38: Every Move I Make

38: Every Move I Make

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Angels and Miracles

Every Move I Make

Hope is putting faith to work when doubting would be easier.

~Author Unknown

“Look! All of the supervillains are over there!” my six-year-old shouts, her ponytail swinging as she points dramatically down the hallway.

“Let’s capture them!” her older brother declares.

“Superheroes to the rescue!” crows my four-year-old, his short legs pumping as we thunder across the house, doing our best impression of a heroic charge.

Having reached the imaginary foes, the older kids shout instructions.

“Use your superpowers to trap them!” the oldest orders, furrowing his brow and determinedly holding his palms before him, exerting imaginary effort.

“Go like this!” My daughter balances on one leg, flailing her arms comically as she informs me, “This is Stun!”

Obediently, the youngest and I begin balancing on one leg and flailing our arms until our superhero leader declares, “We’ve defeated them! Hooray!” We cheer wildly, jumping up and down and exchanging high-fives.

Though moments like this are precious in and of themselves, they are especially meaningful if you once believed them to be impossible.

Nearly fifteen years ago, my eighteen-year-old self was lying in a hospital bed restlessly awaiting my first chemotherapy treatment when I began to lose feeling in my legs. At first they merely tingled and felt heavy, as if they were on the verge of falling asleep, but as the tingling turned to stabbing pain and the heavy feeling became an inability to move, my parents and I grew increasingly frantic.

After numerous attempts to page my doctor over the course of the day, my room was finally invaded by a flock of white-coated physicians.

“Can you feel this?” asked one, squeezing my toe.

“Press your foot against my hand!” demanded another.

“Roll on your side,” commanded a third.

I could do nothing.

The doctors whisked my bed from the room, and my parents and I were herded down the hall, crammed into the elevator and rushed through a maze of hallways to the MRI machine. After an eternity spent sweltering within the clanking coffin, I emerged to be hoisted back onto my bed for another journey.

In the hallway, we hesitated just long enough for them to inform my parents that the tumor was strangling my spine. “I want you to prepare yourselves for the fact that she will probably never walk again,” intoned a voice from the head of my bed. “Even if she does regain some mobility, she will never be able to move normally. I suggest that you start looking into ways to make your home wheelchair-accessible.”

It seemed so unreal. I tried to picture myself in one of those low, sporty wheelchairs that I’d seen disabled people using to scoot around, but my brain rejected the image as ridiculous. Instead of dexterously wheeling myself around, my mental image had me hopping out of the wheelchair and walking off with my friends.

My parents followed silently as the doctors whisked my gurney through the halls for the agonizing wait until the neurosurgeon finished his last surgery of the day and could be informed of my emergency.

I awoke the following morning to find my body hooked to tubes and wires, evidence of my midnight surgery and the beginning of my first chemo treatment. As soon as I was coherent, the white coats gathered around the foot of my bed, tense with anticipation. “Can you move your toes at all?”

I stared at my feet, my entire body taut with the message I was trying to send: MOVE! On my right foot, one toe twitched.

A collective sigh of relief came from the doctors, who immediately demanded that I repeat the feat.

Again, that big toe obediently jerked ever so slightly.

Within days, an occupational therapist hauled me to my feet and began teaching me to walk again. Against all odds, I would be mobile — but my parents were encouraged to install railings in our home and invest in an electric scooter to allow me greater mobility in public. As I endured six weeks of radiation and returned to the hospital time and again for chemo, I very slowly continued to regain more movement.

At my six-month follow-up with my neurosurgeon, I obligingly walked across the room, limping only slightly. Reaching the far wall of the little examination room, I turned to my doctor, awaiting his next instructions.

“Walk across the room one more time,” he said eagerly.

I complied, then looked at him again.

“That’s amazing!” he said. “How much mobility did you have when you went into surgery?”

“I couldn’t move anything below my armpits.”

The young doctor shook his head in wonderment, checking his charts for confirmation.

“When do you think I’ll be able to run again?” I asked. I had gotten somewhat used to walking again, but my legs did not seem to work for anything else: my run was no more than a clumsy, high-kneed walk.

“Run?” the doctor said with a chuckle. “With neurosurgery, any mobility you gain back comes within the first six months. You’ve already regained all you will . . . .” He shook his head again. “Walk across the room again.”

Despite my neurosurgeon’s prognosis, I remained undaunted. If my walking was itself a miracle, there was no reason God could not do more; He was not bound by a neurologist’s timeline. So I continued to progress.

After eleven months of chemo treatments, I was finally free to rejoin the world. Weeks later, I moved away to college and found that, though I still had to concentrate to walk without tripping over my toes, I could make my way across campus to my classes without the need of my scooter. I continued to attempt to run, my legs clumsy and unable to match my upper body’s intended pace. But with practice, I managed a lumbering plod that slowly grew less cumbersome. And one glorious day, I bent my knees and propelled myself upward and to my delight, my heels lifted almost imperceptibly off the ground. I had jumped!

Not every miracle is over in an instant. My “impossible” recovery took much longer than the brief, six-month window my neurologist was willing to grant — but each new ability I regained was a joyful victory.

Today, if it were not for the scar on my spine, no one looking at me would know that I had undergone a surgery to reverse paralysis. I ride my bike with my family, race my children across the yard, engage in wild soccer matches with them, teach them to cartwheel, and demonstrate my childhood jump-roping tricks for them to admire. And with every step I run, with every jump I take, with each new skill that tests my balance or calls for the dexterity of my legs — with each of these I rejoice, for each of them is a move I was told I would never make.

~Shereen Vinke

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