Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Why Am I writing anything?

Today, I have to ask myself, "Why do I bother with writing Blogs and other writing projects?". "What makes me think anyone cares to read what I have to write?". So...I've given it some thought.

I do know that when I read BLOGS, articles, and books on subjects of interest to me, such as Disability, Syringomyelia, Chronic Pain, Writing, Gardening, cooking, Being a Mom, etc., I feel that I am not alone, I become educated and encouraged, and most importantly- INSPIRED.
   Why do I feel that what I have to share is valuable to anyone? Hhmmm
that one took a little more thinking. Its not that I think that I'm such a talented, prolific writer, although I want to be. But I do feel that to some extent, the experiences of MY Life are unique to me. No other person has experienced the exact same set of circumstances that I have. That is also true of everyone. I feel that we all have a story to share. Some of us do not feel led to share it through writing BLOGS and articles and potential book projects. We can also share our unique experiences through speaking, whether in the arena of planned speaking engagements or just talking with friends and family. But for me it is writing.
   I have always had a passion for the written word, even as a child. As a young girl, I would make up stories about princesses, ponies, and poetry. I always received good grades in school in subjects like spelling, vocabulary, and composition.
   I have been stressing about the fact that my BLOG doesn't have lots of followers. I thought seriously about deleting it. But I have recently been reading some advice for Bloggers that has explained that increasing traffic takes time and work.  And then I asked myself, "If no one ever reads anything I write, would I stop writing?". NO WAY! I have stacks and stacks of journals I have kept for most of my life. All the ups and downs, all the crazy emotions, sadness, fear, joy, happiness and gratitude of my life, are documented in those pages.
  It was good for me, all this thinking on this subject. Writing for me is a release. It is a way to put my thoughts and feelings together in front of myself, to make sense of it all. I don't really NEED the readership or approval of my peers, to feed my desire to write. Those things are GREAT, don't get me wrong!! But I will continue to write BLOGS, journals, occasional articles for submission, and book projects. All I need is a little inspiration.

Thursday, June 3, 2010


   PAIN is rough today. I'm a bit scared about this new problem. In '98 the Dr.'s found some degenerative discs
and a small syrinx in my C-5 through C-7 spine area. I had surgery to correct the disc issues but the syrinx was small and they left it along. Several years ago, exrays showed that all of the screws and plate work were now loose, just jingling around in there, not supporting anything.
  Most of the time I have had no problems with it. I'm just limited on my range of motion in my neck. But on a recent vacation, I suddenly turned my head to see my grandson, and terrible pain was instant. It hurt through my neck and down my shoulder into my right arm. I assumed that I'd be sore for a while, but I was sure it was a temporary thing.
  It may still be a temporary thing. But since then, the pain has increased, my right arm feels heavy,awkward, and somewhat numb. I'm having trouble using my right hand with simple tasks like holding a fork and feeding myself, or brushing my hair. Even typing is a struggle, as I continuously have to correct myself. I've never been ambidextrous, but it feels as it would if I were trying to do everything with my non-dominant hand. I'm still hoping I have just irritated some nerves and things will be back to normal in a few days.

  Those of us with chronic pain disorders and disability must learn to accept CHANGE as a fact of life. It is not easy by any stretch of the imagination. Most of us have lived a busy productive life at some point. Then things become more of a challenge as our first symptoms arise. Or for some folks it is a sudden tragic injury or accident that hits us out of nowhere. Whatever the case, we must begin to learn to accept our limitations and if possible, find new ways of doing everyday things. For many of us, it means accepting that we'll never again be able to have fulfilling careers, or be the athlete we once were. 
  We soon begin to feel isolated, useless, and misunderstood. We no longer participate in the social life we once had. Instead, our weeks are often filled with doctor's visits, home nursing care, physical therapy (that rarely helps), and test after test.
  Just when we feel we've got a grip on this new reality, something changes. Complications arise, new diagnosis are found, we must learn to use a walker or wheelchair, or learn we now must rely on daily oxygen therapy or require a urinary catheter. Even trying new medications can cause us to feel more like a lab rat!
  For me personally, change has been ongoing most of my life. I was born with Spina Bifida which caused minimal limitations in my childhood. By the time I was in my mid-30's I'd undergone some 30 operations. In 1993 I developed a severe infection in my left ankle joint (osteomyelitis) that required the amputation of my left leg below the knee. In 1998 I was diagnosed with Syringomyelia and tethered cord. In 1999 I underwent my first surgery to correct those issues, but developed a very life-threatening infection in the surgical site while still in hospital. This required a 6 month stay in a rehabilitation facility. Later in '99 I was hospitalized again for a severe urinary tract infection and a routine chest exray revealed 7 masses spread throughout both lungs. I underwent lung surgery to remove the lower lobe of my left lung, but thankfully a biopsy revealed no sign of cancer. In more recent years I have had several more operations bringing my total to near 45. I now require a urinary catheter at all times and oxygen therapy at night, and occasionally through the day. I'm now confined to a wheelchair, but I'm fortunate to have a nice power chair and I get around much easier.
  Since being diagnosed with Syringomyelia, I've been made aware of all the possibilities for my future. None of them are good. And in spite of all the CHANGE I have accepted in my life, I'm not ready to loose use of my arms or hands! As I said, I am optimistic that this current flare-up is only temporary. But as with all persons with disabilities know, anything new can be quite frightening.
  However, one thing I have learned about myself through the years is that I WILL SURVIVE. I would in time accept the new change and find ways to work around it. Our attitude in living with disabilities is KEY. It is easy to allow the disability to "ground" us, to just throw our hands up and give up. The harder thing to do is NOT allow our mind and attitude to also become disabled. Sure, we're all entitled to days when we feel less like fighting. But we must not allow our limitations to rob us of a well-lived life!
  One of MY ways of dealing with that is to share my story with others facing the same challenges. Reaching out to others is very empowering. It shows us that we are not alone, and we DO have plenty to offer this world. Each story is unique, each person's lessons learned along the way are unique and valuable.
  If you're reading this, it is my prayer that you may find encouragement here. That YOU will feel empowered to share your story and your lessons learned along the way with others. If we use our pain and struggles to help another, then we have not suffered in vain.

Denice G. Whitaker, 2010

Pro's, Con's, and Flat Tires

June 2, 2010

Pro's, Con's & Flat Tires

    My Life with disability has forced me to slow down my thinking and doing. Gone are my days of numbly rushing through one
task after another, never having the opportunity to see all the little blessings and "God Moments" in each day.
  My recent vacation to the Outer Banks area in North-east North Carolina caused me to think deeply about how our attitude
can affect our ability to really notice and appreciate all the blessings we receive everyday.
  Our daughter, her husband, and our 3 year old grandson accompanied us on this trip. My son-in-law Mike had never been
outside our tri-state area and he had never seen the ocean. He truly seemed to enjoy seeing all the huge Naval ships in port
as we drove through Norfolk, Virginia. Like me, the ocean was a wonder to him. He enjoyed sitting on the beach and just
looking at the Atlantic, as much as he enjoyed swimming amongst the waves.
  Because we lived in the Outer banks area, referred to as "OBX" in  case you've ever wondered about those "OBX" stickers on cars everywhere, our daughter wasn't as affected by the trip. I asked her what her Pro's and Con's were on the trip. If she would
have actually written out a Pro's and Con's list it may have looked something like this:

                         PRO'S                                                                            CON'S

       A good day on the Outer Banks                                                   It was really hot

      Mike got to see the Ocean for the 1rst time                                   I got sun-burned

                                                                                                       The drive there was so tiring

   I had a wonderful time. I was so excited for my son-in-law to see a part of the country he'd never seen before. It was nice to get away for a few days, and to see some old friends. Somehow for me, being outside my usual daily environment gives me a chance
to reflect on my life and to think. I always take my journal and write out my thoughts as they come to me.
  The trip allowed me to think about how our attitude can affect how we view what is going on around us. Do we only feel rushed and busy? Or can we pick out all the little "God-Moments" (blessings) that occur. It is very easy to see all the tasks we must accomplish each day. The busyness of caring for our family, doing our job, paying the bills, etc. can easily overshadow any good that occurs. I thought a lot about this as I was sitting on the beach. I began to examine my own heart and attitude. So I decided to actually write out my Pro's and Con's for the trip.

                           PRO'S                                                                  CON'S

                  Getting away for a few days                                         A long drive

                     Seeing the ocean again                                        Its difficult to get a wheelchair through the sand

                   Being back in our old home town                                                                                                            

                        Seeing old friends                                                 Having to say Goodbye again

                  Driving through the mountains

                 Spending quality time with my husband

                        *Our flat tire "Miracle"

                 God provided a safe trip there and back                           unpacking


       Our "Con's" List is always the easy part. It takes time and true reflection sometimes, but there are always lots of
"Pro's", if only we take the time to notice. Complaining is easy. In this world we live in, there are plenty of things to
complain about. But we'll have a much more meaningful life if only we slow down enough to really relish all the big
and little blessings that God places along our path.
  Just before we pulled out of our driveway to head south, I layed my hand upon our car and I began to pray. I tend to pray
quite specifically, so I asked God to place a hedge of protection around our car. I prayed that He would bless the engine,
keep us safe from drunk drivers, and since we'd be on some secluded country roads, I asked Him to keep the deer off
the roads. I prayed that we could have a good time there, and that he would take care of us.
  We did not have any problems with the car on the way there. We saw many deer, but they were all standing to the side of
the road watching us, as if they'd received an email to stay off the roads at a certain time! We had a wonderful time while
in North Carolina, and it was a blessing to spend some time with our old friends there.
  I again layed my hand upon the car as we were about to return home to Ohio. I asked Him to protect us from all harm
and that He would allow us to return safely home. It was in the 90*s there and our car has no AC, so we were quite
uncomfortable as we came upon a traffic jam going through Norfolk. It was easy to complain about it as it took nearly 90 minutes just to get through Norfolk and Newport News, but then it also was a good time to just talk about the trip with each other.
Eventually we made it safely through that mess and were again on our way home.
  However, as we reached the western part of Virginia on a secluded stretch of highway, a back tire blew! There was
nothing in sight except for a lone country store and gas station. The shoulder of the highway was very narrow, making it so dangerous to be pulled over there. Of course the little "may-pop" spare was buried in the bottom of the trunk, under several
suitcases and my wheelchair. So everything had to be pulled out. Cars and tractor trailers were whizzing by, and seemed so
dangerously close! Thankfully our son-in-law quickly changed the tire and the trunk was quickly repacked. But we knew we
could not continue on very far with that spare. The first exit ramp we came to took us around to the little country store we'd
seen from the highway. There was no service station there, and we worried it could take hours to find help. I must
confess that I was quite upset at the time. The problem seemed overwhelming, and it seemed to over-shadow all the
blessings from the trip at that time.
  My husband went inside the little store to ask if there was some place nearby where we could purchase a new tire. As I
waited in the car, I prayed that God would help us. Soon I saw my husband inside, talking on their phone. When he
returned to the car, I recognized the sign of a small grin on his face. I was thinking: "what is there to smile about in this
seemingly difficult situation?!". As he got into the car he said, "Lets go see Homer!". I asked him who Homer was and what
did he find out in the store. The lady in the store told him, in her extreme southern drawl, "Honey, there ain't no WalMart
or Tire Store anywhere near here. But I'll call Homer!".
  Homer was a very nice Virginia mountain man. He owns a auto service shop just five minutes from the little country
store. We drove through the narrow mountain road, lined by small country homes, until we saw the old paint deprived
shop with a handpainted sign that read, "Homers Auto Shop". The surrounding property was littered with old rusty cars
and trucks, most sitting in their final resting place. An old rusty red fire truck, probably from the 50's or 60's, sat proudly
amongst the other cars, bragging of a long history of saving lives among those mountains.
  The shop was closed, so we waited ten minutes in the parking lot while Homer made the quick trip from his home. We
were in quite a dilemma and Homer's shop was our only hope. It would have been easy for him to make some fast cash
by over-charging us for his coming in on his day off and opening up his shop just for us. Instead, he pulled our car into
the shop, grabbed an almost NEW tire from a pile, and quickly had us back on four good tires. He charged us $50.
  I felt so ashamed. When the tire blew and we were on the shoulder of the highway I lost sight of my faith that God would
answer my prayer to take care of us. It wasn't that my faith was gone. God never leaves us, He's always there. But my
attitude allowed the problem to cover me in this dark cloud, and I lost sight of the joy and anticipation of waiting upon
the Lord, to see how He would work things out.
  We were quickly back on our way home! We drove many many miles before we ever saw an exit leading to a town
where we may have found assistance. And I'm certain no one there would have only charged us $50, or would have
been more friendly and compassionate.
  It would have been easy to place "Flat Tire" on my "Con's" list. But I KNOW that our tire blew in that specific spot
along the highway for a reason. There would not have been a "Homer" anywhere else! In my journal, on my "Pro's"
list is simply "Homer". For the rest of the drive home, I had complete faith that there would be no more complications.
God answered every prayer that I prayed on the trip. We returned safely home around 1:30 in the morning on Tuesday.
  I believe that God is present in every moment of every day, if only we open our hearts and have faith in His power and
presence. Don't allow your faith to be altered by mood, attitude, and circumstance. Be open to receive all of His many
blessings in each day. Take a moment at the end of each day to think about...or even write a list...of the things you are
grateful for in that day. You may find it difficult at first. You may only think of a few things. But as you learn this new
way of thinking...this new will find so many little "Homers" in your life.

                                                                                                                        Denice G. Whitaker, 2010