Friday, February 12, 2010

What I didn't know

For Stephanie Jones Jordan

For the first part of this story click here

For the second part of the story, click here

What I did not know was this: while I was lost in my own head in West Virginia, Stephanie was doing an excellent impersonation of a dying person. She wasn't dying, technically, because she isn't dead. But for a time, she had everyone -herself included- fooled. She was lying on a bed, her vision gone, her family moving around her like shadows, speaking in whispers. She could not speak, she could not move, she couldn't see.

What I didn't know- what they didn't know- was that that her upper spinal chord had become porous- and as it leaked cerebral spinal fluid her brain sank lower and lower into her skull. She hadn't been in any sort of car accident. She wasn't sick. There had just been a huge, huge mistake.

June 13th, 2009, was fifteen days before I arrived at her doorway. She was lying on a table in a clinic in Seattle, receiving four injections into her neck. It was morning. Steph is a veteran of the Epic Mountain Bike Crash, and in the past few months, the accumulation of years of whiplash was catching up to her. She had been meeting with a body worker, who adjusted her and did all sorts of healing things to her spine. And it was working- but she couldn't afford it. She had to go in quite frequently for appointments, and her insurance wasn't covering it.

And so in mid June, she finally consented to the injections in her neck. The man working on her- a compassionate, wonderful person and healer- was really trying to help her out. This shot in her neck would relieve the pain, he said, and she would only have to come in once more afterward for a follow up.

And one day in early July she lay and received the four injections to neck. The sequence of what happened next I am not certain of, but they occurred in rapid fire succession. She blacked out. Her right leg went immediately and forever numb. She felt liquid coursing hot through her whole body. She was coated in cold sweat. She lay writhing on the table. It lasted an hour. Then she sat up, had some applesauce at the clinic, and drove herself home.

It was decided that Stephanie's body was allergic to the medicine.

And so there she was at home, on her beautiful floating house in Lake Union on a blue summer day in the emerald city. She wanted to shake it off and go on with her day- go to work, go the grocery store, cook dinner for her friends. But there were pains shooting like billiard balls through her body, knocking and splitting at her joints. A white hot pain was pulsating in her skull. She sat down, called her sister, her husband.

Immediately, they heard something in voice, something that spoke louder than the words she was actually saying. They are perceptive people, and her sister Molly works in medicine, a natureopath and licensed midwife. In fact, Molly, over nine months pregnant, was that very morning edging towards labor. On receiving Steph's call, her contractions ceased. She drove through the city to her sister's house, finds her wandering around incoherent, in shock, unable to find a modicum of relief from the splitting pain in her body. Molly takes her coat off, her unborn son gets the message he'll have to wait a little while longer. Steph lies with her head on Molly's lap. Molly doesn't leave her side for five days.

Can you picture them? This beautiful day, this beautiful woman, this young, healthy athlete. This adventure racer from Louisiana, and her body is exploding from the inside. The raging headache in her head continues to grow in fury, her vision fades out, her ears are ringing. She can't speak, she can't stop throwing up, she is wracked by spasms in her neck. They watch her with horror, split between their own fear and their efforts to be of comfort. The can speak to her, but only in whispers, anything louder feels like they are driving an axe full force between the left and right lobes of her brain. The pain cannot be overstated. The fear, as you can imagine, cannot accurately be tamed and shaped into words.

They call the doctor, who confirms the initial diagnosis- she must be allergic to the medicine. If she just waits it out, it will leave her system. Just wait it out, they say.

But- have you guessed it yet?- she only gets worse.

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