Matt and I met working for the same radio station in 2009. I thought he was a total nerd (and vice versa), but the more we got to know each other, the more we clicked. It felt like we had known each other for years. People started asking us if we were dating, and though we weren’t, suddenly we thought – maybe we should be!
We dated for several years, and then in November of 2011, Matt was diagnosed with Hodgkins Lymphoma. It was definitely a rough patch, but my tough guy worked full time through chemo and beat the disease like a champ. He was cancer free by May. We took a deep breath and thought – Oh good, our tough times are behind us!
I took a job in Virginia that July, and he came to visit me in February of 2013. We spent a week together in Richmond. He went snowboarding, I showed him around my new city, and we picked out an engagement ring. He returned to our home state of Michigan, and one week later, I got a call from his mom saying that Matt had been in a snowboarding accident. I asked if I should come home, thinking she would say that of course not, it was no big deal, but she didn’t. She said that Matt couldn’t move anything below his chest, and I immediately started looking for flights. Well, my dad did – I was hysterical. I somehow made a three hour drive from Richmond to Baltimore in less than two hours. I emailed my boss from the airport (it was a Sunday) and was on the next flight home.
When I saw Matt in intensive care it was a huge shock. He was laying in a hospital bed, just coming out of a major surgery that repaired a shattered vertebrae in his neck. His spinal cord had been damaged, so he couldn’t move. His arms kept curling up to his sides, and I had to keep pulling them down for him so they could stretch. I wanted to cry, of course, but had to be strong for him. After the first day or so, he had fluid in his lungs. He had lost a good portion of his lung function because of the paralysis, so his ability to cough or clear his throat had drastically declined. After being moved out of ICU, they moved him back in and he had a tracheotomy so he could breathe on a ventilator. A horrible machine pushed air into his lungs and then sucked it back out to clear them. I’ll never forget all the tubes Matt had going into him, and before the tracheotomy he had a breathing tube in his mouth that was constantly gagging him. He would wake up and panic and try to get everything out of his mouth, and I had to lean over top of him with my hand on his cheek and whisper that everything would be okay until he calmed down, trying not to faint myself. It’s not easy seeing someone you love in such a tough position. I stayed for a week, but had to return to my new job in Virginia, leaving him in the very capable hands of his parents.
Once Matt was stable enough to be transferred to Mary Free Bed Rehabilitation Hospital for therapy, it had been about three weeks in the ICU. For the next several months, I flew back and forth from Virginia to Michigan almost every weekend, trying to figure out how we were going to make this work. After over $3,000 in flights, we agreed I had to move back to Michigan. My employer was amazing and more than understanding, making the process as easy as something like this could be.
I stumbled across a miraculous blessing in finding an accessible house that would work for Matt, and I moved back in May. Matt came home one week later after I’d had an intensive training session on his care at the hospital, and our new lives began. This was by far, the most difficult time of our lives to this date. We somehow got through the first few months, were engaged in August, and got married the following April. Officially introducing . . . wheelchair wife!