Saturday, January 30, 2010

Preparing to go home

As I got closer to being ready to go home, there were a lot preparations that had to be made and things that had to be arranged. Renovating my house so that I could have a comfortable place to live was one of the most important preparations. However, my mom was in Atlanta, Georgia, so she had no idea how she would get the house ready. The members of my church congregation stepped up and helped with everything.

First of all, a ramp had to be built in my garage so that I could get in and out of the house. I also lived in a two-story house, and prior to my accident my bedroom had been on the second story. This bedroom would no longer work for me since there was no possible way I could go up and down stairs. Fortunately, the living room in my house was big enough to be converted into a new bedroom for me. However, this was a huge undertaking. All of the furniture had to be moved out of the living room and dining room, and all of the carpeting in those two rooms had to be torn up so that new flooring could be laid. (A member of my church worked for a flooring company, and he was able to get all of the laminate flooring donated. This was a huge blessing.) A lady from my church also came in and painted the living room and dining room, as well, just to make it look really nice.

It was such a relief to my mom that the members of our church worked so hard to get the house ready for me, since she was hundreds of miles away and couldn't easily coordinate the renovations herself. We received updates on the progress of the renovations every few days, and it was exciting because the possibility of going home was finally becoming real.

There were also many other things that needed to be arranged, as well. We needed to find a medical supply company that would be able to supply all of the things I needed, like a bed, wheelchair and other important things like that. We also needed to find a medical company who provided services in the area where I lived since I was dependent on a ventilator to breathe for me. It wasn't just a ventilator that I needed, either. There are a lot of other supplies that go along with the ventilator, and I also needed a respiratory therapist that could make home visits and help regulate my respiratory needs. My caseworker at Shepherd Center was good at helping my mom get everything in order, which was another big relief to my mom since she had absolutely no idea where to start when it came to coordinating all of the services and supplies I would need when I got home.

I had been at Shepherd for seven weeks and I was ready to go home. My mom and I had learned all of the essential things that we needed to know about taking care of a person with a spinal cord injury. I was only 19 and the prospect of living the rest of my life as a severely disabled person seemed kind of scary and daunting, but there wasn't anything I could do to change my situation, so I knew that I just had to look to the future with a positive attitude and hope for the best. I knew the Lord was aware of my situation and He would be with me and would help me.

I received a devastating blow about a week before I was scheduled to go home. My case manager found a medical company in St. Louis that was going to manage my respiratory needs, but I was required to spend another five to seven days in the hospital in St. Louis after coming back from rehab. This was so my family and caregivers could get training about my respiratory needs, the ventilator, suctioning and things like that. I know another week in the hospital after I'd already been in the hospital/rehab for 14 weeks probably doesn't sound like much of a setback, but it was to me. Going home had been my goal for so long, and I was so close to reaching that goal, but now a roadblock had been put in my path. I was so disappointed at the thought of having to spend another five to seven days in the hospital! There was no getting around this, though, so I had to make a new goal, and this was to be home by Sunday, February 29, so that I could watch the Academy Awards with my friends and eat Chinese food for dinner. (Through my experiences I've learned the importance of having goals, no matter how small or simple the goals seem, like watching the Academy Awards and eating Chinese food.)

My mom and I left Shepherd Center about 4 PM on Monday, February 23, 2004. Our flight was on a small commuter plane and it took about  hours. Instead of going straight home to my house like we'd originally planned, I went back to Barnes Jewish Hospital for the week of ventilator training for my family. Something else that disappointed me was when I found out that I wouldn't be going back to the ICU. I'd had such a good experience in the ICU and I was really hoping that that's where I would be. Instead, I went to the PICRU (post intensive care rehabilitation unit). I didn't look forward to starting over with a new group of nursesnurses who didn't know me, my family, my situation, how to read my lips and things like that. As disappointed as I was, I was just glad to be back in St. Louis. It was nice to be in a place where my family and friends could visit me again.

Monday, January 25, 2010

The lows: fortunately few and far between, all things considered!

One of the highlights of my time at Shepherd Center was when I had a visit from my friends Adam, Rick and Kelly. As you can imagine, I was quite lonely since I was so far away from all of my family and friends. The visit from my friends meant so much to me and I was so excited to have them come. They drove down Friday, spent the entire day with me on Saturday and a couple more hours with me on Sunday morning before they drove back home. I so enjoyed being able to show them the rehab facility and the different things I'd been up to. This visit really lifted my spirits and it was just what I needed to get me through the next few weeks of rehab before being able to come home.

Despite having to go through a lot of things at rehab that I didn't like for various reason, I always tried to maintain a positive attitude and to be pleasant all of the time. I always thanked the nurses and therapists that cared for me, and I even thanked the techs (nurses aides) that weren't always so nice to me. (A lot of the techs seemed to have bad attitudes, probably from being overworked and under paid.) I knew that all of the things I was learning and going through were for my benefit, so I always tried to participate and be a good sport, even when I didn't really want to. All this being said, I did have a few low or sad times during rehab. Here are a few instances:

One thing that was particularly difficult was having lost all of my physical independence. In one swift move I'd gone from being an independent, self-sufficient young woman to now being no more physically independent than an infant. This was so frustrating and often humiliating, and I didn't like it! Here's an example: One evening when I was getting back to bed I found out that my pants were soaked with urine because the balloon that held my catheter securely in my bladder had ruptured, so the catheter had come out. I was so embarrassed to have basically "wet my pants." 19 year old adults don't wet their pants... backspaceor at least most don't/shouldn't. Of course this wasn't my fault, but I felt so humiliated that all I could do was cry. Fortunately, I had a wonderful nurse that evening that didn't make me feel badly for what had happened. She and my mom worked together to make everything right again.

I didn't often look in the mirror, but when I did it was a rude awakening. I didn't even recognize the person I saw. I felt like an ugly little girl and I wondered if I would ever feel pretty again. Before my accident I'd been a beautiful young woman (although I didn't fully appreciate how pretty I'd actually been until after my accident...after my looks had seriously changed for the worse.) As superficial as it sounds, it was very difficult for me to feel like I looked so awful.

These days my mom tells me that I used to be pretty on the outside, but now I'm pretty on the inside. (She isn't implying that I wasn't pretty on the inside before, or that I'm not pretty on the outside now, but she notices a change in my beauty, as do I.) I know I'm being petty since I could look far worse than I do now, especially considering the fact that I could've been disfigured in my accident, but I have to admit that I do miss looking pretty the way I used to, especially since I never fully appreciated my looks when I had them.

A few pictures of the "pre-accident" me:
The after accident me:
Me in rehab. Even though I didn't feel pretty at all, I always tried to smile in every picture. Whenever I look back at pictures from rehab, I realize how far I've come since then, and that makes me feel happy.
If you notice in all of the pictures of me from rehab, I have something taped to the left side of my glasses. I had double vision after my car accident. The patch on my glasses lens was to hopefully strengthen my eyes so that they would be able to focus together again. As ridiculous a it looked, it made it easier to see if I was only seeing one of everything, instead of two.

Another thing that frustrated me was to never be able to get comfortable. I was always uncomfortable, whether I was lying in bed, or sitting in my wheelchair. Although I was sometimes more comfortable than at other times, I never felt completely comfortable and I was always in some sort of pain or discomfort. My neck muscles were very weak on the right side of my neck (since that's the way my neck broke) so my head always leaned/listed to the right. No one seemed to ever be able to position my head in a way that was comfortable, and this was very frustrating. (My neck muscles have gotten stronger since that time, but it's still impossible for me to hold my head up straight.)

The absolute worst time of day was when my mom would leave for the evening. (I've already said that if I would've had things my way, I would've wanted my mom to stay with me 24/7, but I knew that it was important that she have a little time for herself, especially since she was devoting so much of her time to being with me.) I got so lonely in the evenings, and it was tough to not have someone with me who could help me get comfortable or do things for me that I obviously couldn't do for myself. My mom usually left for her apartment around 7 PM. I always worried about my mom taking a cab to her apartment since the apartment wasn't in the best part of town. So, when she would get safely back to her apartment she would call the telephone in my room and let it ring several times so that I would know that she had gotten home safely. I always felt better when I heard my telephone ring so I knew she was safe.

More to come...

New niece and nephew!

January 2010 has been a wonderful month so far, partly because of the births of my new niece and my new nephew. I love being a part of a large family, and it's so wonderful to have my family grow. I now have nine nieces and five nephews, and two of my sisters are still pregnant, so I will have two more nieces/nephews by the time 2010 is over!

My older sister Annette had her second baby, a little girl named Rebecah Eve earlier this month. Rebecah was born via c-section at 8:20 am on January 7. She weighed 6 pounds and was 18 3/4 inches long. It's been fun to have a few video calls with Annette via Skype so that I can talk to her see Baby Rebecah. Here are a couple pictures of the Coffey family with their newest edition:

(The first picture is of Annette, Joseph, Kimball and Rebecah in the hospital, and the second picture is of Kimball and Rebecah.)

My older sister Kristin had her baby this past Friday, January 22. She had another boy (her fourth) and she named him Aaron Luke. Kristin was induced, and Baby Aaron was born at 2:53 pm. He weighed 7 lbs. 3 oz. and was 19 1/2 inches long. Here are a few pictures of Kristin and her new baby:

Although I would love to be a mother and have children of my own, this isn't possible. However, I feel so blessed to be able to be an aunt. I love my nieces and nephews so much, and it's always a joy to be around them.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

More about rehab...

The patient census at Shepherd changed often, but for the most part when I was at Shepherd there were usually between eight and 10 patients in the young adult group. (There was an adult group of patients and a young adult group. Shepherd didn't really accept patients who were younger than 12.) I was the only girl and the only quadriplegic for most of my seven weeks at Shepherd. The rest of the patients in the teenage group were boys who ranged in age from about 14 to 17. They were injured in various ways; one was injured in a bicycle accident, another was injured by a gunshot wound and I know there was at least one other car accident. Another girl was admitted about a week before I went home, and she was a C1 quadriplegic (that's as paralyzed as you can get...I am a C2). She had been stabbed by her boyfriend. She was 21 and had a little girl; I remember feeling so badly for her and her daughter.

My favorite part of the day at rehab was when the mail cart came through...usually between 4 and 5 PM. My family and friends were so good about remembering me and keeping in touch with me. I got lots of mail/packages, and it made me so happy to have my mom read the cards and letters to me. I also had a speaker telephone in my room, and although I couldn't talk loudly enough for my friends/family to hear me, I could talk to them through my mom, and hear their responses. (I would mouth things to my mom for her to tell the person on the other end of the phone, so I was able to talk to people that called in a roundabout.) The sound of their voices was so heartwarming!

I got so sick of eating the same hospital food every week. I was still getting supplemental feedings via my feeding tube every night, so if the food on my dinner tray didn't appeal to me, then I just ate however much or little I wanted, and I knew that I wouldn't be under nurished with the nightly tube feedings.

This leads me to another part of the day that always cheered me. Like clockwork, every evening around 7 PM, a lady would come down the hall with a cart of snacks and yell, "snack cart!" At first I wasn't really interested in eating anything from the snack cart, but as my appetite returned, I looked forward to getting some sort of treat...usually chips. Knowing that the snack cart would come around every evening gave me something to look forward to, especially if dinner hadn't been appealing!

I had an hour of physical therapy and an hour of occupational therapy every weekday. My mom and I were taught different stretches for my arms and legs called "range of motion" exercises that we needed to do on a daily basis so that my muscles would stay limber and not get contracted. Another thing that I'd sometimes do during my hour of occupational therapy would be to paint with my mouth. The purpose of this was to be a form of exercise for my neck so that I could gain more strength in my weak neck muscles. A paint brush was taped to a mouth stick (something I held in my mouth) and then I would gently glide the paint brush over paper. My occupational therapist obviously had to be right there with me so that she could reposition the easel that held my paper, and also dip my paint brush when it ran out of paint. The pictures I painted were quite amateur, but painting did force me to stretch my weak neck muscles. My occupational therapist, Rashida, and myself with one of the pictures I painted
My occupational therapist, Rashida, and myself with one of the pictures I painted.
Painting of Shepherd Center's "helping hands" logo (left).
Recreational therapy was another thing I was required to participate in while at Shepherd Center. The purpose of this was to take outings into the community so that the patients could learn how to tackle the logistics of go out in public as a disabled person, which is easier said than done. The first outing I took was to the mall, and had lunch in the food court. After lunch I went to see Cheaper by the Dozen at the mall's movie theater. My mom came with me, as well as my entourage of nurses and therapists. (It truly was an entourage, because five or six Shepherd employees accompanied my mom and me.)

I hated my outing! I wasn't used to being stared at and being so different, so it was a horrible feeling to have all eyes on me. It wasn't until I was in the dark movie theater that I started to relax. I realized that this was my new reality, so I better get used to it, but I didn't like it, and was so relieved to get back to my room at Shepherd. 
My first venture into the world as a disabled person.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

A new church calling

This past Sunday I was called to be the editor of the weekly bulletin at church. This calling (or responsibility) is in addition to writing the monthly newsletter for my ward (or congregation). I've been doing the newsletter for the past three years, so I've got it down to a science since I've been doing it so long.

I look forward to taking on this new responsibility because I know that I will be able to do a good job, and it won't be long before I have this down to a science as well! Although there are a lot of church callings that would be difficult for me to do, this is something that is right up my alley, so I'm pleased to be able to serve in this way. (And I'm so relieved that I wasn't called to teach again... this would be a calling I would dread!)

Monday, January 18, 2010

What I've been up to

I didn't feel very well last week, so I didn't feel very motivated to do much when I was on my computer. (That's why it took me four days to finish the post where I wrote about going to Shepherd Center for rehab!) It was odd, actually, to feel poorly because I usually am in top notch health, which is truly amazing considering the fact that I'm a quadriplegic. It wasn't anything serious, but my body ached and I was quite tired. Anyway, I'm glad to be feeling well again.

This past Friday I had a game night to help celebrate my friend Barbara's birthday and my brother-in-law Brett's birthday. We had a couple yummy desserts and we spent time visiting, playing and hanging out. The game we played was Catch Phrase. It actually isn't one of my favorites because it's hard for me to be an active participant in this game when there are lots of people playing. (There were 17 of us playing, so the noise level escalated quickly, and my voice kind of got lost in the chaos of the game.) Everyone had fun, though, so that made me happy. Here are a couple of pictures from the game night:

On Saturday afternoon I went to the movies and saw The Lovely Bones with my sister Chandra and my friend Lacee. The movie was good, but not great, but I'm still glad that I could go and see it. I've mentioned it many times, but I love movies! One of my 2010 goals is to see at least 25 movies in the theater this year. I've seen four so far, and it's only January 18, so I'm well on my way to meeting my goal! (You might be wondering what the four movies are: Avatar, The Blind Side, Invictus and The Lovely Bones.)

Remembering Dad

Yesterday was the 11th anniversary of my dad's death. When I tell people that my dad is dead it's always kind of uncomfortable. Not for me, but for the other person because it's like  they've stumbled onto a taboo topic, that they feel they shouldn't talk about. But it honestly doesn't bother me to talk about my dad at all.

January 17, 1999 was a Sunday (just like it was yesterday). My dad got up and took a shower because he wanted to go to church. My mom noticed how weak he seemed, so she asked him if he was sure he wanted to go to church, and he said he did. I went to church with my mom and dad, my older sister Kristin and my two younger sisters Laura and Chandra. (We were the only girls still living at home at this time.) My older sister Sharon and her husband Spencer were in town visiting, so they came to church with us as well.

Dad was tired and weak, so my mom and Sharon decided to take him home after the first meeting at church. When my mom and Sharon got Dad home, he collapsed as he was walking in the garage door to the house. Mom and Sharon tried to pick up Dad to get him to the couch, but they couldn't lift him. My mom ran over to our neighbor's house, and our neighbor helped my mom and Sharon get Dad onto the couch. Dad was dying. (Although, it's not quite clear when he took his final breath since dying usually happens in a process, instead of instantaneously.)

The rest of us were still at church (my brother-in-law and my three sisters) and my Bishop came into the room where the teenage girls were meeting and called Kristin, Laura and me out into the hall. He told the three of us that he'd just gotten off the phone with my mom and she said that my dad had just passed away. We went and got my younger sister Chandra from Primary (the children's organization) and my brother-in-law Spencer drove us home.

The drive home was silent -- no talking, no crying, just an awkward silence. We all knew that the end of our dad's life was near (he'd been battling pancreatic cancer for the past eight months), but I think we were all in a mild state of shock. The end of his life had finally come. As odd as this sounds, I was actually happy that Dad had finally gone home. After seeing him suffer and endure so much pain for months and months, I knew that he was finally pain-free.

When we got home we walked in the garage door and my dad's lifeless body was laying on the couch. I didn't look at him, I just quickly turned the corner, walked upstairs and changed my clothes. I'm pretty sure my other sisters did the same thing, and then we timidly crept downstairs. My mom, Sharon and Spencer were sitting in the family room with my dad, and one by one, we filtered into the family room. I sat on the couch opposite to the one where Dad was lying and sat between my older sisters Sharon and Kristin. It took several minutes before I could bare to in dad's direction, but after I did a few times it wasn't scary at all.

A short amount of time passed (maybe 30 minute to an hour) before the mortician and his team arrived with a hearse to take Dad's body away. The rest of the day had a hollow sort of feeling to it, although it also seemed like a normal day in many ways, too. Anyway, that's how the events took place on the day Dad died.

I don't have many pictures of just my dad and myself since I grew up in a large family and it seems like there was always several family members in every picture. Here are two pictures of me with my dad. The first one is of my sister Laura and me on my dad's back when I was in kindergarten (I'm the one in the dark blue sweater), and the second picture is of me and my sister Kristin with our dad a few months before he died (I'm the one on the left):

I think about my dad often, especially on the anniversary of his death. I have so much love, respect and admiration for my dad because of how he lived his life. He was raised in an emotionally abusive home, and he worked hard to overcome the issues that resulted from that. My dad wasn't a perfect man, but he was constantly improving and trying to change for the better.

I dream about my dad all the time, and one of my recurring dreams is that he's come back to life. My dad was very into technology and computers when he was alive, and I often dream that he's come back to life and I'm introducing him to all of the new technological gadgets and advancements that didn't exist when he was alive. (Like DVDs, iPods, digital cameras, cell phones, etc.)

Part of the reason it doesn't bother me to talk about my dad is because I know I will see him again someday. I know that life goes on and that death is truly only the beginning. I'm just trying to live my life in a way as to make both of my fathers proud -- my Heavenly Father and my biological father.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Learning a new normal

In my last post I wrote about leaving for rehab in Atlanta with my mom. It was important that I go to rehab so that I could learn to live as a disabled person, and also so that my mom and I could learn how to take care of my specialized needs, so that I could have the best quality of life possible.

We left for my rehabilitation at Shepherd Center on Wednesday, January 7, 2004. I had to spend my first few days in the facility's ICU since I was a ventilator dependent patient. During this time a physical therapist came to see me as well as one of the wheelchair technicians. They got a temporary wheelchair ready for me that I could use while I was in rehab. This wouldn't be my permanent wheelchair, but it would be the chair I would use while in rehab. (I would ultimately have my own chair built for me and it would be customized and personalized to suit me and my preferences. I had choices between different things like various headrests, armrests, backrests, and of course, color.)

The real work in rehab started the Monday after I arrived. I started a "weekday routine" which started at 7 AM each morning when the techs (nurse's aides) came in to give me a sponge bath and get me dressed. No more hospital gowns, which is what I had been wearing for the past seven weeks while in the ICU. I was no longer able to dress myself since I couldn't move any of my body parts from the neck down, so the techs had to physically dress me. I was a grown adult, so this was easier said than done and it involved a lot of pulling, tugging and rolling my body from side to side to get the clothes on. I no longer wore any sort of collar or brace around my delicate neck, so I hated having to have my body turned from side to side and moved back and forth because it hurt my weak neck.

Every day I had an hour of occupational therapy and an hour of physical therapy. I enjoyed getting out of my room and going down to the gym where the patients had therapy. I still couldn't talk, so it was frustrating trying to have any sort of conversation with anyone because it was very difficult for people to read my lips. I really enjoyed my occupational therapist, Rashida, because she was young (26) and had gone to occupational therapy school at Washington University in St. Louis. Not only did we both have a connection to St. Louis, but we had several other things in common, too. Talking to her made me feel normal.

There were also classes that my mom and I went to. In these classes we were taught about spinal cord injury (sci) and the effects that spinal cord injuries have on the body. We were taught the importance of skin care and turning/repositioning the body every few hours to make sure that I wouldn't develop pressure sores (or bedsores, as they are most often called). I lost all bowel and bladder functioning after my accident, since the muscles required to go to the bathroom were now paralyzed. We learned different ways people could take care of these needs, depending on whether you were male or female, and what your level of injury was. We also learned the best way to do a bath in bed and also the easiest way to wash my hair. None of these things were exactly fun to learn and figure out, but since I wasn't going to be getting any better, these things were necessary to learn so that I could have the most comfortable, healthy and productive life possible.

I also had assistive technology classes where the patient's were shown some of the different types of assistive technology available to help disabled patients do different things, depending on what their limitations were. Since I still wasn't able to talk at this time, voice recognition programs for things like computers weren't an option for me. There was a system on one of the computers called a Darci system, where you hold a special sip and puff straw in your mouth, and then you would be able to write words through Morse code. Each letter is made up of a series of dots and/or dashes in Morse code, and to make a dot you had to gently sip on the straw, and to make a dash, you would gently blow or puff through the straw. Making each letter involved several sips and/or puffs to make the different dot/dash combination for each letter.

Here's an example of how you would type out the name Heather using this system: H: .... (four short sips on the straw), E: . (one short sip), A: . (one short sip and one short puff), T:  (one short puff), H: .... (four short sips), E: . (one short sip), R: .. (one short sip, one short puff, one short sip). As you can see, it was quite a tedious process trying to make just ONE word, let alone an entire sentence. The process was time-consuming, but it got easier and faster the more I did it. Although it was painfully slow, it was something I could do all on my own. A small peace of independence.
Here I am using the Darci system to type an email.

New year, new background

If you are a regular reader of my blog then you've probably realized that I changed my background. I decided to change it since we just started a new year and it's fun to switch things up a bit. I've found several different websites that offer free backgrounds for blogs, and each website has dozens and dozens of different choices, so it definitely took me a couple of hours to sift through the different backgrounds so I could make a decision, especially since I like to try out each background I'm seriously considering so I can see what it will actually look like. The background to your blog definitely isn't anything crucial or life altering, but nonetheless I have to admit that I did spend about two hours making my choice. (I'm the kind of person that takes a long time to make a purchase or decision because I like to weigh all my options.)

So anyway, hopefully I'll stay pleased with this background for a while since I don't have loads of extra time on my hands!

Monday, January 4, 2010

Leaving for Shepherd Center

After my accident my body had changed in so many ways, and it was imperative that I go to a rehabilitation hospital that specialized in spinal cord injury so that I could learn to live as a paralyzed person, and so my mom could learn how to care for me. At that time there were two model facilities that specialized in the kind of care I needed: Craig Hospital in Denver, Colorado, and Shepherd Center in Atlanta, Georgia. I've already written about the battle my mom faced with our health insurance company, since the insurance we had at the time didn't want to have to pay to send me to a specialized facility. They basically told my mom that I could get the care I needed at any rehab facility or nursing home...not true! Although it was after open season for switching insurances, my mom was able to switch health insurance to a company that was willing to pay to send me where I needed to go for rehab. That was such a blessing and made all the difference.

I really didn't want to go far away to rehab, but I knew it was a necessary step that I had to take to achieve my ultimate goal, which was living at home. Since each case is different, I wasn't sure how long I'd have to stay at the rehab hospital, either, but my mom was coming with me, so I knew I'd be okay with her by my side.

I dreaded leaving my friends because I didn't know how long it would be before I would see them again. Leaving my friend Adam was especially difficult. He and I were both managers at the movie theater and had worked together for a couple of years. We'd started dating in 2002, and dated for several months, but ultimately broke up in February of 2003. We were different religions, and neither of us were willing to compromise what we wanted when it came to religion, so we broke up. It was initially very painful, but after the awkward romantic feelings lessened, we were able to maintain a friendship. We'd known each other for several years, and had became each other's best friend. We usually worked the same shifts at the theater and would hang out with each other when we weren't working. We saw each other nearly every day and we talked on the phone every night.

Adam was devastated when I had my accident, as I would have been if our situations had been reversed. I was in the ICU at Barnes for seven weeks, and Adam came to see me every day, with the exception of two days. He was an amazing source of support, and his visits did so much for my spirits. Having my two best friends (Mom and Adam) there with me every step of the way was one of the things that kept me emotionally strong. As much as I dreaded leaving my friends and family, Adam was definitely the person I was going to miss the most. Knowing that it would be weeks or even months before we would see each other again was excruciating. I still couldn't talk, so telephone conversations weren't even an option, either.

I was flooded with visitors the day before my mom and I left for rehab at Shepherd Center. Everyone wanted to come see me off and wish me good luck. My mom left early that afternoon so that she could go home, pack, and finish the other preparations and arrangements she was making so that she could come with me. My friend Lacee (from nursing school and the movie theater) went over to my house that evening to help my mom pack the things I would need for rehab. I gave my mom a list of some of the things I wanted to take, and she and Lacee did the rest.

Most of my friends that came to visit me that last day in the ICU left around nine in the evening, but my friend Adam and our friends Rick and Kelly (who we had worked with and often hung out with) stayed later. Rick and Kelly left around 11 and although I would miss them a lot, I was glad they left so that I could have a little alone time with Adam to tell him goodbye. As soon as Adam and I were alone we both started crying. The thought of leaving my best friend made me so, so sad. Adam stayed with me for a couple more hours, but then he left around 1 AM, since he had school the next day. Watching Adam walk out of my hospital room was terrible, and our friendship would never be the same from that point on.

My mom arrived at the hospital early the next morningWednesday, January 7, 2004. At nine o'clock the flight team that was taking my mom and me to Shepherd Center arrived. I was moved from my hospital bed to a stretcher, and then I was bundled up because it was very cold outside. The hallway was lined with different hospital employees who'd cared for me the past seven weeks, and came to see me off and wish me luck.

It was cold outside, but since it had been seven weeks since I'd been outside, I welcomed the fresh air on my face. It was very refreshing! My mom and I took a 20 minute ambulance ride to the airport hangar where the small commuter plane that would take us to Shepherd Center was located. Before no time at all my mom and I were packed into the plane and we took off. I'd only flown on an airplane one other time in my life, and that was when I went to Washington D.C. for a one day class trip my junior year of high school. The flight to Shepherd Center took about 2½ to 3 hours, and then there was a 45 minute drive by ambulance to get to Shepherd Center.

Since I was a ventilator dependent patient I had to spend my first two days in Shepherd Center's ICU, just to make sure I was stable. Two days later on Saturday afternoon I was moved to the regular patient floor. I was in a two person room, but luckily I was the only patient in the room. Shepherd Center owned a few small apartments where the family members of the patients could stay for free, and that's where my mom stayed during my time in rehab. When my mom left that Saturday evening to go to the apartment, I was overwhelmed with loneliness. It was a Saturday night and I should have been working at the movie theater or hanging out with friends, but instead I was lying in a hospital bed in Atlanta, Georgia, unable to move and so far away from being and feeling normal. I started to cry for one of the first times since my accident. My nurse came into my room and demanded to know why I was crying. I tried to tell her that I just wanted to be left alone, but I still couldn't talk, and she couldn't read my lips. The frustration of not being able to communicate just made things worse. That was probably one of the worst nights of my life.

I couldn't wait for Mom to arrive at the hospital the next morning. She usually arrived every morning between 8 and 8:30, and would stay with me all day until about 6 or 7 in the evening. If I would've had it my way, I would've wanted my mom to stay with me 24/7, but I knew how important it was that Mom have some time to herself so that she could keep her strength up so that she could continue spending each day with me. A few days after that lonely Saturday night I was moved to a different rooma single patient room. Most of the rooms in the hospital held between two and four people, but I was one of the lucky few who got my own room.

I didn't like having to be away from all of my friends and everything I knew and was used to, but I was grateful to be in a good rehab facility. I knew that I was going to have to stay for anywhere from four weeks to three months, so I decided that I would continue to have a positive attitude so that I could get the most out of rehab that I possibly could so that I could go home as quickly as possible.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Celebrating New Year's

I had lots of fun celebrating New Year's Eve this year. Most of my friends were either still out of town or busy with other plans, so my younger sister Laura and her husband Brett came over to celebrate with Chandra and me. Laura brought chicken wings and a cheese ball -- homemade cheese ball is one of my favorite things to eat on New Year's Eve! After we had our unhealthy dinner of wings, cheese ball and other snacks, we played two games of Phase 10. The game consists of 10 rounds, so it took us several hours to play the game twice and we didn't finish until about 11:30. We watched TV and saw the ball drop in Times Square. This makes me sound old, but this was the first time I've stayed up till midnight to ring in the new year on New Year's Eve in many, many years! (I don't think I've stayed up till midnight on New Year's Eve since before my car accident, so it's been at least six years!)

Laura and Brett spent the night with us and then the next day we went to the movies to see Avatar. We saw the movie in 3-D and it was so neat! I've never seen a movie in 3-D before, so I decided to buck up the three extra dollars, even though I could've seen the regular movie at the regular price just a few minutes later. To be perfectly honest, $10.25 seems outrageous for a movie, especially when I saw free movies for years and years when I worked at the movie theater, but oh well... sometimes the cost is worth the experience.

I actually went to the movie theater where I used to work, and this is only the second time I've done this since my accident. (The first time was actually just last month when I went to see New Moon with my friend Lacee.) When I was going to see New Moon my mom asked me if it was going to be emotionally difficult for me to go back to the place where I used to work. It wasn't... I was excited. It was good to see my old theater again, but the one thing that did make me sad was that no one there knew me anymore. The people working there just saw me as an ordinary patron, when in fact there's a good chance that I knew more about doing their jobs than they do. My feelings might sound silly, but that's nonetheless, that the way I felt.

You might be wondering why I hadn't gone back to see a movie at my theater before now. Three reasons.
#1) I didn't go out in public very much at all the first several years after my accident. Although I was happy, I didn't like leaving the house because it was so much work for my mom to take me out. Home was my favorite place to be and I really didn't have the desire to go out and do things in the community. A couple of years ago I started making what I call my "social return to society." I started going to a religion class every week, and it was there that I had the opportunity to make new friends for the first time since my accident. Making new friends made me want to go out again and do things that normal people my age do.
#2) When I started seeing movies in movie theaters again I did not want to go to the movie theater chain that I used to work at... Wehrenberg Theaters. I worked for the company for 3 1/2 years and during that time I found out what the owners were like. Employees were and are paid terribly. At the time of my accident I was working as an associate manager, but I only made an insulting $6.90 an hour. Movie theaters are open 365 days a year and employees are expected to work holidays at our regular wage... no holiday pay, even for managers. I don't feel like the owners respect their employers very much, so I prefer to give my business to other companies instead of Wehrenberg Theaters.
#3) Wehrenberg Theaters has terrible seating accommodations for people in wheelchairs. Not only do I have to sit in the very front of the auditorium, but I also have to sit on the side, so it hurts my delicate neck. There are other movie theaters in my area that have cutouts for wheelchairs in the middle of the row of seats, so it's much more comfortable for me.

Well, that's how I spent New Year's Eve and New Year's Day, as well as some of my thoughts about movie theaters!
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