"If you're going through Hell, keep going."
-Winston Churchill

May 3, 2011

Stages of grief

Let me begin by giving you the latest updates before jumping into the deeper part of this blog entry. This past Sunday The Mississippi Press ran an article about my story. If you have not already seen this, here is the link: http://blog.gulflive.com/mississippi-press-news/2011/05/post_42.html. We considered ourselves very lucky to have it run on a Sunday and on the front page of the local section of the paper. Laura’s phone has been ringing off the hook, bless her heart! The band benefit at Thunders Tavern here in Pascagoula, originally scheduled for May 14, has been postponed. That is the same weekend of the Gulfport Music Festival and we are trying to find a weekend that is free from any holiday or events. WLOX has expressed interest in covering my story; however, I believe this has been delayed by the tornado devastation and the killing of Osama bin Laden. I have been contacted by a freelance writer for CBS and by the medical reporter for WWL out of New Orleans. I have no further details on either of those leads, just that initial contact has been made, but once I have more concrete details they will be broadcasted. In the meantime, I hope and pray that it all works out. In addition, Laura made contact with the Director of Marketing for the Southern Belle Corporation. They have also expressed interest in covering my story for their newsletter. Speaking of Southern Belle, the T-shirt fundraiser has been phenomenal! This past Thursday, we made a rash decision to do a partial order on Monday (yesterday). In just those three days we collected 227 shirt orders!! When Laura and I first started discussing this fundraiser, we were excited about just selling 100 shirts. It has truly gone above and beyond anything either of us expected. We decided to make the partial order to help lessen the workload of having all their shirts come in at once and having to organize, store and distribute such a mass order. We also hope that once more people see the shirts around town they will want to order some. The deadline for the next order is May 15. If there is still enough interest and demand after the 15th, we will definitely consider doing a third order but we must have at least 50 to do so. Just a reminder- to all my new chair-friendly friends, if you decide to order one make sure you specify you want a front design. All of the information can of course be found at www.rehabforkaty.formyfriends.org.

Today I would like to talk about the five stages of grief (some people say five, some people say seven, I grouped some of mine together- so it's five.) Before I dive into that, I want to discuss myself for a moment. My goodness how cocky that sounds! But I suppose it is my blog and you are already here, so you might as well read. I have never been very good at describing myself; especially when it came to things like the Facebook profile. How to sum up your personality in a certain number of words? I pretty much consider myself an open book, you ask and I'll tell you how it is. Since starting my Help Katy to Rehab page, my friends list has increased by almost 200 people. I started thinking maybe perhaps I should figure out something to write in my info besides “bomb diggity.” Apparently, bomb diggity does not give a clear description of who I am. Despite the trouble I've previously had, when I decided to change it, it almost came naturally. It now says this: “June 13, 2010, I was injured at a diving accident leaving me an incomplete quadriplegic. I fractured my C-5, meaning I'm paralyzed from the chest down. It was a true blessing in disguise. Who you are is not based on physical capabilities; it is your heart and your soul. I am a very strong and determined person to overcome any obstacles life decides to throw my way. Sense of humor is a must, you almost need it just to survive ( or at least to stay sane ) I live without regrets, I learn from my mistakes, I tell people what I think and I love with all my heart. Never said I was perfect, never pretended to be, and never expect it of anybody else. If you remember nothing else, remember this: Count your blessings and not your problems.” And if that does not give you a good sense of who I am, just watch my latest bloopers video on YouTube. I will attach at the bottom of the entry for your convenience.. ;)

Now, onto the five stages of grief… I've said it many times and I'll say it again, I am a human being. Although I really believe I've handle my situation with great strength and grace, I have had my bad days. I've cried, gotten angry, broken down and thought it was all over. We all must release these emotions to start the healing process of whatever despairing situation we find ourselves in. From day one, I kept the smile on my face, even with the trache my throat, deep down knowing it could only go up from here. Shortly after the heavy meds wore off in the hospital (once I got past thinking the nursing staff was trying to kill me-yes, it is true I did, but that is another story entirely) my mother explained to me I would go through the stages of grief just as I did after my father passed away. The first thing I thought was ‘uh oh’- my dad died when I was only 11. I really could not process it at the time and it haunted me until I finally broke down a year or 2 later. I did not cope with it in the same way that I did my injury- which is a good thing. If I had handled my injury the same way I did his passing, I would still be in denial. Alas, it was from the death of my father I learned how to cope with emotionally distressed situations. Like I've said before, everything happens for a reason. Of course I wish there was some way to change what happened to him and for him to still be here, but I do not think I would be nearly as strong if that were the case. Onto the first stage-

Stage I:  Shock and denial
When my friends were pulling me out of the water I kept exclaiming to my friend, “I cannot be paralyzed, it cannot be true, I just cannot be paralyzed.” She tried to reassure me, and I think herself, by telling me maybe it was just a pinched nerve. Although as soon as I hit bottom and my body went numb I knew, I kept trying to convince myself otherwise. Maybe it was just a pinched nerve, surely in a few hours I would regain all the feeling back. Even after two weeks in the hospital, when I was finally starting to remember everything, once I realized I had full sensation down to my toes I started to believe I would walk out of there. I thought “Pssh.. This doctor doesn’t know who I am or what he is talking about.” It almost seemed like a dream, I had this crazy thought in my head I was invincible and nothing like this could happen to me. Well, as we all know, I was wrong. It seemed like the end of the world but little did I know it was just the beginning.

Stage II: Pain and guilt
As the weeks went on and the shock started to wear off, the pain and guilt began to settle in. I won't lie, I love being the center of attention… I mean come on, I am the baby of seven children- what do you expect, really? But when I realized that my mom was living out in a motorhome in the Forrest General Hospital parking lot (for those who did not know, I was two hours away from my hometown Pascagoula), I felt horrible. Not to mention my hometown family and friends traveling 2 to 3 times a week to come see me. Thinking of the gas prices, the time it took and the effort made me feel worse than the actual physical pain of the injury. I hated having to ask my family to walk across the room to bring me a drink when I was thirsty, much less been traveling 100 miles just to see me 5x a day for 30 min. at a time. I felt like it was my entire fault that my mom had to go from our wonderful home in Pascagoula to staying in a motorhome in a hospital parking lot. After her time in a FEMA trailer after Katrina, I knew this was her nightmare. Now, of course, I realize this is what family is for and my family is very special. 

Stage III: Anger and bargaining
This was a tough phase for me. Once I began the process the magnitude of my situation, I kept replaying the accident in my head, not to mention the countless nightmares that followed. This is something I have not spoken of much but I feel like, for my own personal growth, that I must. As I've stated before, a friend and I were horseplaying before running to the water. What caused me to run to the water was the fact my friend decided to spit on me which disgusted me. I wanted to wash off as quickly as possible and of course you know how that resulted. It was really hard not to be angry, I kept thinking to myself, “Well, if that had not happened, I would not have dove into the water.” But in the end, we all make our own decisions. I think what finally clicked and helped to dissolve my anger was realizing this: I would rather be the one hurt then the one feeling guilty for hurting another. I don't blame him for what happened. In fact, it was he that finally pulled me out of the water so he technically saved my life. Had he not pulled me up, I felt like my lungs were to explode at any second. How can I be angry at the person who pulled me out? Forgiveness has a powerful effect and once you learn to do so, you’ll find yourself a lot happier in life. Enough about anger lets discuss bargaining. I distinctly remember getting my MRI. I must have still been coming down from the heavy drugs because I believed that I was going to die in that machine. In my mind, I kept seeing a bright light that I was fighting to stay away from. Before the accident, I was not super religious. I believed there was a God, but did not understand why he had put me in so many tough situations from such a young age. I now believe it was to prepare me for my current situation, my greatest obstacle yet. During my MRI I pleaded with him, promising to change my life if he would just save me. You may think I'm crazy, and who knows I just may be, drugs or not, that night in the machine I saw my dad talking to God and asking him to spare me. I may not be walking (yet) but I am still alive, I did not suffer a traumatic brain injury, I have full sensation and have progressed farther than doctors expected. That night in the MRI machine changed my life, for I truly believe God answered my prayers.

Stage IV: Depression, reflection and loneliness
During my four months in the hospital, I was constantly surrounded by new friends, old friends, family and medical staff. In fact, I still talk to many of my therapist, nurses and nurse aides. When I finally returned home to Pascagoula on October 5, all of that changed. Whereas before I was surrounded by different people, all day every day, I suddenly found myself with only a handful of people to physically interact with. Most of my hometown friends are off at college or in their careers and have moved away from Pascagoula, so other than my family I really only had two good friends in my town. This was when I encountered the loneliness. Sure, I had Facebook and text message but that does not replace face-to-face social interaction. Coming home I also discover the depression. While in the hospital and rehab I felt very normal in my situation- there were others like me, nurses knew how to take care of me and the buildings were accommodated for me. When I finally got home, it seemed like I suddenly realized my disabilities. I could not get into the comfortable chaise I loved to lounge in; there was to be no more sitting at the bar while my mom worked in the kitchen; and getting in the whirlpool bathtub was out of the question. To see all the things that I previously loved and enjoyed made me realize how little I could do with my new disability. I would sit in the sun room and stare out at the gorgeous day, wishing I could just put my feet in the grass or plant flowers in the garden. Knowing that I would not be doing any of these things any time soon severely depressed me. While at FGH they had prescribed me the antidepressant Lexapro. Now I am going to try and carefully word this so not to offend anybody, I know there is such thing as a chemical imbalance that causes depression. But my own personal train of thought is mind over matter, I did not believe I needed to be on antidepressants and although I expressed this to both doctors at FGH and Methodist, they did not attempt to take me off of it. So after arriving home, despite the depression and loneliness I was feeling, I weaned myself off Lexapro. There was no magic cure or drug to fix how I felt after coming home; all it took was some time to adjust. Thankfully, this stage did not last for long.

Stage V: Acceptance and hope
After a month or two of being released into the “real world” it became easier to accept my disability. In the hospital it was so easy because everybody knew what they were doing, I knew what to expect, everything was accommodated for me, and I felt normal being amongst other spinal cord injuries. Going out in the public heighten my anxiety. What would people think when they saw me? I did not want people to feel sorry or pity towards me, but I knew if the roles were reversed and they were my friend, I would feel sorry for them. I know now when people stare it is more because they are curious about what happened. Today, I have accepted and embraced my disability. Anybody who knows me knows I joke about it more and more every day. It is my way of putting other people at ease, as well as providing a chuckle. What gave me my hope back is the success of the Help Katy Back to Rehab Facebook fan page. It has been three weeks today that the page was created and I am very close to 2000 followers. So many exciting things are happening so quickly that it's almost hard for me to keep up. But to have complete strangers reach out to me, to offer their own time and effort to help someone they've never met, has restored my hope and joy. Like I said before, I consider myself an open book. If by sharing my story and my experiences I have the power to inspire others or to stop someone from making a mistake, then in the end it will all be worth it. 

This is quite a long one. As always, thanks for your continued interest and support in my recovery. I would not be this far without it. Like I said in my Facebook bio, count your blessings and not your problems, so here is to counting mine:

I am blessed to be alive; to not have a traumatic brain injury; to not have a complete or a higher level of spinal cord injury; to have progressed further than originally predicted; to have had a great team of doctors, nurses, nurse aides, and therapists to take care of me; to have a wonderful family and group of friends that love me no matter what; to have a fantastic new group of Facebook friends also in wheelchairs for peer support; to have complete strangers reach out to me and help me in my time of need; and blessed to continue to be inspired and inspire others. 


  1. Katy! You're amazing! I am 22 years old, graduating from Southern next week and all I can say is WOW! I cannot physically fathom being in your situation! You are SUCH a strong person! I just want you to know that you are in my thoughts and prayers every day and I wish you the BEST in your efforts to get back in rehab! You are more than capable of achieving your desired recovery! By far the strongest person I know! Thanks for keeping us updated on your situation and I am looking forward to the benefit at Thunders! P.S. Love the bloopers! :)

  2. Dear Katy: This is from James Michael Smith, Emily's oldest son in seminary formation for the Roman Catholic Priesthood--

    --you are a beautiful woman with a more beautiful attitude. All of us suffer grief in this life, so even someone like myself can learn from your serious and profound reflections. I want you to know that you are especially included in my daily recitation of the Divine Office, the liturgical prayer of the Church prayed by priests, seminarians and religious. I will keep checking up on you as this all proceeds. Strive to keep growing in your relationship with Christ and the Mother of God, and keep trusting in Him.

    +Love you!

  3. You're so amazing. :) I can't wait to be able to give you the hug I want to give you right now! Just like when you were a tiny little thing. I think you were about 6 or 7 when I first started coming over. You have always been awesome. :) I used to tell Kristen you loved me more than her. ;)