“You may wake up unable to speak or swallow, “ the neurosurgeon cautioned me before surgery to remove a sizeable brain tumor that wrapped around my brain stem.
Though I did not say anything, in my mind I remarked, “That is not going to happen to me.”
What the surgeon suspected, that I did not know, was that the tumor probably contained cranial nerves 9, 10 and 11 – all critical to functioning including speech, swallowing, digestion and mobility. He hoped he could remove the mass without cutting any nerves.
Unfortunately, he discovered those nerves were deeply embedded inside the tumor. I awakened unable to speak, swallow – or move. The right side of my body instantly lost muscle – eight pounds worth – making any movement not only excruciatingly painful but nearly impossible given the nerves that enervated major muscles no longer functioned.
Following one month in rehab I was able to get around using a walker thanks to a team of extraordinary physical, speech and swallow therapists who worked with me daily. I will not tell you my progress was easy. Not for a minute. Yet it marked the beginning of my powerful new life in an altered body.
Admittedly, there were moments when I succumbed to tears.
Often, when I reached down to pick up something I fell and was unable to get up. The old familiar line from the television commercial, “I’ve fallen and I can’t get up!” rang through my mind. Fortunately, on one such occasion, the friend staying with me came looking for me when she did not see or hear me for a while. She helped me up from my closet floor.
Adjusting to my new way of being took work, energy, focus and most important of all – desire. Having suffered a Traumatic Brain Injury eighteen years earlier I already knew about living with an energy bank account: only expend what I can recoup over the next few days.
Four months after the surgery I found myself elated, actually high, as I used to feel when working out. What the heck?
When I opened my mouth I never knew if a sound would come out let alone intelligible speech. I choked when swallowing – even my own saliva – more often than not. I could not swallow food without working hard to use my “swallow muscles” while telling myself, “Swallow. Swallow. Swallow.” with each muscle contraction.
My right arm and leg could not do much. I am right handed. And the paralysis in my digestive system left me with perpetual acid reflux that sometimes runs clear up into my sinuses.
Looking from the outside there was absolutely no reason for me to feel any degree of happiness let alone elation.
I realized I had discovered True Happiness.
I knew that, in every moment I made a choice to disregard appearances and seize on my “what I can do ” to make my life great.
For more posts by Ali Bierman, click here.
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