JOHNS HOPKINS (US) — Military veterans with spinal cord injuries who took a short scuba-diving course experienced significant physical and psychological improvement, researchers say.
While recovering at Shepherd Center, it was no surprise that I received few visits from friends and family. No, it was not because I had lost my legendary charisma and benevolent personality. Quite simply, Sweetie and I were separated by over 600 miles of geography from our nearest and dearest. This became a mixed blessing in that, although we missed home like an amputated limb, we were able to focus our combined efforts into therapy, recovery and training on how to be a fine upstanding quadriplegic and caregiver couple in America. This also made the smattering of visits all the more precious.
While still a patient in the hospital annex of the center, our dear friend, Sweet Melissa, visited us and presented me with a gift like no other. It was a quilt she had crafted by hand and tailored especially for me. This Steelers themed masterpiece holds the distinct honor of my most cherished possession. The very thought of the skill, labor and love that went into each stitch humbles me and stands as a constant reminder of the pure goodness of which people are capable. I certainly rely on my phone, van, computer and kickass chair to keep me rolling through each day, but when the lights go out and the house is silent and Sweetie and the dogs have fallen asleep upstairs, it’s just me and my quilt.
One might consider a quilt to be a rather impractical gift for a friend recovering in a hospital in Atlanta in July. So not true. One of the many perks to being a quadriplegic, in addition to the outstanding parking and women fawning over you, is a quirky phenomenon which alters your internal thermostat. In my case, I feel chilled more often than not regardless of the outside temperature. I place this in the “perk” column because, given the choice, I would much rather throw on a couple of layers of clothing than to be eternally hot with no hope of escape. I will most likely endure enough of that in the afterlife. At any rate, the quilt is always available to provide me comfort and warmth and it has covered me each night since Sweet Mellissa proudly delivered it.
Although most nights are restful and uneventful, the quilt and I have certainly seen our share of tribulations. Through high fevers, violent spasms, chronic pain, intense chills, garish nightmares and seemingly endless sleepless nights, the quilt has bared witness to my curses and my prayers. It has also been my silent companion during the peaceful hours I am afforded to think and reflect while the rest of the house is still.
All manner of thoughts occupy my mind as the clock ticks its endless cadence. I ponder both my accomplishments and my shortcomings. I concoct optimistic plans for both the near and distant future. I create elaborate and fanciful tales to entertain my idle mind. Often my musings focus on the reflection and dissection of the events of the past year. How is it possible that the most tragic 365 days of my life have coincided with my greatest period of enlightenment? What bizarre cosmic paradox allows me to emerge a broken man and yet, at the same time, a better man? I owe it all to my quilt.
Each facet of my life, from my system of beliefs to my proclivity toward Skoal Wintergreen Long-cut, comprises a patch in my quilt. Some squares are vast and prominently featured while others are mere swatches and rarely seen. The biggies, such as my faith, family, friends, and health, are on display for the world to see while distant memories, secret thoughts, and things that have not yet been revealed even to me, lie in it’s darkened folds. This elaborate tapestry protects me as I travel through this life.
When a portion of my quilt is torn or a section is completely ripped away, I feel the stinging cold of the world upon my naked body. These times seem unbearable as waves of helpless desperation consume me. But because of my past experiences, I am comforted by the knowledge that this condition won’t last. A quilt is an amazing entity. It has the ability to fold unto itself thus covering any holes in the fabric and carrying on its purpose of keeping me safe and warm.
I have also come to the realization that my quilt is much larger than I could ever have imagined and it continues to grow. When we think of the people in our lives, we tend to focus on the main players whom we see often, but it is the supporting cast and behind the scenes people that make the show, or in this case the quilt, possible. If the credits of my life were to be rolled right now, the list would be impressively long. I continuously thank God for this vast network for I owe so much of my success to them.
The quilt must always be taken care of and never taken for granted. For all of its durability, it is a fragile thing and must be treated gently and mended when needed. Take care of your quilt and it will take care of you, some Boy Scout once said.
I came home from work just like any other day.
I knew that Jim would be working later than usual because his grades were due and he was helping out with the spring musical at school.
I was feeling antsy so I called up our friend and neighbor, Cindy, to go for a walk.
I couldn’t shake this feeling of foreboding and agitation.
Where was this coming from? I thought.
I finished my vigorous walk around the neighborhood with Cindy and cobbled together some kind of light dinner for myself.
Still suspecting nothing even though Jim wasn’t home yet.
The land line startled me with its ringing.
My heart skipped a beat.
Something told me to stop what I was doing and answer the phone! (and we always let the land line go, relying upon our cell phones anymore)
Is this the wife of James Kleyle?
Your husband broke his neck.
This is Dr. So-and-So, I am a surgeon at Baltimore Shock Trauma. Your husband was in a car accident and he has broken his neck. And then there was some medical jargon about where his neck was broken (things that I now understand but didn’t then) and that they needed to do surgery and required my consent. Then he explained all of the legal stuff to me such as “you do understand that there is a risk that your husband could die on the operating table. Do we have your permission to perform this surgery?”
Yes, I croak, at this point going into the shock which I would remain in, and would save me from the enormity of what I was about to do later in the evening.
When the surgeon was about to give me directions, my brother walked in the door, thank God. I rattled off to him what was happening and handed him the phone. At this point speaking English and hearing English became far away and foreign to me.
Here! Find out how to get there while I call Mom and Dad and Cindy, I barked.
I am in the car with Cindy and my brother who is driving us. And my parents are also on their way in their car.
We arrive at the R. Adams Cowley Shock Trauma Center in Baltimore and go to the reception desk which is being held down by some tough looking chicks who mean business.
By now this eerie, surreal calm has come over me and will serve me well in this place of gloom and doom where the only reason visitors are there is to learn about and/or see their critically injured loved ones. In fact every single time I visited Shock Trauma the heavy hearts of close family and friends hung in the air as thick as black tar molasses. That kind of human stress energy was palpable.
Each person swimming in their own living hell.
Anyway. At this point my brother charges forward and asks the very busy ladies at the desk, where we can see or find out about patient, James Kleyle. One of the women does not respond well to my brother and she becomes agitated with his curtness. An argument ensues between them and at this point there is another stressed out family standing near us awaiting information about their loved one, too.
Suddenly, I wave a hand over them while calmly stating, “Some people react differently to stressful situations, so could we start over and please, if you could – and we know that you are very busy – but we would like to find out about a patient who was MedEvaced here, James Kleyle. I am his wife.”
I don’t know where in the hell that came from but again, shock can be a wonderful thing to help one get through.
The woman’s face softened and she even smiled a bit. The family standing near us softened, too and the man nodded toward me in quiet understanding.
Let me find out where he is and when you can see him. She immediately picks up the phone and listens intently.
The surgeon is going to come down to speak with you momentarily.
The surgeon, in blue scrubs to include the scrunchy hair cover thing (which meant: he was prepping to perform delicate surgery on my husband), approached me because everyone else respectfully stood a step or two behind me.
Let’s go in here.
We were quickly ushered into a shoebox sized, nondescript room which afforded a family privacy to hear any devastating and complicated medical news that a surgeon would need to deliver. (The Cry Box or Breakdown Box, I thought)
I recall the surgeon having sharp features but I can’t remember his name nor would I recognize his face if I ever laid eyes on him again. This was the initial surgery to stabilize Jim’s fractured neck. There would be another major surgery to further shore up his neck the next day. This surgery would be done by the head of neurosurgery at the R Adams Cowley Shock Trauma Center in Baltimore. That factoid did little to comfort me at the moment because I was about to hear the gravest of news.
Your husband could be paralyzed from the neck down and quite possibly require a ventilator for breathing. He may have said something encouraging after that but I don’t know what that was. I do recall that he was very kind and not cold at all. He also encouraged questions but we’d been given enough information and I wanted him operating on my husband.
Again with the serene calm. I know that you will do your best for my husband and I appreciate everything that you are doing and about to do. Whatever the outcome, we will deal with it. Jim will still be Jim no matter what.
I saw the surgeon flinch a little at that. I’d like to think that he may have thought I was in shock or delusional. I was in shock but I meant it.
And then I did something completely unexpected.
Do you accept hugs?
And I hugged this stranger who was going to fix my husband’s neck.
And then we waited into the night for what seemed like eons. Everyone else got things to eat but all I could muster was a soda.
I do not recall if the surgeon came to get us or if we pressed the ladies who worked at the reception desk. All I remember is riding up the elevator to Neurotrauma Critical Care 4.
There he was lying there so fragile and helpless. He was attached to all of these tubes and monitors which took up his entire room. The room was not designed to be attractive nor cozy but to stabilize the patient and afford the nurses, doctors, and respiratory therapists easy access to that patient who was centrally located within the room.
The sight of all of this overwhelmed my parents and our dear friend Cindy and they each broke down into tears and had to step back.
Not me. Through the continued serene calm (of shock) I not only addressed my husband (who was lying there with his eyes closed), but I kissed him and told him that I loved him. And then I proceeded to comfort each and every one of them.
It’s going to be OK, I soothed.
CHECK THIS OUT:
This is a great informational/newsy blog about spinal cord injuries and people living with paralysis – from articles about young quads living in nursing homes to why cheerleading has become such a dangerous sport, rendering participants quadriplegic, etc.
It was started and maintained by a quadriplegic. And without further ado, I give you: