Posted by: trevormeers | February 21, 2011

Bracing for Spring

Katie sat on her bed, staring up at us a little nervously.

“Wow! That looks nice, Booga!” Alli said, using Katie’s family nickname.

“What do you think?” I asked Katie.

She rolled her eyes from Teri to me, then back, a wariness developed during a lifetime of waiting for medical teams hovering over her bed to do something unpleasant. But this time, there were no tears. Instead, a mischievous smirk started growing from the corners of her mouth until it drew her whole face into a beaming smile. “Pi-peh!” she said, which in Katie-speak means, “Take my picture. We have a Facebook winner here!”

It was only in the last couple of weeks that we’d given into the temptation of looking forward to this day. The last eight years have taught us that hope shrivels away if it’s continually staked on specific dates promised by doctors. So when we left the hospital last August with an estimate that Katie would spend six months in a rigid brace running from waist to chin, Teri and I quietly filed it away and focused on the days directly ahead. We’d start looking for the end sometime after winter began to erode in a stream of warmer days. Of course, no one expected 70 degrees to show up as soon as Feb. 18. But even though the shot of spring came early, it didn’t forget to bring along the deliverance promised back in August. The neurosurgeon told us that today, the brace could come off, six months and a couple of days after surgery.

Teri put a steadying hand on Katie’s back, then peeled back the four Velcro straps on Katie’s shoulders and ribs for what should be the last time. Katie lifted her chin off the foam pad that I washed in the sink each morning during her bath. Now, from 6:45am-6:50am, I would suddenly have a little extra time, since I wouldn’t be swabbing the whole brace with alcohol and helping strap it back on for the day. In the hard shell’s place, we wrapped Katie’s neck in a band of foam that would jump out at most people, but looked like little more than a necklace to us.

With the new collar in place, we helped Katie slide off the bed’s edge and stand in the floor. When she was learning to wear the new brace after surgery, it took her a week or two to adjust to the top-heavy business of carrying an additional 10% of her body weight around her torso. She needed both arms to stand up off the floor. She wobbled on every axis as she crossed the room, looking like a pee-wee football player on his first day in helmet and pads. Now I wondered if she’d have the reverse problem after leaving the brace behind. Would her head, unsupported for the first time in months, loll back like a sunflower on a weak stem?

With these concerns in our heads, we’d carefully picked the exact time for this transition, even after the neurosurgeon gave us this date to take off the brace. We wouldn’t swap it on Wednesday, because Katie had to spend the evening at church with about 100 rowdy kids. Thursday morning didn’t seem right, because she’d have to head for school without any practice. So we picked Thursday evening, giving her a few hours to get the hang of it at home.

While I watched Katie stand there in her new neckwear and worried over how she’d adjust, she took off for the bathroom, demanding that someone take a picture and waiting for us to lift her up so she could check out her new gear in the mirror.

A lot of people were waiting for the brace’s going-away party. The night before we planned to make the switch, a friend said, “It seems like it’s gone really fast.” Then he immediately felt bad for being so presumptuous and said, “Well, to me it does. It probably doesn’t to you.” But in fact, the six months passed more quickly than we could have hoped.

Partly, that’s because we didn’t obsess over the end date. But mainly it’s Katie’s doing. She is, after all, the toughest person I know, and tolerated the brace with the same grit she’s showed in the face of a legion of surgeries, specialists, exams, medications, injections and therapies. (Eyeglasses, however, have been a notable non-starter. Her record for wearing them stands at about 37 seconds.)

 

At times, the brace even produced a little fun. Every couple of weeks, Allison would shout, “Katie’s working on the car again!” We’d come into the kitchen and find Katie sliding under the desk like a mechanic, shimmying across the tile floor on her hard back shell. This little routine was murder on her T-shirts, many of which now feature holes rubbed in the image of each Velcro strap. Bedtime brought its own game when Katie would start a knock-knock joke by banging her knuckles on the brace with a loud “Thock, thock.”

Now, the next question everyone will ask is, “So how long will she spend in this brace?” We’ll get a estimate on that in a couple of weeks when we check in with the neurosurgeon. We’re as anxious as all of Katie’s fans to find out what kind of window we’re working with this time, but we won’t mark a date on the calendar, no matter what we hear at the appointment. We’ll just stuff the old neck brace on a basement shelf next to the Christmas lights and enjoy the pleasures of a spring day that snuck onto winter’s turf a little earlier than we dared hope.

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Responses

  1. Awesome news, Meers family!!! Katie looks like she has adjusted very well to her new brace 🙂

  2. Very exciting news, Mr. Meers! You and your family have handled this adversity with grace and dignity and enlightened a few of us along the way! So happy for all of you!

  3. Trevor, so glad for all of you to reach this mark in Katie’s recovery. Thanks for the blog noting this update. Hope all is well…..take care.


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