Click here for Part One.
“She needs a neck brace.”
“She will be fine without a neck brace.”
“I demand you give her a neck brace, even if it’s just a soft collar!”
A week finally passed and I was released to go home. I remember it clearly . . . well, almost clearly . . . I remember the nurse pushing me in a wheelchair to head for the car. My dad was driving. Both my mom and the nurse helped me into the back seat of his trail blazer. Pillows. Everywhere. All around me. Soft, warm, and cushiony. Suffocating me and holding me in place. The hour ride home was treacherous. With every tiny bump and pothole in the road, I cringed in the pain. It was dark. Night perhaps.
My sister greeted me at the door. I didn’t meet her eyes, but I saw her face. Saddened by the recent hospitalization. Worried that her little sister was in pain and hurting. Helpless because she couldn’t do anything to help me. Following me like a sad puppy. Watching me . . . cautiously. Mom led me through the kitchen, to the foyer, up 14 steps of stairs and into her bedroom. She laid me on her bed and tucked me in. I don’t remember detail for detail. I remember moments. I can’t remember if I went to bed right away or if I begged for a bath. Knowing my personality and not being able to have a real shower for a whole week, I probably went with the latter.
“Dad, don’t come in.” Looking up at mom, whispering, “Make sure dad doesn’t come in!” Vulnerable, sitting naked in the shower, having my mom shampoo and condition my hair. I think I soaped my own body, thank you very much. At that age, teens are yelling back at their parents for walking in on them changing. And here I was. Exposed. Feeling embarrassed. All privacy removed. All independency gone.
I don’t know what it’s like to sleep on a cloud, but I can just imagine my parent’s bed as fluffy and as heavenly as a big puffy cloud. Was it comfortable? Oh yes, much better than the nasty hospital bed filled with a week’s worth of sweat. Was my mom comfortable? Probably not, since she slept in the middle between dad and me.
Dependency on my mom grew. She helped me walk to the toilet. She bathed me. She changed me. She even waited on me morning ‘till night.
I was getting stronger by the day. Doing things more on my own. Actually bathing on my own with mom’s supervision. Walking from my bedroom to grab things and take it to my “new/temporary/shared” master bedroom. Still needing someone to walk with me up and down the stairs for meals.
I was getting better. I thought I was getting better.
“Mom, can I have some ice cream?”
“Okay, later, let me rest for a bit.”
“I can do it!” Overly enthusiastic, I jump up and race to the door with my hand on the handle turning it, swinging it open, I feel a jolt in my body. A slight delay in my actions. My head throbbing and my sight going dark as I feel myself shake and slowly hit the floor. Shaking. Disoriented. Crying. Blind. Feeling mom’s soft hands around my wrists lifting me up from the floor, silently scolding, “I told you to wait.”
But, I wanted that ice cream now… Feeling her disapproval shake as she walked me back to the bed, she sighs, and before I open my mouth to apologize, she’s out the door getting me some ice cream.
The dreaded feeling of the high school’s homebound teacher’s arrival. I hate her. Watching her struggle climbing up the stairs, letting the anger inside me stew. I wanna go back to school. Sitting in the study room arguing with her. I’m in defensive mode and everything she did was to attack me. I could tell she didn’t like me. Maybe she was racist. I could tell she thought I was stupid. She doesn’t understand. My learning level was slow. My reading comprehension level was low. I had difficulty obtaining and retaining information. I had no motivation. She was impatient with me. How is this woman a homebound teacher with no patience? I hated her with a passion. This woman had no empathy for the pain that I was experiencing. She didn’t care that I was in pain. She didn’t hear that I was exhausted. She made me feel inferior. She made me feel like I was not worth teaching. I begged and begged my parents to release me from her clutches.
A meeting with my counselor, some lady in disability, the head nurse all gathered ‘round the conference table discussing the 504 plan. Am I qualified for it? Yes. Extra time on exams, allowed breaks if needed. Received the key to the elevator, a card where I flash it to teachers showing that I can roam the halls an extra 5 minutes earlier than the bell rings. Also meaning I get to leave class 5 minutes early, giving me ample time to stroll to my locker and leisurely walk to the other side of the building for my next class, letting me roam the dead hallways before rush hour of other students battling each other to get to their lockers and head to their next class.
The meeting was a blur. I remember nothing, only the conclusion. “She’’ll start out part time.” someone says. “Yeah, she’ll alternate morning classes and afternoon classes. Take a half day,” another agrees. Everyone was aware of the situation. All my teachers were sent with instructions on how to help me and what to do for me. They all understood.
It was dark in my first period class. My bored classmates staring at the little tiny screen on the upper right side corner of the room. American History. Yes, the movie was monotone and without a doubt extremely uninteresting. My counselor spoke a few words to my teacher as I felt the eyes of my peers watching me walk carefully to my seat. The class clown speaks in a normal voice, unaware that the teacher is just right outside the door, “What happened to your neck?” My mood wasn’t up for an explanation or even questions. I was tired, I just wanted to sit and watch the boring movie like everyone else. I ignored him as a friend turned to him and whispered, loud enough that everyone heard, “She had surgery.” My teacher gave me notes from other students and the pile of homework needed to be done. “Give it to me when you finish each one, there’s no rush, honey,” my teacher sincerely says.
Like I said before, I don’t remember everything, I remember moments and in those moments, I remember the details from the amount of pain I was feeling, to the emotions that were running through my body, to the words that were said.
As my chemistry teacher handed me yet another pile of missed assignments, I asked, “when should I get these to you by.” Nonchalantly, he replied, “Oh, in about a week or so.” I stared at him blankly, “A week?” I didn’t realize it was more of a shout. As he nods, I say rather rushed and sort of yelled back, “I. Am. A. Junior. Junior research paper, ACT’s, and on top of that I have a month load of homework from every one of my classes and you expect me to do it within one week?!” The goody-two-shoes inside of me would’ve scolded at me, but I applaud myself for how much I’ve grown. One good thing that came from the surgery was that I would no longer be that goody-two-shoe pushover I once was. Taken aback by my surprised outburst, my chemistry teacher said, “okay, then give it to me when it’s done,” and he walks away.
He was the only one who wasn’t so understanding of my condition. It was not until the moment I snapped that he got it. Maybe because he was a male. Most men are usually not as perceptive of someone’s feelings as women are. Call it intuition. I remember struggling in Spanish class, she allowed me to completely skip over the entire one months worth of work. My Sociology teacher allowed me to skip one of the presentations because I was absent so much. All the teachers became lenient with me. They let things slide and helped me adjust along the way.
Struggling to keep up with the present and working on the assignments I missed, my mom helped me a great deal. She actually helped me with my history assignments. History was her favorite topic, by “helped”, I mean she did them for me. I know, I know, how did I learn? But, if it weren’t for my mom’s help, I don’t think I would’ve been able to catch up the way I did. I don’t even remember how long it took me to catch up.
Attending school part time was not ideal for me. I hated leaving in the middle of the day. I hated missing more school than need be. I was angry that I had to go through this. But, I was suffering everyday. Even attending part time for the first week was unbearable. I remember going to the nurses office multiple times throughout my half day and finally after a few classes I would be screaming in pain. Crying uncontrollably, making all the other “sick” students uncomfortable. I spent a lot of my time in the nurses office. I still remember what it looks like and smells like, sanitized and sterile, like when you enter a doctor’s office and it smells of those cheap tongue depressors, cold and dark, with only natural light shining through from the small windows. It was actually quite scary in there, but the nurse knew me so well. I would be laying down resting on those cold and hard little beige beds at least twice a day. Even more so when I switched over to full time instead of half day, which wasn’t long since I begged my parents into letting me go full time.
As the school year progressed, it got easier to push through the pain. The teachers were all understanding and patient. I had an occupational therapist during the school hours helping me adjust to the school environment, providing me with endless amounts of slant boards kept tidy in each classroom, giving me notebooks that were carbon paper, so I can ask a friend to take notes and it’ll copy over to the sheet on the next page, so we both can get it without having me sit there and copy everything. I couldn’t look down and look up and look down again. That was so exhausting. The pain was excruciating. I never had the chance to thank him for all that he has done. Mr. Burns made my learning experience a little easier to deal with and I am so grateful for him.
I am thankful to everyone who helped me through it. I wish I didn’t have to go through anything like that in the first place, but I’m grateful for the help from my teachers and the assistants around me. Grateful I was on the 504 plan, grateful for being under disability. My learning level was low, the extra time not only helped me with the pain, it also helped give me the extra time I needed to read thoroughly and answer the questions, especially for the ACT exam. All this reminiscing makes me want to visit my old teachers to thank them. Being grateful for what people have done for you in the past is what makes you who you’ve become today and it is important to take a moment to appreciate all that has been done to make your life easier. Thank you to those who understood, who helped me transition, who encouraged me my life was important.
I have decided to continue writing about my Story in different pieces, in different tones. It may not be what you expect to see, as in it will not be neatly sewn together, fitting perfectly side by side, like a puzzle. It’s more like a timeline of events, I may start where I didn’t leave off from last time, so please be aware of that. However, I do hope you find it somewhat interesting. I hope through my words you’ll feel what I felt and follow me along the journey.
p.s. I’ll try not to make these posts so long…
Story Time: About a Girl, part 3