by Kathryn M. Holmes
I was petrified when suddenly I collapsed in my bedroom doorway, numb from my waist to my toes. After my husband’s frantic 911 call, the paramedics transported me to the nearest hospital. My entire body was weak; my mind was scrambled. The pain medication made me groggy, befuddled and frightened.
The next day the neurologist gave me the verdict. I had been doctoring for a rather rare autoimmune disease that required heavy doses of prednisone and chemotherapy. Without this treatment my immune system would destroy all my healthy organs, starting with my kidneys and lungs. There was no other option. I later found out the paralysis was due to fat deposits from the prednisone that had lodged in my spine, which was already weakened by osteoporosis. Unable to operate I was told I would be paralyzed from the waist down for the rest of my life.
After seven months of rehab and in-home physical therapy I was unable to stand for more than three minutes. I could not walk and needed to be lifted from my bed with a crane-like device.
I began pool therapy at Courage Kenny Rehabilitation Institute. Twice a week I was wheeled into the warm pool. I focused on sitting and standing; clutching the therapist so I could walk just five feet, and riding a water noodle to strengthen my core muscles. My legs drifted away from me at first, but gradually I gained some strength and control of them. I walked holding onto poles. I told my husband I was learning to pole dance.
As I began to get stronger I added land therapy. Land therapy was exhausting. I never minded walking with the device that looked like a giant baby walker because it meant I was upright and moving. I always disliked exercise that made me sweat which is why I always liked working out in the pool. But I couldn’t stop. I began to make strides forward. I remember saying, “I don’t think I will be able to do it, but I’ll try.” And I did. And I got stronger.
To be honest, I must admit the progress I made was not fueled merely by self-motivation. During my paralysis my daughter became engaged. She was 37 and I was not sure she would ever marry. The only thing more thrilling was finding out I was going to be a first time grandmother.
My granddaughter was born on Christmas Eve in the middle of the worst snowstorm Minnesota had ever had on that day. My son plowed through the ice, slush and snowy ruts to drive us to the hospital and wheel me in to witness the birth. I was overjoyed.
My granddaughter was what motivated me to strive for more mobility. It was fine to swaddle her and wheel her around in my power chair when she was little, but I would have to be able to stand long enough to change her diaper. Then I needed to bend enough to pick her up from the floor. I had waited a long time to be a proper grandmother. I began to work harder and harder. The more I sweat the harder I strived to achieve each small goal. My granddaughter and I learned to walk together at the same time.
I am now blessed with two granddaughters and a dog that I walk twice a day.
I learned life should never be taken for granted and patience is a skill not easy to learn. I have become more sensitive and compassionate toward people with disabilities.
My experience was a miracle and a blessing.
Kathryn M. (Kathi) Holmes is retired after a lengthy career in advertising and marketing. She published her first book, I Stand With Courage: One Woman’s Journey to Conquer Paralysis, as an inspiration for others going through challenges. Her second book, Reflections,is a compilation of over 20 years of stories of her history, thoughts, wisdom and vision. She created it as a legacy to give to her two children. Meeting many women (and men) who had struggled with a dramatic event in their life and came out ahead, she compiled a book of stories from 30 people entitled Watershed Moments.For more information, go to Kathi’s website www.KathrynMHolmes.com.