I continued to spend mornings down in the gym of TIRR Memorial Hermann, and I had the same regimen each day. This normally began with my therapist giving me a pair of dumbbells. Secured in my TSO jacket, I would build up my biceps and spend some time on a machine that became my favorite exercise item, the Rickshaw. It specifically worked out the triceps. Within just a couple of weeks I couldn’t believe how transformed my arms had become. Since I was going home in a few days, the intensity of my workouts had increased.

My workouts made me appreciate my bath time each evening that much more. I got to soothe the sore muscles. As I became more aware of what would help, I also became better at eating the protein that continued to dominate my breakfast, lunch and dinner trays.

On a comical note, I was known throughout my childhood as being THAT child who came home with a report card that was never higher than a D in physical education. I hated working out but I loved to dance. I took ballet and tap for years. Then, when aerobics became popular in the eighties, I never missed an opportunity to attend a class. Now, here I was sitting in this large gym in front of a threefold mirror that stood largely before me. I struggled to push dumbbells that weighed only two pounds. Within a couple of weeks, the weight turned into ten pounds. The ironic comparison of my youthful self to my present self was not lost on me. Additionally, I was soaking up all the recommendations from the TIRR staff as much as I could for the simple truth that I had two kids at home who were depending on me. I needed to be strong for them on both a physical and a mental level.

As another part of my therapy, I also stood in a standing frame, whereby I would lie down on this long table, but with the push of a button it would stand me upright. Even though I felt good standing, I didn’t get into it as much as I should have.  It just felt so unnatural to stand this way. Nevertheless, I continued as the obedient student at work for one purpose only; being there for my children. I knew that if it helped me, it would help them.

One of the things I loved the most about being in this rehabilitation center was feeling secure. I had noticed again how even after a few weeks, I still felt like I could just listen and not have to worry about the rest, at least for now. Being the professionals they were, the staff really got it when it came to working with someone with my condition. So, even though I appeared quiet, I was actually a willing sponge.

Life was becoming different now. In a week’s time I would return home to my family, and then when I return to TIRR it will be to do this strengthening and training all over again. However, at that time it will be to stabilize my back since I will no longer be wearing the TSO jacket.

Even though I knew these details were important, there were also times I gave myself permission to zone out. I got to be at peace knowing that I would achieve some sort of function again by my own hands without the assistance of others. Being so utterly reliant on those around me was one of the hardest aspects of my paralysis to deal with. I had to leave a part of my dignity behind the day I was injured. Yet, I also understood my injury level would allow me to regain that sense of dignity, which I was so hungry for.

My self-care began from the moment I woke up each morning, starting with my bladder regimen to remembering everything the nurses at night were telling me regarding my bowel program.

I still didn’t know how I was going to do all this myself though. I had all these restrictions, especially from the TSO jacket. It wasn’t just that I couldn’t do anything because of how restrictive the jacket felt. Along with wearing this cast that held my back together there were so many specific no no’s. For instance, I was instructed to not carry more than five pounds, and to not sit up in the wheelchair or bed without the TSO jacket. As much as I knew I couldn’t do this now, I kept wondering how exactly I was going to apply this at home considering the fact that my baby was more than five pounds?

Regardless, the nurses came in at night every three to four hours to either catheterize me or turn me. The turning would be to help relieve pressure from all sides of my body. So, in one night I was turned three times to illuminate any possibilities of skin breakdown.

There was so much to remember, and much to their ideals, I would zone out at times here too, just so that I could sleep. Though I grasped the reality that no hospitals let you sleep completely, I did appreciate this one in particular had a special agenda. Their ultimate end to my stay here was to make certain that I would be equally as independent at home.

As discussed before, I was dreaming a lot during this first stage of my spinal cord injury.  The interesting part though was that the dreams were more vivid.  Before my injury, I would dream of myself, but the dreams were scattered and almost foggy.  Now, they were strong and I was visualizing myself clearly, however, I would still never dream of myself in the wheelchair. I began to realize how it isn’t just our bodies that go through the adjustment, but the inner depths of our beings.

I think the most enjoyable moments for me were getting to know all of my caregivers, from the nurses to the attendants. I developed a great level of respect for these women, including one nurse in particular that tended to me at night. She embodied the epitome of what a seasoned nurse should project, hard at times but gentle when needed, as if she were caring for her grandchild. I was receptive, but I also felt at times as if I needed to distance myself from my situation. It was as if I were instinctively creating a protective barrier from feeling so much. The only explanation I have is that I feared getting depressed. I knew that would ultimately hurt me from giving the best care to my children.

Interestingly enough, this night nurse seemed to be intuitive, even though she hardly communicated.  She came in with the purpose of doing her job, however, it didn’t take long before she began to speak about children, and my level of independence I had yet to achieve. I found that my soul devoured this depth of wisdom, and even though I might not have realized this at the time, I was developing an inner strength that would serve me well later.

Yes, hospital walls, beds, elevators, and people surrounded me. However, I found myself soaking in those details because from there I could see the end result; home!

Meena Dhanjal Outlaw, Guest Blogger


Meena Dhanjal Outlaw, Guest Blogger