Wednesday, 16 September 2015


I can't count as high as the number of hands that have helped me since all of this started. The first and most significant are the ones that saved my life. When I arrived here in London at Victoria Hospital my level of response had dropped drastically and the surgeons needed to take fast action. The hands of the spinal surgeons repaired my vertebrae and spinal cord. The plastic surgeons stitched up my face and chin, pulling skin back together to hide my exposed skull. All this while the anesthetist kept me alive.

And then there are the nurses. All women with the exception of one. Sidebar: when only one man has been privy to my lady parts for the past 21 years, it took a bit of adjustment to be comfortable with that - but he was wonderful and taught me the importance of being an advocate for myself. The nurses have a tough job, they mostly deal with bowels, bladder and skin here all day, every day - none of which are pretty sights. But they continue to be wonderful - which is good because I am helpless without them. The design of the rooms here at Parkwood were meant for long term care, not for people with paralysis. So consequently I can not reach anything with my own hands. Most frustrating. "Use your grabber" is a common phrase, but you can only use your grabber when your grabber is within reach!

That hands that help me in therapy are amazing. Kristin uses her hands (and her whole body) to stretch my legs - muscles in paralyzed legs that do not get stretched can shorten - and then what good would they be for walking? She and Barry use their hands to help me learn to sit up with proper posture, making me feel what it is supposed to be like. And it's weird, because I can't tell if it is me, or them that is doing the work because I can't feel their hands. When I can't take any more Barry is my backrest, his hands (and body) providing comfort during a time of exhaustion. In OT, Gary has magic hands. He supports my arms in the exact right position for the muscles I am working, and he finds the pressure points in my back, neck and shoulders that release the pain and tension that is holding me back. When Kristin and Gary find those spots they always ask "is that okay". My usual response is "no and yes". It hurts, a lot, but if you just give it that extra moment or two, it is always worth the pain.

Although I said the surgeons hands were most significant, the most important hands are those of my family. While I was in critical care, and then beyond, I had a hand to hold 23 hours a day. Only during the nursing shift change were they made to leave. Theo, Lara, David and Jane rotated through being in the chair at my bedside along with my parents. They slept in the tiny room with the tiny couch, and gave each other some rest every few hours. Even more than the oxygen I was receiving, those hands I held were my life line.


  1. It sounds like you have some incredible people helping you, Julie. Glad to hear you're in good hands.

  2. Truly touching tribute! Gotta hand it to them.
    “Gratitude is the ability to experience life as a gift. It liberates us from the prison of self-preoccupation.” ~John Ortberg

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  4. Hi Mrs. Sawchuck! You probably don't remember me, but I was a student in one of your grade 12 biology classes at LDSS. I went on to become an Occupational Therapist so I have been very interested in reading about your recovery. It is so inspiring to see individuals like yourself who are so motivated and driven to succeed. It is a wonderful reminder for us OTs to keep focused on providing client-centered practice as everyone has their own story, journey, and goals. I hope the transition back home goes smoothly for you, whenever that time comes. Take care!