The only experiences I have had in hospital have been extremely traumatic. I thought that was par for the course. “No one wants to go to hospital,” I thought. “To be incapacitated, drugged, cut into.” Some people elect to, for various reasons. I am not one of them.
After I was injured in the bombing, I did everything I could to avoid any further surgery. I grasped at every advancement in my recovery as though my life depended on it, which perhaps it did. When I was able to raise myself up in bed alone, nothing was going to stop me from doing that again. With my first shaky steps on my new prosthesis, I swore that nothing within my power would stop me from walking again.
Some doctors talked about cosmetic surgery, some talked about refining my stump, or taking tendons from my remaining leg and placing them in my shattered hand. “Hell no!” I thought. ”I don’t care what I look like…I function.” And, to be honest, I was scared stiff of being hurt again and incapacitated in any way.
I fought to walk so well that I hoped no-one could tell. I practiced piano with my broken fingers. I got a guitar from a friend and learnt to play with the two fingers I could move on my left hand. I wrote songs with two strings and sang my heart out on the back steps of our house. I loved my music. It was one of my greatest joys. I wrote about my thoughts and feelings. Sang about my loves and losses. It was my way of processing every experience. I would jam with friends, perform in their bands and at open mic nights and after 10 years, I was feeling pretty comfortable with a guitar.
Everything was always difficult. I was used to it. Walking long distances would make my stump throb and give me excruciating cysts. I’d struggle to play piano and guitar with 3 fingers that I could barely move and couldn’t straighten but I always thought that this was “par for the course”. So when I started having more trouble pressing those fingers down on the strings, I thought “You’re out of practice, Liv, you need to work harder.” I took up hand drumming and when my left hand started to develop some numbness, I thought “This is par for the course, your nerves are damaged and you’re banging on them. Keep pushing through.” But when I started waking up in the night with my arm numb and in pain, I started to realize that perhaps this wasn’t just par for the course. I had tests done, met with doctors and, to my horror, they announced that I needed surgery desperately but that the damage was already done. My hand had atrophied terribly, the nerve damage was extensive and I could have avoided this if I had fixed it years ago. I sobbed that day in their office. I cried that it was my fault, that I could have avoided it, that I needed surgery, and that there was nothing that I alone could do to make it better. I had thought I was doing the right thing. Ignoring the protests of my body and pushing through had been my survival trait and yet because of it I had pushed through something I shouldn’t have.
My terror of surgery and sadness at what I had done was immense and I wallowed in it for almost a year before scheduling the procedure that I had to have but that would do so little now. The day before the surgery finally arrived and I was literally shaking with fear non-stop. Then I got a call from the doctor to say that, because of another health issue, they would have to cancel. I cried for 3 days. The terror of surgery still loomed but there was no relief in sight.
I procrastinated for almost another year before scheduling again and when the time finally came, I was still terrified but so desperate to have it over and done with that I almost felt ready. I couldn’t believe it when I was finally sitting in that hospital bed. I wanted to run away screaming. I cried and shivered and then they injected me with their calming cocktail and that’s the last thing I remember. When I woke up, I felt great. I chatted with the nurses and with my boyfriend and asked the same questions over and over and, after an hour, I tumbled into my clothes and walked out of the hospital. I sank into the car seat and kept intoning “I can’t believe it’s done.” Years of terror over surgery, over being incapacitated, and here I had just WALKED out of the hospital. The relief was more immense than I can express and here I sit, just over a week later, writing this blog with two hands, no pain, feeling fully capable and strengthened by the knowledge that I can do this again.
From now on, I want to listen to my body. I know there will be more scary surgeries in the future. I know I will feel that fear again, but I want to remember this moment, the “after” when it is done and there is nothing left to do but recover and feel the pride of having faced a fear and won.
Learn more about Olivia here.