I’m writing this column for you if you are dealing with challenges and mixed messages from various health-care professionals. I’ve spent the last five years of my life relearning how to walk again after a surgical procedure at the base of the right side of my skull to correct an aneurysm went terribly wrong. That caused a stroke on my spinal cord that left me paralyzed from the neck down.
Thankfully, my surgery was successful despite less than a twenty-five percent chance of surviving. However, my odds of ever walking again very virtually nonexistent in the minds of my doctors, but that wasn’t good enough for me.
Although no roadmaps existed to point me toward where my journey should begin in reclaiming movement in my body, I was going to be persistent in my quest to stand, to walk, and to reclaim my life. I was forty-nine years old and in perfect health when this nightmare began, so I made a promise to myself and to my doctors that when the day arrived for me to check out of the hospital, I would walk from those front doors. When that day finally arrived, I fulfilled that promise with the aid of a walker.
From then on and to this very day, every step forward is a gift I greet with sheer joy.
I learned along the way many times that I would need to challenge my comfort zone in my efforts to improve myself and through sheer determination I did. Each of those steps were small journeys in the beginning, back and forth to the mailbox at first, and before long, to the end of the street and back.
Five months later, while in Paris with my family, I was not only walking around that vast, beautiful city with a cane, but once again I was challenging my comfort zone. Climbing the 387 circular steps to the top of the Notre Dame Cathedral one day was my way of saying my new life was only beginning. Getting back down was another challenge because I could only hold a handrail in my left hand. However, going back down the next circular staircase I found the handrail was on my right. That initially presented a problem, but I improvised and went down backward. No handrail would ruin my day.
Since then, I have spent the last few years doing Pilates, neuromuscular massage therapy, work in a gym and at home to improve my condition. The payoffs from that dedication have been grand as I have gone back to work as an airline instructor, taken a trip to Nepal, relearned how to ride a bicycle, and gone scuba diving and hiking in the mountains of North Carolina. This journey continues to unfold as I keep myself open to all possibilities.
Wherever you are, whatever your situation, I’m hoping you’ll consider challenging your comfort zone as well. It’s as easy and as difficult as taking that first, uncertain step.