I was six months old when I began going to physical therapy. My mom noticed that I would only reach for toys with my right hand. Though I could not be officially diagnosed until I was a older, I began my journey of therapies for athetoid hemiplegic cerebral palsy. Which basically means, I have some control of my left arm and leg, but no control over my left hand and toes. I am guessing I looked a little like this:
Except he is much better bringing both hands to midline than I was at his age.
(Side note: my mom actually purchased this same toy for me when I was a baby. It must have cost her a fortune cuz it’s an amazing toy and they no longer make them! So if you run across it… BUY IT! thanks mom, for believing in me)
Anyway, at 6 months I met Winnie. She was a physical therapist from South Africa and I can still hear her voice encouraging me to try reach a little further. I can almost remember her strong hands holding me as a rolled on the big green ball.
10 years. 10 years of going to therapy 2-4 times a week. I remember going to easter seals camps in the summer where I would meet lots of kids that were in wheelchairs and things. I really enjoyed therapy and camps, but most of the time, I didn’t feel like there was anything wrong with me. I hated my splint for my left hand. I hated my brace for my foot. I hated how hard therapy was. I can almost cry now thinking back to how hard I had to focus to tie my shoe, and oh! the weightbearing. That horrible beautiful exercise that makes your muscles and head burn.
I sat in the walmart vision store for an hour straight trying to get my contacts in the first time. I didn’t get it. I had to go back the next day before I had success. I sat in the car for 2 hours straight, determined that I was going to find a way to get my hair in a pony tail so I didn’t have to keep asking other people to do it. My shoulder ached so bad trying to get my left hand to the back of my head. My fingernails caught my hair and scratched the back of my neck. But I didn’t care. I was so bent on being able to do it myself. I never thought twice about being on the soccer team or basketball team. If my friends were doing it, I wanted to too.
My parents and family were amazing. So incredibly supportive. I am just so grateful my mom let me try. She let me stay at walmart for that hour and keep trying, despite both of our frustration. She drove me everywhere to get the therapy I needed. My little brother came and sat with me all the time during therapy. I think I have pictures of him stringing beads with me during occupational therapy, I should dig it up someday.
I can remember when Beth started coming to my school and taking me out of class to work on my balance in the playground. These were the good days of therapy. I was coming into my own and felt like I was finding success in every test they placed before me. I finally graduated from therapy!!!
During high school, the thought crossed my mind as we went to career fairs and the like – that I would like to be an occupational therapist. I shared that with one teacher who told me that it was not a realistic goal and I should reconsider. I took her words and tucked them inside. Ive never liked it when people told me I couldn’t do something because of my arm – it just makes me want to do it even more. After high school I travelled for one year to Europe to do a missionary school (YWAM: Youth with a Mission). I can tell you more about that another time. During my time in Turkey, I was bringing food to a family in the poorer areas. I saw a girl hiding beneath the stairwell. I soon found out that she had a disability. I’m not exactly sure what disability she had. She was unable to walk and her arms were weak. I then learned that she had brought shame to her family, and was casted out. My world stopped. That girl could have been me. At the end of the school, we sat in a group and had time to reflect. We were asked to pray about an analogy that would describe our time in Turkey. The image I got was a gray cloudy day, and then a break in the clouds, and a rainbow shining through. I knew then that I was going to go home and enroll in college to pursue occupational therapy. I felt like God was telling me I had to bring hope to those families who are just starting their journey with disability, and doctors, and therapy. I had no idea how far God was going to take me the next 9 years.
I started with my associates in Science and transferred to the next nearest college so I could finish school as fast as possible. I was not interested in wasting any time. Turns out that Western Michigan College has a good OT program and I was able to graduate through an accelerated masters degree program. Although there is a lot wrapped into those 5 years of college life, one highlight was my first day of my first internship.
I got dressed in my khaki’s and blue polo that said “WMU Occupational Therapy”. My knees felt weak and at the same time I had the feeling I was summiting a mountain. I had no idea if I was ready to be a therapist. I wasn’t – and am glad they have us do 5 internships before letting us graduate. But that day – it was another time where time stood still for me. I sat on the padded stool with wheels on the bottom that so many therapists use, looked around the room at all the therapy weights and tools, and it hit me. For the first time in my life, I was not going to be the one going to therapy. It was a strange right of passage, that moment… but it was there. I had done it: became a therapist against the odds.
A sweet old lady came in with her husband and we began our 8 weeks together. We ended with her not gaining much function but did meet our goals for her to return to her hobbies and created a bird house. I had another patient who was a spunky younger lady who endured a stroke and we bonded over living with one hand in a two handed world. Since then I have met with many souls that we have been able to encourage each other on the unlikely road we travel. Teaching people to type with one hand, get dressed, and the worst, cook with one hand has enriched my life in ways I did not know possible. These past three years of meeting people right after their tragedies has been a sweet time of growth for me: as a person and as a therapist.
Looking back, one job I had that I could not have foreseen how important it would be now was working at Blossomland Learning School. A school for kids with multiple cognitive impairments for ages 3-26. It is a beautiful school full of beautiful people, most of whom you don’t see in the grocery store – they are too fragile to bring out. These are kids who are blind, and deaf, and have cerebral palsy… who have genetic diseases where their bones are so fragile if you move them wrong – you could literally break them. There’s this 12 year old girl who cannot speak, eat, walk, or roll over by herself… but seriously – you should see her smile! Her smile can make your day turn in an instant. I will always cherish her giggle. I was working here of all places, when I found out that Jack had hydrocephalus and dandy walker syndrome. That was before I found out about Apert Syndrome. The teachers and other therapists rallied around me and I owe so much to them. I would drive to work often and marvel at how those kids are wonderfully and fearfully made just like every other creation God made… and to me, they seemed broken. Then I would get to work, and every day those little kids would shake my world and teach me how there is more to life than what I knew of it. These kids were kids – through and through – they love to play, love to be loved.
Becoming a mother has begun another new chapter in my life. I have done everything I have ever wanted to do with one hand, and being a mom has stretched me more than anything I’ve ever done. I know most moms say they need a third hand, and I would absolutely love to have two! However, this really is the best job I’ve had yet. My sister said once that if we had all the hands that we needed, we would never have to ask for help. There is something beautiful about how we are an interdependent people, and how we were placed in families and crave community.
Today we go back to therapy… but this time, I am the mom. I cannot explain how almost eerie I felt filling out the paper work I have seen and given to so many people before: the cancellation policy, the pain scale map, and on and on… Somehow I feel like Ive come full circle. I am excited to meet the new occupational therapist this afternoon. I’m excited to introduce her to my son, who just might change her life too – as we begin the next 10 years of therapy 🙂