October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month
One morning, about five year after I escaped the violence of my marriage, I woke up to excruciating pain and the inability to move one arm without the assistance of the other. After everything I had been through, it wasn’t my nature to run to the doctor for much, but this was incredibly, frighteningly different.
My physician ordered X-rays, which showed nothing. He gave me a sling to immobilize my arm and a wide belt to strap my arm to my chest to prevent even the smallest movement. He gave me a prescription for pain medication and a referral to a neurologist.
A lot changed for me that morning. I had gone to bed a single mother with a young child and I woke up a single mother with a young child, a bum arm and such intense pain that I could only sleep fifteen minutes at a time – after the pain medication.
I went to the neurologist, who did all sorts of testing, pricking here and there to determine the extent of numbness and function – or the loss thereof. He sent me to the hospital to have a Myelogram, the most painful of the tests I’d had. I was ultimately admitted to the hospital, where I was put in neck traction for two weeks.
While at the hospital, the pain didn’t change and I was largely immobilized due to the traction contraption. I also had an MRI and a CT-Scan, the results of which were sent to a neurosurgeon who ultimately paid me a visit bedside.
He told me I needed surgery and that the next opening for him was the next morning. Having nothing better to do on my own calendar, I accepted the offer.
Interesting things, imaging, test results, medical opinions, etc. When I had my in-house MRI and CT-Scan, I was handed the films, which included the opinion of the radiologist, and I was told to take them to my room to hand to the neurosurgeon. Oh . . . I did all that, but not without taking a peek at the contents of the envelopes that were only sealed with a little red string that wound from one paper disk to another to keep the flap shut. The opinion of the radiologist was that I had a cervical meningioma or a bulging disk.
Pre-Op, Surgery, Post-Op, IV’s, etc. and by the end of the day I was back in my room in considerably less pain. I knew I wouldn’t see any doctors until the next day, so I waited quietly for the verdict.
My neurosurgeon was a no-nonsense guy. I liked that about him. He was not a bully, but he cut straight to the chase, never more so quickly than the next morning after surgery, when he visited my room. Without a “Hello” or “Good morning”, he said, “When did you break your neck?”
I was stunned. I didn’t know I had a broken neck. He told me that the pain and partial paralysis was from a badly damaged nerve from a broken neck and subsequent bone fragments that had compromised the nerve.
I asked him what the prognosis was and he bluntly said, “That nerve looks like dog meat, so the outlook doesn’t look the best. Besides, you have more damage that we will have to address – down the road. When did you break your neck?
Again he asked the question for which I had no answer. He tried to be helpful by asking about a car accident or a terrible fall. I had only been busy with my five-year-old and didn’t even own a car. He left me alone in my quiet room.
For the rest of the afternoon and evening, as I floated in and out of consciousness as the pain meds dictated, I tried to remember a fall or an accident which could have landed me in my current situation.
I guess when I got away from my husband I never looked back, because it took me a long time to put two and two together. It wasn’t until well into the night that I remembered the violence: the body slams, the choking, being dragged by my hair.
Interesting things, tears. When they fall, they are controlled by gravity and the contour of the terrain over which they flow. That same terrain can allow them to collect in an interesting, yet most annoying location. As I wept silently that night, I had tears in my ears – and only one arm functional enough to wipe the away.
When my neurosurgeon returned the next morning, we had a much more enlightened chat, at which time I explained what I had worked so hard to forget.
I saw that neurosurgeon twice more under similar conditions as he fixed the rest of the mess in my neck. Between hospital stays, I was confined to bed rest, except for my thrice-weekly visits to physical therapy. All in all, things improved enough from the hopelessness of the situation that warranted the ‘dog meat’ comment.
It just took time – a lot of time.
Today, I am wearing purple in gratitude for the gift that time has been to me since my escape. What a generous distance it has afforded me from those terrible days!