Day 4: First Steps

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The clock reads 9am. I am unbelievably grateful to have slept through the surgeons 5am rounds. If they asked me anything, I was in fact “sleep talking”. Finally rest had made its arrival, and with it, mental restoration. Even in the dreariness of the ICU something refreshing was in store for today. I leaned slightly to the side and asked my neighbor how he slept. His response came with a high pitch laughed of “Like a baby”. His condition was no longer critical and after only 24 hours he would be discharged from the ICU, and perhaps even sent home the next day. He explained that anyone 60 plus gets thrown in ICU “just in case”. That gave me a belly laugh that rippled with agony through every inch of my back. I followed with asking him about his return to the 2020 Olympics and he assured me, I would see him there; Track and Field of course. Thomas comes skipping around the corner and exclaims “Anna did I just hear you laugh?My goodness you’re laugh is infectious!” Thomas looked more handsome on a full nights rest; I found myself blushing. “Annnnnnnnnnnnnna it’s me your favorite surgeon.” I was starting to feel like I had awoke to some kind of musical where everyone was singing my name. “Dr.Hitchon you will only be my favorite if you promise to let me out of this bed today, I cannot take one more day here, I must get up.” Completely un-phased by my dramatic edge he promptly responds with “The more you ask the longer you lay.” I know, I know, he sounds like a drill sergeant, but he isn’t. He’s just profoundly skilled at knowing how to handle people for who they really are, and my manipulation was not a new tactic. Annoyed by his disdain for my plea, I simply shot him “a look.” “Listen” he said; ” I will meet with the physical therapist and she will examine you. If she gives the green light, we will get you up.” My smile must have said it all. He leaned in, grazed my hair gently, gave me a light hug, and told me that he was confident my stubbornness would serve me well in recovery. As he was leaving my mom leaped into the room with a size of Starbucks I didn’t know they sold. She hugged the surgeon tightly and he asked if she wanted to see pictures of my surgery. Being the never ending learner that she is, she accepted his offer without hesitation. Meanwhile I lay daydreaming of using my legs. Then I begin to do what I do best; think. What if they don’t work? What if I’m numb upon standing, what will it feel like? Why is everyone so hesitant to let me up? Why do they behave as if it’s the hardest thing I will ever do? What if I fall? Okay, Anna stop. Stop it. You are going to be fine. You are strong. You are not going to entertain fear and you certainly will not hold its hand. You will be UPHELD by the righteous right hand of your father. His strength is your strength and his peace is your peace. “Anna, I’m the lead physical therapist for the neurology department. I hear you are anxious to get up.” Distracted by her awesome scrubs I fail to respond initially. “Sorry, yes. Yes I’m ready.” A few “squeeze here squeeze there, push here, push there” tests and she agreed to give it a try. “Now push your pain button. I’m not going to lie Anna, this is going to hurt and it may scare you but I will be right here and between Thomas and I we won’t let you fall. First we are just going to focus on sitting up in bed.” I nod, glance at my mother, and take a deep breath. Finally my mom was in her element; cheerleader and coach, ready to do some encouraging. I grab Thomas hand, and I feel her support the top of my back. Unsure of where to start I am wiggle my legs as if I were bracing for what was next. Gripping their hands I rely on the strength of my arms. My biceps strain and my neck pushes me upright with no more momentum than that of a molasses. Every inch I say up felt like someone was tearing into me all over again. The pain kicked my body into “fight or flight” and thankfully the “fight” mechanism geared a new energy that ended with me in an upright position, legs dangling from my bed. The room spun slightly and my breath shortened. Nothing felt particularly good, but the adrenaline of being upright made me want to stand. “I’m ready to stand.” Thomas and the physical therapist look at one another, nod, and instruct my ever move. “Okay Anna, we aren’t going to let go. You’re next goal is to make it to that recliner.” I glance at my mother once again. She stood straight as a board. She was as nervous as I was. I knew I had to make this move with confidence. I knew any hesitation would send my body into “flight” mode. I knew it was time to put my game face on. I put one foot on the ground and then the other. Using my calves against the bed I stand upright. Pain shoots up from my toes to my head and I gasp. The room is spinning, my head is light, and I feel as though my legs may buckle. “Anna, Anna stay with…..I try desperately to keep my eyes on the chair but black spots cloud my view and I’m sure this is going to end with me on the floor. All of a sudden I feel a pinch. “Anna stay with us, move your foot. Move your foot.” I take a step, and I cry. I take another step, and I cry. I moan, I weep, and I struggle to breath. The chair gets closer and I get stronger. Thomas is cheering me on and though my mother is out of sight I feel her eyes on me. I make it to the chair and they sit me down. A wave of relief from the pain comes, but my body is convulsing from shock and my breath is shallow. They give me a blanket and put my oxygen on. My mother walks toward me. “You know when you were little and you took your first steps. I feel like I just witnessed that moment all over again. I’m so proud of you.” I focused on breathing and the longer I stayed upright the stronger I felt. The physical therapist leaned into me. “Anna, you did incredible. I’m not just saying so either. Ask anyone around here I’m hard to impress but you know what the difference is between you and most people? You WANT to walk and you aren’t afraid of the pain. That takes real courage. I’ll be back later.” Truth be told I had never considered myself to be “courageous” or “tough” but in that moment I did. I really did. Only minutes out from my victory my mother asked earnestly if she could put shampoo cap on and brush out my hair. Now, if you know anything about extreme pain you know the last thing you want is 4 days of uncombed hair being brushed out. But this was more than that; this was my mother finally having a chance to do something for me. This was about more than just me. She was going through a battle too. “Sure mom, I would like that.” It was good to see her smile, and as she put the cap on she expressed how amazing it was to see me sitting up. “Did you feel everything? Do you think you’ll be able to go again today? Could you tell if there was any numbness?” Clearly, we were approaching what for my mother was a long overdue Q&A. “I’m not sure mom. It was too intense to really say for sure, but it sure felt like I felt everything.” Without missing a beat she says ” It’s going to be great. You’re doing great.” All at once it occurred to me how much this had affected my family. Unable to communicate with anyone yet, she was encouraging me to make a few calls. “Mom, I just kind of want to sit here and enjoy this for awhile. It kind of feels like a time I need to process.” She smiled big. “Okay well you process, stay sitting up, and I’m going to find some lunch.” With that she was off and I was staring down Thomas from an entirely new angle. “Anna, you’re a badass.” Smiling I respond with “I think my god is a badass.” Thomas laughs and says “What do you suppose God thinks of you calling him a badass?” ….”Thomas God has a sense of humor, but he would probably humbly respond and remind me that walking today is about much more than my physical strength.” Thomas seemed pleased with my answer. “You know I used to be pretty unsure about God, but Anna I’ve seen miracles in this hospital and you are one of them. No bluff, you really are. When Dr. Hitchon gave us your report I would have never dreamed you would be out of bed before a week at least.” There were no preachers or pews here. There was no worship music or lights. Yet here I sat with more of Christ and less of me. Here God made himself known in the heart of a nurse, in the mouth of a neighbor and in the love of a mother. Here Christ carried me, all the way to a recliner. Here Grace thrived. I could not create it, and I did not ask for it; it just was. Almost like the air, it kept my spirit in an embrace unlike anything I’ve known. Almost as if I had been found for the first time. I was wrapped in scarlet kindness and breathing the air of heaven. All I want is you; bind my heart to you. Every breath I take is a breath to say, I am yours forever.

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