Finding my ‘possible’...
I met Perry Cross many years ago and recently he asked me whether I would share my story with his friends from the Perry Cross Spinal Research Foundation.
It is confronting to reflect on what has happened however I realised the time is right. I do this for an important reason. Perry has always said “everything is possible” and that includes a cure for paralysis. I would have to agree. I would like you to consider joining me to help the Foundation make it a reality.
So, I am very pleased to share my story with you today. Here it is…
In 2001, I was a newlywed with a busy legal practice hoping to start a family. However a life changing event occurred on 9 July 2001. As my husband Rob and I were travelling home early in the morning after a weekend in the Capertee Valley near the Blue Mountains we hit black ice and our four-wheel-drive rolled. On the second roll the roof of the car caved in and hit me on the back of the neck severing my spinal-cord instantly at the C5/6 level. Initially I was paralysed from the neck down. In that split-second my life was forever changed. Despite all the chaos going on around me, my husband flagging down a truck, a helicopter landing in the middle of the road to airlift me to hospital, the thought foremost in my mind was whether or not I would still be able to have a child.
My husband and I had only been married three years at the time. I was placed on life support and spent the better part of a year in hospital and rehabilitation undergoing months and months of endless painful physio and occupational therapy. Thankfully I recovered some movement in my arms although my hands and fingers are still paralysed. It was an exhausting triumph when I was first able to lift an empty Styrofoam cup without help! I was determined to maximise my strength and I spent many long, frustrating hours in the gym and with the occupational therapist using a special splint to thread beads onto a string. The result of all that hard work is that with the help of an extremely strong right shoulder I am now able to write. Remarkably, my writing is better now than it was before the accident!
Fortunately for me I have an incredibly supportive husband which gave me the strength to keep fighting every step of the way. On 12 September 2001 it was our 3rd wedding anniversary; it was also the day that I was to sit in a wheelchair for the first time. Rob wheeled me into a cafe within the hospital grounds. The cafe had a small courtyard and unknown to me my parents and a priest were waiting. As Rob wheeled me into the courtyard the music that played in the church on our wedding day bellowed through the hospital speakers. In a very emotional ceremony with Robert on bended knee we renewed our wedding vows. In America the date was September 11, and for a short while at least, there was some relief from the ghastly images on the TV.
The next four years were the hardest as I found it very difficult to adjust to my new life as a quadriplegic. When I came home from hospital I was very depressed. It was always the littlest things that would catch me off guard and spiral me into a heap. I recall vividly the moment Rob opened our front door, the same door he carried me through as his bride only three years earlier. The sun beamed onto the tiny dents all over our hallway floorboards highlighting my years of devotion to stiletto high heeled shoes, shoes I knew I would never again be able to wear. Without a doubt the most devastating blow was the knowledge that I would not be able to carry a child to full term. We knew that we had to find a distraction, something to help me cope and once again, Robert to the rescue.
Robert decided that what I needed was an outlet for my creative spirit. He arrived home one afternoon with a set of paint brushes in one hand and a completed enrolment form for art classes at the local community college in the other. I attended one class and was treated terribly by the instructor. At that time it was necessary for me to wear a splint on my right arm to enable me to hold a paint brush so I guess between that and the wheelchair I must've looked a bit of a fright! The other students in the class avoided any attempt I made at eye contact. Sometimes, when people don't know what to do, they do nothing, they mean no harm by it. The instructor wouldn't look at me, she spoke to Robert, it was as if I wasn't even there, I felt like his child - ultimately she recommended that perhaps I might be more suited to an abstract style art where I could learn a sort of splashing technique. Needless to say I came home in tears and never returned for the remaining classes.
I found a way to draw, to paint, and to create.
With Rob's support I was determined to find and embrace the beauty in life. I spent years teaching myself with the help of Rob's makeshift modifications to brushes. I found a way to draw, to paint, and to create. Initially I was concentrating on oils before being seduced by the translucency of watercolours. Acclaimed artist, mentor and dear friend Maryanne Holmes was instrumental in aiding me to continue on my artistic journey. Art became a form of therapy, a way to cope with the enormous life changes with which I was faced. I went on to study under other noted watercolourists such as John Lovett, Greg Allen and Robert Wade. I now sell my art, and have auctioned it for MS and spinal cure research (PCSRF) and have won art prizes. I am member of the Watercolour Society of Queensland and the Royal Queensland Art Society.
Though art helped me cope, Robert and I never give up hope of one day having a family. Despite 8 years of IVF and a total of 15 embryo transfers each pregnancy only resulted in miscarriage. In 2005 when we moved to the Gold Coast hinterland we sought the help of a naturopath. In our minds it was one last very desperate attempt, however one month later we were pregnant the old fashioned way. I spent a total of 5 months in bed in order to keep my baby until the big day. All the worry of which melted away on the 3 November 2006 when our little miracle son D'arcy was born. I had a wonderful delivery but was unfortunate enough to contract a life threatening infection as a result of an epidural abscess in the spine. It took three weeks of intensive treatment by infectious disease specialists and a neurosurgeon, but we were finally able to leave hospital and come home as a family, albeit as a very sick mummy with two months intravenous antibiotics ahead of me.
D'arcy is now 8 years old and is a very happy little boy that loves life, loves school, loves dinosaurs and loves helping his Mummy. Parenting with quadriplegia presents very considerable challenges, however being a mum is the best job I have ever had, and it's also the most challenging and the most rewarding. With D'arcy's increasing independence over the years I have missed the intellectual stimulation of my former career and to a lesser extent the sense of professional identity which was lost as a result of my accident. I briefly considered the idea of looking for part time work with a law firm. I imagined my desire for flexibility coupled with my disability would not be a package met with open arms by any prospective employer. So I decided to set up my own practice. I wanted to ensure I had complete flexibility to sustain work life balance. Having waited so long and having endured so much to have a family my concern was that an employment situation may not cater to my needs. I established Taylor Law & Conveyancing. By taking full advantage of the advances in technology, the practice is structured in such a way as to enable me to work from home. In essence my wheelchair becomes a mobile office, of course I will always be available to meet with clients as needed. Initially the practice will focus on Property law and Estate matters, however, for obvious reasons I have a personal interest in human rights and anti–discrimination, disability law and policy.
I want to explore these areas with a view to helping members of the disabled and senior communities. In particular, I would like to assist families affected by disability to access fair and equitable treatment and to plan for the future. As a mother with a disability this might be an area in which I may be able to contribute. For obvious reasons Taylor Law & Conveyancing are supporters of the Perry Cross Spinal Research Foundation (PCSRF) and 5% of the fees earned on every matter are donated to the Foundation in the hope of one day finding a cure for paralysis.
You can help Carol and thousands of Australians living with a Spinal Cord Injury by signing up to SIP all your drinks through a straw for one week - from the 8th to 14th November - during Spinal Injury Awareness and raising awareness and funds to support spinal injury research - click here to sign up today.