Posted on August 23rd, 2016
I am sorry for how long this post is but once I started typing, the rest kind of happened so bear with me. First and foremost, I just want to say “don’t be sad because I am a miracle.” I don’t say this for you but for me. It’s what I’ve had to come to terms with over the past 2 years and say to myself often. I cannot believe it’s going to be 2 years in just 8 days since everything, sorta, changed.
I had a misdiagnosed epidural abscess in my spinal cord that went untreated for so long it created irreversible damage. I went from being told I had a pulled muscle for 7 weeks to being paralyzed from the sternum down. On Wednesday, August 20, 2014, I woke up in the same excruciating pain I had normally been in, but for some reason couldn’t urinate, even though the urge to was painful. Well, by lunch time I collapsed because from my sternum down, it felt like when your foot goes to sleep and you have those pins and needles but on John Cena steroids.
I was taken to the ER in Saranac Lake, NY and given an MRI, finally. The amount of pain I’d been in for weeks, I can’t even describe in words. Thankfully, that’s when they found the abscess. I was Mercy Flighted to a level 1 trauma hospital in Burlington, VT. I had an emergency laminectomy with decompression where they removed the T3-T5 spinal processes (those little bumps in your back when you bend over). The abscess was so bad that it had turned the vertebrae into paste. The next day I was pretty out of it, remembering only bits and pieces of the day. (Sepsis and Surgery)
My family lives in Rochester & Syracuse NY so they hadn’t arrived yet. My little brother was going to Fredonia to start his freshman year of college on Friday, so I told my parents to wait and drop him off before coming to Vermont. They had been so proud of him for getting accepted into their Music Education Program. Well, Friday rolled around and I became very sick, and quickly. My fever had spiked to 106 because I had become septic from a MRSA infection. (Sepsis and MRSA) They operated so quickly after I landed in Burlington, that I didn’t have my full blood work up completed yet. When they took my temperature at the Saranac Lake Hospital it was 103.4 and they thought it was because of the abscess.
After going septic I had a stroke in my spinal cord so they went back in and did another lami/decompression to remove the infection that went wild again. My mom got a phone call from my surgeon that either a miracle was going to happen or that I wouldn’t make it through the night. But I am a miracle. They ultimately ended up taking the T3-T8 spinal processes without hardware because the infection was so bad they didn’t want to drill into my bones and have it follow. I was paralyzed from the sternum down. I was told that since there was so much damage done I was probably never going to walk again. I had the choice to go to Strong Memorial in Rochester or Upstate University in Syracuse for an inpatient acute spinal rehab program. I am so grateful I chose Upstate because not only do I have the most amazing set of doctors, but Lyssy walked into my room on Sept 5th. Absolutely EVERYTHING happens for a reason. If this wouldn’t have happened I would have never reconnected with my now, future wife.
I pushed hard from day one and told myself that my wheelchair wasn’t going to be a part of my future. After 9 months of physical therapy twice a week I slowly started to regain my motor skills. Even though my feeling wasn’t there, I could understand the pressure on the bottom of my feet and progressed to just using Canadian crutches. I used to tell Lyssy how amazing it would be to be able to walk with just one cane someday. Well I’ve done just that. BUT, because there is always a but, I pushed so hard without anything stabilizing my spine I started to collapse forward like Quasimodo from the Hunchback of Notre Dame. I had gotten so used to being in pain that it had become my new normal. But around Thanksgiving 2015, I was in a lot more pain than usual and I knew something had changed.
After an MRI they found I had 2 pedicle (the bone they drill screws into when installing hardware) fractures in T6 & T7. T6 was actually fractured for so long the scans had showed that it was already partially healed. I had also developed dextroscoliosis (where your spine starts to “S” to the right). So in January of this year I had a percutaneous 8-level spinal fusion with hardware from T2-T10 to stabilize my spine. My surgeons didn’t want to fully open me again if they didn’t have to, because with the progress I’ve made they didn’t want to rip through all the muscles and nerves again. My doctors told me in the beginning of all this that in 2 years your body plateaus, meaning whatever you have by then is what you have. However, I refuse to accept that because I know that with continuous hard work my body will get stronger and stronger. I refuse to give up now.
I have a neurogenic bladder/bowels and wear diapers to bed every night, and on days where my bowels are pissed off. I still have paraparalysis in my legs and no feeling at all in my stomach or back. I still walk with a cane (even though I have been working towards getting rid of it, the spinal fusion set me back again). I have myofascial pain syndrome and intercostal neuralgia, among many other problems. Most people will read this as a tragic story, but let me tell you first hand that it is a story of an amazing journey in my life and the belief that miracles ARE possible. I am so grateful for everything that has happened over the past 2 years. I had the biggest struggle with feeling like I wasn’t a “man” anymore. The feeling that what I could or couldn’t do physically for my family or myself made me less of a “man”. I’ve gone through my mother and fiancée having to bathe me and even wipe my ass at times. At 27 years old, that can really get to you… but then again, you really don’t have a choice. Over the past 2 years I have really found that it has nothing to do with what you can or can’t do, but simply, the person that you are. You have a choice to be miserable and angry at the world for what happens, or you can just embrace what you have and be grateful for it. The darkest times in your life can really show you just how strong you are. You can go ahead and hate everything around you but what happens if tomorrow you are gone? Would you regret the last conversation you had with your mom, significant other, family member, or friend? I have faith that things will always get better even if it’s just a small win each day. Nowadays when someone tells me something isn’t possible, I know that if you work hard enough at it, there is no such thing as impossible.
Thank you to everyone who has said prayers for me the past 2 years. God has truly been answering them. All the people that keep me motivated and make me feel loved even on the days I have felt broken. I could list so many names but that would make this long post a borderline novel. Thanks Dad, for being my rock. Mom, for being right next to me this whole time. Literally weeks and weeks in hospitals/doctors offices; and for always making sure my ass was cleaned. All my doctors and PT people. Dee (lyssa’s mom), for being an amazing second mother to me and loving me no matter what. Even though I can be a huge pain in the ass sometimes. Lefty (my fiancee Alyssa Bittel), thank you for making me feel whole even when I have been in pieces and being my legs in more ways than one. For loving me unconditionally every single day. The 4-legged kids and I have been so blessed that God put you in our lives, because I couldn’t have gotten this far without you. Thank you for showing me that being a “man” is ONLY defined by what your heart looks like. I thank my higher power as well, for always watching over me and giving me the strength. This is HIS plan, not mine. This has been quite the journey so far but it can only get better. PLEASE remember, “don’t be sad, because I am a miracle”.