I Will Cause Thee to Stand

Everyday in Physical therapy brought new challenges and experiences and lessons. Some I didn’t realize I had learned until months later. As crazy as it seems I am still learning things. I think a lot of times it takes distancing yourself from a particular experience and thinking about it over and over in your mind before you actually grasp what is there for you to learn.

My second day of therapy went much better it seemed. I was able to move a great deal more. Alex came to get me for the day and I told him I was worried I wouldn’t be able to do very good today because my leg hurt really bad. I told him it had been hurting ever since therapy the day before. He asked where it hurt and I pointed at my knee. He asked if he could pull up my pant leg to see better and I said yes. He pulled it up and there was a massive bruise the size of a baseball on my knee. We figured the only way it could have got there was from the day before when he had braced his knee against mine to keep it from buckling. I joked that I would only do therapy today if he wouldn’t give me another bruise.

This time instead of Alex lifting me into the wheelchair we got a transfer board and slid that under me and I was able to scoot myself, with the help of Alex, over onto my wheelchair. That was a huge step from the day before and I was quite proud of myself.Image

                                        Lesha and Alex helping me into the wheelchair

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                              That transfer board was actually quite a convenient little contraption

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After that was accomplished Alex wheeled me into the hallway outside my room. There was a square patch of carpet just outside my room that resembled a rug. It was probably ten feet by ten feet. I have never been very good at estimating distances so I might be completely off, but it was somewhere around that size. He rolled me to the edge of the square and pushed a walker in front of me.

“You are going to walk with walker today,” he said.

I stared at the walker. “How far?” I asked hesitantly.

“To the end of that square.”

I could have guessed as much. I was terrified yet at the same time excited and curious to see if I actually could walk. I was terrified maybe more then I was excited so I sat there at looked at the distance I was suppose to conquer. What if I fell? That had turned into a nagging fear of mine, I was always afraid I was going to slip and fall, and who knows how it would hurt me next time. I was constantly asking Alex if he wouldn’t let me fall, and after a little while I finally trusted that he wouldn’t. They take a lot of precautions to watch out for that sort of thing though. They always strap a belt around your waist so that its easier to grab onto you and they are always right next to you. 

As I sat there contemplating standing up, walking across the rug, I realized I didn’t quite know how to make my body do it. Last time I had had firmly secured metal rods to hold onto. This time there only a flimsy little walker in front of me. Alex assured me he would hold onto it and not let it tip over or anything but still that meant I had to use more of my body. More of my muscles, more of my legs then I had last time. What if I couldn’t do it? What if I tried and my legs collapsed and I fell? What if I tried and failed, and I had to admit defeat and live with the realization that I would never walk again. What if I wasn’t strong enough? What if I plain and simply could not do it?

There is a song I love, I haven’t always loved it, in fact I found it rather dull and monotonous. It was in this moment that I discovered my love for the song. It was in this moment that the words came to my mind and resonated with my soul.

                                                                                  Fear not I am with thee.

                                                      Oh be not dismayed for I am thy God and will still give thee aid.

                                                                             I’ll strengthen thee, help thee,

                                                           and cause thee to stand….upheld by my omnipotent hand

I will cause thee to stand. There has never to this day been a song that has spoken to me like this one. Never been a song that fit so well for that exact moment. Those words are forever burned into my memory. I can not even began to convey what that song does to me. I am reduced to tears every time I here that particular verse. I will cause thee to stand… It was like God himself was speaking to me. Speaking to me in the most perfect and beautiful way that I can imagine. Through a song.

I suddenly was no longer afraid. I could do this. We could do this. I now had an overwhelmingly fierce desire to succeed. I grabbed hold of the walker. It took a minute to figure out the best position to put my hands and my feet but we finally figured it out and I braced myself and pulled. By some miracle I stood. I actually stood. I laughed at myself for the joy that I had taken in such a small accomplishment. But I wasn’t done yet. I still had to walk across that suspiciously widening rug. I slowly and hesitantly put one foot in front of me and took a small step. then another. I was doing it, I was actually walking. Less then three weeks after falling thirty five feet and I was walking. Less then three weeks after dying I was walking. Technically I’m not sure you could really call it walking in the full sense of the word. My body felt huge and heavy and beyond slow. Every command I gave it took years to actually reach the particular part I was trying to move. My step was more like  dragging an unresponsive tree limb. Only heavier. It took every ounce of strength and then some just so slide my foot across the floor. 

By the time I had made it halfway I was completely and utterly exhausted. I was SO tired. I wanted to curl up on the floor and go to sleep. I have never been that tired. And my body hurt! I was using parts and muscles that had been dormant for weeks, and parts that were still injured. I stopped there in the middle of the rug half in tears. I could not do it. There just was no way. Everything screamed at me to give up. I was so close, yet the space left seemed like and ever widening perilous chasm that my broken body could never dream of conquering. I didn’t want to give up but I had too. I literally could not take one more step.

It was then that I heard a voice. It broke through my fog of pain and utter discouragement. It said simply, “Come on Hannah, You can do this.” I looked up and there sat Brandon.

Brandon was another therapist on the floor. He was permanently confined to a wheelchair. I never asked but it looked like he was paralyzed from the waist down. Its not that that encouragement from Alex or my family wasn’t enough because they were cheering me on, I just looked at Brandon and I felt like we understood each other. I felt like he understood the struggle and the strength that something like this would demand. I looked up at him misery written all over my face, and he looked at me straight in the eyes. 

“You don’t know what I would give to be able to do what you are doing right now.” he said softly. It was almost like a thoughtful slap in the face. I stared at him as I contemplated what he had just said. Here he was confined to a wheelchair. Permanently. He didn’t have any hope of ever walking again. Yet here I stood. I was given the chance to walk again. I was given the hope. Why me? What was so different about our lives that I had been blessed with a second chance. Why me and not him? I realized that so easily the tables could have been turned. It could have been me ending up in a wheelchair watching someone else use their chance as I withered away. It was a horrible thought and I almost couldn’t stand to consider that outcome. He was living with it though, and doing well it seemed. In that moment I felt so ungrateful. I wanted to do anything in my power to give him that chance. But I couldn’t. The only thing I could do was not waste mine. I was on the edge of giving up, throwing it away. Suddenly I was struck with a fierce determination to continue. To prove to myself that I had the strength within me to continue. And I did. I crossed that last five feet of carpet and the satisfaction, and self confidence, and fulfillment I felt at the moment has been, to this day incomparable.

There are a lot of things to be learned from that experience. The biggest purpose it has served is to remind me that somewhere inside of me i have the strength to endure whatever is thrown my way. I have recalled that memory more times then I can count, drawn on the courage of that moment. We all have those many times, whatever it may be, when we feel like we just can no longer keep going. We feel as though there is no way we can take any more pain, any more sorrow, anymore hurt. We feel like it is to much and we are ready to give in. We all know what that moment looks like. Everyone one has experienced to some degree or another.

There have been many times since then that i have felt I could not endure whatever trial i was going through at the moment and every time without fail that memory comes back to me and I think, “If I could do that, I can surely do this.” I remember the strength I discovered from some secret place inside of me and I go back there. I go back to that moment and I know that I can do it. I can survive.

 

 

The Instrument in my Composition of Life

Today was my first day of Therapy. I was curious, nervous, excited and a little scared. My day started with my occupational therapy which is basically re-learning how to survive in everyday life. My therapists name was Lesha. She was very friendly and I liked her a lot.

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                                           Sadly this is the only picture I have of Lesha…

I was finally able to wear normal clothes and my mom and sisters had made sure I had a good supply of comfortable sweatpants and t shirts, and the first order of business was learning how to dress myself again. It was not an easy task. I had to dress myself while laying completely flat on the bed. I still was not able to get up without any of my braces. After a lot of trial and error on my part, and guidance and help on Lesha’s part I was finally able to partly dress myself for the first time in weeks. We also did a few tests. She would have me close my eyes and she would place items in my hand that I had to try to identify. Before I came to this floor they had done the same tests and In my left hand I hadn’t been able to tell the difference between a marble and a key. This time however I was able to. I was definitely slower on that side and my left hand wasn’t near as strong as my right, but it was improving and that was cause enough to be happy

Next came speech therapy. We worked on memory issues and things like that. They would ask me my name, where I lived, when I was born, if I new where I was and why. I felt completely stupid, and like it was a waste of time. Of course I knew my own name, and if by an unlikely chance I happened to forget, all that information was on the tag on my wrist. We did lots of brain exercises. They would have me repeat sentences and words and try to think up 20 uses for a newspaper. Thank goodness that particular therapy only lasted a little while.

When it came time for Physical therapy I was a little nervous. There was a whiteboard in my room with a list of all my therapies and the time they had been scheduled and my therapist’s names. Image 

Alex was my Physical therapist and as I looked at his name on my board I wondered what he would be like. I hoped I would like him, otherwise I would be stuck with someone I didn’t particularly care for until I left the hospital. I was worried that he would have me do things that I wasn’t strong enough to do yet. So by the time it actually came time to start I was sitting up in my bed watching the door and waiting for him to come get me. Extreme wariness and uncertainty written all over my face.

My doctor came in and as he was talking to me Alex stuck his head around the corner. I stared at him suspiciously.

“Hey,” he said. “I’m Alex.” He grinned and I liked him Immediately. He came into the room and my doctor introduced us and said not to worry that Alex would take good care of me and then he left.

I have never met a more friendly, happy, likable person in my life. I didn’t know him but something about him put me at ease. He had an energy about him that was so contagious you couldn’t help but smile.

He came over to the bed and said, “Well are you ready?”

I nodded. I had figured that for physical therapy maybe I would walk down the hall, do some leg exercises, maybe get on the treadmill, that sort of thing. I did not understand my condition in the slightest, but I was about to. 

He pulled back the blankets, “Ok, first I just want you to slide your legs off the bed.”

“Ok,” I thought, “easy enough right?” I was excited to finally be in an upright position. It would feel good to stand again.

I went to move my legs and nothing happened. I looked down at my legs in confusion. I tried again. Nothing. It was the weirdest thing I had ever felt in my life. We all move our legs and walk around without even thinking about it. Its a natural habit, we don’t even hardly notice we do it. You think about moving your legs and they instantly move. That’s just how it works. Today it was like the message to move wasn’t able to get from my brain to my legs. I focused all my energy and every ounce of strength I had as I concentrated on trying to move them one more time. They remained stubborn and would not budge. My look of confusion turned to panic as I realized what this meant. Suddenly it all hit me with full force. I remember the exact words I thought in my head. “Oh crap!” The seriousness of it all had dawned on me finally. I wasn’t going to be able to just stand up and walk out of here, it wasn’t going to be that easy. In fact I might never walk again. This whole thought process took only a few seconds but im sure Alex recognized what was going on inside my head because he quickly stepped in.

“Sometimes those hospital socks tend to get stuck on the sheets.” he said. “That’s probably why you are having a hard time. Let me put my hand under your foot and you try again and we will see if that helps.” He did and I was able to slide my feet off the bed.Or so I thought.

I sighed with relief. That had been a close one. 

“Ok, now we are going to stand up, and quickly get into the wheelchair,” he said. ” I will help you and you can hold on to me as much as you need.” 

After that was accomplished he wheeled me down to the therapy room. We stopped at a section where there were bars on either side of me and I was suppose to hold onto these bars and pull myself into a standing position. Alex sat on a stool in front of me to help. I grasped the bars and pulled. My body barely lifted off the wheelchair. I was so weak! I was not used to my body not responding to any of my commands. It was so frustrating. I sighed and sat in my wheelchair, about to say I had had enough for the day.

The therapy room was at the end of the hall and the walls where almost completely made up of large windows. As I sat there that day I looked out the window closest to me. I realized we were just down the street from the house that I had lived in when I was little. That place held so many special memories for me. I could feel the bittersweet ache in my heart as I recalled those memories. I searched the rooftops and trees till I spotted ours. I remembered the wonderful summer days I had spent climbing trees, playing on the roofs, chasing butterflies with the window screens, and swinging on the sprinkling system in the greenhouse. At that moment I would have given anything to be that child again, to go back to those moments when I had been whole, and strong. Full of life and energy. When I had been so naive and blissfully unaware about how my life would turn out. 

Somehow I felt like sitting there staring at that house and remembering my childhood had given me strength. Suddenly I wanted to be that person again. Not necessarily the child, but the care free person, the one that could run and laugh uninhibited. I kept my eyes locked on the rooftop of my house and I grasped the bars again. This time I was determined I was going to stand. I pulled and by some miracle began to rise out of my chair. I kept struggling to stand straight but every time I got close my knee would buckle. I couldn’t feel it very much and so had no control over it. Over and over it kept buckling and I continued to hold myself up by my arms as I tried to stand. Alex scooted closer and placed his knee against mine, using it as a sort of brace and all of a sudden I was standing. I was actually standing. I think I laughed as I looked down to make sure I actually was. 

I only stood there for a few minutes. The effort it had taken to get this far had completely tired me out. Slowly I started bending my legs to sit down, but I didn’t have enough control over them yet and they both gave way and I collapsed into my wheelchair and in doing so my broken leg got caught under me and I thought it was for sure going to break again because it hurt so bad. I just started saying ow! ow! ow! over and over again as Alex tried to figure out what was wrong. I was able to faintly nod my head in the direction of my leg and he pulled it our from under me. By that time I was more then ready for my bed.

As he wheeled me back to my room I asked him about my sisters wedding. She had asked me awhile back to be her bridesmaid and now I was worried I wouldn’t be able to. It was less then 3 weeks away. I told him about it and said, “Do you think I’ll be better enough to walk down the isle?” He went dead silent and I realized that was probably an unrealistic hope, so I said, “well maybe not walk but at least be in a wheelchair…or something…”

He stopped and looked at me, maybe he could see how important it was to me, “I’ll tell you what,” he said “Ill have you using a walker and you can walk down that isle.”

He made my day and I smiled brightly up at him, it was more then I had hoped for.

Now as I look back I realize how much I owe to Alex. That day I couldn’t really see what was going on. Maybe I didn’t let myself, maybe by keeping myself unaware of the situation I was able to keep my spirits up, I don’t know. All I know is what I felt was possible. When I stared down at my legs trying to move them I felt utter panic, he made that go away when he moved my feet. He moved my feet, but yet in my mind I believed I had done it. He lifted me into my wheelchair, yet I thought I had done it. He braced my knee so I could stand and once again, I thought I had done it. After that session he told my mother he thought I would never walk again. He told her that after promising me I would use a walker down the wedding isle. He didn’t believe it was possible. But he did not, for one minute, let me believe that it wasn’t. And that, I think is what saved me. If he had told me instead of my mother that I would never walk again I would have given up. I would have gone back to my room and given in to the depression i’m sure would have overtaken me. You can not accomplish something when you have no hope or believe that you can’t. He gave me that belief. He allowed me to hope. Even though he wasn’t there in the beginning or technically didn’t do anything to save my life, I believe that he did. He saved my life in other ways. He taught me to walk again. That is huge. Sometimes I think maybe I might have thought to much of him, held him up on a pedestal but how could I not? He taught me to walk, and in doing so handed me back my life. Gave me my freedom and my independence. I don’t feel there is ever any way I could possibly repay him.

The day I left all the nurses and staff were signing my brace I asked him if he would and he wrote simply,

                                   “Thank you for allowing me to be an instrument in your composition of life.”  

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He couldn’t have written anything more perfect and fitting. This man had selflessly given of himself so that I could be whole again. I feel like he went far and beyond what was required. I think he actually cared and that is what made him such a perfect therapist. We would walk the halls and talk and he inspired me so much, not just in my healing process but in life, and being the person I wanted to be. I looked up to him so much.

Alex taught me to walk, he taught me to believe in myself. He made me believe that no goal was to hard, to far out of reach. He took away my fears and gave me my life back, my independence. He even gave me friendship. But most importantly, everyday he gave me hope. 

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Introduction

I was moved to the rehab floor about a week or so of living on the trauma level. I was scared about leaving all the things that had become familiar to me, my nurses and my doctors. I was worried about starting rehab and I figured the staff on that floor were going to work me to death and that I would hate every minute of it. I had no idea what I was in for. None at all.

The rehab floor was on the top level of the hospital and my room was the very last one at the end of the hall. I had a big window that looked out to the city below. My family decorated the walls with pictures and letters and cards. Flowers and teddy bears and more pictures sat on the window sill. On the nightstand I had a big jar of candy for all my visitors, and more flowers. I can say quite honestly that I loved this room. I loved the floor and I loved all my nurses and therapists. However that love did not start the day i was transferred. In fact the day i was transferred was slightly traumatizing.

There happened to be a nurse just starting work on the rehab floor. Her very first day. I can’t for the life of me recall her name, it bothers me to no end, but I just cant remember. I happened to be the lucky patient on her care list that day. Of course I would get a nurse on her very first day, we needed something to liven up our dull circumstances anyway. I don’t remember the reason now, but she had come into my room to move me. The plan was to use something called a patient lift and transfer me to a wheelchair and then go from there. The patient lift was like a giant sling, I remember it being hooked to the ceiling but that may have not been the case, either way it was this massive sling and you sat in it and the nurse would hook all the straps up and it would lift you off the bed and then move whichever direction you wanted by pushing the right buttons or levers.

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this is an example of what a patient lift looks like.

So after plenty of turning, twisting, sliding and tugging my nurse was able to get the sling underneath me and all the straps firmly in place. She pulled on the lever and the machine began to lift me up. As soon as I was off the bed I began to scream. I don’t think the patient lift was intended for someone in my condition, actually I know it wasn’t. I was situated in such a way that I was sitting and applying all my weight, which at this point was dead weight, due to the fact that I could not do anything for myself, onto my broken femur. Have of which was also dangling haphazardly out of the sling. Besides that the sling was squeezing my broken ribs together.

I kept screaming and saying rather forcefully, “Put me down! Put me down!”

The nurse assured me that she would hurry and get me into the wheelchair and then the pain would be over. She did in fact get me into the wheelchair. But as luck would have it, My new nurse had unknowingly chosen the only broken wheelchair on the floor. Yes broken. We didn’t know of course until my unsuspecting body had been less then gently placed into it and it proceeded to collapse.

My screaming turned to begging as I pleaded with her to please put me back in my bed. I was probably a bit hysterical and I knew that I was being quite loud but I really couldn’t help myself. The nurse decided to forgo whatever therapy they had planned and instead put me right back to bed, using once again the patient lift. I was never for grateful in my life. I must have immediately passed out or gone to sleep because I don’t recall anything after that. Only that my introduction to the rehab floor had done nothing to calm my worries. 

I feel horrible now for that poor nurse. She came back later after I had been there awhile and apologized. She told us it was her first day, and she didn’t know enough about what injuries I had to know that she shouldn’t have transferred me with the lift. She didn’t know about the wheelchair and she felt terrible. I assured her it was all right.

She was one of the sweetest nurses and every time I have been back to visit she always comes up to me and hugs me and says, “I really am sorry. I didn’t know. I feel so bad.”

And I laugh and say, “Don’t feel bad, Its ok. I really do understand.”  

And I do,  after having so much time to distance myself from the actual trauma of the experience its easy to be understanding and to realize that it was all a big mistake. One that could have happened to anyone. 

Discovering my Injuries

It was on the trauma floor that Preston came to visit me. I don’t remember much, only opening my eyes to look at him for a moment and then closing them again. I may have said something, but I don’t remember. I do remember my mother thanking him for saving my life and for being so quick to help, and him saying that it was anyone would have done it. Or something to that effect. I was very touched though that he would come visit me. It meant a lot.

Towards the last couple days on the trauma floor I began to be more and more aware. I began to stay awake a lot longer and to interact with people a bit more. It was also on this floor that I became aware of my injuries. One day I was laying in my bed listening to my mother talk on the phone about me while she thought I was sleeping.

“She broke her leg, and all her ribs.” I heard her say. ” It was her femur, ” she kept talking, I heard something about blood transfusions, about being in a coma, and other things. She kept talking, but I lay thinking about what she said.

I was kind of in awe, and maybe a little shock as I mulled over the list of injuries I thought I had. I figured out by piecing together what I had overheard that I had been in a coma for 2 weeks, had bled out and died on the ground, had broken my neck, back, ribs, leg and my pelvis, and I was never going to have children again. I had, in my drugged state mistaken my femur for my pelvis and thought I would never be able to have kids because I had broken it. It did relieve me though to know the cause of all my pain. My first thought was how everything made so much sense now. The broken femur explained why my leg felt so huge and hurt so bad. The broken ribs explained why every time I breathed it felt like knives were stabbing me in the chest. The fractured neck and back explained the enormous and uncomfortable braces I was wearing. Now as I think about it i’m a little surprised at myself for not being able to put two and two together, but I just blame it on the drugs. 

I had a doctor on this floor that I liked very much. His name was Dr. Benjamin Williams. I can easily say that he was my favorite doctor. He was the only one that I felt treated me like a person instead of a room number. He would always talk to me and joke a bit.  And it helped that I thought he was attractive. I remember one night he came into my room and he asked how i was feeling. I told him my heart hurt really bad. And it did, I thought that it was going to stop functioning at any minute. He looked concerned as he asked me to show him where it hurt and I proceeded to point to the right side of my chest to the spot where my ribs had been plated.

He laughed and said “Honey, your heart is on the other side.”  

I probably looked hilarious as I lay there with a confused look on my face trying to decide if he was telling me the truth. All I knew was something in my chest hurt. “well it still hurts,” I finally said.

He just laughed again and finished his check up “You’ll be alright,” he told me. 

 

Finally after a week in the trauma floor I was ready to be moved again. This time to the rehab floor. The day they moved me Dr. Williams came and said goodbye. I was very sad to be leaving him but he said he would come visit me, and he knew i would do really well on the rehab floor and that i would like all my new doctors and nurses. He even agreed to get a picture with me. And that was the last time I ever saw him. I think about him all the time though. I don’t even think I would be able to recognize him if someday I accidentally ran into him, but he was another person who had a hand in my healing, and made an impact in my life, however short it was.

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There had been a lot of discussion about what to do with me. The doctors couldn’t decide if the rehab floor would be too hard on me, but finally they decided to just go for it. I remember them telling me that I would have to work hard. Harder then I ever had in my life. I would have to do therapy all day every day. It scared me. I didn’t like the thought of it. But I told them I could do it, and I headed into the next phase of my experience, totally unprepared.

 

 

Realizing a Dream

When I was a kid, I had this dream. One day I was going to grow up and write music and perform and one day be good enough to play with Jon Schmidt. He was my idol. I would listen to his music all the time and I wanted to be just like him. One day, when i was about twelve or so, during a piano lesson my teacher, who at the time also happened to be my sister, decided to have a discussion about where I wanted to go with my music.

“I want to be exactly like Jon Schmidt,” I told her. “I want to write music, I want to see my sheet music next to his on the shelves at the store, I want to hold my original C.Ds in my hand one day, and I want to play with him. I want to sit down on the bench next to him and play a song together.”

 She kind of laughed and said, “Well that’s a nice dream, but lets look at the reality of it. I’m not saying you cant do it, I just want you to see what its gong to take. First off, you’d have to meet him, and you would have to take classes from him, and the chances of that are very slim, and you don’t even write music yet.”

She was right. I knew she was, but I couldn’t help myself from wanting it. I wanted it so bad, and for awhile I gave up. But I still dreamed about it, and finally I decided that I would at least try. I began writing music. I began going to Jon Schmidt concerts every time I had the chance, and most importantly I began hoping and believing that maybe I could make my dream a reality. 

The summer I was 18 then I signed up for a week of music classes up at the University. When I got my schedule I was surprised and beyond pleased to see that Jon Schmidt of all people was going to be doing a class on music composition! How lucky can a person be? That week was one of the best of my life. I learned so much and my music abilities improved tremendously. On the last of class, Jon asked for a volunteer to come sit at the piano and compose a song with him. I couldn’t believe my luck. Of course I volunteered and as I sat down by him on the bench I realized that some of my dreams had come true. Here I was sitting at the piano with Jon Schmidt. Here I was taking classes from him. I had finally met him and I was composing music! He played the left had and I played the right and together we played a few measures of something made up right there on the spot. It was incredible to me to see my dreams being played out. 

After that, he began to recognize me at his concerts and when I was 19 I had the opportunity to play with him again. I was participating in a 10 piano concert and the song my group was playing was called “All of Me.” One of Jon’s most popular ones. On one of the last days of rehearsal Jon showed up, much to our surprise, and played with us. I could hardly contain my excitement. He asked me if i had gone to a studio yet to make a c.d. I hadn’t yet but just by asking he motivated me to do it and just after I turned 20 I completed my very first original cd entitled Without Words. ( You can read about it or buy the cd from my website; www.johannahnielsen.weebly.com).  

It had taken awhile, 7 years, but i had finally realized my dream and now it seemed like it was all going to be taken from me. As I lay in my bed I wondered if I would ever be able to play again, and if I did, would I ever be as good as I had been?  My sister came into my room and sat down.

“You will never believe who I got a hold of,” she said. “Jon Schmidt, and he is coming here to visit you!” 

All traces of my nostalgic depression vanished. I could hardly believe her. As the day wore on though I was having a hard time and i asked her to call him back and postpone it. I just couldn’t handle it, I was having such a rough day and i wanted to feel the best i possibly could when he came. 

Finally though he came. It was a Sunday evening and I was so excited. He walked into my room and it was almost like a dream. ImageHe stood by my bed and talked to me for a bit. ImageHe was doing a concert the following Saturday which i had planned on going to but obviously couldn’t in my currant state. I was still under the influence of drugs though and i told him that i would try and come and in my mind i seriously thought it might be a possibility. He laughed and said he would dedicate a song to me if i actually made it. I didn’t of course, but the thought is what counts I guess. I was even able to give him one of my cds,Image which later he told me he loved. ImageIt was one of the highlights of my whole hospital stay. It lifted my spirits and gave me the motivation to keep pushing forward and get well. It also said alot about him that he was so willing to take time out of his busy schedule to visit someone like me. 

Since then I have been to several more concerts and each time I go and say hi to him after and he always gives me a hug and we talk a bit. I have learned through this experience that anything is possible. No dream is to big, and with the proper amount of hope, determination, belief and hard work you can accomplish anything. In realizing that i had actually accomplished the biggest dream that my twelve year old mind could conceive I realized that I also had the strength in me to accomplish a new dream. The dream to heal and to become whole again. Just like my other dream it would probably take awhile, it would be hard, but i could do it. I knew I could, because I had done it before. 

Now it is my dream to share my experiences with the world. To help others, if I can to realize their dreams. To show them by sharing my experiences that anything is possible. To inspire and to motivate them to continue when they feel like they can’t go on. To help them somehow, to never give up.

The Healing Power of Music

Music is a huge part of my life. It has been there as far back as I can remember. I grew up listening to classical, Broadway, and opera. I was surrounded by people that played all kinds of instruments. We sang practically as soon as we could talk. Whenever people would come over to visit, my Dad or my Mom would gather us all up and have us play or sing the most resent songs we had learned, much to our dismay and sometimes embarrassment. I went to bed every night listening to tapes of Mozart and Beethoven. So of course when I was in the hospital the first thing I asked for was music.

Jon Schmidt has long been a favorite of mine and while staying in the I.C.U. that was all I listened to. When I moved to the Trauma floor I began asking for other things. Paul Cardall in particular. He had recently produced a new C.D. called “New Life” I had purchased this album a couple months before my accident so I already appreciated the brilliance of it. I became obsessed with this c.d because during the creating of it Paul had gone through similar experiences to mine. He was born with a heart problem and needed a heart transplant and so the songs on the c.d are about his journey through the experience. His long hospital stay, the hope of being able to successfully get a heart. The hope to survive. I could relate to it and so I listened to it over and over and over.

Every night I would listen to it as I fell to sleep and I would listen to it throughout the day. There is one song on there that is by far my favorite. Its called “Life and Death”. It’s a slow, haunting, very moving piano solo with string harmonies that gave me chills.

Image I had always really liked the song before but now it was like I understood it. As I lay there listening to it, it was like I could feel it. Like it was a part of me. I could feel and understood the emotion in it.  In a way it was my pain medication. That song would start and I would close my eyes and lay there. I would hold completely still and just let the music wash over me. In that moment it was just me and the achingly beautiful melody. I didn’t hurt while listening to that song. If I allowed it to, it could transport me to all kinds of places where I was free of pain. I could walk unhindered down a meadow lane, I could feel the rain on my face, the breeze in the air. I could smell all the freshness of the morning dew. Image

 To me, It describes with a simple melody how close life and death truly are to one another. It represented so much to me. It portrays the simpleness of life, the sadness and finality of death. How easily in an instance everything we know can be gone forever. Longing and loneliness echoes off every key. And yet, there is so much hope. It didn’t convince me that I wasn’t broken, but rather that I could heal and become whole again. It gave me hope that I would. It didn’t convey to me that life would soon be the same again, but rather showed me that even though things had changed, I could adapt. No matter what became of me physically, I could still be me, and an even better me if I wanted to. I was whoever I let myself be. I could learn and grow and change from my experiences or I could give into the desperation and hopelessness and die. Image

Death is so close to us. Really only one step away. Some of us face it everyday. Death shouldn’t be something that is feared. All my life I have been afraid of death. Afraid because i didn’t understand. I still don’t like death, but i’m not afraid of it anymore. I still cry when someone I love dies, I still ache inside, knowing that they are somewhere that I can’t be right now. I still wish that they had stayed here a little longer. I still have all the normal emotions associated with death. But I am not afraid of it. Most of us look at death as something that is sad, dark, and inevitable. It is sad. Its is inevitable. And it can even be dark. But Death is also so much more then that. Death is Life. It is only a single step from one life to another. The sadness we feel when someone dies, is the ending of something that can never be again. We always feel the sadness but we never experience the other part. We never experience the joy. And I believe that in death there is joy. 

Little steps

After one week in in the ICU I was finally moved to the trauma floor. On this floor they focused on the recovery process instead of just doing everything they could to keep me alive. I had turned a corner and so began the physical therapy.  I got to sit up for the first time, and I started to move around a bit more. Hannah Sitting up[1]

Doing this caused tremendous dizziness and nausea. It was not very pleasant for a long time. The nurses would wheel me in my bed down to the x ray rooms to do tests and each time I felt like I was on a roller coaster.

I remember this one time then my nurse and I were heading back up to the room after a series of tests and as we got in the elevator it was all I could do to control myself and try not to throw up. I felt I was losing the battle so I said to my nurse,  “I think I might throw up,” and he asked if I could wait till I got to the room because we were almost there. I couldn’t even reply, I just vomited everywhere.  Now let me explain something, throwing up is bad enough by itself. I try my best to avoid it whenever possible, as I am sure we all do, but just imagine throwing up while laying down, with a feeding tube down your nose and throat, 20 broken ribs, and a neck brace. Its the farthest thing from pleasant you can imagine. I have never experienced something so thoroughly humiliating, disgusting, suffocating and panic inducing in my whole life. The poor nurse tried to do everything he could to help me, but of course there is not much you really can do in a situation like that.

We finally made it to the room but now I had to endure the humiliation of someone else cleaning not only my mess up, but cleaning me up as well.  Of course it had gone everywhere and they had to remove my back and neck brace and clean them and replace the padding. This involved me turning over on my side so they could slide the brace out from under me. They had done this once or twice before and it was incredibly painful. Usually they would have me grab onto the side of the bed and try to pull while they pushed me onto my left side which we had already established was the least painful side to lay on. This time however the nurses were new and so they didn’t realize I had to be moved only to the left side and they proceeded to move me to the opposite side and my full weight was shifted to my broken femur and my plated ribs.  By this time my mother couldn’t handle me hollering and she left the room crying. As I lay there on my side my whole attention was focused on the pain in my leg, the incredible burning, searing, and throbbing pain. It was all I could feel or think about and it wouldn’t stop, I lay there and screamed ow, ow, ow, over and over again. It was incredibly miserable. I felt bad for the nurse having to clean it up and I kept saying I was sorry. The nurses were really nice, and kept telling me it was ok, and trying to be as gentle as they could.  And then finally it stopped. They had finished and the relief I felt as the pain was diminished was so amazing. After that I was entirely exhausted and went to sleep only to wake up choking on the tube in my throat. I was once again throwing up and was doing it so violently I had thrown up my feeding tube and I tried to pull it out because I couldn’t breathe and the nurse came and tried to put it back in before she saw that I was choking and throwing up.  The next morning I had to get it put back in because I still wasn’t allowed to eat yet. That was quite painful as well. They stick the tube in through your nose and then slowly work it down into your stomach. Over the next couple days that pattern repeated itself. Me throwing up the tube, and the nurses replacing it.

Up to this point I had wanted people to sit by me and hold my hand because it was comforting and somewhat grounding to feel someone there. But now my skin had become way to sensitive to touch and bruises began to blossom all over my body. The doctors said it was because I had suffered so much shock and trauma that the body couldn’t deal with anything else and once I began to heal then the minor injuries would manifest themselves and so everyday bruises appeared until I was practically one giant bruise. Hannah[1]

I was still hooked up to the catheter and I developed a urinary tract infection and because my intestines had been shoved up through my diaphragm I was having a hard time with my bowels.  So they began giving me enemas and suppositories to help, and I wont go into the details of that particular experience but suffice it to say it was humiliating and embarrassing. I was also much more aware of everything going on around me then I had been before and so I had to suffer through my sponge baths, and my hair washing, and my dressing and undressing. I felt so degraded and helpless.

My therapist on this floor was really nice and for the life of me I cant remember her name but she began to help me to sit up, and she showed me how to brush my teeth, and I was able to get my hair combed and finally out of the way. One day she even let me sit on the bed and try to eat some chocolate pudding! I began to do little things like that, and each “little thing” was a small step towards healing and my family turned it into a huge event. I am so grateful for that. It would have been so easy to dismiss all my small steps and just say, “anyone can do that.” but instead they all gathered around as I held my tooth brush somewhat self consciously and they all took pictures as I picked up my spoon and tried to eat my   pudding.

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After that, doctors decided it was time to do a swallowing test to see if I was ready to eat solid food again. I cant remember what they called the procedure but it was downright unpleasent. They have this miniature camera and they stick it right into your nose and down your throat and then you are suppose to eat while they watch you. Now it doesn’t sound like it, but this was pretty much awful. It was extremely uncomfortable and painful. I don’t think the nose was meant to have such large things forced down upon it. I wasn’t swallowing quite right and so began the therapy of learning how to eat again.

I was only allowed thick substances like jello, applesauce, or pudding. I wanted Jamba Juice so badly, but I couldn’t eat it yet till I had mastered the jello. That became my goal. Working towards the day when I could finally have my Jamba Juice.