Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Choices by Rosemary

As soon as I had finished talking with John, I went to a pay phone and called my dad. I begged him to come down. He said he would leave in a couple of days. This infuriated me. I told him, "John needs you NOW! NOW!" I have never felt so disappointed in someone in my entire life. And it was my own father I was so disappointed in. You suck it up and you do what you have to do, I thought. How could he not want to be here. I've grown a lot since then. I try not to judge people on how they react when a disaster hits. Me, I face it, full force. Do what I have to do. I know now that he couldn't. This was his son who would never walk again. His favorite child. It just about killed him.

I remember how nice everyone was in Texas. People John had worked a short time with were coming to the hospital and visiting once he got out of ICU. They would bring food and sit and talk to us like we were all family. That's the difference between the South and the North. You would never get that type of friendship from a total stranger. Never sit in a hospital room with a total stranger and feel like you have known them all your life. It made things a little easier having those fine folks visiting--not only John but the rest of the family. Yes, us too.

I'm not quite sure when my brother Jim and my father finally arrived. It wasn't that long after we arrived. Probably a week at most. I know it was so good for John to see my dad. I had asked John what he wanted, what he needed. He loves music and he said a radio or cd player. I told my dad to get one on his way down. I then went shopping and bought as many music cds as I could afford. I remember Stevie Ray Vaughn was one John had asked for. He also read a lot. And, so we got him some books on tape. That didn't last long though. His usual scarry books actually scared him. I understood completely. Having to rely on someone helping you, you know, just in case something happened must be hell.

As the days passed, it seemed that his paralysis was there to stay; and it was clear that we needed to work with a social worker to learn what we were to do next. And that is when we were introduced to Vernice (pronounced Ver-Nees. (I'll never forget her name because my dad's name is Vernice--pronounced Ver-Nis. Funny.)

Vernice was the sweetest lady. She would hug us whenever we saw her. She was absolutely wonderful. We were given some choices of rehab centers; and of course, we wanted one a little closer to home. We all wanted to be as close to him as possible as he went through a very hard rehab stay. Somehow, it was decided that John would go to rehab in Philadelphia, PA. McGee Rehab Center. It was only about three hours from DC. Very drivable. What a learning curve was ahead for us all.

Saturday, April 08, 2006

The Brighter Side of Adversity by John

Up till now, I've been focusing on all the negatives, and suffice it to say after having lost the use of my body there wasn't much positive going for me at the time, but there was one big exception: the support of my family.

I cannot stress enough how much strength and solace I gained from them. At my entire stay at Baylor Memorial, which was about a month, between my mother and father and brother and sister, I was never without a family member at my side. And what a difference it made.

Looking back on it, I don't know I would have survived the ordeal without them. I would have, of course, but it would have added another dimension of hell to my already bleak mental state.

The presence of my family being there provided for me a backdrop of warmhearted familiarity; I was surrounded by the people that meant the most to me, and just having them there gave me a sense of ease that I would not have had otherwise.

In addition, having someone there around the clock really made a difference. Whether it was my dad or mom or my brother or sister, it was someone I could talk to to take my mind off the reality of the situation, someone I knew closely; someone I had spent my life with thus giving us a lifetime of experiences with which to talk about. Plus, it can never be underestimated the value of having someone there to scratch one's nose when one cannot do it for oneself.

There were many other amenities that my family members provided for me that one takes for granted when one has the use of one's hands besides scratching itches, but that one ranks right near the top. One particular task that was provided was changing tapes in my Walkman, which I listened to a lot.

Having moved to Dallas without my Walkman and tapes, in lieu of bringing them down from Virginia, my sister went shopping for a new Walkman along with a list of tapes that I'd given her. She also bought me a set of books on tape, a collection of short stories by Stephen King who was one of my favorite authors.

It was that night or the next that I had my dad put in the first tape. For the first 15 minutes or so things were fine, but at some point the story I started getting really scared, and I had to ask my dad to stop the tape. I found it a bit embarrassing having never been scared like that from a novel with the exception of when years before I began reading Alien laying on the living room couch, after having seen the movie five times I might add. It was in the wee hours of the morning that I was nearing the end of the book, and as I lay facing the front door I was certain that the creature was on the other side ready to burst in and attack me. It seems funny now, but at the time I was very much scared. But getting back to the Stephen King tapes, I stuck to music tapes from then on out

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Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Flying to Dallas by Rosemary

I think as soon as I hung up the phone with the hospital in Dallas, I called my father. He had already been told by his sister Eunice. I was ready to fly down right then, get there, be with my brother through what must be the scarriest moment of his life. My father wasn't. He told me he would drive. It angered me then. I know now that he just wasn't ready to face the facts.

I phoned my boss and told him what had happened. He never asked if I had time left to take off, he just said go. I'm sure that couldn't happen now. But it was a small company, and they actually cared about your life. I was fortunate. When I phoned the airlines, I got the first flight out the next day, Sunday. There were a lot of phone calls to make. There were my two other brothers I needed to contact. After talking to my oldest brother Joe, he offered to take me and mom to Dulles airport the next morning.

It must have been an extremely early flight because I still remember the sun rising over the little pond as you drive into the airport. Very early. I don't remember any of the flight or how we got to the hospital once arriving in Dallas. I just remember walking into the ICU and seeing my brother in this contraption. It was like a gurney that would flip. His face was down, facing the floor, so I just crawled on down there and got underneath of him. He look scared. Lord knows what I said. Probably something to lighten the place up a bit. I hope I did, for John's sake and for my family's sake. But, yes, of course, there were tears. Lots and lots of tears.

Monday, March 13, 2006

How Could Things Be Any Worse Than This? By John

The first thing that troubled me besides that of not being able to move at all and not being able to feel anything below my shoulders was that I would never be able to experience an orgasm again. And I loved orgasms. I was what you might call an orgasm junkie. I masturbated on the average three times the day. Once in the morning as part of my getting ready for work routine (it was a great incentive for getting up), once right before bedtime (it made for a wonderful soporific) and once in the afternoon just for recreational purposes.

I'm getting a bit ahead of myself chronologically, but I remember my insurance case manager saying that they would pay for a penile implant. What good would that be if I couldn't feel anything? And my brother Jim told me with his best intentions in mind I'm sure that sex was 90% mental. Best intentions or not, he pissed me off. 90% mental, my ass. For me, the orgasm was the culmination of the sex act. Without it, there was no sex.

It didn't enter my mind at the time but I had found early on in my sexual encounters that sex without kissing was not much like having sex either. There was one sexual partner I had when I was in my early twenties, and for some odd reason she didn't like to kiss. After about the third or fourth time of having sex with her, it seemed I was doing little more than masturbating with a partner, so I stopped. I continue to see her--she was fun to be around--but sex with her seemed pointless.

I spoke earlier of having a drug habit, and after mulling over the fact that my life of orgasms was over, I figured that with a catastrophic injury as bad as mine that I would be able to get all the drugs that I wanted. What doctor would deny me the right to stay high all the time? It was about a week after my injury that my dad told me that he had told my doctor that I had been addicted to drugs since I was 15. Gee, thanks dad, was there anything else you could I do to make my life more miserable?

So there I was, totally paralyzed and numb with no orgasms or drugs in my future. I was sure that I would be spending the rest of my life in a hospital bed, so what did I have to live for? Nothing.

If that were not enough, I was putting my family through another cycle of pain and anguish, especially my dad. I had hurt him enough for the past 15 years already with my drug use. When he had first found out that I had been using heroin, it seemed that I had destroyed his life. "Once you get on that stuff, you'll never get off," he told me the day that I had been arrested for drug possession. It was after dinner, and we two were alone in the kitchen, and he broke down so hard that I couldn't help but to break down myself. There we were, father and son, bawling like babies, and me thinking what a horrible thing I had done to bring this on my dad, the man I loved more than anyone else in the world. I felt like scum. Now here I was again doing it to him again.

The day of my injury, it was my Aunt Eunice and my cousins Mitzi and James that had visited me. I felt bad enough after seeing their reaction to my predicament. Then the next day, somehow miraculously my mom and sister arrived. I couldn't believe how quickly they had gotten there. They were distraught, to say the least, but these two women were stalwarts of strength that I could grab purchase to and maintain some semblance of sanity.

Then my dad showed up, and he broke down as if it were that same day 15 years before that we stood in the kitchen. I had destroyed him again. It was perhaps at that moment that I felt the lowest since being injured. I wished more than ever that I had died in the accident.

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Sunday, February 26, 2006

An Aside

I was just thinking about how long it took me to begin living independently since I had my injury. Most of the quadriplegics that I've met or have heard about through other channels have done wonderfully with getting on with their lives relatively soon after their injuries. Why did it take me so long?

Admittedly, I lived a pretty sheltered life. As a child and teenager, I pretty much got anything I wanted. If I asked for something, my father would buy it for me and he let me do pretty much whatever I wanted. I didn’t ask for things that often and never asked for anything big. But being my dad's firstborn and a boy, I was his favorite. His father had been stingy and mean. My dad had told me many times over during his lifetime how he had sworn to never be like that. And with the exception of his being a mean boss, he was always loving and caring towards me.

He wasn't a good parent, though. I think he believed that children raised themselves, and that was how I was treated. I was pretty much left to fend for myself. My mom did her best to raise me right but my dad had the final word. I asked her a while back why she allowed me to go to Woodstock at the age of 14, and she had told me that whatever he said, went. I look at 14-year-olds now, and realize how young I must've seemed back in 1969, but at the time I felt as if I was as old as I needed to be. What 14-year-old wouldn't?

What I'm saying is that I had very little or no parental guidance growing up. That I was able to formulate my own ideas about religion, I am thankful for, but I wish that my dad had paid more attention to me during my teenage years. I was left to run wild, which had some dire consequences on me. I imagine that he guessed I would figure it out on my own, which I imagine he had done to a large extent but with much greater success.

My dad was a very independent man. As a teenager, he had left home with his older brother in 1932 or thereabouts to drive a Model T from Texas to California. He never returned home until many years later when his father died, and that was only to attend the funeral. He was very strong-willed, as well. When he had a heart attack in his fifties, he was told to give up cigarettes and drinking, which he faithfully did. Unfortunately, I neither inherited his independence nor his strong-willed temperament.

There are so many influences that shape a man's life that it is impossible to simplify it into one or two causes, but my father was a big influence on my life, which included his lack of influence.

Besides my father's freewheeling ways of raising me, I believe I was born insecure. That would explain my extreme shyness over half my life. As a teenager in junior high school, probably because of my insecurity, I was heavily influenced by peer pressure.

In seventh-grade, it was this peer pressure that led to my using drugs. At first, it was because I wanted to be with a group of other kids that were doing them, but after awhile I found that I liked certain drugs a little too much. I liked to experiment, and by the time I was 15, I was using drugs compulsively.

I got arrested not long after and ended up going into a live-in drug treatment program. I ended up staying there for over two years. I left without officially graduating knowing positively that I would never use drugs again. I was 17 at the time. By the time I was 20, I had started up again.

In the forward, I mention that I moved to Dallas in 1985 to get away from my dad's business. More than that, it was an attempt to stop my drug use. The geographical cure doesn't work in the long run, and it wouldn't have worked for me had I not had my accident when I did. I still had the craving. It was only a matter of time.

What this self-disclosure is leading up to is to perhaps allow the reader to better understand my state of mind, particularly emotionally speaking, at the time of my accident. It's been said that one stops growing emotionally when one starts using drugs, and I consider this to have a lot of truth. When I fell and broke my neck, I was ill prepared emotionally to deal with a personal catastrophe. It took me longer than most, but I finally made it. I'm comfortable in my skin now, perhaps more so than any time in my life including before my injury.

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Saturday, February 25, 2006

As if it were Yesterday by Rosemary

I remember the day as if it were yesterday. I was hung over and I promised myself, I would never drink again. At 24 years of age, it was definitely a turning point in my life, in more ways than one.

The night before, Friday, the 13th, was a monumental day in my life. It was the day that my now-husband asked me out on a first "date." Little did I know, the next day would outweigh anything that had ever happened to me in my entire life. Even outweigh being asked out by someone I had had my eye on for months--and having to refuse. Yes, I had to tell him I had other plans. Ouch. But, I really did. And it was an important night that I couldn't fluff off.

My good friend Pam was moving, out of state. None of my friends had ever moved away from Arlington. What was the deal there?? Amy, Kell and I decided to take her out on the town, one last time. She was married, we were still single. I remember hitting some club in DC that was headlining a good band that we had always enjoyed listening and dancing to, "Downtown." I think it was one of their last shows before the lead singer was heading out to California to follow his new wife. Yuk. No fair, it such an awesome local band.

Well, we did, indeed, tie one on. Ow. Lord only knows what time I dragged my butt in that morning. I do remember sleeping until after noon. When I got up, I called Kelly, my best friend, to come down to the house and hang out. We both just laid in the yard on the cool grass, feeling extremely tired and, yes, still extremely hung over. It was late afternoon when she decided it was time to go home, so I mosied back into the house and back into bed to nurse the major headache I still had.

I was the only one still living "at home." My brothers had moved out years before. Jim was living in DC and my brother John had moved to Dallas to expand our family photo business. My dad had moved out when I turned 18 because he and my mom just couldn't get along living together any more. They stayed friends and he continued to support her. I had a good job and helped with the groceries every week and anything else my mom needed. We were good buddies, always.

The phone rang a couple of times, and I lay there thinking mom must have picked it up. Then I heard her, at the bottom of the stairs, with a wail that I had never heard before in my life. It was a curdling wail, not even close to a a scream. I knew something was wrong right away. I ran to the top of the stairs to see what had happened. She was still holding the phone to her ear. She was crying uncontrollably and she fell to sit on the bottom step. "John has had an accident--I don't know...." I asked her who was on the phone. It was Mitzi, my cousin, in Dallas. She's my cousin but strangely my mom's age. My mom couldn't talk so I took the phone and asked Mitzi what had happened.

"John is in the hospital. He fell off something and broke his neck. The doctors say he'll never walk again." What??? I tried to get as much information as I could. I stayed calm and strong (for mom if not for myself). I got all the numbers for the hospital that I needed so I could gather my own information.

I made sure mom was ok. I didn't want her to have a heart attack or anything. She was physically and mentally shaken as you can imagine. I had never seen her like this before. I called Dallas' Baylor Hospital from the kitchen to see if, in fact, the news we had just heard was accurate. I kept thinking in the back of my mind, "They have to be exaggerating, it can't be so." I think I called the ICU and spoke with someone, I don't even know who. He confirmed that yes, John had broken his neck and his spinal cord appeared to be severed. They would be able to tell more after the swelling went down--which could take months and even up to a year before they would know "for sure" if he would ever walk again. They explained where the spinal cord had snapped and that John had feeling on his shoulders but nothing below that. He would more than likely be in a wheel chair for the rest of his life. Whether or not he would regain use of his arms, only time would tell.

I'll have to think now on how things progressed. It is this part that I remember most. How can anyone forget a phone call like that? I'll try and coincide with John's entries on my perspective of this life-altering experience. Let me stress that an accident of this multitude not only effects the person who becomes disabled, but it deeply effects the family and loved ones also. I can't say that enough. He is not the only one who went through hell and back, the family was right there by his side, some more than others. So, for anyone who is going through this very tough time with a loved one, I can only say that you all will survive.

Yes, there will be extremely tough times. You will have to do things you never thought you would have to do. There is a learning curve almost as intense for you as there is for the person who had the accident. But hang in there. I truly feel there is a reason these things happen; and it all makes us better people, somehow. You may not feel that now, but you will.

In the Hospital

So there I was in Baylor Memorial hospital in Dallas Texas after falling and breaking my neck. I'd just gotten the news from the doctor that I would be totally paralyzed for the rest of my life. It was as if a life sentence had been passed down. I wished that I were dead.

I couldn't spend the rest of my life lying in a hospital bed. For the first time in my life, I wanted to commit suicide. But I was paralyzed, how could I do myself in? It was a mind-racking Catch-22.

A nurse came in to get information from me: name, birthday, and insurance information, etc. I gave it to her. I was glad that I had health insurance.

A few minutes go by, and then a male nurse comes in and explains to me that since I can't control my bladder on my own that a catheter needed to be inserted up to my penis. Oh Jesus, I just knew that was going to hurt. I couldn't feel anything below my shoulders, but my penis, it was still going to hurt; of that, I was sure, but I didn't feel a thing. I was thankful for that.

Then I was put into tong traction and placed on Stryker frame,
which allowed me to be turned facing down periodically to keep the pressure of my backside and prevent pressure sores.

It was hell being in the inverted position with my face facing the floor. My head had to be supported in a sling, which proved to be quite uncomfortable. I was certain that something more comfortable could be devised, and I was angry that someone had not already done it.

My neck hurt quite a bit, and being a baby when it comes to pain I asked for something. The nurses explained to me that the doctors didn't want any pain masking drugs in my system so that if any additional pain occurred I can tell them about it. I began to have a serious dislike of doctors right then and there.

It must've been around 9 p.m. that I had my first visitor, my aunt Eunice, James’s mother. It didn't take more than a minute or two before she started crying. I felt ashamed. I didn't want to be seen like this, and I certainly didn't want to cause anyone any grief. I'd caused too much grief in my family already. I didn't want to cause any more. Couldn't I do anything right?

The shame I felt being paralyzed, it was bad. I felt subhuman. I felt disfigured, something to be pitied. I didn't need the weight of anyone's pity on my mind.

(More to come in next post)

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Friday, February 24, 2006

Ground Zero

Dallas, Texas, September 14, 1985 5:30 p.m. Central Standard Time: I fall and I break my neck. I am a quadriplegic, but I don't know it yet.

James calls down to me. "Are you okay?"

"I think so," I reply. I lie on my back kind of cocked on my left side, where I've fallen on some old ceiling tiles from the floor above, and my neck and shoulder hurt like hell. I can't move. What's wrong? I must've gotten the wind knocked out of me.

I hear James climb quickly down the ladder from the storage area and come to where I am lying. I ask him, "Am I bleeding?"

"No," he says.

Thank God for that. I was afraid I might have broken a bone or something.

"Roll me off my shoulder." I'm not really alarmed, yet, that I can't move. Must be the wind knocked out of me...

"They say you're not supposed to move someone if they've been injured," James says.

" I don't care. My shoulder's killing me."

"Okay..." James says with reluctance in his voice. He moves me off my shoulder and more onto my back. That feels better. "When you first landed, I thought you were dead."

No, I'm not dead, but something's wrong. I should be able to move. Give it a few minutes. It will pass. But as the minutes ago by, it doesn't get any better.

James asks me, "Do you want me to call an ambulance?"

"I guess you better." I am getting worried now. Something is wrong.

"I'll go next door and call," James says.

"Okay." There is no phone here in the warehouse where James and I have been working for the past few weeks. We are fixing up the place to have an office and a photo studio to work out of. When we had first started I had said to James that one of us was going to get hurt before we got done, but I had envisioned one of us stepping on a nail or banging a finger with a hammer, a broken arm at the worst. But what was this that I had I done to myself?

James got back. "They're on their way."

We both look at each other for a moment and then he looks away. I bite my bottom lip. It takes a long time for the ambulance to get here. I go nuts waiting for the paramedics to arrive. I'm plenty worried now. Where can they be? I thought ambulances were supposed to arrive quickly.

After what seems like an awfully long time, the ambulance finally arrives. It's been about 20 minutes but it seems like it's been two hours.

After what seems like an awfully long time, the ambulance finally arrives. It's been about 20 minutes but it seems like it's been two hours.

The paramedics come in and ask me what happened. I explain to them how I was working upon the second-floor mailing in a two by four when I lost my balance and fell. They talk some paramedic stuff to each other, and one begins to cut my shirt off, which ticks me off, because I really like this shirt. It's a long sleeve T-shirt with some Greek letters on the front. I don't know what they mean, but it looks cool.

They get the shirt off, put a brace on my neck, put me on a stretcher, and load me into the ambulance. It's really starting to sink in now; I'm seriously hurt. The paramedic that sits in the back with me tells me it's probably just a pinched nerve that it has happened to him before.

And so the story goes until I wind up on a Stryker frame in the hospital...

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