Tuesday, December 16, 2014

The Latest

For someone that doesn't get out and about much, I really stay quite busy, hence the reason why I've been MIA on my blog lately. I have had so much to do that there really hasn't been any time for making blog posts. Here are a few things that I've been up to lately:

I went to the dentist last Wednesday, just for my six month cleaning and exam. I know a lot of people absolutely hate going to the dentist, but I don't mind it at all. The worst thing about it is that the office I go to is about 40 minutes away, so it's a bit of a drive. I've been going to the same dentist (Dr. Farmer) basically my entire life, and he always makes everything "a piece of cake." My mom and I were in and out in just over an hour. No cavities for me. Woo hoo! I still haven't had any cavities in my permanent teeth and I will try my best to keep that the case as long as I can.

After the dentist my mom and I stopped by Target to pick up a few things for Christmas. I've been able to do almost all of my Christmas shopping online, but sometimes there are just things you need to get at an actual store. As nice and convenient as online shopping is, there's just nothing like being able to see with your own eyes what you are considering buying, and not just a picture where it's hard to tell the actual size, quality and fine details of a product. Even when I am at the store, sometimes it can be very frustrating to shop because it's really difficult to tell people just what item you want brought closer in order to get a better look. Imagine only having your words and not being able to point or gesture when trying to direct someone to a specific object. It's harder than you would think, especially since there are so many products on display! Sometimes only looking with your eyes, even in person, and not being able to actually feel or smell or touch the merchandise just isn't good enough!

My younger sister Chandra turned 26 last Saturday (the 13th) and we celebrated together on Friday, since she was off work. Chandra was lamenting the fact that she is "so old" now. 26 is really not that old, but I can kind of relate to where she's coming from, since all of our sisters were married and most of them had children by that age, as well as a lot of our friends, too. Chan is doing great at her new job working as a sales rep for AT&T. She works loooong hours, though. Here's what her day was like yesterday, just to give an example: She worked from 9 AM to 8 PM, but didn't get off until 9:30, since you have to stay with the customer you're helping until you're finished with them, even if that means staying an hour or two after the time you're scheduled to be off. Then she went to the gym to work out and didn't get home until after midnight. The store she works at is about 50 minutes away from our home, too, so she has quite a drive to and from work every day. During the holiday season she has to work six day work weeks, too. Needless to say, I don't see Chan much anymore, so any time we do get to spend together is definitely a treat.

I teach Sunday school at church to a group of 12 and 13-year-olds (I've been doing this for the past two years.) My mom is my assistant, which is kind of funny that she is the assistant and I am the teacher, since my mom has been teaching the youth at church for more than 30 years and is WAY more qualified to teach than I am. I do my best, though. I spend so much time working on my lessons each week. I only have two more weeks with four of my six regular kids, since the four that turned 14 this year will be moving up to the next class when 2015 starts. I'm going to miss them so much, because I've really come to love them dearly! I will get at least three new regular kids, though, when the new class of 12-year-olds move up in January. I took a group picture with the kids I teach about a month ago. Such great kids!
I've been busy working on the annual family slideshow I make at the end of each year with pictures of my sisters, their kids and Mom, Chandra and me throughout the year. It's a lot of work, but I think it's worth it. I know how much I would treasure a slideshow like this if I were able to watch one from each year of my childhood. I hope my nieces and nephews treasure these slideshows as much as I know I would if I were them, because documenting their lives is a major part of why I continue to make these year after year.

This is just an update on what's been going on. Time to get back to work!

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Meeting My Cousin

Last Wednesday I was able to meet one of my cousins, Bill Jr., and his family. They live in Virginia, but were traveling in the area for the Thanksgiving holiday. I may have met Bill Jr. (who is 10 years my senior) when I was a little girl, but if I did, I was too young at the time and have no memory of it. We are Facebook friends, but don't really correspond, so it was basically like meeting a stranger.

Bill, his wife, Melinda, and their two sons, Thomas and Tre, came for lunch and stayed for a couple of hours on their way from Aurora, MO, to Evansville, IN. It was great learning more about Bill and Melinda, how they met (in Italy when they were both in the Navy) and more about their life. 
Bill Jr.'s dad, Bill Sr., is my dad's oldest brother. We rarely got together with the Johnson side of the family when I was a kid, and don't know much about my cousins on that side of the family. My only Johnson relative that I know much about is my Uncle Paul, so it was really nice to meet Bill and get to know him a little better. Bill and his family were great and I hope to spend more time with their family in the future when they are near the area. 

Monday, November 17, 2014

11 Years Later

It's November 17, another anniversary. Number 11 this time. I feel like I was just writing a post about reaching the decade mark since my car accident. The past year has really flown by. (To read about my accident and all that transpired that day click here and here.)

November 17 was actually an awesome day for me. I got to spend the morning at the nursing home where I was doing clinicals, and I was able to get some practical experience doing some of the things I'd been learning about in nursing school. The last thing I remember that day was leaving the nursing home and I have no recollection of the accident. The people I really feel badly for are my family and friends! I cannot imagine the horror it would've been to find out that your daughter, sister, dear friend or even casual acquaintance had been in a terrible car accident, had broken their neck and would forever be paralyzed, IF they even survived at all. My family membersespecially motherand friends are the ones I feel badly for!

I've said it before and I'll say it again, even though my accident was the worst thing to happen to me physically, I would never take it back because the emotional and spiritual gains far outweigh what I lost physically. Going through this transformation of mind, body and spirit has given me the opportunity to learn some valuable life lessons at an accelerated rate that I wouldn't have learned as quickly otherwiseor maybe even at allif I hadn't become paralyzed. That is worth more to me than having a fully functioning body with a less developed spirit. I know this may seem unbelievable, but it's the honest truth. I'm happier than I've ever been, more confident and I feel like I have all the answers to life's tough questions, like "what is the purpose of life" and "why do bad things happen to people."

Whenever people meet me and they hear about what's happened to me they always apologize. Don't feel badly for me! I'm sure being totally paralyzed sounds perfectly awful, but it's really not as bad as it sounds. It does have its downsides, but I can think of far worse fates. If I'd never become paralyzed I would never have known the joy I feel that comes from succeeding at something difficult and my compassion for others wouldn't be as developed, either. It's no use speculating where I would be and what I would be doing had this never happened to me, but there's a very real possibility that I wouldn't be as happy as I am now. There's really nothing like almost dying to give you perspective about what really matters, and a new appreciation for life.

I have a really great life and I get to spend most days doing the things that I want to do, and with my BFF, too. Not everyone has that luxury! This may not be the life I always dreamed of, but it's still pretty amazing, so I won't complain!

I've seen cars with a lot more damage, but this was bad enough. I list surviving this car accident as one of my greatest accomplishments.
These pictures were taken on Thanksgiving day in 2003, 10 days after my accident. I was just starting to regain consciousness at this point. I remember trying to smile in the first picture, but then I thought, "Nobody's going to care if I'm smiling."
This picture was taken during my seven weeks in the ICU, and the next picture was taken during my seven weeks in rehab (I was working on a sip-and-puff computer):
This was my when my nursing class received their LPN (halfway through the program). My mom went in my stead:
And finally, me, 11 years post-accident. Not too shabby, all things considered!

Monday, November 3, 2014

Guest Speaker

Last Friday I had the opportunity to go speak to my friend Lacee's Fundamentals of Nursing class (she teaches nursing education at a local college). I've done this several times before, so it wasn't anything new. Even still, I always dread it when Lacee asks me to come speak! I fought the urge to say no because I know that it's good for me and it's good for the nursing students, too. I have a unique perspective on nursing/patient care that can't be learned in a textbook and what I have to offer is something any prospective nurse could benefit from hearing.

I spoke for about an hour and 15 minutes and basically talked about my story, my experiences and how I deal with stress and coping (since that's the lecture Lacee teaches when she invites me to be her guest speaker). It always goes really well and I even enjoy it once it's over, so I don't know why I always dread it so much. Part of the reason is because I can't speak loudly and I can't stand the sound of my own voice. It sounds so unnatural and coarse and not at all like I used to sound before my accident. I'm really self-conscious of it, actually. I really should be more grateful, though, since I remember what it was like to be unable to speak after my accident and how difficult/frustrating that was. It IS a voice, even though it doesn't sound like ME!

I took a group picture with the class when I was finished speaking, and then one of the students took a picture of Mom, Lacee and me:
Before I left home Chandra took a picture of my mom and me since we haven't taken many pictures together lately. The last picture is one that my mom took of me when we got home. Not too bad, considering that I got majorly windblown while we were out! I actually liked this picture of myself, which is saying something since I have a critical eye when it comes to pictures of me. I sure hope I'm not the only one that is this way! Sometimes I just wish I could see myself the way other people see me.
I have to pat myself on the back for being such a good sport about doing things like this. It really takes a lot of courage to do things like this since I hate being the center of attention and have all eyes are on me.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Red Ribbon Week

Last night my sister Sharon sent me a picture of her daughter Rachel's Red Ribbon Week essay. I remember having Red Ribbon Week back when I was in elementary school. I wonder if they still pass out actual red ribbons that say "Drug Free and Proud" in gold letters? Anyway, I thought Rachel's essay was adorable, so I asked Sharon if I could put it on my blog. 
Today I pledge to stay drug free so when I grow up I can be a: 
mom so I can have children to tace ciru (take care of). I can feed children. And put children to bed. And take children to school. Help with homewore.

Rachel is six and in 1st grade, by the way. I thought she did a great job on her essay. I love children and the fact that Rach wrote about wanting to be a mom and care for her children warmed my heart. I loved her phonetic spelling and oversized periods, too! I hope Rachel (and all of the other six and seven-year-olds in her class and throughout the country) can remember the pledge they took and the essay they wrote when temptation comes knocking in the not too distant future.

Friday, October 24, 2014

"After the Fire"

I recently read After the Fire: A True Story of Friendship and Survival by Robin Gaby Fisher. At Seton Hall University there was a terrible fire in the early morning hours of January 19, 2000. Three students died in the fire and 58 others were injured, including two freshman roommates, Shawn Simons and Alvaro Llanos. They had only known each other for a few months but had become fast friends. When they awoke to the sound of the fire alarm on that freezing cold morning they wondered if it was just another prank since there had been lots of false alarms from students pulling the alarm, but they decided they better get up, get dressed and check things out. When Shawn opened the door he was overwhelmed with thick, black smoke. This was NOT a false alarm.

Shawn got down on his hands and knees and turned to the right out of his and Alvaro's dorm room and headed in the direction of the elevator. This was a mistake since turning left would've taken Shawn and Alvaro (Al) to the stairs, and ultimately to freedom, but Shawn, overcome by smoke and fear, was disoriented. He would be plagued with guilt for this decision for a long time since this mistake had lifelong consequences for himself and Alvaro. Shawn and Alvaro miraculously survived, but both were burned very badly. Shawn sustained burns on his hands and face and Alvaro was burned beyond recognition. In fact, Alvaro's girlfriend Angie was screaming his name at the outside entrance of the dormitory just hoping he would make it out alive. Yet, when she saw a man clumsily staggering down the stairs with oozing, bubbling skin that had been charred in the fire, the remnants of his clothing still flaming, she didn't even recognize that it was Alvaro, the young man she'd come to know so well.

Shawn and Alvaro were both rushed to Saint Barnabas Hospital, which was known for having the best burn unit around. Both young men spent quite a while in the burn unit, especially Alvaro, who spent the first 90 days post fire in a coma while his body healed. He underwent daily "tankings" where his burned skin was debrided and his dressings were changed in a room called "the tank." (Debridement is the removal of damaged tissue from a wound.) Imagine having that raw, tender skin rubbed to get the dead tissue off. It's an excruciating but necessary part of the healing process. Even though Alvaro was in a drug-induced coma and was giving a big dose of morphine before going to the tank, the pain still registered (something I found astonishing). Tears would escape from his eyelids, which had been stitched shut, and would rundown his face. The nurses would sing to Alvaro to try to sooth him or would cry right along with him. Others got sick to their stomach. Then they would get him bandaged up, only to do it all over again 24 hours later. This continued for weeks.

Shawn didn't have to stay in the burn unit nearly as long as Alvaro since he wasn't burned as severely (only on 16% of his body compared to Al's 58%). When Shawn was well enough to leave Saint Barnabas he hadn't been allowed to see Alvaro, despite repeatedly asking, so on the day Shawn left he said, "I have to see Alvaro." He was finally allowed to see Al, who was still comatose. When Alvaro regained consciousness and was lucid, Shawn was one of the first people to visit. Shawn and Alvaro already had a strong friendship before the fire, but the tragedy they went through made their bond even stronger. They were able to help each other get through things in a way no one else could since they had been through the same thing and were experiencing many of the same emotions and feelings.

Here are some pictures documenting Shawn's and Alvaro's recoveries after the fire. These Pulitzer Prize-winning photos were taken by Matt Rainey. Thank you, Matt, for your permission to use your amazing photos in my post. And thank you to The Star-Ledger, too. The first picture shows Shawn and his mother embracing, and the second picture shows Shawn's hands, which were burned severely as he crawled along the ground in the blazing fire.
This is Alvero. Al was on a ventilator to breathe for him while he was comatose. In the next picture Shawn is visiting Al, who was still bandaged from head to toe.
The next picture shows Alvaro and Angie, his girlfriend at the time. Poor Al – he had lost so much weight after being in a coma for so long. He was still very weak at this point and his scarred skin was still healing. In the next picture you can see how scarred Shawn's hands were after being burned – something he was very self-conscious of.
Shawn turned 19 and is pictured with his mother and Alvaro. In the next picture Shawn and Al are at a Mets game. They share a love of baseball, but cheer for different teams. Shawn for the Yankees and Al for the Mets.
The fire was nearly 15 years ago. Where are they now? They are still close friends. Both graduated from college. It took a little longer than the four years they expected it to take when they started college, but they both did it. Shawn and Al are both married with kids. Alvaro was afraid he would never find anyone to love him with his scarred appearance, but he found a wonderful young woman named Paula who was able to see past his scars. Shawn and Al have gone on the speaking circuit and have visited lots of colleges since After the Fire was published in 2008. I would love to hear them speak because I'm sure it would be very inspiring.

Shawn, Alvaro and their wives with the director of the documentary film that was made about the fire, and then Shawn and Al with Robin Gaby Fisher, author of After the Fire:
Shawn and Al at two of their speaking engagements. For as badly as they were burned they both look amazing, especially Alvaro:
You might be wondering what caused the fire. It was an act of arson. A banner in the student's lounge was intentionally lit on fire as a prank, which ignited a couch and rapidly spread. In less than five minutes the dormitory was in a blaze with temperatures reaching 1500°F. The two students who started the fire, Sean Ryan and Joseph LePore, lived across the hall from Shawn and Alvaro. After Sean and Joseph started the fire, they fled the building, even though they knew the dormitory was full of sleeping students. There was a big cover-up with two other students who knew of Sean and Joseph's culpability, and a pact was formed between the four of them to never tell anyone who started the fire.

The arson investigation went on for three years before Sean and Joseph were indicted. Police even bugged Sean Ryan's house and his parents and sister were aware that Sean started the fire, but they lied to the police when questioned about Sean's involvement. Sean and Joseph never showed any remorse, and did nothing to help evacuate the dorm. I can understand making a mistake, but their cocky smugness and cowardice was inexcusable. On November 15, 2006, Sean and Joseph admitted that they had set the fire that led to three deaths and injuries to dozens more and pleaded guilty to third-degree arson. In January 2007 they were sentenced to five years in a youth correctional facility. Both are now on parole. I really hope Sean and Joseph learned something valuable from their time in the correctional facility and will live better lives.

This was an excellent book that really hit home. I could relate to Shawn's and Alvaro's experiences in many ways since I've been through my own life-changing transformation after going through a very traumatic situation. I also have secondhand experience with burns and all that they entail since both of my younger sisters are burn survivors and have had lots of surgeries to repair and maintain their scarred skin. There were so many things about this book that I didn't go into, so if it sounds interesting to you I highly recommend getting the book and reading the entire thing.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Two for the Price of One

My sister Annette had her twins last Thursday, October 16. Lincoln Wirth was born first at 9:50 AM and Annika Grace was born a minute later at 9:51. Annette was able to carry these babies to full-term (which is 38 weeks for twins). I was really surprised. When I found out that she was expecting twins, I really thought the twins would come early, anywhere from week 32-35. Both babies (which were delivered by C-section) were 5 pounds. Lincoln was 18 inches long and Annika was 19 inches.

Lincoln, just a few minutes old and Annika, one day old:
The twins (Annika is the one by her dad's hand), and Annette's selfie with her babes:
Annette took the babies home from the hospital after just two days. There is no nursery at the hospital (only a NICU), so babies sleep in the same room as their mother. This means that the nurses come in all night to check on the mom and the babies, which means there are frequent interruptions. I know from personal experience just how hard it is to get a good night's sleep in the hospital. Now that they are home everyone is getting more sleep, although the babies are waking up multiple times a night to nurse.

Annika's name is pronounced like "Hanukkah" minus the 'h'. She has red hair and when I was Skyping with Annette yesterday I noticed that Annika has a dimple in her right cheek. I adore dimples, so seeing that Annika has one gave me a little thrill. Lincoln is named after my grandpa–Lincoln's great-grandpa–Warren Wirth Zimmerman (my mom's dad). Grandpa is one of the best men ever, so Lincoln is lucky to share his middle name with such an amazing man.

Kimball and Rebecah are both loving the twins. They've been looking forward to the arrival of the babies for many months and were both so excited to meet the twins. The brothers and the sisters:
The twins on the day they came home from the hospital. They look tiny in their car seats! Even though 5 pounds is a respectable weight for a baby (especially a twin) I think they look minuscule. In the next picture Annika is the one yawning:
Joseph feeding Annika a tiny bottle, and another one of Little A:
Rebecah and Lincoln, and Lincoln mid-yawn:
I know it's out of order, but I wanted to include this picture of Annette a few days before the twins' arrival. She was mighty uncomfortable by this time and felt huge, but I thought she looked great, especially for having two babies inside of her. I kept getting after her to make sure she had Joseph do a pregnancy photo shoot at the very end. My instructions were to take at least 20 pictures for "posterity's sake." I got five pictures. It wasn't 20, but I was satisfied. ;) I'm a picture hound, I freely admit it! I just know that you can never go back and recreate history, so that's why I'm so crazy about taking pictures and documenting life.
I'm so grateful for the safe arrival of the twins, but am disappointed that I won't get to meet them until next summer since they live all the way in New York.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Visit from the Folks

My grandparents and Uncle Rick visited earlier this week. We never do much when they visit and spend a lot of time just hanging out here at the house, which is fine with me. My mom and grandparents always do the crossword puzzle in the newspaper; they are all extremely smart and just about always finish it. We also watched lots of the Cardinals playoff games together. The Cardinals lost the pennant to the San Francisco Giants last night. It was disappointing, but they gave it a good try.

We took some pictures, of course:
On Wednesday we went to go visit my younger sister Chandra at her new job. She is now working for AT&T and spent the month of September in a rigorous training program. There is sure a steep learning curve and A LOT to learn about all of the different products AT&T sells. Chandra is doing great so far. AT&T seems like a great company to work for and Chan gets excellent benefits. I'm sure she will be very happy and very successful.

I love my grandparents SO much and always enjoy visiting with them. Every time they leave I always wonder, "will this be Grandpa's last visit?" He's 92, after all, and is definitely starting to slow down. It's hard to see someone you love declining, but I guess that's just to be expected. He's lived a good, long life, though. He's amazing and I will really miss him when he does "go the way of all the earth."

I really enjoyed seeing my Uncle Rick, too. His family lives all the way in Tucson, so I don't get to see him very often. He is so funny, though, and he always makes me laugh. I'm grateful that he was able to fly to Rochester and drive my grandparents to and from Missouri so that Grandma didn't have to do all of the driving. It's always wonderful to be able to spend time with my mom's folks!

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Memory and an Aging Mind

There are lots of pros and cons when it comes to aging. One of the definite perks of being a child (in addition to having a higher metabolism) is how their brains soak up knowledge like a sponge. Little kids learn SO much SO quickly; it's really quite amazing. I turned 30 earlier this year, which is by no means old, but I've noticed that I definitely do not learn new things near as quickly or easily as I used to.

Something I find interesting is that I can remember exact dialogue, quotes and plot points from movies I watched over and over as a child, even though I haven't seen the movies in 15-20 years. Yet, I can't remember what happened in the books/movies that I read/watched last month! I marvel at that sad fact all the time, and it's just crazy that I lose the details of things at a much more rapid pace now. I find that it takes a lot more effort to learn new things and retain that knowledge than it did when I was a child. I suppose it's all downhill from here...
The picture below is what I feel like is slowly happening to my memory. In addition to the increased difficulty in learning new things, I'm finding it more difficult to learn simple things, like new people's names (something that used to be no problem). So much for being "steel trap." ;) Steel trap is how some people have described my mind since I've always had (and still do have) a pretty remarkable memory and a gift for being able to recall even the smallest and seemingly insignificant details about people/conversations/situations. My memory is still keen, but it isn't quite as sharp as it once was, sadly.
I suppose the lesson I need to take away from all of this is that if I want to learn/memorize something, do it NOW before I get any older, as well as continue to do things to exercise my brain, something experts say will help prevent Alzheimer's (which is one of my many fears).
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