Tuesday, September 3, 2013

The War Vet

Never take your health for granted. Thank God everyday that you can walk, see, hear etc...
I used to be the picture of health, and then all that changed. In January 2012 I was in Vegas with a small group of close friends; I didn't go to Vegas to party, I was there assisting my longtime disabled friend, Adam, to get around so that he could hang out with his family. Adam has Lou Gehrigs's disease (aka ALS) which is a devastating degenerative disease with no known cure, and I'd been helping him with his groceries weekly for almost 2 years. Adam, his mom, and sister enjoy meeting in Vegas for their little family reunions, because they all live in different states. He asked me to accompany him to Vegas so that he could have help at the airport, on the airplane, and to just be a friend to hangout with while we toured around Vegas. He even got me my very own hotel room! It was my first time getting to see Vegas, and I was really stoked.
Me, Adam's mom Susie, Adam, and his sister Jessica at the hotel Bellagio

Three days into our tourist vacation in Vegas, my right foot began to really hurt, for no apparent reason. I hadn't gotten drunk and fallen or tripped or anything. I limped around on my bad foot for 2 more days, and then limped on it at home for another week before I decided that the problem wasn't getting any better, so I better go see a doctor. A friend was kind enough to donate her sister's used crutches to me, and I went to Texas Med Clinic. I didn't get any help there, but the next day a friend called and gave me a referral to see a foot doctor. Turns out I had a stress fracture in my foot, so the doctor fitted me with a boot-cast and ordered me to use the crutches and wear the cast for a few months. 

Long story short, I have ended up seeing several foot doctors, healers, and chiropractors over the last year and 9 months related to this one injury. My body has just never been the same. Once you break something, it's never quite the same...and that applies to pretty much anything. Having the foot injury ended up throwing my entire skeletal system out of alignment, because I was having to limp around and put all of my weight on my other foot. Honestly, both feet have bothered me ever since. One doctor's theory was that an old ankle injury I had back in July of 2007 never healed right, which led to the stress fracture. I'd also been a promotional model for 6 years prior, and that required me to be on my feet for hours for our shifts, usually in high heels. 

Once the stress fracture happened, it turned my life upside down even more: I had just gotten divorced a week before the injury and was trying to figure out my next move, and the next minute I couldn't walk right or work anymore. My life was in shambles. After the doctor ordered me to be on crutches for a few weeks and wear the god-awful boot-cast, there was a period of time where I was confined to my house and couch. It felt miserable. I was always such an active person, and always on the go. Suddenly, it hurt too much to even walk for awhile. The crutches hurt my armpits so much after awhile that it made me feel like my boobs were throbbing too. My "good foot" ended up hurting so bad from all the weight applied to it, that I ended up having to crawl around my house. After so many days of crawling around my house, my knees looked and felt all jacked up; in fact, my knees looked scarred for months after the crawling days. I was still room-mating with my ex-husband at the time (long story), and even though he had a new girlfriend, we were still friends and got along. He saw my predicament, and felt bad watching me have to crawl all over the house, so he ordered a new battery for a dismantled electric wheelchair he'd bought years before for a robot project, put it all back together, and let me use it to get around the house, which was such a blessing!
The electric wheelchair

Even after the stress fracture healed, I continued to have major pain and problems in my foot, ankle, and back. The chiropractors I saw said my alignment was really jacked up. I'm still seeing one to this day since I'm still not 100%. At it's worst, I could see my shoulders were uneven in the mirror, and my pelvis stuck out on one side more than the other plain as day. It was gross. But I'm making progress, slowly but surely. I have endured an epic amount of physical pain related to my foot injury while doing my Angel Project, since the bulk of my Angel Project is about being out in public and going to events with poster messages.
See my special footwear? It sucked.

Early in the time of just getting put into the boot-cast, I had been couch-ridden for 2 straight days at one point, because it was just too painful to get around at all. I was really depressed. But it forced me to sit and re-evaluate my life, and also re-evaluate how I perceived myself as being productive from one day to the next. I couldn't do as much as I used to be capable of, so I had to learn to be satisfied with completing smaller tasks, like just being able to reach the cabinets to put dishes away or something. It was very eye-opening to have my freedom and mobility taken away from me in the blink of an eye. It even helped me see a bit of what my friend Adam has to deal with, since his mobility is severely limited with his disease. After 2 straight days of being stuck on the couch, I felt determined to get out of the house, and I didn't care if I broke my other foot trying to do it! I was going crazy. I limped out of the house, stuffed my crutches in the car, and drove to a nearby Starbucks that had a nice outdoor patio, so that I could enjoy some fresh air. 

While I was ordering my coffee at the counter, it occurred to me that I had no idea how I was going to actually pick up and carry the coffee to a table outside. You can't really use your hands for anything else when you're using crutches. As I was standing there debating this fiasco, I heard a man behind me ask, 
"So what happened to you?" I turned around, and saw a guy who appeared to be about my age standing there. He pointed down at his foot, and when I looked down, I saw that he had a prosthetic right foot. How ironic. I told him the story about my foot, and he offered to bring me my coffee when it was ready! It was so nice of him to offer, since I was literally just trying to figure out how to get my coffee before he spoke to me. 

Once I got outside, I began to feed the birds with spare crackers I had in my backpack purse, and enjoy the nice day. The guy (I forgot his name) brought me my coffee, and we ended up sitting together and talking for an hour! Turns out he was a 27 year old war veteran; he'd lost his foot to a hidden landmine in Iraq recently. He showed me photos of his foot before they amputated it: it actually looked like a normal foot after they'd repaired it, but he said it was so jacked up inside that they went ahead and amputated it and fitted him with the prosthetic. I couldn't help but notice that this young man seemed to have an underlying sadness about him. He didn't smile much and just seemed down. It was a pleasure to have his company though, at a time when I was feeling pretty bummed and distraught.

In hindsight, I felt like I'd gotten a glimpse of how "things could always be worse". My foot was thoroughly messed up, but at least I still had my foot. At least I would be able to walk again, some people aren't afforded that luxury. I was grateful for the chance meeting and chat with the guy, because it gave me a new outlook on things and my situation. No matter how bad things appear in your life, chances are they could be worse, and there are people out there who are in much more dire situations. Be thankful every day for what you have, and count your blessings. Focus on the positive, and minimize thoughts about the negative.

~Mandelyn Reese
The LA Street Angel

Related blog "Miracle at the Post Office":

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