Thursday, November 28, 2013

Need... More... Elastic... Pants...

Thanksgiving is upon is. At this festive time of year we celebrate all of our blessings by indulging in a national day of gluttony. And why shouldn't we? Have you seen the sales that Safeway's been running on Thanksgiving food this week? It would be a waste NOT to take advantage of the savings!

You might expect to see an "I'm so thankful" post right about now. And to let you know that I'm not all piss and vinegar, I'll throw you a bone: I am thankful for my children, my husband, my family, my friends, my job, my home, and a real whole lot more than I can rattle off in a list. Don't get me wrong - I have much to be thankful for, and I do thank God every day for many counted blessings.

Now that that's out of the way, can I vent now? Once upon a time, not very long ago, I was a gym-dwelling zealot who took great pride in practicing healthy behaviors to make my body healthy and strong. Awash in the teachings of the Fat Acceptance movement, I was adamant that my body was amazing at any size and that as long as I practiced healthy behaviors, I was on the right track. I felt amazing and confident. It. Was. Awesome.

Then I turned 39. I had a friend at work who warned me that my body would start falling apart at 40. My body responded by saying, "Why wait? Let get this party started NOW!" For many years I had written off my intermittent back pain as a side effect of being too big for designer britches. When I embraced the lifestyle of a badass gym rat - working with a trainer and taking spin classes for Pete's sake! - the pain in my back got steadily worse. Did I take that as a hint that I needed to slow down? Or maybe ask the experts for some modified exercises? Hell no!! I was a badass gym rat. Pain was just part of the package. Pain was a sign of weakness leaving my body. Pain was my friend. (Shout-out to my Paris Island trained brother for that one.)

As it turns out, pain was my body's way of letting me know that my spine was screwed up in a multitude of ways, and I needed medical attention. When it reached the point that I couldn't stand upright without using my arms to pull myself up, I conceded to medical intervention. I ultimately learned that I have stenosis, degenerative disc disease, arthritis, and at least one disc that sticks so far from its assigned vertebrae that it is bent upward and pressing on a very pissed off nerve.

Why you gotta do me like that, L5?
Enter Dr. Smartypants, the very doctor who had saved Miracle Man's life. He gave me what medical type people call a facet block - which is fancy talk for slamming a needle into your spine and injecting a cocktail of fairy dust and dragon blood (or something) in there to make the affected nerve shut the hell up. The first time I had this procedure done, way back in June, I was amazed at how well it worked it. I could walk like a normal person, I could exercise (gently, mind you) without needing to take heavy pain medication, and I was so happy to finally be cured.

Then my damned gallbladder went south, which took me away from the gym even more. By the time my gallbladder was out of my life, the benefits of the facet block had worn off. I decided the pain of having a needle slammed in to my spine was worth another three months of relief, so I called up Dr. Smartypants and scheduled another injection. I was all excited to be on my way to relative normalcy again, and to resume my lifestyle as a badass gym rat. But this time, the injection only worked for a few weeks. Yes, weeks. About three weeks after that second procedure, I was back to experiencing excruciating pain every day.

You want to know the funny thing about excruciating pain? And by funny I mean seriously fucked up. Excruciating pain makes you want to find a comfortable position and stay there. It makes you want to cry a lot, and it makes you want to give up on ever being normal again. I don't know about you, but when I get all weepy about life in general, I start to need stuff like chocolate almost like I need oxygen.

So let's do some math. Sitting on my ass + Consuming therapeutic doses of chocolate = My clothes are getting tighter. As much as I would love to blame the tight clothes on my dryer, I've been down this road enough times before to know that the clothes are not the problem.

But Sassyfats, you say. What happened to all that talk about self-acceptance and loving your body just the way it is, no matter what?

Meh. It's easy to preach self-acceptance when you're taking positive steps toward improved health. It's not so easy to believe all that preachin' when you're sidelined and counting down the hours until you can take your next dose of Tylenol, which is barely worth taking because it doesn't work as well as Motrin but you can't take NSAIDs because your kidney doctor said so, and really the only thing that does work is Percocet and you can't go through life in a zombie-like state forever. And then you realize that the source of your pain is not an injury that will heal - it's a progressive condition that will never be better than it is today. And it makes you want to turn around, take out your spine, bitch-slap it a time or two for knocking you out of commission, then krazy-glue it back into place with the hopes that it has learned its lesson and will stop being such an asshole.

Ya gotta do what ya gotta do.
What was I talking about again? Oh yeah. Thanksgiving. Tomorrow I will partake in the usual Thanksgiving tradition of eating until I hate myself. But hopefully I will not fall victim to the month-long stuff-your-face-athon between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Two years ago I was convinced that intentional weight loss was a bad idea because of the high failure rate. I'm still convinced that "going on a diet" will only lead to heartache and extra stretch marks. But here's the thing: Someday I will probably need spinal surgery. I need to start getting my body ready for the recovery period. The less of me I have to carry around, the less hellacious the recovery will be.

After Thanksgiving I am going to ask my physical therapist about going back to the gym. I'm not going to be able to hit it as hard as I used to, but maybe I can find a way to get my heart rate up without killing my back. And I'm seriously considering going to a nutritionist to help me get my head back into the game of eating natural, healthy foods in appropriate portions. I'm still not trying to reach a certain number on the scale - been there, done that, have the gravy-stained, stretched out T-shirt. But as long as I can shrink fat cells and build muscle tissue, I think I'll be on the right track to a stronger, healthier, able-to-stand-upright-and-live-an-active-life me. 

Till then, Happy Thanksgiving!





Saturday, November 23, 2013

In Loving Memory: Terra Francella

It only takes a moment. One minute you're going through the motions of your normal life, and the next minute your entire world is unrecognizable.

That moment came on Christmas morning in 2010 for Terra Francella. She was out driving on that chilly morning, and she took a bend in the road a little too fast. Terra's life-changing moment came when she lost control of her car and a mailbox crashed through the windshield, crushing her skull. In the blink of an eye, this vivacious wife (of Miracle Man's cousin) and loving mother of two little girls became a Traumatc Brain Injury (TBI) patient fighting for her life. And her husband was thrust into the position nobody wants to be in: Do I remove life support and watch my life partner slip away, or do I hold out hope that she will beat the odds?  

It was Christmas day. They had two little girls at home wondering why in the heck they weren't opening presents and enjoying a normal Christmas morning. If there was any chance that Terra would pull through, D was not willing to pull the plug that day. As long as the EEG showed brain activity, D insisted she be kept alive no matter what the doctors said. Against all odds and prognoses, Terra continued to show signs of life.

For the next three months, Terra remained in a coma. Most of the doctors who examined her said she was unresponsive. They said she would never wake up. They said she would never breathe on her own. They said she would live in a persistent vegetative state until she finally expired. Why not let her go?

But D saw something that the doctors did not. When he spoke to her, her heart rate would go up. Her eyelids would flutter. In fact, one time when he played a recording of their daughters' voices for her, a tear slid down her cheek. He knew that Terra heard him, and that she was still "in there." As long as Terra showed these signs of life, D refused to give up hope.

As so many people do these days, D turned to Facebook to keep family and friends apprised of Terra's progress. In the social media arena, Terra's story spread like wildfire. Hundreds of people began following Terra's story. Many more than that prayed for her by name as she was added to prayer lists all over the world. Soon, the rallying cry of Team Terra was "I Believe" - in God's greatness, in God's glory, and in God's ability to heal even the most hopeless of cases.

Little by little, Terra began to come out of her coma. And then she did all the things the doctors had said she would never do. She woke up. She came off life support. She walked. She talked. Granted, she never popped out of bed to give her characteristic, "How y'all doin'!" in her Tennessee twang. But every baby step toward normalcy was a miracle all its own.

After a few weeks of "Wow, you won't believe this" kind of progress, Terra went home to live with her family. But she was not without deficits. She had lost her sight in the accident. Her memory was hit-or-miss; although she seemed to recall random facts from her pre-TBI life, she rarely remembered what her life was actually like. She needed 24-hour care. And yet she did not seem to miss being able to live the life she'd had before - her amnesia gave her the unique gift of being able to live in the moment without longing for the past or worrying about the future. The major progress slowed until it had leveled out. She would have some baby steps forward here and there, but it eventually became clear that her condition was the new normal. Her family adjusted to the new Terra and life moved on.

As much as the miracle of her survival was celebrated, there were people who would shake their heads and say how sad her existance had become. Before the accident she had been a breathtaking beauty full of spunk. After the accident she was a perpetual patient who seemed capable of little more than merely existing. Why had she been kept alive for such a sad, dismal life?

I have a theory. (Listen up, this is the important part.) Her body was broken. Her mind was broken. But her spirit - the essence within her that was sent to this life by God to learn whatever lessons and play whatever role in the master plan - remained intact. I believe that her soul continued to learn and grow through her ordeal on a level that we couldn't see on the outside. I don't claim to know God's motives, but the fact that she was still here is enough explanation for me that her mission in this life was not yet complete. I believe that as long as there is breath in our bodies, our souls continue their journey along God's path on a level that no human can see or understand. And just because we don't understand someone's circumstances doesn't mean there is no value there.

Shortly after Christmas last year, Terra began having unrelenting seizures that were severe enough for her local ER to have her airlifted to a top-notch facility more than 50 miles away. Even with the advanced care she received, her condition deteriorated. Having been through so much already, her body and spirit were battle weary. For the first time since her accident, D sensed no fight in her to survive. After three agonizing days of waiting, watching, and ceaseless praying, her family said their goodbyes and removed life support.

But Terra wasn't done here. After the ventilator was removed, Soldier Girl kept on breathing - much to everyone's surprise. Later that day, she woke up. When D asked Terra if there was anything she wanted or needed, her response was, "I want you to take me shopping and then to the spa." Which, by the way, was a totally pre-TBI Terra thing to say. Outwardly, she did not seem to realize what she had been through. Just that she was very tired, and she didn't want to fight any more. 

Thus began the trasition from hope for total restoration to a long goodbye. Over the months she kinda chugged along, but grew increasingly weak. D engaged hospice, who visited their home a few times a week to help care for Terra. Last weekend, Terra lost the ability to hold down the formula she got through her feeding tube. She told D how tired she was, and that her grandmother - who had died when Terra was 6 years old - had told her it was time to get ready to go home. A hospice doctor came to visit, and he confirmed what we'd already suspected: It was time to let Terra go. Out came the feeding tube and the IV hydration. Then began the vigil - D held her hand and watched her draw one breath at a time while her body completed the process of shutting down. She remained comfortable and peaceful, clutching the stuffed animal she'd had all her 38 years. After four long days, Terra drew her last breath and crossed from this life to the next.   

With hundreds of Team Terra prayer warriors lifting her family to God for comfort, peace, and healing, those who loved Terra the most dearly have stepped into yet another new normal. Among those left behind are her parents, siblings, husband, and two little girls who will grow up without their Mommy. As I sit her writing this, tears streaming down my face for the vibrant life that was lost and the broken hearts of those who loved her, I pray that those of us who shared in the journey will always remember the hope and the faith we invoked in the dark times. We may be sad to have lost her in this world, but she is fully restored in God's unfiltered glory on the other side. No more blindness. No more weakness. No more struggle. Terra is finally whole again.  

I Believe.

Ascend, may you find no resistance.
Know that you made such a difference.
All you leave behind will live to the end.
 - Alter Bridge, Blackbird   

UPDATE: Many people are grieving in the wake of Terra's passing, and much to my surprise my humble post has drawn a lot of attention. I wrote this post as a way to honor Terra's memory and to make sense of an incomprehensible tragedy. To keep the focus on honoring Terra's memory, please feel free to use the comments section to share your fond memories or Terra, to express condolences to her family, or lean on each other in this time of profound grief. Just bear in mind that people closest to Terra are reading these comments, including her children. Any comments that are negative or especially upsetting to them will be removed. May God touch all our hearts with peace and healing.