“We need your parent’s phone number.”
“But they are in America, and it’s really early.”
“Yes, but this is a big deal, and we need to let them know.”
“But they can’t do anything or come here. Can we just start the surgery now? I’m in a lot of pain.”
“No, we need to call your parents first.”
Eventually, I surrendered my parents phone number and had a nurse hold a phone to my ear not to long after. My dad had been briefed on the situation by the surgeon.
“Hello? Hey, tell mom not to worry, okay. Just pray that God is glorified through this. And maybe pray that I could walk again too.”
It was still hours before I’d go in for surgery. It had already been hours. At least the agony I was in seemed to indicate the passage of time had been significant. I felt like my body had been ripped in half, my legs thrown away, and the point of separation was currently set on fire.
The same nurse who didn’t speak any English kept coming up to pat my hand and murmur, “I’m sorry, I’m so, so sorry,” in a thick German accent. She is the vision of my nightmares; if I hate anyone, it is that woman. In the absolute scariest, most physically painful moment of my life, she kept dosing me with pity rather than peace. I had no idea what was happening, and the English speaking staff weren’t giving me enough context. They weren’t giving me enough drugs either. I’d asked for more multiple times. Apparently they couldn’t give more before surgery because it was going to mess up the drug they needed to put me under. Maybe. Again, the language barrier was muddling a lot of details.
When the surgeon finally came to explain things, I didn’t really understand her message either.
“I make no promises of you ever walking again.”
The Swiss don’t offer false hope.
The Americans don’t forget their manners.
After what my body judged to be weeks of hellish torment but was in reality only a few hours, my hospital bed was wheeled into the pre-op room where I met the anaesthetist and her two assistants. She was very nice.
“I’m going to lower this mask on your face, and you just need to breathe slowly and deeply. Do you understand?”
“Good, yes, like that,” she said as she lowered the mask onto my face while I calmly inhaled and exhaled.
The moment it made contact, I prepared to inhale slowly and deeply, but I gasped for breath, suddenly scared, and then after the two seconds of panic, everything went dark as my mind fell asleep. I woke up in a much bigger post-op room. Sandra and Christine were there.
“You’re going to have to stay obviously, and they won’t let us stay overnight, but we’ll make sure to leave some of your stuff with you for when you wake up, and we’ll come back tomorrow and can make sure to bring anything you want or need.”
“Can you make sure someone leaves my EpiPen?”
“You’re in a hospital, I think you’ll be okay.”
That wasn’t the last stupid thing I’d say under the influence of heavy pain killers, but Christine was always more than gracious to me when I rambled on about senseless things.
It would still be a few days before the reality of the situation sunk in, and here a few years down the road, I’m still sorting out some of the details.
Five years ago by today’s calendar date. Funny thing about time zones though, I’m posting this when it’s barely January 18th in Germany and still the 17th back in America.
I broke my back around noon German time on January 18, 2014. I was driven to the University Hospital in Basel, Switzerland for emergency surgery. I was diagnosed as an ASIA complete paraplegic. Anyone who knows the ASIA scale will laugh at the diagnosis. I’m clearly not a complete paraplegic, but by the diagnosis standards at the time of my accident, I most certainly was. That’s not usually something that changes based on the neurological test they use. You can feel free to google what they do, but I’m not going to write about it here.
Instead I’m going to mark this moment with some positive celebrations of the past five years. Each year on January 18, I choose to spend my day very carefully finding things that are brought into my life solely because of my accident and highlight them intentionally. The first year, I hung out with my friend Jo who I’d met in REHAB. The second year, my favourite nurse came to spend the day with me. The third year, my three best friends from America flew across the ocean to spend a week with me and we road tripped up to Luxembourg on an epic adventure. The fourth year, I had dinner with my Anglican family group friends.
This year, Liz and I are headed out to see a distinctly Kiwi rendition of the classic American play “Our Town.” I am excited about this year’s celebration because I can never forget that I wouldn’t be in this little island paradise if it weren’t for my disability. RCC was the only place I could find willing to let me spend my sabbatical while I still needed a wheelchair (and I looked a lot of places). Liz has welcomed me into her home to live for these months away from Germany, and I’m really grateful for the gift of her friendship in addition to a place to sleep.
Five years is simultaneously a large yet insignificant marker of my journey. The same goes for the round birthday I have coming up in two weeks. I’d hoped to have some great insight I could share in reflection on those tidy numbers, but my accident still is so fresh to me in so many ways despite the fading memory of normalcy pre-disability. However, I’ve been encouraged that there is perhaps some encouragement available to the masses in the raw processing that I can offer of my experience. I spent a significant amount of time in the past two weeks drafting what will eventually take shape as a memoir, and I’m learning to accept that I don’t have to be perfect or understand my situation perfectly. I just have to take another step closer to Jesus.
I asked that God would be glorified when I first talked to my dad before surgery, and I stand by that request. In the next couple days, I’ll create the annual Facebook event that lists my birthday prayer requests, and that always sits as the priority on the list. Please pray that God is glorified in my story. I still don’t understand it, but I also know it’s not fully written yet. Today is just one more step.