Thursday, March 18, 2010

"Let's start at the very beginning..."

Let me preface by saying that I don't know if I even expect anyone to read this, or if it's really just for my own piece of mind, but either way, I think it's about time I documented this crazy journey I've been on.

My name is Brianna and I'm 22 years old. I'm from a teeny, tiny farm town in rural Illinois and I've lived here my entire life. I have two brothers (Mitch, 19; and Jake, 7) and a sister (Abbey, 9).  My parents, Lana and Tony, were high school sweethearts and have been married for 24 years.

As a child, I wasn't particularly active--I did gymnastics and cheerleading, but I wasn't what one would consider a particularly athletic child. Rather, I tended to devote my time and passion to music, theatre, and academics. I knew all of the presidents, in order, by the time I was 2 1/2, and had sung for my first wedding by 3. It wasn't long after that, that I decided I was going to be a Broadway actress. By about 5 years old, I had completely set my mind to this goal, and I never once had a doubt that it would happen.

When I was ten, I gave up on the gymnastics and cheerleading. My coaches had always marveled at my unparalleled flexibility, but my joints were so loose that I lacked the ability to hold myself together when I needed to. After repeatedly spraining my ankles and wrists, and acquiring the uncanny ability to fall constantly and without pretext, my mother decided that it was probably best I just leave those sports behind.

Unfortunately, the sprains continued despite my subdued activity. When I was twelve, I sustained a particularly rough sprain that required me to sit out from my sixth grade gym class. My mom had delivered the note from the doctor that morning, but somehow, by the time I reached my 9th period class, the teacher had decided that the note was forged. I begged and pleaded with her to just call my mom or doctor, but she wasn't willing to listen. And unfortunately, I wasn't willing to disrespect a teacher in order to stand up for myself. (I was that goody-two-shoes suck-up in the class that never even had my name on the board, nonetheless a detention! I got straight A's and was always the teacher's pet. More than that, however, I was also raised with a very deep respect for my elders. When an adult tells you to do something, you say "okay" and do it. No "ifs," "ands," or "buts." There was no way I was going to talk back to a teacher or tell her "no," no matter how wrong she was. I just wasn't programmed for it.) As punishment for the "forged note," this crochety old woman took my crutches from me and made me run two miles in the grass around the baseball fields. Then, despite my tears and cries of pain, she forced me to join the other kids in soccer.

That was it. About half way through the game, I fell to the ground in so much pain, I couldn't stand anymore. She threatened to have the principal call my parents, but by that point, that's all I wanted. And that's exactly what happened. My mother got called in to come get me, and was instantly furious at what she heard, considering she had hand-delivered that note only that morning. We immediately went to my podiatrist and, after an MRI of that left ankle, discovered that I had torn up the ligaments pretty badly. It would need surgery. So, at twelve years old, I had my first left ankle repair.

It took months in a wheelchair and on crutches, plus weeks of physical therapy before I was able to walk again, but that ankle remained weak and often painful. For the next two years, I often had to sit out of gym class--a point that my doctor made VERY clear was never again to be disputed--and I had to avoid certain activities (like running in the grass) that lent themselves to rolling my ankles.

My freshman year of high school, I had another major gym class fall, and I returned to Dr. Wood (my podiatrist) who promptly informed me that I would need another surgery. The MRI showed that his previous repairs had held, but the ligaments were now tearing from the bone. He said the chances were "one in a million" and that I just had "really bad luck." (These were words I would come to hear all too often over the next few years.)  The surgery was a success, but unfortunately it didn't keep me from going to my first high school dance dateless and in a wheelchair. I also had to forgo the first two play auditions of the year. My parents had to drive me to school everyday, and accompany me to my classes on rainy days, because slipping and falling on the wet tile was just too great a liability, considering my complete inability to recover my balance and my high likelihood to dislocate or tear at the joints when I fell.

One Sunday in late November, just a few weeks after my surgery, I was up getting ready to go to church with my family, when I had one of the most dangerous accidents of my life. I had taken a shower in my parents bathroom, because it was easier to maneuver on the crutches. My cam walker boot was off from the shower, leaving just the compression bandages from the surgery. Hobbling out of the shower, I wrapped a towel around myself and started the trek from their room to my own. I paused at the top of the stairs to call down to my dad at the bottom to toss me up some lotion.

And that's the last thing I remember before waking up in the hospital late that afternoon. I was in unbelievable pain all over my body. I had stitches across my chin and mouth. There were new bandages on my leg, bruises all over my body, and a collar around my neck. I completely freaked out.

My father slowly began to explain to me that just moments after I had made my lotion request, he saw my eyes roll to the back of my head. He said is knee-jerk reaction was anger that I was joking and screwing around by the stairs. And then my body just fell forward, almost as if in slow motion. My face hit the stairs first, and immediately the momentum carried my legs up over my head, cracking my neck, and finally propelling my legs through the banisters. There was blood everywhere. My ankle stitches had reopened and my teeth were coming through my chin. Then the shock set in. As my dad rushed to hold me, me body began shaking and convulsing uncontrollably and I was still unconscious. He screamed to my mother that I had fallen down the stairs and to call 9-1-1, but my mother, very cranky after having been in the hospital all night with false labor, was not in the mood for my "dramatic antics." She called from the living room to "shake it off, [I] would be okay," but when she turned the corner, she completely freaked out. She called an ambulance, followed by the nurse that lives across the street. I was still unconscious and shaking uncontrollably. Unfortunately, I was also completely naked. I had just gotten out of the shower, and when I fell, my towel had stayed at the top! So the ambulance is coming, I'm naked, shaking, and bleeding, and yet they couldn't put any clothes on me, because they thought I had broken my neck. They draped the towel over me once the paramedics got me on the stretcher, but needless to say, I'm SO thankful that I was unconscious!

It was a pretty terrible ordeal. I didn't end up breaking my neck, but I sustained many painful injuries. They came to the conclusion, later that evening, that I had had an allergic reaction to the pain killers I was on, and that is what caused me to pass out. To this day, I get very nervous every time I pass by the entrance of a flight of stairs...

That was definitely my scariest accident, but that's not to say that the next few years were a cake walk...

The next summer, I was walking up to communion during a mass while I was teaching vacation bible school, and I managed to tear all the ligaments in both ankles without ever even tripping or twisting. I spent the rest of the summer in two boots and a wheelchair.

The next year, my junior year of high school, I was invited to sing at Carnegie Hall in New York City. About three hours after I stepped off the plane, I stepped down a stair at Planet Hollywood and plunged the rest of the way down. Tore all the ligaments in my left ankle again. They tried to fly me home, but I insisted on staying for my concert, which I performed from my wheelchair.

As a result of that injury, we had to do a Crisman Snook Procedure on that left ankle a month before the end of my junior year. Doc let me go to my prom the Saturday night before the procedure (which I attended in my embarrassingly tulle and flower-flowing carriage of a wheelchair), but as of Monday morning, I was down for the count. They harvested a tendon from my calf, then anchored it to an implant they put in my heel, looped it through the hole they drilled in my fibula, and anchored it all back in to stabilize the joint. It was incredibly painful and took seven months until I was really walking again.

And then, as if by some "Off to College" miracle, I got a MUCH-needed hiatus from my ankle troubles for a while...

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