By Andrea Davis
The last time I did something for the first time, I ended one journey and began another.
I have been blessed to have Guillain-Barré syndrome (GBS) since December 2011. For much of the first month when I became ill, I was at home, bedridden (except to use the bathroom) and largely unaware of what was happening. At first, we thought my symptoms were residual weakness from a severe bout of the flu I had a couple of weeks prior. Eventually, we realized it was something more serious. My physical therapist (who I had been seeing for back problems) mentioned the possibility of GBS.
On March 19, 2012, I had my long-awaited consultation with a neurologist who confirmed that it was, in fact, GBS. It was a relief to finally have an official diagnosis. By this time, I had recovered enough to be able to dress myself, go to the bathroom on my own and do many of the little things I once was unable to do. However, there was one really big monkey on my back, or should I say, under me. I still had to use a wheelchair to get around.
This wheelchair gave me a lot of freedom. I could roll into the kitchen to make a sandwich, to the living room to watch TV or even into the bathroom to take a shower (accomplished by sitting on the edge of the tub). And with the assistance of my unbelievable husband, I was able to go grocery shopping again and even return to church.
But as much as I treasured my wheelchair and spending time with my husband, I had this overriding sense of wanting to finish regaining my independence by learning to walk again. My neurologist referred me to a local rehabilitation provider with extensive experience in dealing with neurological issues. I was placed a therapist who is the manager of one of the provider’s outpatient clinic locations. This therapist is a board-certified orthopedic specialist who refers to back and neck issues as “his world.” With my history of back problems, this couldn’t have been a better fit.
From the beginning, our goal was to stretch and lengthen the leg muscles that had been unused for several months. We hoped to progress to the point that I would be able to stand and support my own weight and, then, hopefully walk again. On May 3, 2012, I made my way across the therapy room to the parallel bars, intending only to work on standing and sitting. With assistance, I was able to stand quite easily, and I thought: “Oh, what the heck, let’s see if I can make my foot move.” Once that happened, all bets were off. I was able to make it to the end of the bars, sit for a couple of minutes, and then get up and walk back to my wheelchair. Since then, I have progressed to walking 100 feet, then 200. I can even walk 60 feet without stopping.
It has been said that the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. For me, that first tentative step represented the end of my journey of wondering whether I would ever be able to walk again. It also started a new journey — one of greater hope, independence and a firm belief that I will actually be able to park my wheelchair for good.