The Love of Driving: Mourning Freedom’s Road after Spinal Cord Injury

As of yesterday, it’s been one year since I’ve driven. I loved to drive. The freedom. The alone time in silence. Sometimes hours as I drove across the city. My favorite spot to drive to was north of Phoenix. Not too far that it required packing and staying anywhere. Not too close that I could easily get sucked back into stress or impromptu meetings or calls.

Sunset Point Reststop

Sunset Point. When I was overwhelmed, having a hard day in memories, PTSD, or stressed from running my business, heading the nonprofit, training volunteers, speaking, fighting for survivor rights at the Senate or House, mentoring, publishing books… I would drive north. Just to park at Sunset Point amongst the semis at the rest stop and walk around to look out over the landscape. To breathe.

View from Sunset Point

But it really was the drive for me. The hour of silence in the car. The endless road before me. The slow rise out of the valley. I loved it. A piece that declared my own freedom and ability to escape in short leaps.

When I first fell, in March 2019, I was headed back to my car. I had been to two meetings already that morning: one was early breakfast with the head of a child rescue that had been working alongside my nonprofit, Kick at Darkness, and expanding in Arizona. He was giving me updates on children and teens who had been rescued from trafficking and we discussed plans of the aftercare, all of which Arizona is lacking a cohesive way of making sure every rescue doesn’t fall through cracks. The second meeting had been with survivors all across Arizona—badass warriors who escaped domestic violence or who survived sexual assault; the meeting was a committee of these voices helping an Az coalition set priorities for change (ACESDV).

Then I had planned to stop at a convenience store for a drink and snack and head to help another survivor with an event at her home that was under “lots of little projects” construction. She had no single room of peace. It was hindering her healing greatly. We were going to help create one safe place so her healing had a reprieve and calm and whole place to retreat.

I exited the convenience store; the unwashed and soiled pavement passed unnoticed beneath my feet as my mind prepared the rest of the day before me. Old and new patches of oil and dirt wove together in a silent threatening landscape for my loyal Chucks. The shoes that took me everywhere, from Senate floor to speaking to executives at Uber, to carrying Warrior Kits to social workers for their visits with badass survivors.

I stepped off the curb in front of the store’s sliding doors and my foot never found solid ground as it rocketed through oil and I fell. I had no idea the combination of events placed in motion that day. The pain instantly showed up in my legs, but the injury was in my neck where my arm had jammed three discs into my spinal cord.

Path my foot slid through oil; uncleaned area

My brain plummeted into foggy waters as I attempted to get up and sit in my car to set my drink and snacks down. But I couldn’t figure out how to turn to sit in the car; the spatial orientation didn’t make sense, much like looking into a mirror and trying to reach something behind your head. Unable to sit, I rested against the building after letting the store know. I waited for my parents to come pick me up and take me to Urgent Care.

The pain showing in my legs continued. It was a week before I could walk with a walker, and even then it was steps. Then, slowly I was able to get to the point of a cane. But long distances, and even short ones, were excruciating. Yet after a few months, I was able to return to driving. It was painful, and my trips had to be shorter, but I could drive.

The neurosurgeon later told us any single time I looked over my shoulder to check traffic, or to glance down to click my seatbelt, could have caused my death, or at a minimum, paralysis. She said so few people survive through this dangerous time to make it to surgery; they almost always fall victim to the damage happening in their spinal cord, and yet Amah provided the way. No one understands, and I certainly don’t, how I didn’t sneeze wrong or bend my head to hold my phone, or look fast over my shoulder… all ways my neurosurgeon said would have certainly finished the severing of my spinal cord.

MRI: impinging of my spinal cord (09/19)

The agonizing pain in the bottom half of my body confused all of us. PT wasn’t helping. Stretches and ice weren’t helping. I even had to walk with a cane at a gala hosted by ACESDV; I was being honored to receive an award for my work with survivors, and I barely made it on the stage, my body striking in pain.

But even though the pain was unending and merciless, I was able to fight through it and drive. I was able to have the miracle of freedom and holy sanctuary of solitude.

And then came September 2019. The spinal cord compression had exploded my nerves with pain—yet no one knew what it was. ER doctors were turning me away to “manage my pain.” I had one urgent care doctor who told me he believed I was in dangerous trouble of paralysis, but I couldn’t afford the MRI (see yesterday’s post) and had to raise funds for the test.

I will continue to share this unfolding story as we can see how community rose up to carry me. People generously poured love onto me to get the care I needed. Badass warriors lifted me and helped me through.

On this day last year, Badass Audrey Pepe leapt from the woodwork to drive me to appointment after appointment; she waited with me and helped me through. For the next several days she took me to PT and the very-far-away chiro who was trying to relax the nerves that were screaming in my neck and arm.

I haven’t been able to drive myself since. I miss the freedom of the road, of being alone in the car. But I am thankful for the community that has shown me I am not alone. I will continue to share this month the amazing badassery of those who rolled up as an army and didn’t let me fall.

This is our story. The story of the rising army showing what community really is. Real love.

#SCI #SpinalCordInjury #InternalDecapitation #WalkingDecapitation #Community #Healing #BeejHealth

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