To think that 5 years has gone by, blows my mind. 59 months of struggle, and life changes. I can still remember the feeling that came over me when I was in the doctors office waiting to hear what my my future held. I didn’t realize it until after, that my future was completely in someone else’s hands, and I was no longer in control. The only thing I remember was just being apprehensive. However as an athlete I was used to always having an injury and I became accustom to receiving rough news. Even though, I was a bit nervous, I recall being extremely optimistic about the entire process. When I was told that I needed mandatory surgery, in 2012 I can honestly say that I was a little naive and didn’t fully realize the severity of the situation until my recovery process began. When I went into the surgeons office the very first time, I didn’t expect for the outcome to be as bad as it had turned out to be. It was in that moment where I truly had to grow up over night at sixteen and face the life challenges that the world was throwing at me and handle it to the best of my ability.
Throughout my journey with my three spinal surgeries, my mental status got worse each time. The last five years has taken everything out of me, and throughout my recovery I was loosing fight in me, day after day. The more difficult the recovery got, the more my life was turned upside down. There have been tremendous struggles, pain & heartache that have knocked me down to my knees time after time. The one thing I will always take with me from this entire experience is learning how to manage and cope with hardship and coming out on the other side.
Have a I fell to the floor in devastation? Yes. Have I cried my eyes out? Absolutely. Have I screamed at the top of my lungs because I am so angry that this was happening to me? Of course. However, I have always managed to pick myself up and deal with the situation at hand. These hardships were far from pretty, but we managed.
I am determined to continue growing from this difficult experience and I will always hold this journey in my heart and use it in my future. Going through bad times isn’t something that someone volunteers to do, however it is most definitely something that I wouldn’t change for the world. Many ask me if I regret doing the sport of gymnastics, and I can honestly say that I do not have one ounce of regret in my body for the choices that I made to be a high level athlete. Gymnastics has taught me to get right back up when you fall, and to never complain and handle to cards you are dealt. I used all three of these life lessons throughout my recovery and I can honestly say that if I didn’t learn those things at a young age, I don’t know if I would have survived this struggle. Not being able to have any say and control over what is going in your life, is truly an exhausting matter to come to terms with.
First spinal fusion surgery – December 14th, 2012:
I remember finishing my last day of school on December 13th, and handing in some last assignments. Little did I know that that was the last time that I would ever attend high school. December 14th, was the day my life changed forever and nothing ever went back to normal.
(December 14th, 2012 – 6AM Pre-op)
(Going home after 8 days in the hospital)
(December 26th, 2012)
(left-December 13th, 2012, right- December 31st, 2012)
December 14th, 2017 was the fifth anniversary of my first spinal surgery. My experience in the hospital was one of the worst times in my life. I was not reacting well to the anesthesia and the narcotics and medication that the doctors and nurses were giving me, made me unbelievably sick. Towards the end of my time at the hospital, I even stopped breathing and my blood pressure dropped and they couldn’t get my levels in order. For the first time in my life, my mom thought that she was going to lose me.
I was extremely positive from the end of 2012 to early in 2013, however my patience and optimism were tested over the month. March 14th, 2014 was my second spinal revision fusion surgery, where they did the exact same surgery over again. Due to the fact that I could not get out of pain, or have any relief, my surgeon made the executive decision to remove the hardware and screws, and do my third spinal surgery on December 18th, 2015.
Third spinal surgery- December 18th, 2015:
December 18th, 2017 marks the second anniversary of my third spinal procedure. I can’t believe how far I’ve come and the struggles that were endured throughout these last few years…
(Hospital for Special Surgery : Pre-op)
December 2015 into 2016 was easily one of the scariest and uneasy times of my life. Deep down I knew going into this surgery that I was going to have the hardest time mentally. I remember telling my mom that this time around was not going to go well at all as far as my mental status was concerned. I was having a lot of anxiety prior to this day, but I tried to stay as positive as I could for this surgery. However because this was the third time around, I knew exactly what to expect because I had been through it twice before, and that just made everything a million times worse. I knew how pre-op would go, I knew how horrific recovery was going to be, and the only thing I could do is just pray that this surgery would work and that this would be the last time I would have to endure this. Now that I was over eighteen when this surgery took place, I basically had to manage almost everything on my own in the hospital and visiting hours were extremely limited. I dealt with the nurses by myself, and stayed in the hospital by myself. I had the most horrific experience in the hospital throughout the days following my surgery. Waking up from a major surgery is probably one of the worst feelings that someone will ever face. The amount of pain I was in was unbearable, and I just remember having tears in my eyes and being extremely inpatient.
(Hospital for Special Surgery : Post-op, December 18th, 2015)
The night of my surgery I found out that I was not allowed any visitors for more than two hours a day. I am a very independent person, however I knew the drill and I knew that I do not do well in recovery. Therefore I truly wanted someone else there being another set of ears when I had to deal with doctors, and the nursing staff. My first true panic attack moment occurred that night when my parents and brother were leaving. Being that I was extremely weak, I just sobbed, but couldn’t move, and I was not fully coherent due to being on medication and still having anesthesia in my system. I was begging them to let my family stay, and I recall just lifting my hand ever so slightly and banging in on the side of the bed. That one move of my muscle took everything out of me, and I turned sheet white.
After getting used to the fact that I was going to have to handle pretty much everything on my own, my anxiety was through the roof and I had a very hard time mentally. After about 4 days, I made the decision to get discharged because I had had enough of the miscommunication and I was loosing patience with the staff. That ride home from Manhattan to New Jersey was one of the worst incidents of my life. Should I have gone home? Probably not, but I’m glad I did. Every bump, turn, and break was as if someone was taking a knife and cutting through my spine over and over again.
After my first surgery, I took one day at a time and was patient and could handle not being able to shower, go to the bathroom, going on the stairs, driving, ect… After the second surgery, we did things a little bit different, and I remember being somewhat mentally calm in the beginning of the the recovery, however pain wise I couldn’t bare another minute. Now being that this was the third time around, I was loosing my mind, every day to say the least.
(Riverview Hospital : February, 2016)
Frustrated and completely overwhelmed doesn’t begin to describe the feeling of how helpless I was. The unknown is a scary place, and mentally I could not handle how my life was going. I knew that I didn’t have a choice but to stick it out and figure everything out along the way, however the struggles everyday were consuming my every thought and action, and I simply could not take it anymore. On Christmas Eve morning in 2015, I had a very intense panic attack. We were getting ready to head out, and I became so uncontrollably overwhelmed. Loosing patience caused me to hyperventilate and I broke down.
It was around January and February when life became too much for me to deal with. I have handled myself to the best of my ability throughout the last 5 years, and I just couldn’t hold it together anymore. I recall having about 2-3 panic attacks a day, and it became extremely difficult to just get through the day and function normally. My therapist who had been seeing me for years, suggested I do a short-term out patient treatment center for depression and anxiety. I was there for about 3 months, and it definitely gave me the push to get back on my feet mentally.
The past five years have pushed me past my limits, tested my faith, kicked me in the face, brought me to my knees, and has taken everything out of me. For a very long time, every ounce of who I am and who I used to be was taken away. I lost my personality, and I wasn’t “Madison” anymore.
Slowly, through therapy, new doctors, new treatments, friends, school, fitness**, and family I have been getting back to “me” and have been trying to gain control back into my life. Everyday I find myself getting stronger mentally, which has aided me in coping with chronic pain. Chronic pain, is well…chronic, it never goes away. I have accepted the fact that I will always be in some sort of pain, therefore I have learned and am still learning new ways to cope with it and live a normal life with this condition.I am constantly determined to help the chronic pain and mental health community and bring as much awareness as I can to this issue!
I can honestly say that I am excited for the future, and for what is about to come. I am working with new doctors on a weekly basis, and will never give up! Life is full of changes and if it weren’t for going through adversity, I would not be who I am today.