Waking Up Paralyzed

My eyes were still closed as my consciousness returned slowly. From my quiet hospital room, the sounds in the hallway and from the nurses’ station grew clearer. Through my fading sedation, my senses began to return. I took a deep breath and swallowed, eyes still closed. My throat was raw from having been intubated during my long surgery. How long had I been under, exactly? Time is warped as soon as you succumb to anesthesia on the operating table. I wiggled my fingers and felt the pulse oximeter on my left pointer finger. Good, then I can more easily press the call light with my right hand to let my nurse know that I was waking up.


Yet in a haze, I took another breath and drifted off again, into a light sleep. I recalled some of my last thoughts before the surgery. It had been a long, difficult wait. There was so much uncertainty as to whether surgery was the right intervention for my disability, which I had lived with my whole life. So many of my treatments had been somewhat experimental because long-term outcomes and prognosis couldn’t be determined with much confidence. While much research was being produced, my disability was not very well understood. It was hard to say if this surgery would help with the effects of my disability. But after thinking long and hard, and feeling like there probably wasn’t any other solution that could offer a greater potential for pain relief and easier walking, I sort of resigned myself to this as my only option for relief.


I took another deep breath as I reflected on all of the changes that had led up to this surgery. My body had a mind of its own! Not too long ago, I was not only walking fine, but was working out, traveling, and a successful celebrity fitness trainer based in Los Angeles, working long days in a physically-demanding industry. But then little things, like fleeting numbness and losing my balance for a moment, turned into painful, labored walking and an impending almost sense of doom as I felt as though I were losing control of what was happening to me. My body was my temple and my instrument. I took good care of myself and was at the pinnacle of fitness. But, without my permission or doing, it crumbled into a mass of symptoms I could not explain or deny. Something had to be done; I intended to be proactive about my health. Having this invasive surgery was not a decision I had rushed into. And in order to plan it, I had to consider many factors in my life, as a mother of four boys and professional. The timing had been complicated, which kept pushing back my availability to go through this huge production: I was looking at spending at least a week or two in the hospital, and a year in rehabilitative therapy. Who has time for that in a busy life? Especially for someone who liked to be so active and on-the-go. Sometimes you just have to take the plunge and go with the ‘good enough’ when ‘perfect’ circumstances will never present themselves. Ah, so there I was, phase one completed, and on to phase two of an indeterminable number of phases; I had no idea what lie ahead, and willing or not, I was on the ride. Buckle up and hold on, right?


“Clang!” I startled, my eyes flying wide open. A nursing assistant right outside my hospital room door accidentally dropped a bed pan. It couldn’t have been for me because I had an indwelling catheter in my bladder, which had been placed before surgery, and would remain until I had enough control not to need it. She poked her head into my room and sheepishly apologized. I smiled weakly, too tired to say anything in response. Well, no need for coffee, I was awake now! As I got my bearings, I wiggled my left fingers again and again felt the pulse oximeter on my pointer finger. I turned my hand over and moved my arm a little. I felt the bed rail on my right side, feeling along it for a call light button to request my nurse. I pushed a button. Nothing happened. I pushed another button, which lowered the head of my bed. Nope, not it. I squinted at the bed rail with many buttons. There it was. I pushed it a few times to trigger the call light with a “Ding!”


I turned my head toward the door to watch for my nurse. I didn’t know who was going to be taking care of me on this shift. I didn’t even know what time it was. I had no windows in my room, and had not located the clock. I tried to scoot up in my bed to be ready to meet her. That is when I noticed that I couldn’t feel my legs. I attempted once more to reposition myself. But my legs would not cooperate. They weren’t even numb. It was as if they were not there anymore. Panicky, I tried to reassure myself that it had to be the heavy anesthesia. Or maybe they had me on too many pain medications to prevent too much post-op discomfort. There had to be an explanation. But nobody had prepared me for this. In all of the conversations leading up to my surgery, there was no mention of the possibility that I wouldn’t feel my legs after this surgery. I knew what corrections were going to be made and was given an idea of how long it might be before I would be eating normally, and such. This part was not according to plan. I grew more anxious as I waited for the nurse. “Hurry up and get in here and tell me what is going on!!” I thought to myself, though too worn out to speak any words of frustration.


“Hi, Bridget, I noticed your call light was on. Your nurse is on break, but I can help you.” Great. Just great. She probably didn’t know anything about me, my disability, or my surgery. I mustered up some courage and fought back tears. “My legs! I can’t feel anything! My legs are paralyzed!” The nurse told me to wait a minute and pulled my chart from the plastic rack on the wall. She flipped through the many pages, looking for information to base a response on. “Hmmm, it looks like you had an extensive operation. This is a bit unusual, but not unheard of. Let me try to bring your doctor in to talk with you. Try to stay calm and I’ll hurry, OK?” My heart fell. A sinking feeling came over me as I began to sob, trying not to become hysterical. I was emotionally exhausted from everything I had been dealing with and trying with patience and positivity to manage all of my chaotic symptoms over the past year, or so. But my brave face melted into a flood of tears.

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