How Far I’ve Come
I lay awake in the hospital bed, thinking about how the last three weeks have affected my life forever. I went from driving down the snowy road on Christmas Eve, to laying in a snowbank while my 2017 Honda Civic lay a few yards away from me, in flames. The whole accident seemed to go in slow motion. I was driving down the freeway when, suddenly, my car seemed to take over. It swerved to the left, then to the right. The windshield smashed into a thousand pieces. The car stopped suddenly and I flew out of the windshield, and into the snowbank in front of me. All I remember before the accident is thinking about how the solo audition that I had performed hours before. The solo audition that I had trained my whole life for had gone down the drain when I failed to land my triple pirouette. The rest of my dance went poorly. I was all over the place. It felt like it was the end of the world, but that didn’t matter now. I was temporarily paralyzed from the waist down, and if I didn’t learn how to walk in the next month, I would be permanently paralyzed. I was in a coma for about a week. When I regained consciousness, the doctor told me the news. He said that I would have to start physical therapy in about two weeks.
The creak of my hospital room door interrupts my thought.
“Paige?” Nurse Jill says. “Are you awake?”
I raise my head. “Yes. I’m awake.”
Nurse Jill walks over with a tray. On the tray are a needle and a bottle of medicine. My daily medication. I have to take it once every four hours. Nurse Jill helps me into a sitting position and pulls my hospital gown halfway up my back. She takes the needle off the tray and sticks it into the medicine container, then sticks it into my back. I wince. It takes a little getting used to, but now I don’t really feel it. I glance at the clock hanging on the wall. It reads 6:37 a.m.
“There’s no reason to go back to bed. You’ll be up in a half hour to go to physical therapy,” Nurse Jill indicates.
I sigh. I am dreading it. I haven’t left this bed since the accident. I don’t even get out of bed to go to the bathroom. The nurse helps me into my clothes and into the wheelchair. I haven’t worn clothes since the accident. They feel too big. I wonder how much weight I have lost because I haven’t eaten much. I just never feel hungry, and I can’t even bring myself to eat In-N-Out burger, my favorite place in the whole world. Well, besides the dance studio. I sigh. The dance studio. How I longed to put on my pointe shoes and glide across the floor. Feeling the music from inside me. Just like I used to. But I couldn’t do that, not now. Maybe not ever. I push the thought from my mind. I will walk again, I will dance again. And someday I will get that solo.
Nurse Jill helps me into the wheelchair. As we wheel down the hallway, I am able to glance into some of the other rooms. We pass one room with a little girl drawing a flower. It took me a little bit to figure out it was a girl. She had no hair, was wearing a hospital gown, and wearing a princess crown. The walls are filled with pictures of flowers and princesses. There are princess dresses hung up on the wall beside her bed. Nurse Jill sees me staring.
“That’s Ellie. She was diagnosed with leukemia about a month before your accident.”
Just the thought of the accident sends a shiver down my spine.
We continue to wheel down the long hallway until we come to a door with windows surrounding it. I look through the windows and see all kinds of workout machines.
“Is this the gym?” I ask. Nurse Jill laughs.
“No this is physical therapy. Or as we nurses like to call it, the window room.”
She slides her ID card along a pad alongside the door. There is a beep and the door slowly opens to reveal a room full of different sized machines. Rows of weight on racks sitting to my left. Two drinking fountains are bolted to the wall next to the racks. The pull-up machines tower over me almost like a beanstock. She steers me past all of the machines and to the back corner of the room where there are two bars next to each other. I know what it is right away. It's a walking mat. Suddenly, the door beside the bars opens. A girl with dirty blond hair walks out. Her bright blue eyes stare me down.
“I’m Josie. I’m going to be your physical therapist for the time being. Now just follow me.”
I look around to see that the nurse has left.
“Oh. You don’t know how to use a wheelchair. That’s ok. You’ll learn.”
Josie leads me into the room. I groan vital machines and lots of them. Josie takes my temperature, measures my blood pressure, and draws my blood for a blood test. She finally steers me over to a scale. Josie grabs my arm and helps me stand. I spend a few seconds standing, and then collapse, but she is extremely strong and lifts me onto the scale and measures my weight. She sets me back down into my wheelchair and wheels me over into a dark room. As soon as we are far enough into the room, the lights flicker on. On the walls, are posters with cheesy sayings on them like “You can do it” or “If at First You Don’t Succeed, Try, Try, Again.”
“This is where you will be spending two hours every day until you learn to walk,” Josie informs me.
In the middle of the room are two metal bars on either side of a black plastic mat. “Okay. Now you are going to get up and walk over to the bars.” Josie demands.
I stare at her.
“You’re joking right. You may not have heard, but I’m paralyzed from the waist down, and if I don’t learn how to walk in the next month, then I won’t dance ever again!”
I try to turn around my wheelchair and storm out, but I’m stuck. I hit the wheel in anger. The chair moves forward. I grab the wheel and shove it forward. I wheel my way out of the vital room and into the exercise room. I reach the door and hit the handicapped button beside it. The doors open, and I steer myself into the hallway.
“Paige?” I turn my head and see Nurse Jill. “I thought you were in physical therapy.”
“She was making me do these ridiculous things. She told me to stand up and walk up over to the bars when, hello, I’m paralyzed.”
“Did you at least try?” Nurse Jill questions.
I stop and think. “Well, no. But I can’t do that.”
Nurse Jill stares at me. “You need to at least try.”
I find my way back to my room and, with the help of my nurse, I get into my gown and go to bed. I think about how I should’ve at least tried to get up and walk.
The next day, I am back in the walking mat room. Josie asks me to do the same thing as she did yesterday. “Get up off your butt and walk over to the bars!” Josie yells, rubbing circles on her temples.
For the twelfth time that day, I hoist myself up off of my butt and using my arms, I grab the bar. But without the strength of my legs, I fall straight onto my face.
“Again,” Josie instructs.
“Can’t we take a break?” I groan.
Josie rolls her eyes.
“Fine. But no more than five minutes.”
I wheel my way around the mat, through the vitals room, and into the exercise room. I grip the edge of the water fountain and hoist myself up. I expected to fall back into my chair, but I didn’t I just stood there.
“JOSIE!” I yell.
“What? Are you ok??” Josie comes running into the room. She stops when she sees me.“The feeling in your legs is starting to come back, I see.”
I fall back into my chair and lay back.
A couple of hours later, I was able to get myself out of my chair and into a standing position between the bars.
That night, I lay in bed thinking about what I will do when I get out of the hospital. Dance will probably be out of the question for the first year. Feeling bored, I reach over for my phone on the side table and see that I have one missed call with a voicemail. I listen to the voicemail. The voicemail was saying how the loved my solo, not, but they had found another that was more “fit.” I was kind of sad, but even if I did get it, I wouldn’t be able to perform it. I set my phone back down on the dresser, turn off the light, and imagine what it would have been like to get that solo.
The next morning at physical therapy, I stand up between the bars and move one foot in front of the other. I put my right foot forward and my ankle rolls to the side. I collapse onto the ground causing my chin to hit the edge of the bar.
Josie rushes to help me.
“No. I’m fine. I need to learn how to do this on my own.”
I grab the bar and hoist myself up back into a standing position. But instead of going forward I take my right hand off of the bar. I start walking with one hand on the bar.
One hour later I am able to walk with only one hand on the bar.
“I want to try something. I just want to see how far you’ve come.” Josie insists. She takes me by the hand and walks me to the wall and walks to the other side of the room. “Now walk to me.”
I snort.“I can’t do this,” I say.
Josie stares at me. “You said that on the first day here and look how far you’ve gotten.”
I sigh. I put my right foot forward and take my hand away from the wall. I stand there, swaying. Josie smiles and beckons me forward. I put my left foot forward and sway a little.
“Find your balance, Paige.”
I take a deep breath. Right foot, left foot, right foot, left foot. “OH MY GOSH, I’M WALKING!!” I scream.
Josie starts jumping up and down. “YES YES YES YES!!!”
Through the next few weeks, I keep attending physical therapy until, at the end of the month, I am allowed to leave. Walking out of the hospital felt like a relief. The breeze hits my face and all of nature’s smells fill my nostrils. The snow on the trees glistens in the sunlight, blinding me. All of the sounds of Salt Lake City filled the air.
I take a deep breath. It's been almost forty-eight hours since I got released from the hospital. I had just pulled up in my car to South Jordan Performing Arts Studio. This was it, the moment I had been waiting for for months, I grasp the handle to the door and pull the door open. As soon as the door opens I am greeted with all of my dance friends and family. A banner hangs from the ceiling of the studio saying, “Welcome Home Paige!” I glance at the table behind them. There are cookies and sodas. My mom steps forward and hands me a bag. It’s a burger from IN-N-OUT. Then it hit me. I am so lucky to have all of these people in my life. A month ago I couldn’t even get out of bed. But now I’m up, walking around. These people have gotten me through that and for them, I’m so thankful.
About a month later I am walking back into the hospital. All of the memories hit me like a train. I walk up to the front desk.
“Hi, I’m here to see Ellie Jones,” I say.
The nurse smiles and points me in the direction of her room. I take a deep breathe and walk slowly down the hallway. I stop. To my left is my old hospital room, and inside is Ellie. I open the door to see a little girl playing with Barbies on the bed. She looks up at me.
“Do you want to play Barbies?” She asks.
“Of course!” I say.
I switch out the old flowers with the new and sit at the edge of the bed.
“I got you something,” I say to her. I pull out one of my old dance costumes and hand it to her. “This is one of my old costumes, and I want you to have it.”
She smiles and hugs me. “Thank you thank you thank you!” She says.
I pick up one of the Barbies and start to play.
This is where I want to be.
This shows how far I’ve come.