“You don’t know what you have until it’s gone.” This is a phrase I have heard at least a thousand times. I never understood what this meant until I lost my ability to walk on December 28th, 2011.
It was late morning and I was in a cramped room, hooked up to different machines that were beeping at me to the steady pulse of my heart. A small TV was bolted to the left corner of the room and the walls were covered in cartoon animal paintings. There was a glass wall and door in front of me where anyone could peer in if they wanted to. I was exhausted, having been stuck in a recovery area until midnight the day before, waiting for a room to become available in the pediatric intensive care unit. When a room finally opened, it was too uncomfortable to sleep due to all the noise and bright lights outside in the hallway. A curtain could be used to block out the light, but did little to help. The room had a small recliner to the right that my friend was forced to sleep on. My father had gone home the night before to take care of our animals and to drive my friends up to the hospital in Vegas with him the next morning.
We were waiting for the doctor to arrive to take me away to surgery. I was scared but trying not to show it. In the recovery area during the day before, a man screamed in agony, having just come from a major procedure. The thought that I could be in just as much pain or more after my surgery was a terrifying thought. At the same time, I was thinking that I would be able to go home within a week and go back to living the normal life of a fifteen-year-old girl.
Little did I know that the doctor told my father if I did not have the procedure, I would be dead or paralyzed within two weeks. It started because of a MRI on my spine the day before. It showed my spinal cord in danger of severing because it was caught inside a hole in my dura, the membrane that envelopes the brain and spinal cord. As the nurses began to prepare me for surgery, they hooked me up to portable machines and transferred me to a hard, uncomfortable bed that immediately began to hurt my back. From there, I was wheeled away from the concerned faces of my father and friends.
The procedure lasted forever according to my father, but the doctor told him it was a success. I sluggishly woke up in the same area I had been in the day before. There were tan curtains around me for walls, and bright, florescent lights glaring down into my sensitive eyes. I could hear the same annoying heart monitor sound I had that morning and the smell of antiseptic was in the air. Everything was too clean; I wanted the comforting smell of my animals and my father’s second-hand smoke to indicate that I was home and had just been having a terrifying nightmare. My dad was to my right, concern etched into the corners of his piercing, blue eyes. I tried to say something, to tell him I was awake, but it came out in a garble of lost words. My hands were responding as I twitched my fingers, and I tried to move my legs, but I realized immediately that something was wrong. They would not move; I tried again once, twice, a third time– but nothing would happen. Suddenly, my voice was clear and tears were streaming down my face.
“My legs won’t move!” I shouted.
My father was there in a second, telling me it would be okay, but I was already having a hard time keeping my eyes open. My outburst had consumed all my remaining energy and I fell into a blissfully, oblivious sleep. The doctor told my father that he believed it was the anesthesia causing the paralysis, but hours later, when I woke up for a second time, my legs were still limp no matter how many times I tried to move them.
The next ten days were a blur of pain medications, agonizing headaches, and fragmented memories. I would go to a rehabilitation facility for the next eight months and go through another grueling surgery, but my legs still refused to support me. As time goes on, the memories I have of that day leave, but the one thing I will never forget is the sense of loss when I woke up from surgery and realized my world was completely changed.