The “Challenging Years”

As a late bloomer, I am finally joining the world of Facebook. Several folks, with whom I have not chatted in ages, have asked me what I’ve been up to in the last few years. Here’s a (hopefully) quick synopsis. It is also meant as an outreach to anyone who is at the end of their rope. I’m not in that space anymore, but I’d like to tell you – I understand!!! If you need words of encouragement, let me know.

I worked as a sign language interpreter from June, 1999 until April, 2010. One year prior to my leaving my career, I had a life-altering car accident in April, 2009. From April, 2009 until April, 2010, I had massive, chronic pain, nerve tingling, vertigo, language processing problems, balance problems and memory problems. And those were on the good days. I finally was no longer able to do my work and had to leave the field altogether. Months of despair and feeling lost ensued until June – when things got worse.

June, 2010, I was in another car accident – with my daughter this time. (In both of my accidents, it was the other driver’s fault). The June accident totalled my van. We were hit with such an impact, from the rear, that the CDs in the front of the van were thrown all the way to the back. That’s a long way! The back fold-down seat, which is quite a ways in from the rear trunk lid, was so damaged it had to be replaced.

The very lowest point came when the totalled van was in the shop for 6 weeks, being rebuilt (yes, rebuilt!!). My husband was away on business travel often. On some days, my only social contact was watching the mailman drive up and down our street. I know that folks say “let me know if there’s anything I can do” but realistically, they have busy lives. This was the lowest point of hell where the daily pain, fear and isolation were so great that I often didn’t think I would make it through that.

I finally had a disc replacement surgery in October, 2010. The surgeon said that nerves are normally gray but mine were bright RED from having been smashed between vertebrae for 18 months. The surgery gave me instant relief from all the pain and tingling. I was on the road to recovery until…

The disc “failed”. One out of 100 of these surgeries fail and I was the lucky winner. My vertabrae had had keel channels drilled into them and the disc replacement had been literally hammered into place. When the prostethic fell out, it was stabbing me in the esophagus. It could have punctured that. It also theoretically could have gone backwards and sliced into my spinal cord. (So in other words, this metal prosthetic was not anchored between vertebrae anymore. It was “hanging loose” in my neck and could have caused huge damage.)

I was shocked and terrified to have to return to emergency surgery 6 weeks after the first one. Fortunately, I didn’t know what danger I was in by having that loose prosthetic in my neck for 3 days (over a weekend, of course). So, the surgeon once again cut all the way through my neck, from the front, to operate on the spine. There’s too much bone in the way to go in through the back. Do you have any idea how thick a neck is? That’s alot of territory to slice through.

Fast forward through a full year of what felt like very slow recovery. I was a marathoner in the past, so working my way up to 5 minute walks and then having to rest for the afternoon was excruciating on the patience front. On December 7th, 2011, Pete, Teresa and I (now very recovered) hiked a 4 hour, strenuous, muddy trail on the Napali coast in Kauai. I thought I had finally made it!!! Five days later, on December 12th, 2011, my oldest brother unexpectedly died (of natural causes).

Pete was out of town when Chris died. I was on the phone for 14 hours with family and friends all over the planet. I flew to Alabama solo, stifling crying between 2 strangers for the 10 hour trip home, and finally keeled over after having been up for 36 hours straight. My niece and I pulled the whole funeral together in 2 days and I was even crazy enough to play the flute at my brother’s funeral.

That Christmas and many months after were a total blur. I think I took on my first job, as an assistant to students with disabilities at the community college, 3 or 4 weeks after Chris died, but that too was a blur. I was finally so seized up in pain again that I had to once again leave THAT job, as a disabled person, in April, 2012.

More discouragement and restlessness and wondering if I would ever be well and a productive employee again ensued. I was also 50 at the time so I wasn’t holding out hope to even be a barista. Fast forward to the summer when my ENT doc said my tonsils looked “suspicious” (for possible cancer) and needed to come out. Holy cow. Never get your tonsils taken out if you are over the age of 10! That surgery was MUCH worse than the 2 neck surgeries. I was on Vicodin every 4 hours for 9 days straight.

The good news is that I finally, after many decades, am getting some sense of smell back. Apparently, those inflammed tonsils (and other sinus issues) blocked my sense of smell.

Since September, 2012, I *finally* have started getting my life back. Because of my age, occasional pain, and the sheer lack of use of my ASL/interpreting skills for 3 years, I had to make the difficult decision to not return to my work as a sign language interpreter. I am in the final stages of training now to become a Kindermusik teacher. (Update as of 04/2014 – this plan fell through because of some nasty dealings on the part of the company. Enough said. After a year of training, I had let go of this dream as well. As of October, 2013, my chronic pain finally came to an end. I still have flare-ups but the horrific 24/7 stuff is over – alleluia!!)

I am currently pursuing many different, mostly folk, instruments. I am a hallway musician at the local children’s hospitals. I play soothing flute music in the hospital lobby and then I am placed on one of the units with the sick children and their families. If my music brightens even one person’s day, that makes my heart sing.

Finally, I am crocheting for charity, attempting to write in my spare time, promoting my mom’s TWO books, and training for a half marathon that will take place on Oct. 5th, 2014.

Life is good. Recovery is (still) happening. Being once again engaged with the world in meaningful activities is absolutely priceless.

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4 responses to “The “Challenging Years”

  1. Marianne~ Your words were the balm I needed to get through some major changes that are coming our way. I found out that my body had kept all the hell of sickness in it during the times I was going through some abuse and crud from people in my life up until almost 3 years ago now. Having lost 5 dress sizes in weight have caused a major detoxification of my body resulting in chronic pain which seems to escalate with each new layer of detox. I have compression fractures of my spine in my lower back from a car accident I was in, and so healing from that has been a major change. Yet through it all, God has been an ever constant source of help to me in sending me friends like you who really do understand and are here to help when we fall and are finding it hard to get back up because the joints won’t cooperate right. Am glad we are back in contact again. 🙂 Good to have you back my friend. 🙂 Have missed you! 🙂

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