Stella's SCI Story Pt 2: A Spark

Spinal Cord Injury (SCI)

Elina Taranenko

Blue Hospital Ice Cream

It's amazing how people can be so overwhelmed by what's in front of their eyes, that they ignore the bigger picture.

In my case, it was a blessing.

Since waking up from the coma, the misery of the insatiable hunger, thirst and fever were so real and powerful, that I found myself spending most of my days looking forward to the next blue ice cream and working on the smallest yet important improvements.

Walking? Too far from my life in ICU. Breathing? Now that's real!  

With breathing, comes a whole array of lifestyle changes, for a poor girl on life support, that means heaven and hell.  

Without life support, I’d be able to eat again, to drink water, to speak. I'd also no longer require suctions from the bottom of my lungs that reminded me of the moment before violent death you see in movies.
With the tube in my throat, I was nothing but a vegetable laying awake in bed.
Breathing is hard when you don't have control of the muscles that are used for breathing. My only hope was my half functioning diaphragm. Every day I get a chance to breathe for a very short time on my own, starting from few seconds then move up to a few minutes.

I learnt to hyperventilate while the nurse wasn't looking so my oxygen saturation level will look better than it really was.     Days went by, it was not good enough.
I spent my spare time at night imagining Goulburn Valley peach slices, Magnum ice cream, chocolate thick shakes, talking to people and telling them that I wasn't the driver in the car and someone had lied…   So the next day, I would try a little harder and do a little better.

It was a slow process, like everything in the spinal world, but after many days of good breathing they took the big tube out.
  That same day, I was fed blue jelly and blue ice cream. All the foods were coloured blue so when they suction your lungs afterwards they can see if you swallowed correctly.   Nothing has tasted better than that hospital vanilla ice cream coloured in a revolting blue.  

Today, I still remember.   It may not seem much to most people, but by the time I moved out of ICU onto the ward, I still had a big hole in my throat, but I could say 1 or 2 words at a time before running out of breath and I was allowed ice cream and water everyday.
Even today, my lung capacity is still only 800cc. I speak short sentences out of necessity, and I have trouble making my voice heard in clubs and parties. People just assume I have a soft Asian girly voice and have a brief and efficient communication style.
On the long, long journey of recovery, the ventilator was my first battle. And I won!
I now live a normal life like everyone out there, but it is a different kind of normal.

And There, Was A Bright Spark

Seek, and you shall find, that bright spark, even in the darkest of the nights.

Sometimes those sparks are so vulnerable you wonder if they were really there. Then, they disappear, leaving you to question if hope ever existed, or it's just you wishing for hope to be there.

Back on the women's spinal ward at The Austin in Melbourne, there were 4 of us young girls in the room. 3 car accidents and 1 skiing disaster.  It's amazing how tragedy brings people together; it still warms my heart thinking about the love and care we shared for each other.
We lied to each other everyday, telling each other we would walk again, and everything was going to be just fine. Sometimes we even planned shopping trips together...

       "As soon as we get out of there, we'll hit Chapel St together, go clubbing, and I've invited the girls to come and stay with me in Sydney where we could go surfing at the beautiful Bondi beach…"

The truth was, even after spending 6 weeks together in the same room, I still didn't even know what the girls looked like.
2 of us were on neck traction the whole time in a big metal cage, bed bound.
I guess it didn't matter, we didn't have the strength to face each other anyway.  The fantasy land we created for ourselves in the head was the only thing that got us through the nights and days.   To the girls that were with me through the long dark nights in Melbourne.

    "How are you now?
Did you get to go back to Chapel St?
Did you get that green dress you wanted for your graduation ball?
Did you kiss the waves at Bondi? 
Has life been kind to you?"

Minutes turn to hours, hours turn to days…
Then one day, one of us walked!
The other girl with a broken neck walked.

It almost happened over night, she woke up one morning and started wiggling  her thumbs, over the next few days, she was kicking her legs and standing on her feet. While the rest of us laying still in bed, she was walking to the lounge and having her meals in front of the TV.   Without a single trace of jealousy, we were ecstatic for her, for her family and for what destiny may hold for each one of us.
I still remember the moment her mother walked over to my bed, she held my hand and told me that her girl was just like me a few weeks earlier, and if i kept my hopes up, it would happen to me too.

Sadly, she lied.

Natural recovery never happened. However that was my little spark in the eternal darkness. No matter how little and remote, every spark can light up a fire.
Hope, that's all I had.
That's all I needed.

Celebrate Our Loved Ones

Crisis brings people together.

A life changing event like a serious injury, is sure to revive all the potential, loving relationships you’ve ever had in your life. It is times like this where people would put aside their differences, come to your aid, wish you well and show you they care.

Recovery is a long journey, so be sure to surround yourself with all the people that want to be part of it. They can give you the support you require, and you can make them feel loved in return.
     The future is too hard to imagine, so remember to celebrate today!

Celebrate the fact you have been given a second chance with life.

Celebrate family and love.
Celebrate relationships past and present.

Celebrate that long lost friend who came back to your life after learning you almost died.

Even celebrate the fact you now know who your real friends are.
Waking up from the coma to see my estranged parents was certainly a surprise. I had not seen them for a good part of 10 years. As a little girl, I used to pray that my family would be together again one day, remember saying ‘I’ll do ANYTHING”. I didn’t think God would take my words quite so literally.         Parents are human, humans are flawed, but if anyone wished that nothing bad would ever happen to you, it’s probably your parents. For all of you out there with loving parents and caring siblings - embrace their love, you’ll need it on your long road of recovery. Thank you Mum and Dad for putting your differences aside, for my sake back then, even for a while.
        My friends, they were fortunately a bunch of awesome, sincere people. For the 6 weeks I was in Melbourne, I had someone flying down from Sydney every second day to tell me what people were doing back home, what was happening at the university, telling me that my favourite sushi bar had an all you can eat promotion, and Darrel Lea put out these new white chocolate rocky road… and here’s a bag of it!    ‘Just wait til you get back to Sydney, we can do it all!’ they said. No one talked about my injury, in a fantastically good way, no one cared. And why should they?

Young love can be fragile, the ones that survive crisis this big are particularly beautiful. I was in a new relationship when this happened, it went on for another two years after.   Those were two very crucial years of my mental recovery, with me constantly doubting myself, doubting everything I knew. I had Matt coming to the hospital every single day just to hang out like old times, telling me I was still the same, we were still the same.  ‘The same’. That’s all I wanted, because deep down I knew, things were no longer ‘the same’. And with the help of my friends and family, my life was ‘the same’ for long enough that I could adapt to what’s not ‘the same’.

When time gets tough, the family and friends that remain by your side are such an important source of strength and a powerful reason to get up in the morning. To all the amazing people that helped me through the years: ‘Thank you!’.

To be Continued...


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