“Donna, are you awake?”
There was such a fog while I tried to adjust my eyes. I could see a shadow hovering over me. I blinked a few times as fluorescent lights above me came into view. I looked to my right and saw a clock on the wall. I looked back up to see my surgeon checking my reaction.
“Is it 10:30 in the morning?”
“Yes,” he replied.
My surgery had been scheduled around 8:30 am.
“Is this the same morning that I was having surgery?”
He laughed, “Yes, it’s the same morning.”
“It worked!” I said.
He laughed, “Donna, you’re on a lot of drugs right now. You can’t tell whether or not it worked.”
The searing pain I had felt for three years from a botched spinal surgery was not as prevalent as it had been. I knew something was different.
“I know it worked, ” I said as I fell back asleep.
I can’t recall how I even ended up in my room. All I know is I woke up again at some point and had a view of the water and New York City. I was closest to the window. I had a roommate come in soon afterward. As I stared at the water, I started to feel a little sea sick and questioned the judgement of giving patients rooms right by the water.
Those days were difficult. I dropped weight rapidly on a liquid diet. A morphine pump was by my bed, and, by golly, I used it to combat the severity of pain. A double fusion was performed and bone was taken from my hip. This was done due to a life threatening issue with a previous surgery where a disc was placed in my spine and was popping in and out the entire time since a surgeon inserted it…one who ignored me when I told him immediately that this was taking place. For three years, that disc popped, my spine started to curve, and I was told I developed spinal stenosis and my future was going to be spent in a wheelchair. The pain that I was put into from that first surgery was a pain I had never experienced in my life. It was so severe that I couldn’t hear people talking to me. I couldn’t attend events for my kids. I was irritable. I could never escape it. It made sleeping difficult, and I would even dream about the pain when I could actually get some sleep. It would take pages for me to describe this pain and amount of suffering, but there’s a point to my story.
As I stacked up Jell-O cups that were delivered to me three meals a day, I plotted with my roommate about using the green Jell-O as a weapon to demand real food. I had a pyramid made that I could throw them like snowballs and create a green slime effect. My roommate would laugh…as much as we could laugh in our drug induced, painful state.
My roommate had to have one level fused. She was a chronic runner who had been warned not to keep running. Eventually, she developed an issue from the running. Me? Prior to the first spinal surgery, I had been hit by a drunk driver. The surgery I was in for this time was to correct the first surgery. The point of it was to stabilize a disc so I didn’t die. After I got up one morning and the disc popped in and out several times putting me in super severe pain, the surgeon said I needed to come in for the surgery to prevent death. The morning I went in, I thought to myself, “Well, it doesn’t matter if I die from this because I can’t keep living like this, and I could die either way.” The surgery I had was more complex than hers, but we both were still in pain.
The walkers were rolled into our rooms. A nurse was at each of our bedsides. Her nurse tells her she needs to try to stand. She tries to sit up. She says, “I can’t…I can’t do it.” The nurse says, “You HAVE to try to stand.” Again, “I just can’t do it.” The nurse on my side says, “Do you think you can do it?” Sitting up was horribly painful. However, I knew I had to try to stand. As painful as it was, I told myself, “Mind over matter. Mind over matter.” I grabbed the sides of that walker, and with rods, screws, and artificial discs in tow, I pulled myself up with everything in my power. I felt the stitches in my back pull and every ounce of my being was like a huge pain factory, but I stood.
“Can you take a step?” the nurse asked.
I knew that the faster I attempted to get my legs working, the faster I would leave that hospital. The sooner I was out, the sooner I would get away from the green Jell-O. I had to concentrate to get my legs to work with me. Each step was more like a dragging of feet than real walking. I took that walker and made myself get to the door.
“Can you walk down the hallway?”
The hallway might has well have been a trek up a steep mountain in bare feet. I looked down the hallway thinking of being home with my family. I knew that the sooner I walked, the faster I would heal, and the sooner I would be home. I pushed my walker out toward the hallway. Each step was a challenge. As I make each foot go forward, I see a beautiful, tall woman making her way toward me with her walker. She’s so obviously someone who is a model or does something in that type of industry. I can’t explain how you can tell by the look when you’re living in New York, but you can. As she struggles by, she says, “Hello, my walking buddy!” I laugh and the pain sears through me from the laugh, but I continue onward as she walks the opposite direction.
After the long haul down the hallway, I turn back to what seems like miles away to the door of my room. I keep repeating in my head, “Mind over matter. Mind over matter.” I get back to my room, back into my bed, and I’m relieved to be off of my feet.
The next day, the same scenario took place. My roommate continued to tell the nurse she couldn’t do it. I told myself the worst pain was putting my weight on my legs, and then I can get the walking done. I pushed harder. Out in the hallway, the beautiful woman spots me again and says, “Hello, my fellow spinal issue buddy! Look at us go! We’re getting fast NOW!” I laughed again, and kept going…further and further down the hallway, holding my head up this time.
Each day seemed like forever, but the third day of rehabilitating came along, and there I was, telling myself, “Mind over matter.” Each time, pulling myself up with the walker took such an effort not to scream out loud. I go out into the hallway. The beautiful woman is not there. A little sad not to hear her funny comments and cheerful personality, I came to realize she must have been released to go home. I wished I had known her name. She was the bit of light in the hallway…not at the end of the tunnel, but right in the middle of it as we passed each other. I thought to myself, “I will meet her again one day.” She was meant to be there at that time, and chose to give those laughable words of encouragement each day to me. Maybe I needed them. Maybe it was good to see you’re not the only bionic woman walking around.
I make my way back to my room, accompanied by the nurse. After the nurse leaves, my roommate says, “How do you do that?”
“What?” I ask.
“How are you making yourself walk? You had a surgery that was a lot worse than mine. It’s too painful to try to walk. How are you doing it?”
“I know if I don’t do it, I’ll be here longer. I know that the more I do it, I will heal faster. I want to go home. Yes, it’s painful, and every time I have to stand up, I keep telling myself that I can endure this and that it’s my mind over the matter. I CAN make myself do this if I can just pull myself up on that walker.”
By day five, I was being told I could go home. I was given French bread pizza that day. In a week, I had lost over 15 pounds with a liquid diet, and that pizza was so good at that moment. I got ready to leave and saw my roommate attempt to pull herself up on the walker. She sent me an email later on telling me that she took longer to get out of the hospital than me, but she was eventually able to return to work. I was happy to hear it.
Even though steps in life are difficult, sometimes, just being able to pull yourself up to the walker is the biggest step of all. Sometimes, it hurts the most, causes the most pain, and can be the most difficult thing in the world to do. It might be challenging to have to take the first steps. However, taking those steps can lead to getting your life to where you want it. You may not get the perfect life. None of us have what we perceive to be the perfect life. You may not get the best life ever, but at least you took the steps to make things happen and attempt to live it. Sometimes, it may feel like you’re climbing a mountain. Sometimes, people might drag you down with negativity. Sometimes, people may pass you in that hallway of life and give you that push of encouragement that you need to keep walking even though you are the ships passing in the night. There are many people who may be in the same boat who are taking those steps or those who see you making that effort who need some encouragement to get there. The point is that never attempting it won’t get you home or to where you should be in life….and to keep telling yourself that you can’t do it will never make it happen for you. With that, I will be the woman in the hallway saying, “Look at us go!” Keep the hope, the faith, and think, “Mind over matter.” You may not be better than anyone else, but you certainly can be the best you.