Stalled

Word of warning: This is a tad different than my “usual” post. But than again,  I guess that’s the cool thing about a blog. It can be whatever I want it to be. This happens to be more of a “day in the life” kind of post. A bit more of a what-is-it-REALLY-like-to-be-you kind of writing. So, here goes 😀

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“And that about wrap’s up this lecture. Why don’t we take a little break and start back up at 10.”

Perfect, that should be just enough time for a bathroom break. I back my wheelchair out from my front row spot – the only place I can sit in the lecture hall – and roll out into the hallway. I brace my footplate against the bathroom door and with a swift press of the handle and a bit of rapid finesse to get my chair moving, the door opens with ease and I’m inside.

I choose this particular hospital bathroom for a few well-thought out reasons. First, its close proximity to the lecture hall where I hear the majority of lecturers teach their part of the second-year medical student curriculum. My “process” for performing this seemingly simple and vital bodily function takes a bit longer than it used to, so cutting out any unnecessary travel time is imperative.

Second, it’s size. It’s a six-stall bathroom, one of which my wheelchair and I are grateful we can use. Lecture breaks are for the entire class and I certainly don’t want to take up a stall in a location where there aren’t many extras to go around. Just inside the door, I check my watch.

9:52am.

I round the corner and let out a breath, simultaneously reminding myself to relax and stay calm. Five empty stalls, doors wide open – a clear invitation for entry. One stall, closed for business. It’s the only stall I can use.

My class is in a hospital building, plenty of patients with disabilities are seen here on a daily basis. I have no issue waiting while one of my disabled-peers performs their own “process.” After all, everyone has to wait in a public restroom once in a while.

There’s a rustle of a coat or some other form of clothing. Oh good, they’re almost done. And I see two high heeled shoes walk across the stall under the door. 

Breathe, I remind myself. Maybe they have another reason to use the only accessible stall in this bathroom when all the other stalls are vacant.

I have a relatively new opinion of and relationship with bathrooms, of both the public and private variety. Having had a spinal cord injury resulting in paralysis in 2013 and now identifying as a paraplegic, simply going to the bathroom is no longer simple. I don’t even want to admit the amount of time I spend thinking about or planning when and where I will go on a daily basis. Plus, it just takes longer.

9:54am

A friend from class walks in, looks at me and shakes her head, a mutual acknowledgement of how frequently this happens and how unnecessary it is. She walks into one of those five empty stalls and closes the door. Continue reading

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Milestones

Milestones — we all have them. Graduating from high school. Buying a first car. Maybe getting married. All those little things that mark “progress” through life. Today marks a unique milestone in my life, one of those milestones I imagined reaching at some far off point in the future, but not necessarily believing it really would happen. Today marks my 5 year anniversary of living life as a paraplegic post-spinal cord injury.

5 years.

I’m not exactly sure what it is about that length of time, but it carries more weight than any of the past yearly post-injury anniversaries. I was google-ing 5th wedding anniversaries and it seems as though that’s the year where you seem to transition from newly weds to “you-should-have-this-kind-of-figured-out” weds. Also learned during that google-ing session: you know how there is a particular item/material associated with every anniversary year? Silk, crystal, china, pearl — all that kind of stuff? Well, guess what year 5 is…. Wood. It’s wood. Boy did that give me a chuckle. Oh the irony, but back to my point.

Five years is one of those imaginary but very real “line in the sand” kind of time frames. It’s a length of time that carries with it certain expectations, expectations about what you should be able to do, what you should know, how you should carry yourself, how “moved on” you should be. Five years means when someone asks you when your injury was or what your story is, you can’t say “Oh, I haven’t been in my chair for very long” because actually, you have.

60 months.

It’s a surprisingly long period of time, and yet it has gone by rather quickly. Well, I guess looking back it feels like it went by quickly,  but there were definitely months where that wasn’t the case. A flip through the journal I kept as I processed through so much loss in the early stages of my injury is pretty sobering…

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“Sometimes it’s hard to know where to start. I hurt so much, and in ways I never thought possible. I can’t wrap my mind around what I’m going through, and I don’t even know where to start. “

Even though those thoughts were written so long ago, I remember the fear, the anger, the stress, the utter exhaustion that accompanied each and every pencil stroke.

“I pray for God to give me strength, to help me work through all of this, but sometimes I don’t know where He is. I don’t know where to go for comfort.” Continue reading

Whirlwind

Whirlwind: the only word I can think to use to describe the last four weeks. I’m certainly not complaining, especially as I sit outside on this gorgeous day on the other side of my anatomy lab practical. If you have no idea what an anatomy lab practical is, no worries, I (and I would guess a fair number of my classmates) didn’t really know what it was either until we actually took the thing. Spark notes version: you rotate around the anatomy lab at the command of a timed buzzer and identify structures, innervations, and/or function of various muscles/nerves/vasculature that are marked in the cadavers.

Screen Shot 2018-05-06 at 1.32.28 PMSince the exam was Friday, part of this weekend involves remembering what it feels like to relax and be normal-ish, like taking time to pause and watch the sun set across the lake just because. The “ish” attached to normal exists thanks to my wheelchair’s attempt at being funny when I got a flat Saturday morning and had to do some wheel swapping and make a trek to the bike store (I’m strong, but my fingers just can’t get that darn tire off). I don’t think I’ve ever been more grateful for spare tires and my type-A “must-be-prepared” personality. I’m also really grateful it happened on the weekend so I had extra time to get things taken care of…

You know, I guess that reminds me of a conversation I had recently about how interesting the way things happen can be. I mean, everyone has a story, but have you ever stopped to think about all the little pieces that must fall in place for that story to be written in exactly the way it has been? Even starting at the beginning, the story of how a person’s parents met, fell in love, and had a child — the person you’re talking to — is chock-full of “things-that-could-have-never-happened” happenings.

Beyond just finding people’s life stories embarrassingly fascinating, I guess I got to this line of thinking as I consider just why this last month has been such a whirlwind. After all, med school is always busy and a module on the musculoskeletal system (even with a bunch of anatomy labs) shouldn’t inherently be that different. But it was. You see, beyond just learning about muscles, this unit has a unique focus on patients and persons with disabilities.

Understandably, that’s a topic I find to be pretty important. At the same time, identifying so personally and so obviously with a “pathological state” that was going to be discussed over and over again as I sat in the front row of the lecture hall (not on purpose — I have a stair vendetta), well, could possibly be challenging for a number of reasons. What if I didn’t agree with the information being presented? What if things were lectured on in a way that I didn’t feel accurately portrayed the life, challenges, and interactions with healthcare for me and my disabled peers? Plus, how will my classmates take everything? Will it change the way they view or treat me? Will they feel like they’re “walking on egg shells” around me or not know how to deal with the “wheeling elephant” in the room? Continue reading

At Least

Everyone has habits.

I20151204_135433‘ve got a really bad coffee habit (or a really good one depending on your perspective). If I have a question to ask, I’ll raise my hand without even thinking as if you were my second grade teacher. When I set alarms, they rarely ever end in a 0 or a 5 — instead my radio alarm starts playing at 5:01am or my phone goes off at 5:06am (alright alright, that’s just on work mornings, I normally sleep in a bit later than that…)

I also have this habit where if someone’s walking towards me and we make eye contact, I smile at them and continue on my way. Nothing wrong with a smile right? Sometimes situations allow the exchange of a few words, like in an elevator or something.  You know, those times when you use one of those simple inquiry phrases that show someone you see them and you wish them well in whatever path their life is on.

A few weeks back I had engaged in one of those “simple word exchanges” that I guess was really anything but simple.

ME
“Talk about a great weather huh! How’s your day going today?”

           RANDOM STRANGER:
“Yea. Uh, it’s alright.”  — Pause—
“You know, I’ve got problems, but at least I’m not in a wheelchair.”   — Pause—
“Oh, I don’t mean that in a rude way.”

You know, you hear about moments or situations where people get the wind knocked out of them. Someone got tackled in football, a dude fell over backwards on the ice, all these obvious situations that result in the literal wind being taken from your sails.  Yes, I’ve had said “wind knocking” happen to me in a physical sense during my life but I had never realized how similar the sensation would be as the result of a verbal statement. Continue reading

Mom-ing Glory

As you likely know, this Sunday is Mother’s Day. If you didn’t realize that, your welcome in advance.

You know, I appreciate holidays that urge you to appreciate or be thankful for something. Thanksgiving has always been on the top of my “favorite holiday” list but there is simply SO MUCH to be thankful for  that it’s nice that certain things get their own mini-holidays.

If you’ve followed my blog for any length of time, you have certainly met (in a sense) my Mom. There was this time when my sisters and I planned a surprise wedding anniversary party for her and Dad, or this time when I almost got her arrested at the airport, or this time when I talked about my Mom’s obsession with Costco toilet paper (which also happened here and here and I’m sure a bajillion other places…) Needless to say, Mom makes a lot of blogging appearances.

Yet, I know I’ve never “dedicated” an entire blog post to her and I think now would be the perfect time. Okay Mom, I know you’re rolling your eyes going “oh great” and you would be correct, it is great:D Now stop rolling your eyes.

hallo

My family has always been pretty close to one another and that can certainly be seen in almost any picture from my childhood. Mom took on what I’m convinced to be the hardest job on the planet and was/is a stay-at-home mom for us three girls. That meant she was there and involved in every and all aspects of our very busy lives. Whether it was 4-H related activities, karate lessons, or coming up with and helping to make ridiculously impressive Halloween costumes, Mom was there.

Fast forward to all of us in high school where she supported each and every one of the ridiculous endeavors we involved ourselves with. Jazz Band, Show Choir, the school musicals, the high school plays, planning an after prom and after graduation party (complete with a cash cube…you know, monopoly/real money flying all around in the air that you have to catch) and then the epic parties. At my graduation party, not only were my sheep present but there was a bounce house and dunk tank. Seriously. I mean, what kind of mom does that? Well, mine does.

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Fast forward through college (again, supporting us whether we’re 20 minutes from home or 4 hours) and then we get to wheeling land. Mom was there and has been there through it all. From the day I “came to” at Craig Hospital in Colorado to the the months of struggling to find acceptance to finally finding my independence again, she was there in all her Mom-ing glory. Continue reading

A New Sisterhood

It takes a lot to leave me speechless. It takes a lot for me to not be able to find something to say (I mean, just ask my family). But I’m sitting here, trying to figure out where in the world to even start. Where to start to describe the events of August 4-10th….

August 4-10th was the National Ms. Wheelchair America (MWA) 2015 competition held in Long Beach, California. So we (Mom, Dad, and I) packed our bags and headed out there. I guess I shouldn’t make it sound so easy. We had an early flight to catch so we (plus Danielle, our driver) spent the night in Milwaulkee to be ready in time. Now THAT was an experience. We happened to stay in a hotel that was booked out for the Midwest Latin Dance Festival. Sounds all well and good right? Well, as the walls rumbled at midnight from a live band, we started to get a bit concerned. A call to the front desk informed us the band was on till 3am. 3am rolls around and the band stops only for a DJ to start. Needless to say, I was a bit concerned how the rest of the trip was going to go.

Thankfully things turned around the following day when we had the greatest flight attendants. I wore my Ms. Wheelchair Wisconsin sash on the plane and the attendant wanted to know where my crown was. I informed him only Ms. Wheelchair America wore her crown during the competition, but he thought that just wouldn’t do. He disappeared around the corner and a few minutes later produced my very own South West style crown.

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TAH DAHHH! Peanuts and stir sticks. How cool is that? I told him he wasn’t getting paid enough… Continue reading

Can you?

So…I always have issues figuring out how in the world to start posts. I swear, someday I’m just going to tell a ridiculous joke to break the cyber-silence. Awe heck, I’ve got a good one to share so I might as well do it today just for kicks. Why did the man go out with a prune? Because he couldn’t find a date. Bah ha ha! Terrible…

My year anniversary day (wow, that doesn’t make a lot of sense) went really well and you know, it really was just another day. But it also was a day to celebrate life which meant a pretty good reason to have a party with the family and some close friends. We lit off wish lanterns that evening and I wanted to share some of the photos because it was pretty awesome.

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Doesn’t it look gorgeous? I can promise you it was even cooler in real life. Funny story about the lanterns, we lit them all off over a bunch of farm fields basically in the middle of nowhere so we didn’t have to worry about anything bad happening with the open flame. All of them went up without a hitch, that is until the very last one. The very last lantern got caught in the lone tree in my aunt’s front yard. No worries, the tree was fine, but I felt it was oddly fitting. Yea, take THAT tree. Continue reading

Another Door

You know, there sure are a lot of doors in life. There are the obvious, physical, I-need-to-walk-through-that-door-to-go-to-Costco-and-buy-toilet-paper doors, and then there are the intangible life-just-chucked-me-an-opportunity doors. Of course, I’m referring to the latter of those two when I say I’ve dealt with a lot of door-related things since incurring a spinal cord injury.

When something crazy like paralysis happens, there’s a lot to handle and manage. In the beginning (and sometimes even beyond) it’s handling all of the things you would rather not have to handle, like closed doors. Doors that now appear firmly sealed shut that you’ve spent the 21 years of your life working so hard to pry open. Doors that lead to starting veterinary school and practicing large animal medicine. I mean, that past dream of mine is simply out of the picture now and there isn’t anything I can do about it.

For as many doors have closed, so many more have been opened in places I never could have imagined when I started this whole journey.

Doors leading to a passion for human medicine that I plan to pursue with every fiber of my body (even the non-functional ones…) Doors that have allowed to me to learn about the disabled community and educate all those around me. A few months ago, I found another door I could open relating to said advocacy and this past weekend, that’s just what happened.

On Saturday, I competed in the Ms. Wheelchair Wisconsin competition. Yea, I know, that sounds a little crazy coming from the woman who has spent countless hours looking at cow doo-doo under a microscope. Ms. Wheelchair Wisconsin is a part of the Ms. Wheelchair America program which focuses on education and advocacy for Americans living with disabilities. It’s not your typical beauty pageant based on who looks the best in a swim suit, but instead focuses on selecting an individual who can best articulate the needs and accomplishments of the disabled community. Continue reading

Let It Go

So it was a pretty crazy weekend, pretty full of people to see who I haven’t seen in a long time (some since before my injury) and things to do. I mean, I expected just as much for the weekend of my crazy party/benefit, but man, I had no idea all that I should have been preparing myself for.

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Continue reading

Did you want fries with that?

So before I officially get started, just a little side note…

Some awesome friends filmed and edited a video of me and my parents that tells my story. It’s out and published and you can see it by clicking on the “Benefit” tab at the top of the page. There’s a big ole “click HERE” link that’ll direct you to the online fundraising page with the video right there to watch. So check it out:) There are some other updates on that tab too…like an awesome sheep made outta Costco toilet paper. Yea, I’m serious and yea, there’s a picture….

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Have you ever noticed how things almost always come as units? I mean, it’s rarely if ever just a burger. Instead, it’s a whole combo meal. When you buy a car, it’s not just the car. It’s the car, the insurance policy, the oil changes, the gas, and on and on. Spinal cord injuries are kinda like that car. It looks like one thing on the outside, and not until you’re in the midst of it all do you really realize what it all entails. Not until you’re back at the mechanic for the umpteenth time because your transmission dropped, your spark plugs went hay wire, or goodness know what else happened does it finally click.

Yea, spinal cord injuries are like that.

I learned early on that the whole “not walking” part of a spinal cord injury was and is the easy part of all of this. No really, the “using a wheelchair to get around” was and is the least of my worries. It’s all that other crap that comes with this that challenges everything I am and stand for. It’s the rest of the package deal that makes this as difficult as it is somedays. Continue reading