Our Journey Through Hell: Chapter 5

By Angela March 9, 2011

It was going to be a short week. Monday was the holiday and I was leaving Thursday to go home before heading to the wedding, which was taking place at a resort in Peggy’s Cove, Nova Scotia.

I had a lot of work to do between Tuesday and Thursday.

I drew inspiration from the patients.

I met a lady, Cora, she was elderly, sweet and lovely. She asked me what had happened and when I explained my situation she gave me the “I’m so sorry” face with the head shake. But she didn’t dwell on it. We chatted as we did our exercises in the gym. She is from a neighbouring community and loves to garden. We bonded easily. She was sad and disappointed because she wasn’t healing as fast as she had hoped (she had broken her hip and while waiting out a 7 day delay for her surgical space at the hospital she developed an infection) and her rehabilitation was going slowly. She was worried that she wouldn’t be able to get in her garden. I felt for her. I wanted to be in my garden. The weather was tormenting with how beautiful it was outside. She worked hard at her rehab. She was always dolled up in a blouse and slacks, sweating through her nice clothes.

Another patient I drank in for inspiration, was Darcy. He was 20. He had been in a terrible car accident on boxing day when his car slid off the road on some black ice while driving to visit relatives. He had been in the hospital ever since. He had fractured his spine in several places. When I met him, he was in a motorized wheelchair but was working on his strength and resistance with hopes to walk again. He was given a 10% chance. He told them, he wasn’t leaving until he walked out of the hospital. He had been there almost 5 months. He was from Prince Edward Island. A long way from home without family and friends.

If they could get up every morning without giving up, surely, so could I.

Wednesday night, after I had settled in for bedtime, I started to practice moving my toes. Again with the staring, willing, begging, pleading and cursing for them to move.

My toe moved.

My toe moved! My god, my toe moved. I picked up my leg and held it to my chest hugged it, cried, laughed, smiled, cried. My god, my toe moved!

I was going to walk the hell out of here after all!

The next day in the gym, it was huge news. I had moved my toe. That meant my nerves were healing and receiving signals from my central nervous system. That meant my ankle was next. Hopefully.

Everyone was so happy. My therapists were ecstatic. Karla was off for the holiday weekend, and missed the announcement, but my other therapist, Skip (that’s his name, I’m not kidding) was over the moon. He promised not to let Karla know until I could show her myself.

All the old guys, missing a leg or two, sang me a chorus of ‘way to go’s’!

Oh, it was heaven. It was heaven to have moved my toe.

At this point I had graduated to a single point cane, as opposed to the four prong cane. I was starting to see the fruits of my labour as my gait (pattern of walking i.e. cane, right, left, cane etc.) slowly resembled some sense of normalcy. I was fitted for a custom brace or AFO (ankle-foot orthotic).

They put a rush on it, I mean c’mon, I had a wedding to go to!

I was given the option to have plain white (boring) or add some decals. I wanted to hot rod it up with flames, but I saw a purple butterfly pattern, and thought Grace would love that, so that’s what I got.

It was ready for me Thursday before I left for the wedding.

Peggy’s cove is beautiful. Just gorgeous. The cottage we had was quaint and very nicely decorated, it was a relaxing retreat.

But I was nervous. I was still a patient. I had the i.d. bracelets on my arm to prove it. I had only just started walking regularly with the cane, and even though we brought the wheelchair for long distances and moments of fatigue, I still felt insecure. Making everyone promise to only look at me from the knee up, didn’t ease the insecurity, I had brown shoes, a butterfly decorated brace and a party dress on. For god sake, I must have looked like some kind of nut!

But, it was a beautiful wedding. We had a wonderful time, despite my ensemble.

By Monday, I was back to Rehab.

I could move my ankle now as well, and Karla was just smitten.

She hooked me up to what I referred to as the electric shock machine, but I’m sure it has a more proper name. It was a device that sent an electric pulse trans-dermal to the muscles in my ankle. This forced the muscle to move in the direction it was supposed to, in order for it to ‘wake it up’ and ‘remember’ how to receive the appropriate signal from my central nervous system.

It worked very well.

Wednesday, I asked a question to which I no longer dreaded hearing the answer.

So, Karla, when can I go home?

I was expecting her to say, probably next week. But instead she said,

I wouldn’t have a problem recommending you go home on Friday.

Oh my god. I tell you, if I could have, I would have jumped up and down.

Friday! I was going home on Friday!

I had been there, in the Rehabilitation hospital, for 4 weeks and one day.

I had exceeded all of their expectations. All of them, even my own.

I walked, no, strutted, head held high, the hell out of there.

It was June 4th. The Graduation ceremony was one week away. I perfected my speech, worked on my walking and prepared an outfit. I had to do something about the shoes.

It was getting very warm. Sneakers and socks and a brace were hell in the heat. So I hunted for sandals that were both supportive and that had a toe and ankle strap that could contain the brace. Birkenstocks. Not my first choice, but whatever.

The graduation, next to the toe moving, was a moment of heaven. The reception from my colleagues was phenomenal. Usually all of the instructors parade into the auditorium, but I was afraid of the long walk so they placed me in a seat close to the stage so that I could meet up with the procession.

Like I was a guest of honour.

Colleagues I hadn’t seen in months, smiled, waved, reached over and hugged as they walked by. Once up on the stage, it was actually happening. I had reached yet another goal. Wow.

And then I got up to the podium, without falling on my face. I heard clapping and little yelps from the crowd and my students screaming ‘woo hoo! Angela!’ and I could have cried. I said my few words and presented the award.

I had done it. I had adapted. I had not died. I would move on and up from here.

I still couldn’t drive yet. When I was admitted as a neurological patient, I was advised not to drive and needed to be assessed to prove I was capable of driving in order to get my license back. My assessment was scheduled for August 9th.

I still needed to return once a week for physiotherapy. I also needed to have blood work done once a month for 6 months to monitor how my liver was responding to the Disease Modifying Drug I was on.

I relied on my neighbours Lenna and Jenna to get me to appointments. I have wonderful neighbours, to be neighbours with your friends, is a blessing, especially when they will drop anything to be there for you. I just love them.

At the beginning of August, Steve, Grace and I rented a cottage in Prince Edward Island for a week with my parents and Steve’s mom. We had beautiful weather and an amazing amount of carrying on and laughter.

We were living again.

I would continue to improve. I had dropped the brace while in PEI. I had dropped the cane by the time we returned to Halifax.

I would go on to pass the driving assessment.

It truly was a journey through hell. A journey I would never wish on anyone. I am lucky, though, I didn’t have to travel it alone. I have an amazing family, amazing friends and I will be forever thankful for all of them.

I’ll always have Multiple Sclerosis. It is a progressive disease and will only get worse.

I will not live in blissful ignorance about my condition. I will not live in denial.

I have accepted my situation. I have grown with this acceptance. I have grown as a wife, as a mother, as a daughter as a friend.

It sounds incredibly cliché, but I don’t take one single thing for granted anymore. With MS you have no idea what tomorrow will bring and it forces you to live in the moment.

And what a wonderful place to be. In the now.

I have evolved to believe in myself. Something I could never do before. Never. All the bravado before, was just a weak front, a disguise.

But I have evolved, I have moved on.

I still make lists, I still plan, but I’m conservative, leaving room for adaptation.

But, I will continue to evolve. I will continue to adapt, because dying is just not an option.