Monday, April 4, 2011

Today...while the sun still shines...

"Like as the waves make towards the pebbl'd shore, so do our minutes, hasten to their end." - Shakespeare 

In November 2010, when I last wrote, I had the year of 2011 completely mapped out. It would be my year to make the changes I'm so eager to make, not resolutions, but goals. I had so many pretty plans and dreams: marathon training, adventures with Will, expand and exercise my talents and hobbies, be a better, more kind Michelle, begin my education, look for ways to serve others, enjoy the world around me and then change it for the better, be an improved wife and friend. The list goes on. Well, as it often happens in life, circumstances deviated the start of my awesome year of change and growth from my carefully laid plans. 

On Monday, January 17, 2011, I went in to a Neurologist to be tested for Multiple Sclerosis, due to losing motor function in my right leg and symptoms. I was terrified, of course; I didn't really know what to expect. All I knew, was that I've had patients with M.S., and I was sick at the thought of having it. I began my routine, 35 minute MRI, and soon, I knew something was really wrong. 35 minutes turned into 60, and 60 into a 120 minutes. When the process was finally over, the doctor, who had left for the day two hours earlier, came to speak with Will and I immediately. I remember having my darling husband at my side and trembling with the thought of what kind of news would warrant such a hurried reaction on his part, since it was supposed to take 2 to 3 days to get my results back and the techs had called the doctor back to work for my sake. He informed me that I had a moderately sized tumor inside my spinal cord that was pushing on my nerves, and that it would have to be removed immediately. So, I was off to meet my neurosurgeon the next morning. It was a very surreal feeling, knowing this was really happening to me but feeling disconnected and detached from it all, like I was dreaming it. 

Tuesday morning, my surgeon, who is an amazing man and phenomenal doctor, went over all the scenarios, risks and hopes of my surgery with me. I could wait a week at most to give my parents time to make it to Salt Lake to be with me. The surgery itself would be 6 hours long and high risk with an equally high chance of "complications", which most commonly includes paralysis, blood clots, and heart, lung or brain problems. The plan was to remove two of my vertebrae to get to my spinal cord, go in and remove the tumor, or as much as possible, and finally, sew the cord and then screw the vertebrae back in place followed by a leak proof stitch along my back. There was a chance that the vertebrae wouldn't be able to be re-attached, and there was also a chance that only 95% of the tumor could be removed if it was tangled with my nerves. After my appointment with him, I spent the next 10 hours going through many pre-operation tests and exams. Everything was set, and all I had left to do was wait. 

My family is my heart and soul, my greatest treasures I'll ever have or know. My wonderful mother and father got into town on Thursday, and we spent the few days before my surgery having fun and messing around town. My feelings during all this were surprisingly calm and peaceful; I spent much of my time praying and thinking. Time and time again, I was swept up with feelings of love, comfort and peace in my heart, where I thought I'd find fear, doubt and despair. I was prepared for whatever outcome would happen; I had complete faith that Heavenly Father would not give me something beyond my capacity to adapt to and handle; so, what reason did I have for fear? Nervous? Yes. Afraid? No. The support, prayers and love of my many friends and family members kept me grounded and whole. The Sunday before my surgery, 8 of our closest friends came over for dinner; the priesthood holders of the group all participated in giving me a blessing, which my Dad conducted. He specifically said that my surgery would go without any complications and I would heal quickly. I felt more gratitude for my Heavenly Father more in that moment than I ever had before then. 

The days flew by, and before I knew it, I was looking my surgery in the face on the morning of Tuesday, January 25th. I tend to ramble and have word vomit, more than usual, when I'm nervous; so, I was driving everyone crazy talking about nothing a million miles a minute. Half an hour before my surgery, we ran into a hiccup. I couldn't get my wedding band off my finger, and eventually, it had to sawed off. I was pretty heartbroken, but I was sure it'd be an easy fix. I knew it would be tricky to remove since I hadn't taken it off in three years, and I've gained 104 lbs. since my leg's disabilities first appeared two years ago. Not long after that, I went into surgery. I knew it would seem like a second to me, but I did feel bad for my family, knowing they had to wait in the waiting room for 6 hours. They were supposed to get updates every hour, but they went four hours without hearing anything. So, they began to get a bit panicked; shortly after that, they heard that the surgery went so well that the surgeon decided to just finish up, and I got out a bit early. The first realization that came to me through the fog of anesthesia was my anesthesiologist telling the nurse about my ring being cut off; I wanted more than anything to tell her that she did a good job. That's the very first thing that popped into my hazy head; so, I kept giving them thumbs ups because I couldn't find my tongue yet. I heard the nurses giggle, and then it was quiet for a time. I'm not sure how much time went by, but I didn't have to wait for long before I heard the most wonderful sound reach me. Will excitedly whispered in my ear that the surgery was a complete success and he loved me. His excitement and love was echoed by my parents'. I remember moving my legs for the first time then, just to make sure they weren't mistaken; tears came to my eyes, and my heart pounded while I thanked Heavenly Father for being with me and blessing me beyond belief. Even though it wasn't any less than I expected, I was still filled with so much gratitude that I felt emotionally overwhelmed. My family told me that my tumor was tangled up in some of my nerves, but they were able to remove 100% of it anyway; also, they only had to remove one of my vertebrae to successfully complete the surgery. 

There were many moments of pure agony in the hospital, but through it all, I felt the undeniable presence and comfort of the spirit holding me together in one piece. One moment in particular was the day after my surgery. I had to lay on a flat plane for 24 hours, which was excruciating, but I was so relieved that I could turn onto my sides to avoid laying on my back since that was more than unbearable. The incision line is a little more than a foot long; I had a hard time finding comfortable positions, but what I dreaded more was the MRI that had to be done when the first 24 hours were over to check that all my pieces had settled properly. The MRI meant lots of jostling while getting transfered and laying totally still, flat on my back on the metal platform to go into the tube for 35 to 45 minutes. I spent most of the day in a complete panic and dreading it. The MRI team got backed up; so, instead of having the MRI at 1:00 p.m., which was exactly 24 hours after my surgery, I ended up going at 1:30 a.m., 12 hours later than scheduled, on the 27th of January. I was hyperventilating before they even took me out of my room, but the wait had given me time to mentally prepare somewhat. The tech told my mother and I that he was extremely backed up and had to hurry to finish before 2:00 a.m. My Mom and I just looked at each other, panic on my face and helplessness on her's. To me, rushing would mean less caution and care. Off I went. The gentleman and I both knew what was coming; so, we were oddly quiet on the way to the imaging floor, as he hurriedly wheeled me over all the bumps and turns at an uncomfortable speed. As other techs passed, they asked my tech, "Is that the full spinal girl that just had surgery yesterday?" When it was confirmed, most of them commented something along the lines of, "Crap. This is gonna suck," with pity in their voices. That just sent my heart into overdrive. One guy apologized when my heart rate monitor sky rocketed after he made a similar comment; he said sorry and quickly disappeared. Pretty soon we were in the room, just my tech and I; I remember it being dead quiet and trying to imagine it being over. They always ask your name and birthday before touching you to verify they have the right patient; so, he asked, "Birthday?" I responded, "Today." "......Oh hell. Happy birthday dear. I'm sorry." 

I almost laughed, but I was too scared. Just before we got started, I warned him that I would cry. With that, he used a sliding board to quickly slide me to the gurney. When my back hit that platform, I thought it was all over. My breath left me, and I couldn't get it back. Then, it came too quickly, and I couldn't make it stop. Tears were soaking my face, neck and hair; my mouth filled with blood because I bit back a scream that was raking at my throat to get out. I held absolutely still. My body wanted to writhe and twist my way out of the position that was killing me, but I knew if I budged even one hand, I would forfeit all my self control and would never be able to see this through. So, the MRI started. I prayed. I prayed for strength. I prayed for comfort. Then, I just plain prayed it would stop. I was getting desperate; I pleaded that I could lose consciousness. It had been forever already, and my whole being was in agony that I was inflicting on myself with the effort of holding still. I felt like my body was slowly being ripped apart a millimeter at a time right down the middle; it was torture. I clung to God and my prayers like I was a drowning victim holding on to a life preserver. 

Then, finally, the tech came over the intercom and said, "Ok, honey, your first 5 minutes are over. You're doing a great job. Keep completely still." 5 minutes....5 minutes.......5 minutes! I wanted to die. I shamelessly begged that I could just slip away and let go of my life; then, I remembered my mother. I thought of her waiting for me back in my room; I thought of all the things she had given me and done for me in my life. She gave us all of herself and everything she had. She's the woman I admire the most, and hope to be like, an amazing wife, mother, sister, daughter, friend. I want to be that to others. I remembered so many random memories from when I was a child, my mom with me during my first MRI because I cracked my skull when I was 4, cooking with her, working in the garden, reading, all her little lessons and so much more. She dedicated her life to being the best mother and friend I could have ever had. I could do this for her. I could suffer this insignificantly small space of time to go back to my room and show her that she brought up a strong, courageous girl. I wasn't either of those things; I clung to the thought of my mom. I pictured myself being 4 again and clinging to her neck crying like I had so many times when I was little; once again, she saved me. The intercom sounded again, "......12 minutes are still....lower back." What he said didn't really matter anymore; I could do this. 

Next, I thought of my Dad, how kind and gentle he is. He is always so loving and supporting to us all. He works so hard at everything he ever does. He taught me to work hard, play hard and love life, to be the best I can. We always have so much fun, watching movies, listening to music, working outside, going to church. I remember him singing to me when I was little, always singing. Michael Jackson, Elvis Presley, Little Willy, La Bamba and tons more; I still ask him to sing for me.  Through his quiet and strong example, he taught me to trust Heavenly Father and be a good person. He loves his family and will go to the ends of the Earth for us; I'm so blessed that these two amazing people brought me into this world. I had always hoped I would be a daughter worth having and find a love to match theirs. Watching them showed me what I dreamed for in a marriage and family. The intercom buzzed, "....18 minutes...good.......neck." This was getting easier. I moved on.

Will, my sweet heart, entered my mind next. I thought about how insanely lucky I am; he's an amazing human being. He is the most hardworking, adorable and pure person I have ever encountered. I thought about all the adventures and fun we've had, being "homeless" and camping out for the 3 weeks just because we could, exploring, road trips, climbing trees, hiking, drawing together, playing games, cooking, him teaching me Haitian Creole, learning, music, and sharing his passion for life with me; I recalled how hard he works to be a good husband and take good care of me, physically and emotionally. I remembered all his quirky talents and interests that I love so much, his funny and sometimes cool or dangerous science experiments, his awesome, artistic creations and how excited I am to start a family with him. His silly lopsided smile, messy hair and his warm hugs made me feel strong. 

Just when I thought I had a handle on my situation, the tech pulled me out to put contrast in my I.V., but he pushed it in too fast, and it blew my vein. That was excruciating for a long time on top of all the other mess I was in, but I just went back to my life preserver like before. The intercom sounded again at some point, but I barely noticed anymore. I thought about my two beautiful sisters, what wonderful, talented women they are and how much I love them and wish them happiness. I thought about my pets and the love and happiness they give me. I thought about my many, many friends that I love, who are all amazing people and each have different unique talents. I remembered every single one of my friends that came to the dinner and participated in my blessing at my apartment 3 days earlier, how lucky I am to have found them and how much happiness and fun their friendships brought Will and I. I thought of how the girls, Whittney, Kaitlynn, Emma, Tiffany and Katrina, have been such a strength to me throughout the year, always uplifting and encouraging me. They each have their own talents and strengths that support and uplift those around them; what wonderful, lovely women of the gospel they are. The boys, David, Andrew, Jordan, Alan and Adam, are so fun to be around and have given my husband more than they could know by being good and strong friends who each have their own special abilities they share. This group of amazing people is a treasure. Thinking of all the admirable and marvelous people I know that I've been privileged enough to call my friends and family, made me realize that I want to be a person worth having as a friend too. 

 I have so much to be grateful for and live for! I thought about my own passions, hobbies and loves. I have a wonderful life, and I want to live it. I was so overwhelmed with happiness that without a moment's notice, my tears turned from ones of frustration and torture to tears of joy and gratitude. I know I was not alone in that lonely, alien tube; the memories and support of the people that are most precious to me held my head above my agony just enough for me to get by. The pain didn't disappear or even decrease, but I felt that I had a stronger will to match it. I know with every molecule in my body that Heavenly Father was with me during that lonely hour, undoubtedly the most difficult hour of my life, showing me all he had given me and what I had to live for. I've never been so grateful in my life; it's funny that it takes such a scary and hard situation to show you how blessed you are and how much you want to be in your life. I would never trade places with anyone; I love all I have and hope I can help others like they've helped me. 

I made it back to my room in a sorry, down trodden state, and my angel mother was there, waiting for me anxiously. I was still crying and hurting, but I had a new found strength to counter it. Later that day, the doctor came in to inform us that my tumor was benign, and I could consider myself cured once I cleared recovery. The rest of my birthday was pretty good, but more than that, Heavenly Father had given me the greatest gift I could receive, not only did my surgery go better than the doctor could hope for so that I was now tumor free but I also found a new excitement and love for my life after being shown how much I'd been blessed with. That night, my wonderful friends and family all came for a visit to celebrate my birthday. Katie, a friend I adore, brought everyone a delicious dinner, decorated my room and made cupcakes to go with the cake my Mom made. Unfortunately, I got seriously ill right in the middle of the fun and had to kick everyone out for the night; my heart broke for the trouble everyone went through for me, when I couldn't even enjoy it. I didn't even get to try a cupcake. I felt fine all day until my party; how sad. I appreciate everyone coming and supporting me more than they could ever know. I got so many flowers, treats, cards and presents that my heart could just break from how much happiness it gave me.

My mom stayed in the hospital with me for most of the time; I'm grateful she put up with my grouchiness, rambling spells, mood swings and melt downs with love and patience. She did most of my immediate care. It was so weird to me, being a C.N.A. that gives people personal care, to receive the same kind of care from others. Very odd, but I appreciate the perspective it gives me. Physical therapy and making myself get up and walk around was so hard, but my Mom pushed me. She loved me enough to make me do stuff myself and not baby me; she's so wise. Will worked and went to school most of the time, but he was with me every second he could spare. He even stayed with me and cared for me a night. How crazy much I love him is ridiculous. My Dad was there the whole time helping me and lifting my spirits with his fun, happy self.

I was cleared to go home after 5 days, and I was SO happy to get out of there. The teams that cared for me and my surgery team was amazing. I'll never be able to thank them all enough; all I can do is pray for Heavenly Father to bless them on my behalf. My parents stayed with me another week to get me settled; they bought me a new bed with beautiful new comforters and pillows. For my birthday, they got me a 88 key digital piano....heartbreak for happiness again. I couldn't breathe sometimes because I was so happy it locked my chest up. When my parents left, I felt so sad, but I knew they needed to get back to their lives. I cried for hours, and Will picked up the pieces and let me cry it out. My Dad told me that Mom cried for hours too. Haha! Women. It was bitter sweet.

Since then, I've made a lot of progress. I'm off my cane and can walk normally now; although, ever since my surgery I've had a lot of numbness in my stomach, back and right leg. My nerves are waking up, which is REALLY painful. I can't feel anything when I touch it, and I can't feel hot or cold. But my leg feels like it's hooked up to a live wire, and it's searing my flesh off. My right heel gives me the most trouble, but I've learned to cope with it. The doctor says that could last from 6 to 8 months, we are hoping the full function returns to my right leg. All I can do is work towards that reality and have faith. I've continued to have support from all my friends and family, and most of all my Heavenly Father, and I will be forever grateful. 

In other news, we moved to Orem, UT two weeks ago in an emergency situation. Another long story, our friends, the Oborns, were staying at our apartment for the night, and about 15 minutes after we went to bed, we woke up to a lot of screaming and commotion outside of our apartment door. A girl was getting attacked by a Hispanic gang that lives in our complex. They got into an argument over a parking spot and it escalated; they beat her up pretty good. She ran to our door, and we let her in. As I was shutting the door behind her, I saw 3 gang members running to our apartment; she stayed with us for 5 hours while the cops, gang detectives, paramedics and forensic team came. The same gang apartment attacked a different girl the weekend before our neighbor was attacked.  We thought that'd be the end, but we started to receive retaliation from the gang. They patrolled our building and would point and yell when I'd take my dog out; then, they tagged our apartment by busting our porch light, peeing on our window and writing a black X with red paint dripping under it to look like blood. We were scared, especially since I was recovering and can't get knocked around; so, we asked our apartment complex if we could leave since our lease was up in May; they told us no. So, I called the regional manager of our property, and it turns out that my apartment's manager lied to her and the lawyer. So, they called the next day to say we could leave; we didn't waste any time and were out in three days. All our friends worked really hard to help us move. We LOVE our apartment in Orem! It's super cute and fits us really well. I started working again for a patient here in town; he's a nice fella. 

I'm starting to marathon train again, which I'm super excited about! I love running. I'll have to start with walking though, since I need to lose all the weight I gained the last two years and I'm still recovering. 

I've learned from these experiences that you should never waste time. Please don't make my mistake. I've wasted time, and time, in turn, has wasted me. I'm not saying that you should constantly be in the act of doing something productive every moment; we need rest and fun to keep our lives balanced. I'm very well practiced in "il dolce far niente", the sweetness of doing nothing. I love being busy, and I love sitting and doing nothing. What I mean is, do not hold off on your dreams or things you want to do for tomorrow. If you want to accomplish something, do it! Tell those precious to you that you love them every chance you get. Don't wait for tomorrow what you can do today; make a difference! Our world does not turn on the backs of unfulfilled dreams. It's shaped by the dreams of people who have the courage to make them a reality. Time is short, and we are getting closer to our ends every moment. So, live your life so that when you look back, you will have no regrets. You'll know that you lived well and to your full potential.
Tumor from the top, inside my spinal cord. 

Tumor from the side, inside my spinal cord. Those thread like strings are my nerves that are being pushed against the walls of my spinal cord. It was about the size of half a golf ball.