To read part one of Joanie’s story, click here.
In 2014, I developed excruciating back pain and eventually the doctors found I had two spinal cord tumors. One was on the outside of my spine and one inside of the spinal canal. So, without discussing risks (what could possibly go wrong? Besides, the surgery was necessary) I had major lower back surgery. That required a huge recovery because I had two big setbacks. One was that my incision became infected one month after surgery and I needed another trip to the ER, more surgery and another hospital stay. By the end of May I was getting around with a cane, but by June was again having incessant headaches that were different from my migraines. My long-time neurologist, whom I had a lot of faith in, became convinced I had a spinal fluid leak and needed an epidural blood patch to clot the leak at one of my surgical sites.
“It’s nothing,” he told me, “you will be better in no time.”
Did I ever mention how gullible I am? My husband still enjoys telling me untrue things to see if I will believe him and then gets a kick out of it.
I made the appointment, went to the hospital one morning, and a doctor took 30 cc’s of my blood and injected it into my spine. Unknowingly, she punctured the thecal sac, the part of your nervous system where no blood should ever be. Before we even got home, I knew something was very, very wrong. I couldn’t move my body without letting out a yelp like our dogs do at the vet when they get their nails trimmed. Life was more out of control than ever.
After a trip back to the hospital and many more tests, they found I had a hemorrhage in my lower spine. I could hardly move and there were many risks to my life. I was bedridden for several months. Our church friends and neighbors brought us meals. Somebody stopped by to see me twice a day to help me to the bathroom safely, get me a lunch, or just talk, pray, or get me to laugh so that Dave could continue to work. We were empty nesters at the time and we learned to ask for help and accept it graciously. We thank God for everyone who helped us in this bleak time. I was scared and so was my family. One weekend my daughter brought my granddaughter up from Richmond. We watched Frozen, and at just age two she sang every song! She helped me fight to live to get better. It was a long road to get back on my feet again.
My new friends came one Sunday night. They prayed over me, sang praise songs, meditated, and lifted my spirit up. During this meditation I had a vision of being a little girl running down a hill. The wind was blowing my hair, my red Keds were on my feet, and I felt so free. I believe that was the Holy Spirit coming to me, coming with hope, strength, and perseverance. My faith began to be the only thing I knew to hold on to for this difficult ride.
That was September 2014. Now, in the winter of 2018, I recently began to replace my many Northern Virginia and D.C. doctors for new ones in Richmond, as my back and head couldn’t keep up with the trips needed to Northern Virginia to visit my team of doctors. One doctor asked me when was the last time I had felt healthy. I didn’t know, maybe in my thirties or forties. But the more I thought about his question, the answer came to me very clearly. It was before the back surgery and before the epidural blood patch failure.
No one told me I wouldn’t be able to walk without a walker and that even that would be painful. A physical therapist who came to the house eventually taught me how to walk using a cane. So that’s when the white cane with purple flowers became a part of my life. I had constant nerve pain in my right leg and would frequently and unexpectedly lose my sense of balance. She said to keep doing my exercises and in a month I would be amazed at my progress. Nope. I was in physical therapy for the better part of the year and didn’t meet my physical therapist’s goals, so I was let go due to lack of progress.
Just when I wondered what else could possibly happen, 2015 began with my mother’s passing – she was 90 – and the tension between my siblings came to a head. There would be a lot of emotional work to be done. But there was no time for that, as I came home from her funeral to find out I had breast cancer. Fortunately, they found it early, but it was invasive. It was terribly scary because I had only recently lost my older sister to breast cancer in 2013. Looking back on it, my treatment went quickly, and I am now a three year survivor.
By 2016, I had to be rechecked to assure that my spinal tumors weren’t coming back. My neurosurgeon did a thorough work up and found that I had a serious neck problem, which led to a cervical fusion at C3-C7. All the while I continued to have migraines and had developed fibromyalgia. The fusion went off without any complications and I have worked hard to get my neck mobility back because I don’t want to give up driving. I mean it!
To be continued in one more part.