My Journey Started When I was 25
Posted on September 07 2018
I started this journey when I was 25 years old. It was June, 1999. I had just moved cross country from Newport Beach, California to Richmond, Virginia in the heat of Summer, with the man that I would one day marry. You know when they say everything happens for a reason? Well, we moved there to save my life, but we didn’t know it yet.
It was late August, and Mike and I were out shopping for exercise equipment. My grandma Maxine, had just passed two days prior and I was desperate for a distraction. I got on a piece of exercise equipment to try it out, and it collapsed and hit me on my upper back area. I was taken to the emergency room where I was physically assessed and they concluded I would be fine and sent me home. A few weeks passed, but I continued to have serious pain in my upper back. I tried physical therapy, but that didn’t help so my doctor ordered an MRI of my cervical and thoracic spine.
A few days later, the phone rang. It was the nurse from my doctor’s office. Here’s how that conversation went:
Nurse: Ms. Larson?
Nurse: I’m calling from your doctor’s office. You recently had an MRI and we’d like you to come in for an office visit so we can review the results with you.
(A knot starts to form in my throat)
Me: Is that necessary? Can’t you give me the results over the phone?
Nurse: No, it’s best if you come in and we do it in person.
(The knot in my throat is growing)
Me: If there’s something wrong, I’d like to know right now. There’s no way I can wait for an appointment.
(The knot has settled firmly in my throat and I’m starting to sweat)
Nurse: I’m sorry. I can’t give you any information over the phone so you’ll need to come in and be sure and bring a close family member along.
(My heart is pounding out of my chest and I feel like I’m going to have severe diarrhea)
Me: I hardly think this is fair. This is my health and I’m asking you to tell me so please tell me!
Nurse: I’m sorry. I can’t, but please come in tomorrow at 10. Does that work?
(Now Nurse Betty is pissing me off)
Me: Fine. I’ll come in, but you need to give me some information now. Something, anything!
Nurse: There’s a serious abnormality with your spinal cord.
(Diarrhea is eminent)
Me: Ok. I’ll see you tomorrow. Bye.
Nurse: I’m sorry. See you then. Bye.
(I hang up in panicking tears only rivaled by the impending diarrhea boom)
The next morning, there we were, a couple of 25 year olds in the doctor’s exam room waiting to receive the news. I sat on the exam table with the white paper crinkling under my weight and Mike sat in a chair beside me. Was it multiple sclerosis? I had no clue. I tried to do some research online, but the internet was still relatively new and wasn’t much help. The doctor walking in and started explaining, “There’s nothing related to the accident, but the MRI revealed that you have a rather large tumor inside your spinal cord from about C2-T3.” We were leveled. We knew this was serious, but had no idea how serious. “We’ve scheduled an appointment with a neurosurgeon that can review your options moving forward,” he further explained. This had to be some sort of a bad prank. It was all so surreal.
Later that day, we were in the exam room with a neurosurgeon in Richmond. I was starting to catch on to gravity of the situation because he wouldn’t make eye contact with me. He conducted a basic neurological exam, and not surprisingly, I didn’t perform well. I had numbness in my extremities, and my gait wasn’t quite right. He then proceeded to tell me he might be able to do the surgery, but that this condition was extremely rare and that most neurosurgeons don’t see this during their careers. NEXT! I couldn’t wait to get out of there.
Even though the internet was still a newer phenomenon, we were immediately on the hunt to find the best and the brightest neurosurgeon within the United States. We initially started in Boston with a Harvard professor that practiced at Massachusetts General. He looked at my case and steered me clear of the west coast and said the best surgeon practicing at the moment with this specialty was Dr. Fraser Henderson at Georgetown University Medical Center. I did have another neurosurgeon review my case as well, but Dr. Henderson’s name was again recommended so we scheduled our consultation with him.
Dr. Henderson reviewed the MRI film with us and explained that it was remarkable that I was not more symptomatic than I was. He said that with a tumor of that size, he would expect that I wouldn’t be walking at this point since it was occupying so much length and width of my spinal cord. He looked me straight in the eye and told me if I would be willing, he would do surgery the following week. I agreed and we were on our way.
I was nervous and excited, but thankful that there was someone capable, willing, and able to help me. I had surgery October 8, 1999. Mike and my parents waited for the 10 hour surgery to wrap up. I was so thankful to see them once I was in recovery. Even better, I was able to wiggle my fingers and toes right away. Dr. Henderson said everything went well and that he was pleased with my neurological function considering the difficulty of the surgery. “I’m surprised you’re not a quadriplegic,” he remarked. Wait a second! I couldn’t believe that could have actually been an option. Uh, hi...this is my life you’re talking about and you left that detail out prior to surgery.
I was in the hospital about two weeks. Mike slept by my side and kept me company and was there for me every minute. I was motivated to get my groove back which meant as soon as they asked me to get up and try to walk, I gripped my walker and was off. Okay, it wasn’t as simple as that, but I slowly made my way around the floor, shuffling my feet in my nasty hospital gown and non-grip socks. Eventually, I was told I could go home. Hooray! I was so excited! Before I was discharged, a nurse taught Mike to catheter me since I was still not able to empty my bladder entirely.
We made the ninety minute drive back home to our apartment in Ashland, Virginia. Shortly after our arrival, there was knock at the door.
“Hi, I’m the hospice care nurse... I’m here to help care for Inger.”
And here’s how that conversation went...
Me: I’m Inger. Come in.
(I have no idea what a hospice nurse is by the way.)
Nurse: I’m so happy to help you... to help keep you comfortable.
(I was just thinking this lady was something arranged by the hospital case manager.)
Me: Thank you. I really appreciate it.
Nurse: Where are you most comfortable?
Me: In the bedroom for now.
Nurse: You seem to be in such good spirits considering your passing is eminent.
Me: What are you talking about? I’m not passing anytime soon.
(Now this lady was pissing me off)
Nurse: I know it can be hard to accept, but the sooner you find acceptance, the sooner you’ll have peace.
Me: No,really, I’m not dying. I’m reocovery from extensive surgery, but my prognosis is good.
(This woman had clearly taken the train in from crazy town.)
Nurse: I understand that this is a difficult time for you, but I’m here to support you with whatever you need. Part of what you need right now is finding acceptance.
Me: No, you don’t understand. I am not dying. You are in the wrong place.
(I was getting closer to losing my shit)
Nurse: Would you like to pray together?
Me: No,I don’t want to pray together. I think there has been a mistake and you need to leave.
(Now I was speaking firmly with direction, fighting back tears)
Nurse: These are the orders I received from the hospital.
Me: This is my discharge paperwork from the hospital.
(We compare notes).
Nurse: Oh, I’m sorry. There has been a misunderstanding. I’m so sorry to upset you.
Somewhere along the line, I started to second guess myself and was wondering if I was living in denial or perhaps they didn’t tell me everything regarding my case. It was a panic situation for sure, but she left and I breathed a sign of relief.
I was finally transferred the following day to an inpatient facility where I spent the next two weeks learning to eat, regain my balance, walk, etc. I was so thankful, but bitter all at the same time because the physical therapist helping me was a healthy, and beautiful 25 year old girl. Here we were the same age, and I was fiercely jealous. Fiercely jealous she had the good fortune of good health. My jealously was quickly sqauelched by the extreme gratitifude I felt toward her. She took such good care of me.
From there is was on to eight weeks of outpatient rehab. It was fine. A little creepy because I couldn’t drive myself and I was completely dependent on creepy cab drivers to transport me to and from rehab. There was the one creepy pigeon guy that would drive me to his house and make me look at his creepy pigeon collection. There were a couple of times I wasn’t sure I was going to make it to rehab, but thankfully I did.
I was glad to finally graduate from the program and move on with my life which really meant moving back to California. There was no way we could remain in Virginia having survived such a challenging medical dilema. We were anxious to move to be closer to family and friends again. Yes, everything in life happens for a reason. We moved here to save my life. I do believe my grandma Maxine gave that piece of exercise equipment a nudge so they would find the tumor before it was to late for the doctors to help me.
Family and friends... where would we be without them? It’s who you’ve got in your life, not the things in your life. Remember that and you’ll be a very happy person. And the next time you want to get really pissed off, remember everything happens for a reason.