This is Chapter 16 in a series entitled Telling My Story.
When K. emerged from the operating room, he was comatose. The doctors told us to be prepared for the worst. He might never wake up. If he did awaken, we should not expect any cognition or awareness for at least three or four days, and even then, he likely would not recognize us. They said he might be in a vegetative state - permanently. They talked to us about being prepared to "pull the plug" if it came to that.
K. awoke barely two hours later, recognized me immediately, and tried to smile, although he could not due to the fact that he was "tracched" and on a ventilator. Our first small miracle had arrived. The doctors were amazed.
By day three, post surgery, they had performed enough tests to verify what they suspected right after the operations. An infarction of the spinal cord occurred due to oxygen loss during the surgery. They called a family conference and informed us that our nineteen year old son would never walk again.
The boy who always ran everywhere, who would rather hike in the woods than almost anything else, the red-headed guy who loved to fish and hunt and ride his bike like the wind - would never walk again. The depths of our sorrow could not be described.
After nearly three months, first in the ICU (for seven weeks) then neuro for another six or seven weeks, K. was finally stable enough to send to rehab to begin the arduous journey of learning to be self-sufficient while living in a wheelchair.
Although I felt more pain and sympathy for my son than I could say, I tried very hard not to waste time feeling sorry for myself as his mother. After all, I thought, I at least had had nineteen years raising a happy, healthy boy whose energy and enthusiasm knew no bounds.
I thought about those parents whose child is born with a serious medical condition, and the fact that they deal with that from day one. I could not imagine how they found the faith and strength; but I knew it must come from the same Source as my own.
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For those of you who believe that, if one is a Christian, there should always be a "happy ending" of some sort, I am afraid that my story will disappoint you deeply. There was, and is, no happy ending for K. or for me as his mother. But that does not mean that there has not been joy from time to time. And laughter, too.
They originally told us he would be in rehab, once out of immediate danger, for at least six months. He completed rehab and was able to come home in just six weeks!
He went back to college one month after discharge from rehab. He was elected treasurer of his student body the following year.
There were dark years that followed his graduation from college, as jobs are difficult for the disabled to obtain. Even when the national unemployment rate is near 5% or 6%, for the disabled it is always closer to 75%; people are "afraid" to hire someone in a wheelchair.
Still he kept trying, and eventually his sister suggested he try teaching. He went back to college to obtain further certifications and has been teaching for over ten years now.
Oh, and he also became a certified scuba diver, he has done a 150 foot bungee cord jump, went skydiving (piggy-back) and white-water rafting. Two summers ago he landed a 34 pound salmon in his second deep-sea fishing trip. A replica of that fish is now mounted on his living room wall.
He lives his life to the fullest of his capabilities. We should all be so adventurous and engaged.
Yes, there were times when he despaired. One day, about a year after his accident, I found him alone and deeply despondent. The future looked very bleak and he was not sure he could face it.
We talked, truly heart to heart, for a long time. At last, I said, "Son, let's look at this situation. You still have two good eyes, two good ears, you can talk (when they were not sure he would be able to with one paralyzed vocal chord), and UC Davis tested your IQ at way above average, after the accident.
I'm thinking you have more left, than a lot of people started with."
He looked at me for a few moments, then a slow grin began to spread across his face. "Yeah, I do, don't I?"
Years later he told me (after yet another surgery from various complications) "You know, mom, every morning when I wake up, I have a choice. I can lay there and feel sorry for myself, or I can get up and do the best I can with what I have left to work with. So far, I have been able to get up and do my best, every day."
Of course, it helps that he is also crazy. One day he came wheeling wildly into the kitchen, popping a wheelie and skidding to a stop right in front of where I was cooking.
"Guess what, mom? I've decided what I want to be when I grow up."
Given that he was still only about twenty one and in college, I sighed and said, "Oh, great. It's about time, what is it?" (Giving him guff is better for our relationship than standing around wringing my hands.)
He grinned like a lunatic and said, " A stand up comedian." And he rolled off chortling with glee!
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There is an old cliche', "I cried because I had no shoes, until I saw a man who had no feet."
My older son needs no shoes, because he has no feet, no legs (after becoming a double amputee several years after his accident.) But he has such heart, and great courage, and he commands the respect of all who know him.
And although his story is a tragic one in some respects, it has also been God's instrument of grace to me for over twenty seven years now. God loves K. even more than I do, and I can trust that some day I will see His plan in all of this. So for now ... "What time I am afraid, I will trust in Him..." (Psalm 56:3)
Until next time ... Marsha