Anyone who has ever been in a plaster cast for any length of time knows that the day you finally get to have your cast removed is, in that moment, the BEST day of your life. It’s something that you MORE than look forward to; it’s practically a re-birth.
I was in a body cast called a single hip spica for three months when I was eight years old. For three entire months, my body was encased in a hot pink, two-inch thick-around sheath of plaster that went from my armpits all the way down my left leg to my ankle. My right leg was free, thankfully, but I couldn’t bend at the waist at all. During that time, I couldn’t do much. I was house-bound, so I watched a lot of movies (memorized every line of The Wizard of Oz), read books, and did homework given to me by an in-home tutor, since I couldn’t attend school. As you can imagine, the day the ambulance came to bring me back to the hospital to have my cast removed was pretty much the best day of my life up until that point.
Later that year, I was in a different cast for several weeks: a ruby red, two-leg petrie cast that started at my hips and went all the way down both legs to my ankles, with two extender bars in between holding my legs apart. The purpose of the cast was to stabilize my hip joints after having had surgery to try and get my left hip joint to re-grow into a more functional shape. I couldn’t walk, and had to stay in the hospital for most of the time I had the cast on.
Both times, when the day came to have my casts removed, I was ecstatic. The men who wielded the electric saws at Shriner’s Hospital picked up on my excitement and humored me by cracking jokes and making me laugh a lot. I remember being scared at points, when the oscillating saw would come dangerously close to my body and I feared it would cut me (I could feel the heat coming off the blade) — but ultimately, I was overjoyed to finally be free of my casts, and I made it through without a scratch. To feel the air on my skin for the first time in months, felt like breathing again after almost drowning.
Recovery wasn’t so easy. Learning to walk again after my legs and hips had been kept straight, unable to bend for so long, was incredibly painful. I remember long walks down the hospital hallways with the physical therapist by my side, crying with every step because it hurt so bad. I remember being in the PT room and being asked to do (what seemed like totally impossible) exercises, swearing and sweating as I pushed through the pain, and then feeling so relieved (and maybe a little embarrassed about the swearing) when I finally accomplished them.
I made it through somehow. I’m grateful for these experiences because they made me a stronger, more resilient, and more compassionate person. They taught me how to maintain a sense of humor even under the most trying circumstances, and how to pass the time without dying of boredom. I learned to never judge a person by their physical abilities or appearance, because you never know what someone has been through. And while I wouldn’t wish these experiences upon anyone, I know that they gave me the foundation and strength of character I’ve needed to get through life with a positive outlook, most of the time.