Snapshots by Gloria Freeland - April 6, 2007

My April awakening

The transformation from winter gray to spring green always seems to startle me. And I'm like the proverbial "kid in a candy shop" when the crocuses, daffodils, forsythias, tulips, Bradford pears and redbuds break up the green with their glorious colors.

But I cannot escape the feeling that my hospital stay and subsequent recovery 10 years ago have something to do with this feeling of renewal.

It was 10 years ago this month that I was released after nearly three months in three different hospitals. At the end of January, I was unable to walk, talk, eat or breathe on my own. Doctors prescribed massive doses of Prednisone to begin reversing the damage. Then, through February and March, I underwent extensive physical, occupational and speech therapy to "come back" from my state of paralysis, brought on by an auto-immune disease that attacked my nervous system.

It would have been reasonable for the bleak winter months to really depress me that year, but the disease affected the part of my brain that controls emotions so husband Art didn't have much trouble keeping me laughing. But there were always nagging worries about whether I would recover completely.

Hope returned when I began seeing signs of spring. Family members and friends brought bouquets of spring flowers to brighten my hospital room. When they visited, they took me on "spins" in my wheelchair around the hospital grounds. The combination of the breeze on my face, the sun on my shoulders and the smell of the earth revived me.

One of my first outings away from the hospital was when Art took me on a drive through a Topeka neighborhood full of yellow forsythia bushes. I had just had my catheter removed and I was nervous about being out too long. But the drive did my spirit good and encouraged me to keep pressing on with therapy.

A couple of days before Easter that year, my parents, husband and daughters took me to a Topeka restaurant. I remember feeling conspicuous because I was in a wheelchair. But I also felt grateful that I had come far enough along that I was able to sit without discomfort.

Little by little, my strength came back and my body began "remembering" how to do things - to push up from a chair to stand up, to put one foot in front of the other, to swallow, to use a computer keyboard, to talk without faltering, to smile.

By the time I returned home in April, I was able to walk with a cane, shower by myself and make my way around the kitchen.

A late snow dampened my spirits somewhat, but didn't keep me from an appointment to have my hair cut. After those months of being hospitalized, I felt like my "bed head" was a permanent part of my appearance. Everyone knew I was definitely recuperating when I cared enough to worry about my hair.

Once I was released, I continued therapy in Manhattan and napped a lot. Before I drifted off to sleep and as soon as I woke up, I looked out the south window of our bedroom at the ash tree. When I first returned home, its branches were bare. But day by day and week by week, the leaves came, transforming its crown into a green canopy. And I felt myself healing and transforming, too.

So spring may a have more meaning for me than for some. And every April, as the ash tree "comes back" from its winter dormancy, I silently give thanks that I also came back from mine.

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