Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Tara's Tale

               One Saturday evening, Tara and Tom, her husband, walked into their favorite restaurant for a dinner celebration with friends. Two hours later, Tara was unable to walk and carried out the front doors on a stretcher to an awaiting ambulance.
            The following Monday morning at school, Peggy Moore came running up and said, “Tara’s had a stroke in her spine and is told she won’t walk again. She’s at a rehabilitation hospital for the next six weeks. I want to put a fund together, but they’re vegan and I don’t know what that is.” I explained vegans don’t eat anything, which has ever touched an animal. This includes cheese and milk. I told Peggy the best thing for the school to do is gather money for a gift certificate to Whole Foods.
            At the time of Tara’s injury, our children attended Kings Mountain Elementary, a tiny school of only 72 students. Our children all knew each other, but several of the parents hadn’t actually met Tara and Tom. Both working parents, Tara made sure to walk Ryan, their son, up to his classroom each morning. Before racing off to work, Tara always gently leaned over to kiss her young son good-bye.
            I wanted to help Tara, Tom and Ryan in some manner, however, I didn’t know them personally. I went home and looked for Tom’s cell number on the school roster. I was nervous trying to figure out how to explain who I was and why I was calling. When Tom answered his telephone, I said, “Uh, hello, this is Spencer Gilson’s mom from Kings Mountain School.” Tom knew who Spencer was as he and Ryan are friends. I told Tom I learned of Tara’s news and wanted to help somehow. He said Tara and I could begin emailing as she had access to a computer at the rehabilitation facility.
            Sending Tara my first email, I learned she knew who I was from Ryan and this helped tremendously. I told her I am very familiar with the vegan diet as I am a vegetarian. We hit it off like a house of thunder and began correspondence during her six week duration at the facility.
            Tom brought Tara to Kings Mountain School to say hello to an awaiting crowd. When I saw her for the first time in her wheelchair, I was too stunned to move. It was true; Tara really was no longer walking. She was surrounded by well-wishers, who sent their love and prayers to her while she was away. Tom and Ryan proudly stood by and watched Tara being consumed by the tight-knit closeness of our school community.
            Finally, I saw a break in the crowd and as I stepped forward, Tara’s arms opened wide. We hugged as if waiting forever to be united. Seeing Tara in her new stage in life was overwhelming, though I remained strong in her presence. Her big beautiful smile and huge blue eyes were exactly as I’d known before her incident. These expressions of her soul remained intact.
            The company Tara worked for over the years put together a fundraiser shortly after she arrived home. Hundreds of people from all over our community attended to help cover costs of Tara’s transition. Their home was changed to accommodate Tara’s wheelchair; her car was modified with hand controls. Medical bills, which were not covered by their insurance, had less of an impact with money raised from the benefit.
            Nine months after Tara’s incident, she went into surgery to have a medicine pump installed to control her leg spasms. She went back to the rehabilitation facility for approximately three weeks so the doctors could monitor her newest medication. Seven months later, Tara had surgery to repair the pump as it became entangled inside her body. Several months after that, Tara endured another surgery to re-route her bladder function. A tube was inserted into her belly button, going directly to her bladder for easier functioning. Nearly 18 months after her incident, Tom found a van that changed Tara’s life, giving her back a measure of independence. The van has a ramp so Tara can easily come and go with her wheelchair.
            I’ve never seen Tara cry over this incredible change in her life. Sometimes, I have difficulty grasping what happened and try to keep my perspective. I need to know why life events take place and there aren’t always immediate answers, if ever. The one thing Tara knows for sure is four days prior to her incident, she had a birth control injection. Did this cause the stroke in her spine, leaving her paralyzed from her chest to her toes?
            When I play kickball or badminton with Spencer, my son, I think of Tara. When I walk out to pasture to pet my animals, I think of Tara, also an avid animal lover. When Tara and her family come to visit, I try to have the animals come to the gate so she can pet them. I easily climb in and out of my truck and Tara will cross my mind.
            Tara doesn’t get dressed, use the bathroom or shower the way she once did and this is incredibly frustrating for her. Before driving to a new establishment, she calls ahead making sure it is wheelchair accessible. She double-checks every move she will make before leaving her home. Her long blond hair is now cut to her shoulders; it’s easier for Tom to wash. The things I do without thinking force me to think of Tara.
            I’m much more thoughtful of other’s needs because of what Tara, Tom and Ryan experienced. When I see a capable woman walk into the handicapped stall of a public bathroom, I cringe. When someone able-bodied parks in a handicapped space, I picture Tara stranded without a close parking spot. If someone is having difficulty walking to a door, Spencer runs to open it for them.
            My life is enriched by the addition of our new friends. When we get together, I enjoy pushing Tara in her wheelchair. I tease her about popping wheelies in the parking lot and getting speeding tickets. Tara is a beautiful being whose life fell apart and was put back together in a most profound way. Because of her incident, Tara’s met people she never realized existed. I’ve learned a lifetime in the past three years from Tara’s tale. 

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