After 20 hours, I woke up.
As the anesthesia faded away, my eyes slowly opened. My family and medical team surrounded my bed as I made notice for the first time of all the machines and tubes connected to my body. Nervously awaiting the results, everyone stared as a nurse began to assess the mental and physical capabilities of my now tumor-free body.
“What is your name?”
“Where are you at?”
“Elli, raise your eyebrows.”
“Elli, squeeze my hands.”
“Elli, wiggle your toes.”
“… Elli honey, wiggle your toes.”
At that moment, it was confirmed that my left leg was fully paralyzed from my knee down. I could not feel it. I could not move it. It was then that my surgeons and family shared with me that after only a couple hours on the operating table, my vitals stopped. My brain was not responding and no signals were being communicated to the rest of my body. The baseball size tumor at the base of my skull had engulfed my carotid artery and cranial nerves. The tumor was stealing all the blood being sent to the right side of my brain. Without an entire new approach, my body would never endure the surgery. My team of doctors took a step away from the table and began to piece together one final game-plan on how they were going to remove the monster that had been growing inside my head for nearly 10 years.
That game-plan saved my life.
It was the surgery complications that caused the paralysis of my leg. This was something I was not prepared for. Leading up to my surgery, I was informed over and over again of the obstacles that removing my tumor would create: permanent tongue paralysis, permanent throat paralysis, permanent vocal cord paralysis, permanent Horner’s Syndrome, first-bite syndrome, deafness, facial droop, carotid bypass, etc.- but without the surgery, eventually the tumor would take my life. I was ready to adapt to these changes, but I never prepared myself to wake up being unable to walk.
As I spent days learning the ways to accommodate for my inability to walk on my own, several test were done to learn the severity of my nerve injury. But results were not good; I was told I would never regain feeling or movement in my left leg.
Months passed by and as my swallowing and voice began to improve, my leg remained dead. I couldn’t help but to think about the idea of never being able to play wiffle-ball at our summer cookouts, or wear high heels on my wedding day, or chase my future kids around the backyard. But my family refused to believe the initial doctor and his test results. So we went for another opinion. Needle after needle, nerve conduction tests were done- Nothing. There were no signals being delivered to my leg, leaving it motionless and numb. Again I was told I would never regain what had been lost.
A few more months went by and I still lacked all sensation and mobility in my left leg. My dad and I decided to give it one last shot so we scheduled to meet with another neurologist, hoping he would spark some sort of hope within me. After seeing him, I had never felt more crushed. Tears fell down our cheeks as the doctor reassured every previous diagnosis- my leg would never work again. The doctor apologized for the news and handed me a slip of paper. I left the appointment with a script stating, “Ellisabeth Thatcher- handicap placard medically necessary for the next 99 years.” He was confident the damage was permanent and he was not alone. I was now the girl who walked funny.. forever. The little optimism I had left was now gone. Somehow, I had to figure out how to accept never moving my leg again. But as hopeless as I felt, my family still refused to believe the doctors. They were convinced I would some day move my leg again. I did not understand how they could simply ignore the facts these doctors had been giving us. As they attempted to keep me positive, I would tell them to just be quiet. I wanted to hear nothing more about my leg. It was already a miracle for me to be alive- there was no way I could wish for another one. For me, it was just time to move on. It was time to find the serenity and accept the things I could not change.
Day after day, month after month, my mom rubbed my leg each night. And day after day, month after month, my mom held my foot in her hands and told my toes to point. And even though they never moved- she never stopped trying.
Now, months later, the hassle that coincided with my lifeless leg became a normal incorporation into each day. But there was one day that didn’t flow like the rest; I woke up, put on my brace, and left for class and work. Once I got back home I hopped in the shower and threw on my robe. My family sat around, eating dinner and talking about our day. No one had anything exciting to share- we were mostly just hungry and ready to go to bed. But my mom refused to let me sneak away to my room without giving me my nightly leg massage that posed more as a comedy act as she spoke sweetly to my discolored, cold, dead foot. She commanded the same motions she had insisted upon every night for months now. Although none of us expected this outcome to be any different than the previous attempts, the simple effort was now a nightly routine. As she said “Elli point your toes”, I sighed and rolled my eyes. But she screamed. For the first time in 9 months, her response was something brand new. As the entire family gathered around, she again told me to point my toes. And for the first time in 9 months, my ankle twitched just the slightest bit- and that was all I needed.
After that night, I believed in myself again. The idea of walking on my own didn’t seem completely unobtainable anymore. All the annoyance I had ever felt from the unconditional determination of my family had disappeared. Each day that I was too tired to fight, my family stood up and fought for me instead. And for 9 months they continued to believe, even when each attempt provided no type of reassurance. They never once gave up on me. Instead, they showed me to never give up on myself, no matter how many times I am told there is no hope left.
Today I am going on month 15 since I woke up paralyzed.
Today I woke up with complete sensation in my left leg.
Today was another miracle.