Thursday, September 6, 2012

Lesson #2: Change can be for the better

You can start by reading lesson #1 here if you'd like.

One thing I've learned in life is that people come and go. Some of them won't make a huge impact, while others will change your life for the better. Dr. Armstrong was a person who truly changed my life for the better.

I think it's safe to say that Dr. Armstrong gave in to my persistant requests for the limb lengthening procedure. By the summer of 1996 I had been placed on the hospital's waiting list, placing me in line to begin my operations early summer of 1997.

That December in 1996, my freshman year of high school, I came home to find a message on the answering machine. It was a receptionist from Shriners in Salt Lake City. Her message sounded something like this, "We have Tiffany scheduled for surgery tomorrow morning, but she's not here..."
I don't really remember the rest of the message because I ran off to find my mom. She was downstairs in her piano studio getting things organized. I said, "Did you hear the message?" She said, "I know! I've cancelled lessons and your father is on his way home. We are leaving for Shriners tonight, so go get packed!"

I was SO excited! I remember I stood in my bedroom not even knowing what to pack for the hospital. For some reason it was in my mind that I'd be there for a couple of days and then head back home (oh, how little did I know). After we were all packed, my parents and I loaded up the car, leaving my older brother behind for the week, and we were off to Shriners for what was about to become the greatest experience in my adolescent life. We had to turn back a few times for things mom forgot, but then we were on our way!

It was a long night of driving through the worst blizzard I'd ever seen. We made it to Salt Lake City early, early that morning and before we headed in, I remember asking my dad for a blessing. We checked into the hospital about 1:00 AM and my parents were able to stay in one of the parent rooms there in the hospital. The nurse told me to get some rest, but I didn't sleep at all that night. I mean really? Sleep? How could I sleep? I was thinking about the next time I'd walk and how I'd be able to sit on the toilet without a stool or reach for my own glass to get a drink of water.

I wasn't thinking about how I wouldn't get to wear normal pants for the next 4 months or how I'd have to wash and disinfect my open wounds every morning and night or even how in just a few weeks I'd have an open wound on my tale bone from sitting in a wheelchair all day, every day. And I certainly wasn't thinking about the 30 pounds I'd lose from lack of appetite and physical activity. But I knew whatever path lie ahead, it would be worth it in the end.

The next morning I went in for surgery and I remember waking up later that day (8 hours to be precise) to my family surrounding me. My older brother, Klint and sister, Lesli and their spouses were attending BYU so they came to visit frequently. I don't remember the events that took place but I do remember the pain. Oh, the pain. I thought that I was going to joke...I really didn't think I'd make it, but I figure I was only 14 and my perspective on life was minimal.

If you can imagine someone sliding two metal rods down the center of your femur bones and then drilling four very long 1/4" screw into the side of each leg and attaching those to two more large metal rods on the outside of your legs, then you can probably understand why I was in so much pain. Not to mention, the additional weight I had to carry in my legs, the 8 open wounds that I would have for the next 4 months, and having both femurs broken in half! While I would later appreciate this, at the time it was horrific for both myself and my parents.

When Dr. Armstrong came into visit me, I remember him holding my hand and asking how I was doing. I know that I expressed to him that I never ever wanted to do this operation again (this was the first of 7 surgeries for me) and he chuckled. He told me that we'd take it one day at a time. I just turned my head and went back to sleep.

The next 5 days would be the worst physical pain I'd ever experience. I think it was so difficult because my body had never experienced surgery before and so this was all new territory. I didn't even know how to prep for it mentally.  I am certain this made it even more difficult for my parents to watch. (Note: It may sound crazy to say that prepping for a surgery mentally can help, but it's true! I learned quickly that a positive attitude and focus on recovery, actually does help the process after surgery. Every surgery after this one had a much quicker recovery time for me and I think much of that was because I prepared myself and stayed positive).

I didn't sit up at all in those 5 days, the nurses would come and help me turn over occassionally and I didn't eat a single thing. I would wake up occassionally to visitors talking to my parents. Sometimes I'd get annoyed, but most of the time I'd just go back to sleep.

And then, on day 5, a bright bubbly nurse came into my bedroom. She was so sweet and so pretty. Her name was Rebekah. "Spelled just like in bible!" she'd say. She whipped open the curtains and said, "Good morning!" and then proceeded to pick up this porcelain doll that my sister had brought to me and said, "This doll has strawberry blonde hair just like mine!" I remember thinking, "Ok. really? Are we talking about a doll while I lay here dying?"

She asked if I wanted to sit up and I said no. But for some reason I found myself sitting up anyway. :) And I remember a great amount of anxiety coming over me. I started crying and told her to get my mom because I wanted out of bed. I had to get out. So she went and got my mom and it seemed like hours later (though it was probably only 10 minutes) she came in the room along with a team of nurses and a physical therapist. They all stood around to help me get into a wheelchair.

I should stop right here and explain that the reason there was always a "team" of people helping me wasn't because it was actually needed but it was because the situation was new to this hospital. They had performed other limb lengethenings, but not like this. Typically this procedure is used on football players who break a bone and lose some length in just one leg or on someone who's born with one leg longer than the other. It was typically performed on one section of the leg at a time, never two legs at the same time. So they were always extra cautious with me...well, almost always.

My mom pushed me around the hospital for a few minutes before I began to feel sick again and then we went back to the room to rest. This day was was the very beginning of a fun and amazing adventure for me. It was an awakening to a part of this world I never knew existed and I loved every single minute of it.

I stayed in the hospital for two weeks and then went home for Christmas. I returned two weeks later for my bi-monthly check-up (that's right every other Thursday, my dad would take off work to fly me down to Salt Lake for a check-up and then we'd fly home that night), while looking at my x-rays, the doctors noticed that only one of my legs were growing. The other had fused back together. Meaning, I had to go back in for surgery to "de-fuse" that bone so it would grow and catch up with the other one. While my parents we're frustrated about having to go through this again, I was thrilled!

Thrilled to get out of school and thrilled because even though Christmas was over at the hospital, it still wasn't really over. It would run all the way through New Years. :)  My brother used to get so mad at the gifts I would get and I felt so sorry for myself that I didn't care. Thankfully, later we both grew up! Now we're closer because of all of this.

Even though all of the children were showered with presents and celebrity visitors, that didn't make their lives easier. I witnessed things in that hospital, that I have never seen anywhere else (including television). There were children who had to live there for months at a time by themselves because their parents couldn't afford to travel back and forth with them. So the nurses took care of them while their parents worked to make ends meet.

I remember a little boy by the name of Miseal. He was five and from Mexico. He wore a halo device. That boy was like a little tornado running through the halls of the hospital. He was the first patient I met and not by choice. He had popped in my room one day because he wanted to see who the new patient was in room 21. The nurse quickly scooted him out and I could hear his high pitched voice across the hospital. He was happy and positive all the time! And he was always bored in class. There were about 8 of us in school and he was always asking the teacher for more work. By the time I was ready to leave in January, Miseal was beginning long division! Yes, long division, from the same little boy that ran around the hospital with plus-sized women's underwear stretched across his halo. It would be 8 long months before he'd see his mom or dad again. He would often call the nurses, "mommy" but he was happy. Shriners was his second home and he didn't seem to mind one bit.

We were all in that hospital to change, to make ourselves a little better. I came out of that hospital having grown a few inches and having a complete change of heart.

If you are interested in reading a little more about limb lengthening, I found this site to be very informative.
If you are looking to apply to get your child into Shriners, you can find more information here.


Vanessa said...

Once again, thank you for sharing your experience and perspective. Looking forward to more lessons!

Cherisa Spatig said...

Hey Tiffany! I have sure missed you lately! Especially now that the kids are all in school. How I wish you were still just a few doors down. I miss our talks and just visiting all the way around. Glad to see that things are going so well. I cant believe those are the same two boys. They are getting so big and handsome. And that Remi is BEAUTIFUL.. Missing you all from Wyoming!

Jennifer said...

Thank you so much for sharing!!!