In 2012 I was on my bike, training for a triathalon, when I was hit from behind by an unlicensed driver. I broke his windshield and he broke my neck.
I don’t remember it; I know there was blood everywhere. My neck must have broken when I was breaking his windshield and my helmet must have split when I hit the pavement. People came out of the woodwork; one poured Holy Water on me; a triathlete whom I never met stopped and helped. It was the only time I rode in a helicopter, and I don’t even remember it. Dang!
The spinal cord is the way that your brain talks to your body and when it messes up, your body doesn’t know what to do. I had an incomplete spinal cord injury at the C7 (lower neck) vertebra.
Where to start…pain. So depressed. SO depressed. Weigh 95 pounds depressed. Not-in-a-prison-but-the-walls-are-the-same depressed. Have-to-be-the-first-one-up-in-the-morning depressed, because just laying in bed makes you more depressed. Stare-out-of-the-window-until-it’s-time-to-sleep depressed. Have-to-rely-on-someone-else-to-catheterize-you-every-4-hours-because-you-can’t-urinate-and-you’re-not-strong-enough-to-catheterize-yourself depressed. The constant-chatter-of-your-roommate-who-is-on-the-phone-all-night-long-while-watching-tv-and-you-can’t-even-sleep-without-drugs depressed.
I went from racing triathlons, being a successful mother and veterinarian, living out the happiest time of my life, to not being strong enough to tie my shoes or even feed myself, much less get out of bed. I couldn’t even sit up in a wheelchair at first, couldn’t walk for a year and when I could I was using a walker and then a cane.
When you have a spinal injury, people feel sorry for you because you’re in a wheelchair or whatever. They take away your power, rather than respecting you. I thought at the time that my injury made me unattractive. I was wrong. I talked to another vet who never lost her self-worth and that’s really cool.
She said “Monique. You’re still beautiful.’ She was right. Of course I’m still bad-ass; what was I thinking? In my society, women growing up already have all these things to prove. When I was training for a triathlon I was super-fit but I understand now that I was beautiful then and I’m beautiful now. But it did take a while.
There’s a book out there called the Poisonwood Bible. It was about a man from the US who took his wife and three daughters to Africa where, if you’re hurt, that’s part of life. They don’t see you as lesser; it’s just one of those things. They could talk about a man with no legs and he was just a man, with no legs. I loved that part.
I’m a single mum. I had to do something. I was determined to do whatever it took not to lose my son or have to move back with my family. I used to give motivational talks for a while. I did think about going into self-help. I thought that was going to be my only way to make money.
I wrote a book. I needed a couple of hundred dollars and it made me a couple of hundred dollars. Gas money. I was pretty low for a while. I got involved helping non-profit organisations to promote safe bicycling in Louisiana and nationwide. I guess that helped keep me busy. But, when you want to be a vet, you always want to be a vet.
With my son, there was a change in our dynamic. When I first broke my spinal cord I couldn’t sweat. He wiped his sweaty forehead on my arm and said, “Here, you can have some of mine!” Eeeewwwww. But he was showing real empathy. He was six at the time.
He had to grow up faster than he would have done. I was sending him to an exclusive private school and I couldn’t afford it. I started home-schooling, which was amazing. I had him with me twenty-four seven; he couldn’t stay at home by himself, so if I was talking about my low self-esteem to my GP, he had to be there. I wouldn’t have wanted him to see me like that, but actually it ended up better for him. My kid is incredibly well adjusted now. He’s tolerant and he doesn’t feel sorry for me.
Now I do small animal and emergency practice in Texas. There is no need for me to do surgery here. I’m really lucky; I can’t run, but I can work full time. I do dentals and prolapsed eye-balls but not abdominal surgery.
I’m learning ultrasound. Ultrasound is expensive to learn, but there’s a need for it and it’s something that I can do. As a way to go forward if a vet has an issue, ultrasound is a good way to do it. I’m also doing my canine rehab license for PT (physio therapy) through the University of Tennessee. That’s more letters behind my name. Most of it’s online and there’s a residency for it as well; it’s something else I can do without having to be completely hands on.
I still dream about running. I can’t run at all. I can do passive a motion with my knee. I now have a three-wheeled bike and I rode it today. I’m the coolest and the youngest old lady on my block.
I have issues with feeling. I still can’t feel temperature very well, so when it’s cold outside it’s hard for me to remember to dress appropriately. I also have bowel issues; I need an enema every day. But I’m really lucky that I don’t have pain or anything like that.
I don’t know anyone who’s been paralysed who’s gone back to being a vet before. As long as I have technicians who can hold the dog I’m okay. I get knocked down really easily so I don’t like to walk dogs. I don’t use a cane any more though: I stopped after a couple of years. I’m really lucky in some ways and that’s one of them.
Life sucks and is not fair, but what do you do? Do you quit? By coincidence things worked out for me because I would have stayed in the same place doing the same thing. I don’t feel glad or that it helped me in life, but I’m grateful.
Monique was interviewed prior to this blog-post but throughout this piece, sections have also been lifted with her permission from her as-yet unpublished memoir. The larger sections of this have been italicised.