A Million Little Things to be Thankful For

2020 was been a healing year for me, but it’s also been quite the triggering year for me.

Often times, when something is triggered within me, it reveals an area of my life I haven’t addressed or don’t want to. But tonight is so, so different.

Tonight I watched the season premiere of one of my favorite TV shows, A Million Little Things. One of the main characters is in a car accident and is left paralyzed from the waist down. They don’t know if he’ll get it back or the timeline in which he could get it back, but it doesn’t look good.

10 years ago, in 2010, a few days after I graduated high school, I had one of worst moments of my life. My third back surgery was hell for everyone involved. My surgeon spent thirteen and a half hours trying to straighten my spine for the second time. My parents were confronted with making health decisions they never should have had to make. My family went through emotions I hope they never have to experience again. And I woke up paralyzed from the waist down.

I remember that hospital stay like it was yesterday. I remember waking up to a nurse asking me if I could my toes. For someone who just woke up from back surgery, I thought that was a very odd question to ask. What happened next is something I still can’t explain. In my head, my toes were moving. In my head, everything was fine. But in reality, everything was not fine. My toes were not moving. There was a moment of deafening silence. That’s when I learned that during the procedure, they got my spine almost completely straight. The blood flow throughout the length of my spine was being stretched. I had what you medically define as a spinal stroke… and went completely numb from the waist down. While I don’t remember it, my surgeon woke me up on the table to see if I could move my legs or toes. He then had to report back to my parents and ask them what they thought should be done next. They all decided it best to loosen the rods enough to restore blood flow on the table. But the big question remained… When, if ever, was I going to regain feeling?

Recovering from back surgeries was becoming something I knew how to do. But not being able to move my legs was extremely difficult to comprehend. My physical therapist had to bring in a second person to help lift me off my bed onto a chair. Physical movement was gone, but I also had no feeling. The nerves in my legs were shot. I couldn’t feel hot and cold and I couldn’t feel sharp and dull objects. My medical mystery of a chart gained another chapter.

But I was determined to walk again. They couldn’t be certain that I would regain feeling, but I was not going to settle for that. A couple days into recovery, after my physical therapist had left for the weekend, I looked at my parents and I told them, in all confidence, that I was going to walk again.

Three days later, I was walking again. With help obviously. But I have a phenomenal support system that I am blessed to call my family. Over time, I had to re-learn how to run. I know that sounds crazy, but my legs couldn’t keep up with my brain. I would trip over my feet because in my head, I was running faster than I actually was. I still had severe nerve damage. I used to love the days I had an appointment with my neurologist. He always looked like a crazy scientist, but he was a genius. He would run every test in the book to track my progress and every time I saw him he made me feel like a rockstar. {Rest in peace Dr. Marshall ❤ You will never be forgotten} He helped to make sense of everything and would always give me hope.

Ten years later, I can walk and run without having to worry about my legs “catching up” with my head. It took a while to get to this point, but there are parts of my story that are considered a medical miracle, and this is one of them. I still have severe nerve damage. I still can’t feel hot and cold or sharp and dull on most of my legs.

Tonight, seeing that character in a back brace like I used to wear, confined to a wheelchair, it hit me that my story could have been different. What if I never regained feeling in my legs? What if the damage was permanent? I don’t ask these things to dwell on the negative. Watching this show and watching this character, I was overwhelmed with gratitude and peace. I am so beyond grateful for the ability to walk and run and swim again. I am beyond grateful to be able to run around and play with my almost three year old niece. I am beyond grateful to live an independent life, not confined to a chair. I am beyond grateful to know that my story is not over. My scars, my medical chart, and my body are proof that I’ve literally fought for my life. It hasn’t been easy, in fact there are days where I’m thankful I’m still here to share my story.

This thanksgiving, I am grateful for my body’s strength and perseverance. I’m thankful for my faith and my resilience. I’m thankful for everyone in my life who’s supported me, helped me, and been there for me. I’m thankful to God, who has been so evident throughout my entire life.

I am a chronic illness warrior… and I say that with pride. I am not ashamed of my medical chart. I’m not ashamed of my pain. It is in my weaknesses that God has proven Himself strong. I can boast in my story, because He has been there EVERY step of the way.

So I’m not grateful for just one thing…. I’m grateful for a million little things.

Lauren out ❤

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