In 1992, I was in a pretty bad accident and one of the injuries I sustained was a neck injury. After a few weeks, I had been transferred from the Riverside Trauma Center to the Portsmouth Naval Hospital in Portsmouth, VA. I am not a fan of Navy doctors; they think they know everything!
I had arrived at Naval Neck Doctor’s office with the typical hospital-issued neck brace still wrapped around my neck like a cobra suffocating me. Yeah, it was that bad; I hated it!
I sat in a chair as he tried to explain with his medical jargon how this C1 and that C2 are doing such and such. He was losing me quickly; frankly he bored me. Finally, I interrupted him and asked, “Okay, how do we fix it?” He started explaining this thing called halo traction. God, he talked for ever…
I got the gist of it. I contemplated this; hmmm what will I look like? A robot? An alien? A broken person? Damn it, I didn’t like it, but fine I was gonna roll with it; at first.
I sighed and said, “Okay, Doc when do you want to put me to sleep for this?” He laughed and explained that I would have to be awake, sitting up in a chair. “Oh don’t worry, you won’t feel anything; we’ll put a couple of locals in your skull before we drill the bolts into it”.
I thought about this for a minute. I imagined this. “Yah, no, sorry that’s not going to work for me.” After everything I just went through, I was willing to have them knock me out and drill into my skull. And I was willing to walk around with my head pinned to metal. I was NOT willing to have any needles go into my skull while I was awake and aware, and I was definitely NOT willing to hear a drill drilling into my skull; whether I could feel it or not. Nope, not happening!!!
That was when the whole game changed. You see, I am a strong willed woman. (I used to be a strong willed child and I was taught that was bad; I don’t believe everything I was taught, but I’ll get to that). I calmly (he was an officer after all) said, “Well that’s out of the question, so what’s Plan B?”
He threatened me (raising his voice as well) that he was an officer and I was enlisted and blah blah blah and how he could throw me in the brig for disobeying a direct order blah blah blah. I stopped him. “Did you honestly just threaten to throw me in the brig because I am refusing a halo that is going to be screwed into my skull, not yours? Fine, throw me in the brig, but I’m not getting a halo!” I felt very strongly that this was my decision, not his to make. I still believe this today.
I called his bluff, his scare tactic. He went onto Plan B. Plan B was a cervical brace. I still wasn’t crazy about wearing it. I posted a picture of what a cervical brace looks like so just for a minute look at it, and no, that’s not me. Imagine trying to brush your teeth. Notice the chin bar? Yeah, it was a blast. (That was slightly sassy.)
Before I left the office, he told me, “Airman this is serious! If you sneeze you could become a quadriplegic! If someone walks up behind you and yells, “BOO” and you jump, you could become a quadriplegic!
He certainly was a downer and he was just so sure of himself. I wasn’t a fan of him, honestly.
The day I left there with my fancy cervical brace on, I drove the 12 hour drive to Florida. Yes, with my neck brace on. I found it rather challenging to look around and I did not like the immobility, in fact I was beginning to hate it. This was day one, how was I going to wear this for 6 months?
I got to Florida and met up with Eric (I met him in basic training). And we decided to go out for the night, to a nightclub. No, I wasn’t planning on break dancing, just a little hip swaying that wouldn’t hurt my neck.
At the last second, before we left the hotel room, I took off that cervical brace.
I knew that I still had limited mobility because my neck was sore and I couldn’t (and didn’t try) to move my head much. Most people have a hard time looking past the fact that I ‘disobeyed doctor’s orders’. But here’s the thing, you can focus on all the ‘what-if’s’ or you can focus on what really happened.
I never wore that cervical brace from the day I removed it; and I never became paralyzed. Does that make me lucky? I suppose it’s all about perspective really.
I’m not sure if the Navy lost me (or forgot about me) but they never assigned me anywhere for the time I was ‘recuperating’. This didn’t surprise me later on when I thought about it because it wouldn’t be the only time that the Navy ‘lost track of me’; it kind of irritated me to be honest.
For months I would split my time between Florida and Virginia. I drove to Virginia for every doctor appointment, making sure to put on my cervical brace out in the parking lot, prior to meeting up with arrogant Navy Doc.
I paid attention when tests were run on the ‘progress’ of my neck though I wasn’t ready to admit to the Doc that I took matters into my hands. He wasn’t ready for the truth yet.
The day I had my final appointment with him, the day everything was officially ‘okay’, was the day I came clean. I’m a strong believer in the truth, even when it’s not what others expect or want to hear. But there is a way to handle this, I call it ‘gentle honesty’.
“Airman, everything looks good. Everything has healed wonderfully. The cervical brace worked!”
I smiled because I felt like I knew a dirty little secret that he wasn’t going to like.
Before I laid it all out on the table for him to digest, I clarified.
“So no worries about sneezing, coughing, or dancing?”
He reassured me and showed me the x-rays (or were they mri’s, I’m not sure).
I took a deep breath and said, “Well actually Doc, I never wore the cervical brace”.
He thought I was joking at first.
I knew when it finally sank in. He raised his voice at me and said, “Get the hell out of my office!”
Over twenty years has passed since all of this and I became a mother during those twenty years. What is it about being a mother that makes us think more of those ‘what-if’s’? My own mother had great anxiety about my choice and more than once she fussed at me about all the things that could happen. I heard her, but I just wasn’t convinced. Maybe it was just the fact that I was 19, or maybe it was just because somewhere deep inside me, I knew everything was going to be okay. I don’t know for sure, but I do know that all the ‘what-if’s’ didn’t happen.
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