Why Luck Is Just One Part of the Story Regarding My Spinal Cord Issues


I’m going to start off by saying it — I’m lucky. I’m acutely aware of how close this came to being a different story. Six years ago, I had surgery to stabilize my spinal cord. Spinal cords can be fickle creatures that don’t like to be messed with.

It often goes without saying that chronic pain is a steady companion when you’re dealing with spinal issues. I’ve gotten used to my pain. It’s like my body’s white noise always playing in the background of my consciousness.

Sometimes this mentality is good. After 10 days of recuperation, I got out of bed and began the full load of parenthood again. My children have been the best of blessings; they encourage me to move forward.

Here’s one downfall of chronic pain. As most people know, there are times when pain is telling you something. For me, I can miss the subtle difference between my chronic pain and when I should pay attention to it. This came at a horrible cost to my physical ability.

It took two years after my surgery to realize that once my spine had fused solid, it had pushed all the nerves to my arms against my collarbone. It’s a condition known as thoracic outlet syndrome (TOS). I didn’t realize what was happening until I no longer had complete control over my arms and hands.

Thankfully, nerves are a little more forgiving than your spinal cord. They have the amazing ability to regenerate with time — if I continue to be lucky. In order for the nerves in my arms to function properly, I’ve been placed on lifelong restrictions.

Now that my upper spine is fixed and rigid, I can’t look up for extended periods of time or lift my arms or move them in repetitive motions, which means no front-row seats at the movie theater for me. No big loss. I can’t gaze up lovingly into my husband’s eyes. Kind of a hard hit but standing on the stairs helps. There are no more pirouettes (a devastating blow to a former dancer) and no more rock climbing. Apparently, I had my cliff-hanger moment already.

My husband is a good sport. There are more household chores for him; he’s my arms when he’s around. My girls will jump in to help when they see Mommy fumbling over the craft table. There are many fine motor tasks my girls are better at than me. I’d like to think I’m building their confidence.

I’ve learned to continually adapt to my declining condition. Do I always feel lucky? Yes, but it’s more complicated than that. Luck, like my pain, has become my background emotion. I constantly feel lucky for everything I’m able to do that I know would have been different if I were paralyzed. 

But this journey has presented me with more than just feeling lucky. I feel sadness when I realize I’ve lost the ability to do something I love and know I will likely never do it again. I feel frustration when I can’t get my hands or arms to work properly. I feel resilient when I figure out how to do something differently. I feel a tremendous amount of love for the people who help me.

Most importantly, I’ve realized that while I’m physically weaker, I feel stronger for living through it. Luck is just one part of the story.

The Mighty is asking the following: What is a part of your or a loved one’s disease, disability or mental illness that no one is aware of? Why is it time to start talking about it? If you’d like to participate, please check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

Lead photo source: Thinkstock Images

Related to Spinal Cord Injury

Beth swimming.

How the Wheelchair Games Helped My Daughter 'See the Possibilities' After Spinal Cord Injury

In May of 2000, I fell asleep at the wheel with my youngest daughter in the passenger seat. Beth, 14 years old, was paralyzed from the chest down with a C6-7 spinal cord injury. Sports were just one thing of many that seemed to be taken away from her. The Monday morning after the Saturday night accident, a stranger burst into Beth’s room [...]

What I Learned About Caregiving After My Daughter's Spinal Cord Injury

I believe that caregiving is an art. I wore that hat in many different settings, including ones where I also supervised other caregivers. However, I never expected to be a caregiver for one of my teenaged children. After my daughter Beth’s spinal cord injury, I quit my job at the Tiffin Center, a state institution in Ohio, [...]

5 Things I Wish I Had Known After My Daughter's Spinal Cord Injury

A friend asked me to share what I wish I had been told at the beginning when my daughter Beth was injured. She has a spinal cord injury at C6-7. My first list began with three thoughts: Breathe deeply. Hug. Rest. Repeat. Find a good listener. Share your feelings with someone who cares. Let other people [...]

The 2-Letter Word That Was the Key to My Recovery After a Spinal Cord Injury

The day after Christmas 1979, at the age of 17, I broke my neck playing football. I found the courage and strength to recover, graduated from high school, and earned my college degree and my law degree as a quadriplegic. I found my purpose: to achieve more than expected, and to aspire to be the best [...]