After fourteen years with too numerous to count misdiagnoses, this is my daily journey living with an unknown disease that has made me fully physically dependent, living by the help from my family, friends, and beloved service dog. It is how I have chosen to define myself to remain whole in spite of it.

The Woman Who Changed My Life

The Woman Who Changed My Life

Life can be such a surprise. It’s in the unexpected that I have found my greatest joys and crushing sorrows. One such surprise was meeting someone who not only changed my outlook on life, they shaped my character and forever altered how I would go about life. Again, life is full of surprises. I would never have met her if it wasn’t for my my mystery illness and loosing all my physical capabilities when I was a teenager. 

She was my Tuesdays with Morrie, my mentor and my friend. 

Who is the angel? No saint, which is what makes her absolutely lovable. (If you are wondering, I might have encouraged at every opportunity her minuscule rebellious side.) 

In fact, she gave me the most extraordinary gift: she taught me how to still be me after I was sick, all the while embracing a life I never imagined knowing first hand. 

In short, she was my Claudia. Well, everyone who ever worked with her would call her mine. She has the ability to make whomever she’s with feel like the most important and precious person in her life. As just one of hundreds of people she has impacted in her profession of physical therapist, I know I am merely member of a very large ‘club’. 

Yet, for the first two years after I became a quadriplegic every day Monday through Saturday, our session together was a master class of anatomy, medicine, empathy, music, politics, friendship, and life. 

It didn’t start out that way. Claudia was introduced to an angry 15 year old, who trusted no one and felt the burden of knowing that no doctor understood what was wrong with her body. In short, I had few positive words and was even less complaint. Yet with Claudia’s determination, uncanny intuition, gifted skills at physical therapy, and her limitless empathy she transformed me into a lively, rambunctious, willful and eager human being again.

It wasn’t easy. 

She also wasn’t above bribery. (Physical therapy is not a passive hour for the patient.) Her carrot that she dangled to get me to work? 

Knowledge. 

Claudia had learned from my mother that I loved to learn, and very quickly realized that if she explained everything about what we were doing, the reason for every exercise, the history and evolution of physical therapy, shared her knowledge of ancient and new techniques, I would work harder than either of us realized I was capable. 

That was just the beginning. It’s as if she slowly painted my world in color. Our sessions were filled with hard work, pain, philosophy, laughter, music and unpredictability. The last of which is one of my most prized possessions, as my world was limited to one room, few people, and every moment measured to the utmost of what my energy could endure. 

Somehow Claudia shattered all that. She showed me how I could still have fun, even if it took a large amount of creativity.

In the midst of so much uncertainty and lack of medical understanding, she never hesitated to help me dream of the ‘healthy’ person we thought I might become.

It was towards the end of our tenure together that my health took an unforeseen backslide. Claudia’s life was taking a new direction, one I fully supported, in a new city far away. I never wanted to see her go, yet loved her enough to encourage her too. It ended up being serendipitous, as I could not have imagined her witnessing my body’s very steep fall.

That in itself was another lesson she gave me: some people are brought into our lives to give us the foundation, the tools, we’ll need to get through a journey, even though they weren’t meant to accompany us through it. 

And those tools are exactly what this brilliant, talented, enormous-hearted woman gave me. Without her showing me how to be myself, how to discern my body, and how to see the stars on the blackest of nights, I could never have thrived, much less survived my journey of living a medical mystery. So, on this International Women’s Day, I thank you, my Claudia. 

 Myself with Claudia, 2004

Myself with Claudia, 2004

Irony: My Ski Lounger Experience

Irony: My Ski Lounger Experience

Me, Not My Illness

Me, Not My Illness