In this article, SPD volunteer Shee Shu Xin, shares her rehabilitation journey after her spinal cord injury and how she learnt to focus on “I can” instead of ‘I can’t”.
The Day It Happened
EVERYTHING in my life seemed to be going according to my plans – dream job, bright future, perfect life… until SOMETHING that was not within my control decided to take control of my life. What started out as an ordinary weekday in July 2010 turned out to be one that changed my life.
I woke up that Friday morning with chest and back pains. Thinking that it was just normal muscle ache, I continued to prepare for work until the pain became so excruciating that I had to lay flat on my back. “Oh no, am I having a heart attack in my 20s?” was my first thought. My worry was not without any basis as my father underwent a bypass surgery just one year ago.
The paramedics were activated and my concern was soon eradicated when they assured me that I was not having a heart attack. However, the pain did not alleviate and instead, became more severe in the ambulance. For a moment, I did not know if my cries for help were louder or the sound from the sirens of the ambulance. What made matters worse was that all these happened during the morning peak hour. The next moment, all I could remember was I echoing, “I can’t, I can’t, I can’t feel my legs…”
At the A&E, the doctors administered morphine to ease my pain and I was in and out of ‘la-la land’ (i.e. consciousness). Whenever I was awake, I would grab hold of anyone I could and plead, “Please tell the doctor that I can’t feel my legs!” Ironically, an initial diagnosis of lack of potassium where doctors told my family that I could be discharged from the A&E observation ward once my potassium level normalised in a few hours, became a life-threatening spinal cord hemorrhage that caused me to lose the functions of both my lower limbs. The cause of the hemorrhage? Inconclusive. Up till today, no doctor can give me an answer to the cause of my spinal cord hemorrhage. According to the neurosurgeons, it is extremely rare and the few cases that they had come across were caused by major traumas like accidents or falls. “Perhaps I had a major fight in my dreams the night before the hemorrhage”, I wondered.
After the emergency surgery, I held firm to what my neurosurgeon, Dr Wang, told me when I was in ICU, “Slowly but Surely”. I worked extremely hard on my rehabilitation, leaving me neither the time nor energy to grieve. Weeks went by and I regained power in my legs and I started walking in the swimming pool.
A Second Blow
However, six months later, I was hit by another blow as I started to lose strength in my legs. I was then shocked to realise that I was able to hold a packet of hot coffee in my hands without feeling the heat. “Superwoman for a moment!” I thought. Doctors later found that due to the trauma, fluid had started to accumulate in my spine, causing the deterioration. In the three months that followed, I underwent another three surgeries to remove the fluid. All the power in my lower limbs was gone after the third surgery due to the damage to the nerves.
That was when the harsh reality hit me.
My initial motivation and drive to focus on my rehabilitation were all gone. “So what if I work hard? Who knows when my condition will deteriorate, then all my effort will go to waste again! Perhaps if I stop having any expectation or hope, I will not be disappointed.” All these negative thoughts sneaked into my mind.
However, as I did not want to worry my family, I put up a strong front in their presence. When night fell, that was the only time I was alone. I could not recall the number of times I broke down in my room, the number of times I went to bed, hoping that all these were just part of a nightmare I would wake up from the next morning. During this time, I prayed a lot too and, hopefully, shouting at God was also considered a form of communication with Him.
Support from My Family, Friends and Employer
With my ex-employer’s blessings, I took two years off from work to recuperate and to grieve. However, the love of God and my family and friends cast out all fears in me. There was no way I was going to rot my life away. “Faith is the confidence that what we hope for will actually happen; it gives us assurance about things we cannot see.” – Hebrews 11:1. I replaced my negative thoughts with this verse from the bible. In addition, my determination to be independent motivated me to return to work. It is also during this crucial period that I learnt to focus on the “I can(s)” instead of the “I can’t(s)”.
Prior to my injury, I worked as a corporate banker and had to travel around frequently to meet clients and to perform site visits. Post-injury, my ex-bosses were very kind and accommodating. They knew that I might have difficulties traveling to meet clients or perform the site visits so they made arrangements for me to take on a more desk-bound job in the bank. In addition, they also accommodated my request to work on a part-time basis to allow me to continue my therapy and rehabilitation. My colleagues were also very caring and sensitive to my needs, always rendering help without making me feel inadequate. All these helped me tremendously and gave me the confidence to return to the workforce and facilitated a smooth transition for me.
Now “I Can”
Two years post-injury with the bank and after much deliberation, I finally decided to embark on my next “I Can” journey. I believe that all things happen for a reason and I hope to make a difference in others’ lives. I had by then even learnt to drive a modified vehicle using solely my hands. In addition, to the surprise of many and short of calling me insane, I gave up my stable salaried job in the bank for a role as a financial consultant. I strongly believe that with my personal experiences, I am able to speak to others, with conviction, on the importance of financial planning. Ironically, I am traveling around more often on my “BMW” (how I describe my wheelchair to my friends and clients to ease the mood or tension people may have when they first see me in the wheelchair) to meet my clients than in my previous role as a corporate banker. By God’s grace, my current manager and colleagues are also very accommodating. In addition, I am also very blessed and comforted to meet clients who have been very understanding towards me.
Aside from my work, one of my other goals is to help others with special needs. I am greatly inspired by SPD’s President and Nominated Member of Parliament Ms Chia Yong Yong’s advocacy spirit. I hope to be part of the community to render help to other people with special needs. I am currently volunteering with SPD as I hope to pass on the “I Can” spirit and the blessings that I had received from the lovely people around me.
Moving forward, the message that I want to echo is, “I can, I can, I can make a difference.”