KidThree spent six weeks at the major trauma center, recovering from her internal injuries and learning how to get from her bed to a wheelchair and back again. Her internal injuries were considerable: her spleen was ruptured, and so removed in surgery; her stomach was ruptured and surgically repaired; her diaphragm was torn and surgically repaired; and three vertebrae, T-9, T-10, and T-11, were fractured and allowed to heal without interference.
Because of the injury to her diaphragm and the lack of support from her abdominal muscles because of her paralysis, KidThree couldn't speak up loudly and had trouble coughing. Her soft voice was just an annoyance, but the difficulty with coughing put her at risk for pneumonia, so she had to work with the respiratory therapists daily to avoid that. The injuries to her stomach made eating difficult and unpleasant, so she lost quite a bit of weight. The fractures were allowed to heal as they were, as any surgical interference or repair risked worsening the paralysis. Because of the higgledy-piggledy positioning of the broken bones, KidThree still has a perpetual backache.
Physical and occupational therapists taught KidThree how to sit up. When we able-bodied sit up, we use muscles from our legs to our torsoes, but KidThree's muscle control ended right around the bottom of her ribcage, so she kept tipping over. Someone would have to stand in front of her when the staff got her into a sitting position on the side of her bed, or she would have gone face-first onto the floor. It took her quite some time to learn how to balance herself so she stayed upright. At the time, her paraplegia was T-5/T-6, slightly higher on one side than the other because the bullet had gone in at an angle. That made things just that little bit tricky, as she had more control on one side than the other and so had to learn to balance that, too.
One day, I arrived to find KidThree in her wheelchair out in the hallway, where she triumphantly told me, "Mom, I got into my chair by myself!"
Another day, I went to work, then to the hospital for a visit, then home to catch up on chores and sleep. I'd been home only a little when KidThree called, saying, "Mom, I feel weird." Her voice sounded weird, too, very flat and puzzled. I asked what she meant, and she was only able to repeat, "I just feel weird." I asked if she needed me to come back and got a 'yes.' So, back in the car to return to the hospital. When I got to KidThree's room, she was noticeably upset. We'd had several conversations on and off about the paralysis, as that significant a life change takes a while to sink in all the way, but this particular evening, the reality of it had hit in force and KidThree was having a tough time with it.
A nurse came in to see if we needed anything--I told her we needed some more tissues, as we were going to sit and cry for a while. The nurse was wonderful--she came back almost immediately with not one but two boxes of tissues. I shoved KidThree over a bit and got into bed with her, and we just cried. We cried for the life she had, the life she lost, and the life she got in exchange; we cried for all the what-if's and might-have-beens; and we cried because we didn't know what was going to come or how we would handle it.
That crying jag helped quite a bit. It was almost as if getting that out of the way cleared our minds so we could each focus on the tasks at hand, KidThree on recovery and me on figuring out how I might be able to manage to bring her back home. KidThree was still at that hospital when we got the court decision that she was returned to my custody, and we knew the immediate future held a move to the Shriners' Hospital for Children for rehabilitation, but beyond that, we didn't know much of anything.