“Let’s have you get up,” the nurse said. “Time to move around.”
I sat on the edge of my hospital bed, placed my bare feet on the cool tile, and stood. Then I crumpled to the floor with a thud. I pushed myself up, but my legs wouldn’t support me. What was happening? The strength in my thighs was gone.
Surprise flitted across the nurse’s face and then vanished. She pasted on a smile and called for an orderly. The two of them helped me back into bed and then scurried away, deserting me to my thoughts. I had just given birth to Flicka, our first baby, and something was wrong with my legs.
Over the next several hours, a number of doctors whisked in to examine me. They furrowed their brows and spoke to each other in muted voices.
“We’ve never seen this before,” my doctor at last said out loud, and I wished he hadn’t.
Fear writhed inside me. When everyone left the room, I turned into my pillow and cried.
“Maybe it was the epidural,” Husband said. “And maybe it’ll wear off soon.”
In the middle of the night, I phoned my youngest sister, the nurse.
“I’ve heard of this before. It sounds like you’ve had nerve injury, but you’ll get better in time.” Her tone soothed me and rocked my fears to sleep.
The hospital staff said I couldn’t be released until I could walk again. So, a few days after Flicka’s birth, the nurses gathered to watch me walk down the hallway of the OB ward. After just a few steps, though, my legs gave out under me, and I toppled to the floor. Heat prickled my neck, and sweat beaded on my face. I bit my lip, determined to get up by myself. But I couldn’t do it. I needed help.
By day five, through sheer grit, I was able to lock my knees enough to pass the hall walk test, and I was released to go home. Since my muscles still lacked strength, Husband helped me with everything. One night, though, I felt confident enough to get up with the baby. I scooped her from her bassinet, but just then, my knees buckled. Before I hit the floor, I turned so my body would bear the brunt of the fall. Husband heard the noise and sprang from the bed.
“She’s just fine,” he said after taking a quick assessment of the baby. “But are you okay?”
I sat on the floor, a weepy mess. He put the baby back into her bed and lifted me up.
At the four-week mark, I met with a neurologist.
“You’ve suffered nerve injury. This happens to one in ten thousand women who’ve had epidurals,” he said. “You’ll eventually heal.”
And I did. But in those early days, the fear of the unknown tangled me. It wasn’t what I had planned. And I knew I couldn’t control my healing—or my life.
As soon as I switched my eyes open one morning in 2004, the room whirled around me, and fear climbed up my throat. Vertigo had shown up for unwelcome visits before, but today was more complicated. Husband was gone on international travel for work, and my only companions were four-year-old Flicka, two-year-old Ricka, and our unborn baby who swam laps in my belly.
I slowly sat up. It was a Sunday morning, and I had agreed to volunteer in Ricka’s Sunday school classroom at church. Maybe I could still make it. Maybe my head would clear in time. But the room kept up its merry-go-round antics, and nausea roiled my stomach. I reclined on the pillows.
“I need your help, girls,” I called out to them, my voice brimming with the promise of adventures. “How about we do something different today?”
They scrambled downstairs from their bedroom and clambered up into the bed with me.
“Okay,” Flicka said, her eyes eager and bright. “What will we do, Mama?”
“First, I need you to go into the other room, and look on that bookshelf for the church directory.” I described the slim book, hoping she would spot it even though she couldn’t read yet.
She found it and presented it to me like a scavenger hunt prize. I flipped through its pages and made the phone call that relieved me of my duties for the day.
“Now,” I said, “let’s get you two some breakfast.”
I sat up again, but the swaying room threatened to pitch me over the edge. I slid from the bed and lowered to my hands and knees on the floor.
“What are you doing, Mama?” Ricka said, cocking her head and patting me lightly on the back as she accompanied me on my slow crawl to the kitchen.
“I’m dizzy today,” I said, casting my words in cheery colors. “This helps me.”
But even on my hands and knees, I almost tipped over. Changing my mind, I turned and inched back to the bedroom. Safely in bed again, I gave Flicka instructions.
“New plan, honey. You get to make breakfast for the two of you. Isn’t that fun?” She squealed and jumped up and down. “Now listen carefully. Push a chair up to the kitchen counter. This time, it’s okay for you to stand on it. Then open those high cupboard doors above the sink and take down some cereal boxes. Help yourself. I trust you.” Flicka did exactly what I said. “Now come and eat cereal in my bed, and we’ll find something to watch on TV.”
As my head spun, so I spun reality for my girls; they were too young to hear I didn’t have control over much of anything that day. And I didn’t want to hear the words out loud either.
The Honda’s windshield wipers slicked away the falling snowflakes as I navigated through the sluggish traffic of Minneapolis’ morning rush hour one day. I had already dropped off Flicka at the light rail for her ride to school. Now I had to drive through the downtown to deliver the other two girls to their school. Our houseguest at the time, nine-month-old Damian, was snug in his car seat in the back, and Ricka and Dicka played peekaboo with him.
As I approached the center of the downtown, I glanced at the dashboard. The lights flickered, and the gas and temperature gauges convulsed. Warning lights flashed. Nervous about the car’s behavior, I moved into the left turn lane. I hoped to make it around the corner so I could pull over, but the stoplight snapped to red. I clenched my jaw and waited for the green arrow. The dashboard darkened for a second and then lit up again.
“Girls, pray!” I hollered into the back seat. And they did.
The stoplight finally shot me a green arrow, and I held my breath and applied the gas. The car chugged forward. But would it survive through the left turn? If it stalled right there in the middle of the intersection, then what? My thoughts chattered with possible scenarios. I had little power over my vehicle and no control over the outcome. The car lurched left.
Now safely through the intersection, I pelted myself with two questions: Should I pull over? Or should I keep going? I flipped between the two options but decided since the vehicle was still moving, I shouldn’t stop it.
The car propelled us over the Central Avenue Bridge and closer to our destination across the river. I wondered what was going on under the hood. With the flickering panel and spinning dials, I was either maneuvering a time machine, or the alternator was on its way out. Just a few more turns to go…
At last, I pulled up in front of the girls’ school just as the dashboard lights blacked out for good, and the car sputtered to its death.
“We made it,” I said, incredulous, the muscles in my neck tense.
The girls flung the car doors open and dashed toward the building, blowing kisses and we-hope-it-works-outs over their shoulders for the baby and me. I called for a tow truck, unclasped Damian from his car seat, and traipsed into the school to wait with him where it was warm.
We humans navigate life, convinced we have control. In the flash of crisis, though—under that layer of fear—is freedom. Freedom from the heaviest weight of all: the burden of believing we can master our own lives. With our fallible intentions and unreliable bodies, we’re not abandoned to orchestrate our ways alone.
For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.
*Miss an installment of the blog? Or want to catch the story from the beginning? Visit http://www.tamarajorell.com/blog-entries-by-date
*Names in this blog have been changed to protect my family, neighbors, and friends in the neighborhood, and in a nod of appreciation to the beloved Swedish author Maj Lindman, I’ve renamed my three blondies Flicka, Ricka, and Dicka.