There’s a saying a like: I plan; God laughs.
This certainly feels applicable to my life. I had everything planned out; thought I knew the direction I was going; assumed my goals were attainable through hard work and dedication; fancied myself the director of my own show. I was finishing up my thesis for a Masters degree in Early Childhood Special Education with an emphasis on the medically-fragile/low-functioning population. I was teaching for the public school system in my city as a Special Educator. The unraveling of the thread of my future began with a headache. I’d never been prone to headaches before, even when sick. The headaches persisted and worsened. Every day brought on more pain. Over-the-counter medications were ineffective in treating the throbbing that traveled from the base of my neck to my eyes. Then came the pulsing sounds; a constant whooshing noise that matched the rhythmic beat of my heart (I would later find out I was hearing my own spinal fluid sloshing around in my brain. Pretty frightening!). I had no idea what was causing this new development and was already beginning to make the rounds of various doctors and specialists to try to find out what was happening to my body. No one had an answer for me, even after CT Scans and MRIs, all of which were normal. I was given multiple narcotic pain medications as the headaches increased in intensity to what was assumed to be migraines. Even taking dilaudid and morphine did nothing to lessen my agony. Then came the day I awoke without peripheral vision nor the ability to turn my head at the neck. Over the course of 2 1/2 months, my condition worsened; my speech became slurred as if I’d suffered a stroke; movement of my limbs was difficult; my tunnel vision regressed to mere pinpoints of sight as I stared at the faces of doctor after doctor, begging for a diagnosis, a treatment, an answer.
I’d already taken leave from the school where I taught and had stopped writing on my thesis. Finally, the night came when I went completely blind. That was the turning point. I was taken to the emergency room of a local, well-known hospital. Again, the ER staff took a CT Scan of my brain which came back with no abnormalities though what I was experiencing was far from normal. The director of the ER was called in. Although it seemed that he was the only new person to enter the room, I would soon realize that God had stepped in as well. This doctor had written his dissertation on an extremely rare neurological disease called Idiopathic Intracranial Hypertension. He performed a lumbar puncture to gauge the cerebral-spinal fluid pressure – the only diagnostic tool used to recognize IIH. Normal CSF pressure is between 8-12; mine was 49. Six vials of spinal fluid were drained via the LP, and I immediately gained tunnel vision back, though it would take an additional 1 1/2 years before my peripheral vision returned. I began seeing a neurologist and neuro-ophthalmologist and taking a medication that would help my body rid itself of the fluid. After one year on the medicine, my IIH went into “remission.” However, my journey into a new way of living was not over.
There is no known cause of IIH nor is there a cure. It affects only 1% of the world’s population. For a reason unknown to the plethora of doctors and specialists I’ve seen over the years, after 28 years of working efficiently, my body stopped absorbing its spinal fluid, causing it to build up in and around my brain and spine. I was fortunate to have responded to the medication; to not have suffered a seizure or stroke due to the increased spinal pressure; to not have had a heart attack as my body worked over-time to compensate for the increased pressure in my brain and spinal column; to gain my full sight back with only a tiny blind spot in the peripheral of my left eye; to not have required surgery on my eyes or to place a shunt in my brain to drain the excess fluid; to not have died. The lasting effects of the IIH for me were to be a physical regression of mobility, coordination and balance. At the time of my diagnosis, I was a heavy drinker and was actively engaged in an eating disorder that left me malnourished and dehydrated – a combination of maladies that my brain and body simply could not deal with. Shortly after my initial diagnosis, my spinal column began to deteriorate; a disorder that mimics degenerative disc disease. I’ve since been diagnosed with several other neural-muscular disorders as well as neuropathy in all four limbs. Over time, I’ve lost (and will continue to lose) my ability to walk and perform various other physical activities that my once healthy, able body was capable of.
I had to withdrawal from the graduate program a mere 3 months prior to graduation. I’d been so close that my name was already printed in the programs for the ceremony – a ceremony I did not attend. I became dependent on government assistance; something I’d never foreseen myself doing. I had a home-health nurse and physical therapist. When I was able, I went outside my home for PT and struggled to walk again. I actually walked for 15 months without the use of any aids until I started falling again. A sort of backward cycle began – I’d gone from wheelchair to rollator to crutches to a cane and now was reversing the order; in need of a cane one day and before long, back on the rollator before sitting down again in a chair. I now use a power chair about 80% of the time. The cane I use to walk around the house and travel short distances has a wide foot-base to keep me as steady as possible. I’m not able to self-propel any longer but keep my manual chair for emergencies.
My plan was to become a teacher. Instead, I’d unknowingly been a student of the children in my classroom. Because of them, I’d witnessed strength, determination, motivation and perseverance and knew I could apply it to my recovery. I’d also learned about all the different programs, services and assistance for the disabled community. I’d helped children and their families modify their environments in order to be more accessible and accommodating depending on the level of care needed.
My plan was to live out a life I was in charge of. God simply smiled and showed me how to be grateful for every moment and each movement; to rejoice in the things I’d once taken for granted; to rely on Him instead of myself. I’ve also been blessed with an amazing daughter! Before age 28, had someone asked me if I could live my life as a disabled person, I would have said, “No.” Had anyone asked if it were possible for me to be a disabled parent, my response would again have been, “No!” But God would’ve giggled and said, “The answer is yes! You can do ANYTHING with My help!” And that is the correct answer!!
*Post can also be read at: https://rollingwithspinabi7.wixsite.com/take2