Unbreakable by kkc
The minute he said ” I can’t feel my legs,” I knew our lives were forever changed. My husband had felt flu-like symptoms for the past week and pain behind his left shoulder blade. We had made a trip to Urgent Care then a follow up to his internist. The usual blood tests and x-rays revealed no problems, so it was “here is a script for some muscle relaxers.” By the end of the week, he was no better and had not slept in days from the pain. We were to see a specialist on the upcoming Monday for what was believed to be a pinched nerve behind his shoulder blade.
As is turned out we never made it to that Monday appointment because my husband woke me up on 1/9/11 and said his legs were numb. He had tried to get out of the bed but his legs wouldn’t swing over the side. I jumped up from the bed to help him. My heart was beating out of my chest and he was calling out in pain. I grabbed cell phone and called 911. While it seemed like forever for 911 to come, my neighbor who is a first responder came to help. When the ambulance arrived, the EMTs all worked together to safely strap my husband to a backboard. They loaded him into the ambulance on that cold, crisp morning in January.
My neighbor called ahead to the ER about my husband’s paralysis, as a result a specialist was already waiting. It ended up being the best specialist in our area. My husband had a fever and was in excruciating pain behind his left shoulder blade and back of neck. I brought the MRI film we had done a few days ago but it was a bad copy. A new MRI was done immediately and to our surprise it revealed an abscess on his cervical spine the size of a golf ball. Neurologist Dr. Smith explained that an abscess on the cervical spine this size is rare and that 1 in 100,000 people get them. Furthering his explanation, he stated that this abscess was working quickly and it was shutting down my husband’s body organ by organ and we had to act quickly. Once we understood the urgency of the situation, we needed to make a decision to either do the procedure locally or send him to Syracuse NY. Dr. Smith showed us the MRI and where the cervical bones 4 and 5 were deteriorated and needed to be removed but his partner was out of town. The procedure required two doctors or he could do one part of it at that time and the rest when his partner got back. We were given five minutes to decide.
Decision to do it local or go to Syracuse, snowstorm outside, my husband’s body was shutting down, time couldn’t be spared. Dr. Smith had experience doing two of these rare abscesses during his time at Columbia University Hospital, one was successful and the person walked again, the other was not successful and the person remain paralyzed. Clock ticking loudly on the wall, we sat just staring. Information was given to us that there would be a minimum of three months spent in the hospital either way. Looking at each other we knew a decision needed to be done now and we chose to stay local because Dr. Smith had experience with this. As he came in, he asked what did we choose and we told him. Responding with, “I will do everything I can to get you to walk again and for now we put it in the good lord’s hands.” After that he was off to prep for surgery.
Nurses came in as out of nowhere and began to get ready. “You can go with your husband down to the prep area and stay with him til he goes in.” My husband was in pain still and was uncomfortable from the neck brace but he said. “let’s do it.” Whisked him away and I followed behind finishing up paperwork for the hospital. Once there, he was given a gas to relax him to get the tube down his throat for surgery. Due to the nature of the spine injury, it took four people to get the tube placed as he was awake and had to swallow the tube. The entire time, he did everything asked of him without hesitating.What seemed like an eternity later he was ready to go, I kissed him and he was on his way.
Standing there taking it all in, I went to the chapel and sat there. One by one I began contacting family members and explained what was going on. It was a long process because of all the complications, I got a hold of as many as I could til my phone died. From that point on, I sat in the chapel feeling the energy. Warm presence, quietness, comforting space, I stayed in one place. In those moments, I asked God for nothing, I surrendered it all to Him and got out of the way. God has always been there for me and I talk to Him every day so I was not going to start wheeling and dealing now. I knew the greatness, I experienced it several times. My thought was that I wanted people to see just what He could do, as for me I already knew it. During that time in the chapel, I dozed off and went into a dream state. While sleeping, I was shown my husband at home walking around in his jeans just as he normally did, at that point I had zero doubt.
Exactly five hours after they took my husband into surgery, Dr. Smith came to talk to me about the procedure. He explained that the abscess was eating into my husband’s bones and that my husband had severe spinal stenosis, which we had no prior knowledge of. The abscess had settled into pockets in his spine that existed because of the stenosis. Cervical bones 4 and 5 were almost dissipated. At this point it would now be wait and see and let the high fevers go down before the next surgery. It was not known if he would walk again or not. Waiting to be called into recovery, I walked around, got some fresh air and regrouped. I knew we would have a major journey in front of us and I had to be there for him and my family and take everything over. In addition, I knew that I could handle it and my husband was the strongest man I knew and we would fight.
First thing I saw when I went to my husband’s room was him wiggling his toes on his right leg for the nurse and saying, “can I get something to eat,”, meanwhile he was doped up to the gills and tubes were coming out of everywhere! After examining him, Dr. Smith said that his left leg remained paralyzed and his left hand was curled up as it had become paralyzed as well. ICU nurses were getting him prepped to go to the ICU in a few minutes. Body temperature was fluctuating between 103-104 and his entire body was shaking from nerve damage. Tubes, cords, a neck brace, leg braces all accompanied him on the way to ICU. This would be home for the next two weeks. His signs near the bed displayed, no food, just liquids, fall precaution, spinal cord injury. Sit and wait was all we had to do until the results from the abscess came in, which would take two more days.
During the waiting period, he battled high fevers, trembling and shaking, elevated heart rate, severe pain and to make matters worse, the morphine he was given made him break out in hives. To compound the situation, his family that lived hours away was dealing with snowstorms preventing them from making the trip. At that time we were just going day by day to get him ready for the next surgery which needed to happen soon if that left leg ever had a chance of moving again. Meanwhile, my neighbors stepped in and helped with my daughter and getting her off the bus everyday while I worked then made my way to the hospital, people were dropping off food at our house, my mailbox was flooded with cards and checks from loved ones that wanted to help. We cashed in all his time at work that we could to help with the bills because at that time I had only been working part time as my job had less hours from months before. On paper, things were not looking too good. I knew that when I surrendered it to God, that meant all of it so I didn’t tell anyone that finances were going to be diminished soon.
Finally the results were in and we found out that he had a bacteria called Streptococcus Pneumoniae, and it needed two antibiotics via an i.v drip for months to treat it. Big question in our minds was how did he get this? This bacteria is the main cause of pneumonia, but my husband didn’t have that. He had flu like symptoms and extremely severe pain underneath his shoulder blade, that is how all this started. We learned that Strep can manifest itself in other parts of the body. Elderly, children and those with a weakened immune system such as my husband can get very ill. About a week prior, my husband had punctured the inside of his elbow at work. The doctors came to believe that the bacteria entered his system through that puncture because there was a black line of bacteria visible from that puncture almost to his shoulder. It is speculated that the bacteria damaged his left hand, and then spread to behind his shoulder blade, then traveled to his cervical spine settling there. It was killing him and in another 48 hours he would have been dead. Now our battle had a name and we were going to do everything we could to crush it!
So it began, double antibiotics to attack the bacteria, plans made with specialists to come in and assess the damage on my husband’s body, Center for Disease Control daily reports, case worker, social worker, therapists. Entire team of medical personnel assembled to make a plan for what would come next. In between that was visits from co workers, close friends, people to pray, and more doctors, not to mention daily updates on the phone to family, and a few hours of work for me. Wait and see mode for the next ten days gave way to a newly scheduled surgery date. When we arrived at nine days out from the first surgery, his fevers were gone and the neuroligist team was ready to do the second surgery. Briefly meeting with them, we found out that they would go in at the site of the laminectomy which was the first surgery and add screws there to the fusion to pull the spine up in an attempt to decompress it. Both specialists confirmed to me that this may not work, it may be too late and be prepared in case my hub was wheelchair bound. I heard what they said but my soul rejected that, I already knew and had a sense of peace about it that he would not be paralyzed. Second time of kissing him and sending him off for surgery in just nine days. For me, it was sit and wait.
This time I chose to sit in the family waiting room while he underwent another 5 hour procedure. Seated myself on a couch next to and end table. I had brought a stack of books for the wait. Next to me on that table was a lamp which was off. I really gave it no regard until it started turning on and off several times. After a while it caught my attention because it kept doing it. I got up and went to get some hot tea and the light stopped but when I returned next to it the light started back up. Whatever, was my thought. Once the five hours dragged slowly by, the team of docs approached me to give me info. Things went well they said but his stenosis is very severe, your 50 year old husband has the back of an 80 year old man, no guarantees this would work. More wait and see over the next few days. I thanked them both, shook their hands, and sat back down in my spot to wait til I could go to recovery. During this time, the light completely stopped the flashing on and off and ceased it completely. Eventually, my name was called to go to recovery, I dropped one of my books on the floor landing under the table with the lamp. As I bent down to get the book, I noticed the lamp cord unplugged under the table, the plug part of the cord had been cut off. I sat there the whole time, no one else near me, I stayed right there when I talked to docs, no one came near that lamp or table, I cannot explain it to this day. I would have seen a person come to unplug it or cut the cord off. When the docs came we were right next to that lamp, it was in our view. Still I got nothing, no explanation.
No time to think about that lamp now, I was on my way to recovery to see my husband. By now, he had been moved to another floor. As I approached his room, I saw he was alert and talking. At that point his left leg and left hand were still paralyzed. Time would be the teller of the truth. It had been a long day, I went and got some cafeteria food and sat with him and helped feed him his dinner. His nerves were so damaged in those early days, he couldn’t even hold a fork or spoon without shaking all over the place. Groggy from the meds, he needed rest now and I had to get home to see my daughter, so we called it a day. It was Martin Luther King’s birthday in 2011, there was also a snowstorm so I had to go home and clean out my driveway. Weary from the past week, freezing from the cold weather, I was hopeful and as long as one has hope one has a chance. I remember telling my daughter that God is here with us and we will all be okay. Meanwhile, there was only a small amount of fuel oil in our tank, funds were low and eventually I had to find a full time job as soon as we were out of the woods. We had enough funds to make the next mortgage payment and vehicle payment but I was worried about what was after that, this process would take months. My husband probably was going to be disabled and how would we be able to make ends meet? Again I reminded myself, “you surrendered all this, so sit with it.”
Shining bright sun greeted us the following morning as I got my daughter off to the bus. My first mission was to go to the hospital to see my husband. Upon arrival to his room I heard him say, “woo hoo,” and I stepped in to see his left leg now working and his bent and damaged left fingers wiggling. First thing out of his mouth after that was “now when can I start walking again?” His nurse was so excited she went to call his doctors with the great news. My hub got struck down but now he has a chance to rise back up.Walking was going to be a task because he was still hooked up to a bunch of stuff, including i.v antibiotics for the next 8 weeks, and a huge neck brace plus he shook so hard it almost knocked him out of bed. Upon assessments of his legs, we learned his left foot had a foot drop and was spastic. It is from the paralysis and to this day, his left leg spasms if he moves too quickly. More news was given to us, his bladder had been damaged, his kidneys had been damaged, needed catheter for who knows how long, maybe permanently. He had sphincter dysfunction, his salt levels were off the charts, his left hand was permanently damaged, his blood plasma counts were off, he was severely anemic and a few other issues. Prior to this, my husband was physically fit, extremely active, worked very hard on his job, he was my superman. Strong man, now weak laying in that bed. However, it was his strength and sheer determination that he would need to get up. His focus stayed on getting out of that bed.