On being strong

“You never know how strong you are until being strong is the only choice you have.”



This quotation greeted me as I lay on my hospital bed. I had just opened one of the many cards and gifts sent by well-wishers. As I stared at it tears welled up in my eyes but never actually fell. I thought about the many times I had been called “strong” by people who liked and respected me and also by those who disliked me passionately. It had become somewhat of a personal trademark. At the school where I teach, I work collaboratively but due to the unfriendly atmosphere and the inability of most of the staff to unite on important issues, I tend to be a loner. Too many times I had stood up in defense of some student or put forward collective opinions about controversial topics, only to realize that I stood like a solitary cactus plant in an arid desert. This trait of standing up for matters I feel passionate about coupled with the small group of friends and being a divorcee, had led to my classification of being strong.

I always felt that perhaps I was overrated as far as strength was concerned. After all I have always been known to be quiet, unassuming and shy by those who have known me since my childhood days. But as I read that quote about strength and pensively played out the previous few weeks in my mind, I began to believe in my own God-given strength. The old saying about God not giving more than we can bear also lent confirmation to the idea of me being strong. How else could I possibly have been lying so calmly on the bed, perusing books and cards, without having shed any tears, without casting any blame, without knowing how long I would be warded and with the injuries I had sustained?

In my previous post I touched on the incident which led to my hospitalization. I was the victim of a violent crime, an attempted robbery turned into wounding with intent. I had been brutally shot resulting in my chin being shattered, my lower jaw being fractured on both sides and with wounds to my chest and shoulder. I had lost a great deal of blood during transportation ( I walked from one car to the other as we switched from my car to a nearby police vehicle). As preparations were being made for emergency surgery, my body began to go into thermal shock as I shook uncontrollably. During the surgery the decision was made to remove four teeth from my lower jaw along with part of the jaw itself and a tracheostomy had to be performed as my tongue had been injured as well and was in danger of slipping down my throat. A tracheostomy involves the insertion of a tube through an incision made in the throat through the neck. With this procedure, speech was temporarily suspended. I was kept in Intensive Care for four days then was transferred to a ward for the next  twenty four days.

It must have been strength, through the grace of God, that saw me through the time immediately after the shooting. What else could it have been that kept me from behaving deliriously? How else was it possible that instinctively I restricted unnecessary movements and histrionics which could have promoted greater blood loss and perhaps the ending of my story would have been different and would have come much sooner? The nurses, attendants and doctors were amazed as I walked into the emergency room. My friend had tried to lift me anticipating that I would be too weak to walk and, I suppose, also in an attempt to help me conserve energy. I refused, in my usual independent manner, to be lifted .

My family was told that I would be staying for at least one week in Intensive Care. My God had other plans for me. As I lay in that Unit, my mind dealt with healing my body. Stray thoughts about being afraid or of the pain or the impact of such an injury on the rest of my life were kept at bay. When given the opportunity to self administer morphine via a dose dispenser, thoughts of the addictive and other effects of morphine on the body helped keep the doses taken to a minimum, which just held off the pain. My brain was functioning on a different level. This worked in my favor and within just four days, my condition had improved sufficiently for me to be transferred to a ward.

At the ward, as soon as I could begin to move, two days after being transferred, I was able to have my first real shower. I felt so clean, so whole as I could do something for myself. Gradually as my strength slowly returned, albeit I was still extremely weak as there could be no eating, I focused on trivial matters. This was my technique for coping. I could not dwell on what was still to happen in the coming weeks or months or years. I instead planned when I would go to rinse my mouth, to have a shower, where to place my possessions and clothes to make them easily accessible. I planned by the minutes. I was fully aware of the atrophy possible when muscles are not in use and so I scheduled time to perform stretching exercises initially, then I started to walk the corridors to get in some exercise as soon as I got strong enough. I even remember doing some light weight lifting with some bottles of water!

There was never any crying. Nothing would be gained by crying. Instead I prayed, I read inspirational books and the bible and I listened to gospel music supplied by my elder brother’s mp3 player. I reflected a lot on events of the past two years but I did not allow myself to wallow in pity. I repeated John 3:16 whenever I had to undergo any sort of procedure. There was one time I remember going in for the doctor to perform a debridement, which is a medical procedure to remove dead, damaged or infected tissue. This was done in a supply room with me holding a pan below my chin to catch the runoff as the wounds were washed. At one point the doctor was cleaning off dead cells with a scalpel and he was shocked when I did not even flinch. He was so shocked that it led him to jokingly ask if I was dead. John 3:16!

Finally I was discharged after twenty eight days when the doctors had told my family that my stay would be at least four to six months. My progress constantly amazed them. Every time they gave a timeframe or said that some process would not work out or that I would not be able to do certain things, by God’s bestowed strength I was able to prove them wrong. What it came down to was that even though many people thought that I was strong before I was shot, when I was at my lowest, physically at my weakest, I actually was stronger than I ever imagined because I really had no choice but to be strong! Praise be to God.


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