August 11th 2019 started out as an amazing day. Earlier in the week, we had made plans to go on our friends boat and have a relaxing day. We woke up that morning – the sun was shining and it was supposed to be a beautiful day. We got the beach bags packed up, grabbed some snacks and drinks and headed out to our friends. We ended up getting out on the water between 1pm and 2pm, took a nice boat ride out to a spot on Lake St. Clair, Michigan where many boats tie up in a line. I was so ready for some good company, music, and just a day to relax in the sun.
The day for the most part was just that – a ton of fun. Around 5:00-530pm, we decided it was time to head back in but I decided I wanted to jump in one time before heading home. The day was about to change very quickly, and so was my life. I grabbed my boyfriend and said “Let’s dive in real quick!” He agreed as we had done so many times before. We went to the front of the boat, grabbed hands, counted to three, and dove, and just like that my life was different forever. Three seconds; that’s all it took.
I remember hitting the water and almost instantly knowing something had gone wrong. I didn’t think I hit the bottom, I just thought I dove weird, but I was wrong. The hardest part in that moment was being conscious the entire time. I kept trying to roll over in the water so I could breathe but I couldn’t. That’s when I knew how bad it really was. Luckily my boyfriend noticed pretty quick that something was wrong, and swam over quickly to roll me over.
As soon as I was on my back I told him, “It’s bad babe. I can’t feel my legs or arms.” I was a lifeguard for 4 years and I remember telling him, “Hold my neck. You have to keep it as stable as possible.” He yelled for the other guys who were on the boat to help get me stable in the water and back on the boat. Luckily, there was a nurse who was tied up with us and jumped into our boat to help keep my neck stable while we got back to the docks to meet the ambulance.
The ambulance was there waiting for us when we pulled up, and the EMTs were amazing. Jumped right into action. This is where I started to go in and out of consciousness because much of the next few hours, well days, are all a blur. The next part is solely based on information I was told, as again I don’t remember. My boyfriend called my family and they met me at the hospital. Upon arriving the ICU, nurses told my boyfriend at the time that I should of died, and because of the quick thinking of those people on the boat, I was alive. They took me back for an MRI, where they saw that my C5/6 vertebrae had been severally dislocated jamming into the back of my spinal cord.
I needed to have emergency surgery to fuse the vertebrae together and have a cage placed around them to hold them in place. Surgery went really well and I believe I was blessed with the on-call surgeon that night because he was beyond amazing. Although the surgery went great and he was pleased with how everything turned out, my injury was still severe. I was on a vent for roughly 5 days and went through some painful complications in the ICU. They tried to extubate one and failed due to my oxygen levels. So they needed to re-intubate me. Because of this my throat was extremely damaged.
I was unable to eat or drink by mouth for a month and a half. Doctors put a PEG tub in my stomach so I was able to obtain some nutrients. While being intubated, I got sick and threw up. Unfortunately because of this I aspirated and end up getting pneumonia. The next 14 days I fought tirelessly for my life. Breathing treatments every 4 hours, chest X-rays every morning, breathing exercises, and tons of blood work. Luckily, my nursing staff and trauma team were amazing and got me on the mend and healthy enough to be transferred to The Rehabilitation Institution of Michigan, where I would spend the next 2 months.
Therapy was rough at first, but I found my groove quickly. I had an amazing physical therapist and occupational therapist, and my primary nurse was the best. I was also so lucky to be blessed with a handful of wonderful PCA’s who quickly became good friends and my cheerleaders, all while making super humiliating situations a little more bearable.
The hardest part of therapy was seeing my son for the first time. I didn’t let him come to the hospital while I was in the ICU as he was only four. I had tubes coming out of everywhere and I couldn’t imagine what that would do to his mind, seeing his mommy like that. I was so thankful that my family and his father agreed. Still, the first time seeing him in therapy, even in normal clothes not a hospital gown, and just a C collar – you could tell he was concerned. Nervous to come close to me, to hug me. He made it very clear he “was scared to hurt mommy more.” My heart was crushed. How could I have been so irresponsible that this is the mommy my poor son is left with?
But before I knew it, nothing about my injury phased him. I thought he would hate that I couldn’t walk with him – ya right! More like, “Mommy can I sit on your lap and we can go for a fast race?” Pure innocence. It was more of an adjustment for me. Being more dependent on my four year old son than he was of me. Snacks? No problem, he gets them. I have a spasm and my foot falls off the foot plate? No worries, he loves helping to fix it. He brings so much clarity to my life during this time of recovery.
As I often wondered from day one, how was I ever going to be a mom while bound to a wheelchair, unable to use my hands, I’m slowly starting to realize that physical ability plays a small role in being a great mother. I may not be able to walk or run with my son, but I still show up for him everyday. Love has no physical boundaries. I am still able to teach him valuable lessons, love him unconditionally, help him with his homework and play games with him. No wheelchair can keep you from being a loving mother who shows up everyday for her kids, and puts them first.
Nervous for how this was going to change him, or anxious for what he may have to deal with when other kids saw his mom was in a wheelchair, it’s made my now 5 year old the most compassionate advocate that I have on my team. The way he now understands kids who are in wheelchairs because of me is amazing. The way he is so protective over me when we are in public is the most humbling feeling.
While I’m sure there are going to have many speed bumps along our trail moving forward, I have learned that a spinal cord injury and a wheelchair can never take away your ability to be a great mother. The innocence of your child will always help you to see the light even on your darkest days. Their love will without a doubt get you through the tough times.
I hope that my story helps ease any mommas out there who are struggling with this fight. We are always going to be harder on ourselves than our children will ever be. Each day we have with them is a blessing and we must never forget that.
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