

The sign on my walker reads "I am able to walk independently"

The days at the rehab center got much better as I started to realize that I was not alone. There was an entire floor of patients who were going through similar traumas. Michelle and Sam pushed (okay, forced) me to have a positive attitude and make friends with my roommate, my therapists, and other patients. We played card game after card game, Bananagrams, Uno, Phase 10, Cards Against Humanity, and plenty of other games to pass the time. Heading into the surgery, I had registered to run the Long Branch half-marathon the following May. My therapists would use that as a motivational tool, saying “You can’t run the marathon unless you sit up,” or “You have to learn how to walk before you can run that marathon.”

I attended some of Anne’s physical therapy sessions. It was frustrating for the therapists to tell Anne to move her legs and Anne would conjure up all of her willpower and strength and nothing would happen. I’m sure it was more frustrating to Anne to not be able to do the simple things that she was able to do a week ago. It was also frustrating to not be able to see her for very long. I would come up to the rehab center straight from work and then have to leave about an hour or two later because visiting hours were over. I’d also spend a good chunk of my weekend with Anne and Michelle at the rehab center, playing games. We even started our own Saturday morning Torah study, reading and discussing the weekly parsha.

Anne’s improvement was slow, a lot slower than we wanted, but it exceeded her therapists’ expectations. One day Anne had enough strength to stand, then the therapists pushed her to walk. The day after her first wobbly steps, she walked the length of the gym, assisted only by a walker. I loved seeing the excitement on her face when she’d tell me about the progress she had made earlier in the day, and every day she seemed to grow ten times as strong as the day before.

Sam and my sister Michelle were there every day, and my immediate family drove 2 hours from Delaware every other day to visit. Sam even met some of my friends and extended family during visiting hours in the rehab center, including some cousins driving back to Minnesota from New York.

The surgery and its fallout was a horribly traumatic experience, but with Sam’s support I was able to heal faster than my doctors’ and therapists’ expectations. Even two years later, I’m still not 100% healed. Sometimes I notice that one of the nerves in my right foot is still not functioning properly. However, going through this experience with Sam brought us closer together. I hope that Sam and I never have to experience that kind of trauma again, but I know now that we have the strength together to get through all of life’s difficulties.

Anne & Sam early August 2012