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

Nov 23, 2011

Giving Thanks for Thanksgiving

So in honor of the holiday, I felt it was fitting to compose a blog of what I am thankful for. Hopefully, I can do so without it sounding like an Oscar acceptance speech. I know I have so much to be grateful for in this crazy life of mine. I start first and foremost with God who, last June 13, gave me a second chance at life. I trust the Lord that He has a plan for my life and that everything happens for a reason. I'm extremely blessed that He has given me more function than the doctors expected and the strong willpower not to settle for anything less. My accident was my wake-up call and I'm fortunate to be alive with a clear, functional mind so that I may spread my story in hopes that I can encourage, teach, inspire, and perhaps prevent someone else from having a similar accident. I am also thankful to have my Dad in Heaven as my guardian angel. I truly believe he has watched over me since his passing and especially on that fateful day. There have been many occasions when I can feel his presence and he gives me the power to go on.  Knowing how proud he would be of me gives me the courage to continue to move forward. I look forward to the day when I will walk next to him in Heaven.

Of course, I would not be this far without my wonderful mother, who all my life has been my rock. When I feel weak, she is my strength. The four months spent in the hospital she stayed by my side; sleeping in the ICU waiting room, in a camper trailer, or in my freezing hospital room on uncomfortable bed, being woken up constantly by the nurses tending to me. While at Methodist, she attended every therapy session to learn how to take care of me. She has modified her home and her life to cater to my needs. She has purchased not one, but two handicapped accessible vans, to get me to where I need to go. She prepares every meal, drives me to every appointment, handles all my finances, and has helped to fight my Medicaid battles. This accident has been equally as hard on her as it has been on me because she has had to sacrifice so much for my well-being. Sadly, I know other similarly injured friends who are not as fortunate as I to have such a wonderful and influential parental figure. I'm forever indebted to all she has done for me my whole life- and especially the last 17 months. I could tell her thank you a million times but it would never truly express how thankful I am to have her as my mother.

I am also privileged to have wonderful siblings; ones who spent nights in the hospital with me, afternoons so my mother could have a break, or just coming to keep me company. In addition, my extended family (aunts, uncles, cousins, in laws) have all been extremely supportive and helpful during these trying times. Those who know my family will agree I am extremely blessed to be surrounded by such loving and caring people. Another group of people that I am extremely grateful for would be the team of doctors, nurses, nurse aides, and therapists that I've had from the beginning. Forrest General Hospital was an amazing experience, despite the reason I was there. By the time I left, I felt like I was a part of a family as well as making lasting friendships. I was so fortunate to have a brilliant, well-equipped medical team taking care of me. The same goes for Methodist Rehab. My therapists had me work as hard as I possibly could to make as much progress as possible. They are much more than just therapists, they have become lifelong friends. Furthermore, I am thankful to the Park Rangers who were stationed along Little Black Creek that Sunday afternoon. Because of them, I was properly cared for and air lifted to the hospital in a timely manner. 

Of course, I cannot forget my dear friends, old and new. To the group that was on the canoe trip with me who basically saved my life by pulling me out of the water. For my old friends who continue to stand by my side as I embark on this new journey in my life and have not let my disability affect our relationship, such as my friends Danyelle, Jenna, and Robert, who stay in constant contact and visit when they can- people who are true friends no matter the circumstances. I am blessed to have my awesome best friend, Katy, who I reconnected with after years apart and have been there for me since I've returned home. Another best friend, Rachel, who came to visit me more times in the hospital than I can count and always sends me a card just to let me know she is thinking about me. I am grateful for one of my new best friends, Laura, who out of the goodness of her heart, organized and coordinated my Southern Belle fundraiser, which has raised me money to go back to rehab. I am fortunate to develop what I'm sure will be a lifelong friendship and extremely appreciative for her frequently taking me out to do fun activities. Of course, I cannot mention the Southern Belle fundraiser without giving credit to my friend, Brad, who did many of the “behind-the-scenes” work and also got my name into the media. I am also so very thankful for my new friends, a large group of women with spinal cord injuries, who have become so near and dear to my heart. Many who have listened to me cry, vent, and express my frustrations, anxieties, and triumphs since living my life in a chair. Strong, independent women who are not only like sisters, but wonderful role models that can relate and empathize with my situation and can understand my feelings unlike anyone else. I am especially blessed to have my new friends, Lori and Tim, who have helped me more emotionally and physically than words could ever describe. I have also been very fortunate this last week to have found the most fantastic personal care attendant, Mary, who helps to take care of me. In addition to relieving my mother of some of her duties, she pushes me to work harder and helps me with the things I cannot do for myself. We are quickly becoming great friends and I thank God for putting her in my life. 

I'm extremely fortunate to have a group of my late father's engineering friends (called the NUKES) to help me financially and to offer their brains and services to adapt any basic items to make my life easier. It is truly touching that these people are so willing to help me. Words cannot even express how thankful I am for all my supporters. Everyone who has sent kind words, donations, cards, or just says a prayer for me at night. People I've known for years and those I've never met who constantly believe in me, inspire me, pray for me, encourage me, strengthen me, and love me. The amount of love I've been shown from all my followers and friends is more than I could've ever asked for and I'm eternally grateful. Like I always say, I find it such a blessing to be able to inspire others while continuing to be inspired as well.  I can never truly express my gratitude for everything that everyone is done for me and my family since the accident. It is truly overwhelming in the best possible way. I only pray I can return the favor someday. Thank you all can for those who read this and still continue to be there for me. I wish you all the most wonderful and happy Thanksgiving. May you share good food, fun times, and great laughter with the ones you love during this holiday weekend. Remember to count your blessings and not your problems.

Nov 15, 2011

Where in the world was Katy Blake?

Wow, I don't know where to begin. I suppose I should start with an apology. I never intended to go this long with a lack of updates. But for those who know me, or follow my Facebook page, know I have been quite the busy bee these last few months. It all started on Wednesday, September 7. My mother woke me up with the phone call she received from Methodist Rehab in Jackson, MS, when they asked her, “Were you aware that Katy was supposed to be checking in today?” We were flabbergasted. No one had informed us that Medicaid approved for two weeks at MRC. We quickly rescheduled for me to begin my two week stay Monday, September 12. I was mentally prepared to push my body to the max because I knew the next 14 days would fly by before my eyes; so I hit the ground rolling. On that first Thursday, I stood up for the first time in nine months with the aid of a standing frame. I only lasted 20 minutes, which was a personal best at that point.From then on out, my goal was to do it longer than each time I had before. By the end of my stay, I exceeded even my own expectations by standing for over two hours. I also experienced many other triumphs during my rehabilitation, the biggest being the length of time I was able to stay. It originally started as two weeks, which was then increased to four weeks on behalf of Mississippi Medicaid due to the amount of progress I was making. I was extremely blessed that vocational rehab also granted an extra two weeks so that my combined stay was just a few days shy of six weeks. In those six weeks, I worked diligently on assisted transfers, building upper body strength, regaining trunk control, standing in the standing frame, rolling from side to side, unsupported sitting, correcting poor posture, “walking” on my hands, upper body dressing, and painting. Now you can see how those six weeks went by so quickly! Therapy was absolutely amazing. I enjoyed pushing myself harder and harder every day to try and gain more strength. But that was just the first mile of a very long marathon.
         One other truly wonderful thing that came as a result to me being Methodist was finally getting my power chair modifications. I was fortunate enough to have the best vocational rehab counselor, Tara, while in Jackson. Because of her, I got my chair modified and the two extra weeks of rehab. My original back to the wheelchair was modified to fit me more snugly to help me sit up straight and correct my poor posture. Under my calves are calf pads so my legs no longer hit the bar under my cushion, preventing potential pressure sores. I have a new foot rest that keeps my feet in place whereas before, my feet would fly off with every spasm. My chair has been lowered 2 inches so now I can actually sit under a table for dinner; previously, I had to have a tray in my lap which was somewhat embarrassing when going out to eat. The back of my head rest has been sawed off -it had a sharp metal bar that extended about 5 inches which led to me ripping the fabric in my van. They put in a reclining back and elevated foot plates so that I am able to catheterize in my wheelchair which in is by far the best modification they made. Now I no longer feel rushed with a timetable (every 4-6 hours) to have to get back in the bed to catheterize. The “new and improved” power chair has given me more freedom and confidence than I had before.
So this leads me to present day. I have begun the process of sending in all my records and paperwork to the Shepherd Center in Atlanta. As of right now, they are on a waiting list until late January. If I leave for more than 30 days, I will have to go through the process and paperwork of being discharged from Mississippi Department of Rehabilitation. So I will only be going to the Shepherd Center in 30 day increments. The tricky part now is figuring out when I will go. In March 2012, I will have to be present at Ole Miss to be the recipient for the Sigma Nu Charity Bowl fundraiser. In addition to being unable to go during the month of March, I am also looking into getting a bladder auto augmentation. As of right now, I have to use an intermittent catheter every 4 to 6 hours to empty my bladder. I am unable to do it myself and it also limits me to a schedule where I have to be near a restroom, properly dressed, and have assistance to do this within the proper timeframe or I could experience autonomic dysreflexia. With this surgery, my bladder would be stretched so that I could go longer periods of time between catheterizations. They would reroute my appendix to create a stoma on my stomach so I would be able to catheterize through there. So the benefits are definitely worth it: to go longer between catheterizing; to be able to do it virtually anywhere and in any outfit; and to one day be able to do it myself. This procedure will increase my independence greatly.  There are, however, a few cons and that would mainly be the recovery. I would be in the hospital for about a week, if not more. Typically, most patients are not allowed to intake fluid or food up to two weeks afterwards. All the nutrients will come from an IV. The surgery cuts into major organs- the bladder; appendix; intestines- and can prove to be quite painful. I would have to use a Foley catheter for a few weeks afterwards and then slowly and gradually begin to intermittent catheterize my stoma, to let it fill up and stretch out. My surgery would have to be done in Jackson, MS, and would require many, frequent checkups afterwards. It is generally a 2-3 month recovery. I was told by my urologist that it is not IF I need this surgery, but WHEN. 
So my thought process is to have this done before I pursue going to the Shepherd Center. I would prefer to have the surgery out-of-the-way as opposed to going to Shepherd for one month,  building up strength and then losing it all while recovering. It would also make traveling and staying places (such as Ole Miss and Atlanta) much easier. So it looks as though I will have to practice patience, something I lack, as far as going to the Shepherd Center. I am just so unbelievably ready to get there. April seems like it is ages away! But as fast as this previous year has gone by, I'm sure the next 5 1/2 months will go just as quickly. Other exciting news is that I finally have my personal care attendant. I met a wonderful woman who will help me do daily activities such as bathing, grooming, exercising, etc. This is a great opportunity, not only for me, but also to give my mother a break from being my primary caregiver 24/7 for the last 17 months. 
In other nonrelated therapy and progress news, I have really been enjoying painting and doing other arts and crafts. Right now I am working on overdue works of art that I’ve promised people and Christmas gifts. My goal is to next year work on projects throughout the months so that in October I can set up a booth at Zonta (an arts and craft festival in my hometown) to help raise more money for additional rehab, medical equipment, modifications, etc. As far as medical equipment goes, I am finally getting a fully electric hospital bed this week. In the bed that I am in at the moment, I am unable to practice transferring myself. In addition, I had a dear friend of mine gave me her standing frame. It is a top-of-the-line piece of equipment and I am beyond blessed to have it. I will have to put forth some of my own money to modify it to fit me, but it will be undoubtedly worth it in the end. I was also fortunate to be given a new manual chair that weighs around 30 pounds less than my current manual chair. It is my goal to practice pushing myself is much as possible to build up strength, endurance, and to one day not need my power chair. And finally, another BIG thing I will be looking into soon is driving. A van could easily be modified so that I would be able to drive my power chair into the driver seat and use hand controls. Once I am able to catheterize myself and drive myself, I can finally get back in the college. Lots of exciting things going on, sometimes it is even hard for me to keep up! Will definitely update more soon. God bless!