She was diagnosed with “locked-in syndrome” – mentally, Anna was still “there” but had lost all ability to move or communicate with the outside world, except what could be achieved through blinking her eyes. Most of her brain was still ok, but the part that controls conscious physical movement was irretrievably damaged. Doctors told her that it might be possible for different parts of her brain to take over some of the functions of the damaged part, but that it would be a long, hard road, with no guarantees of a happy ending.
At high school, Anna and I were in the school athletics (track and field) team together. She was Athletics Captain and was easily the top athlete in our year. I raced against her countless times. Even when I managed to beat her out of the blocks, she would always catch me and breeze past. I never begrudged her this talent, though, because she was so unassuming and cheerful and kind. I really liked Anna. Everyone did.
When I heard her news back in December, I just couldn’t believe that this same person was now unable to sit or stand or even speak, let alone hug and kiss her children, cheer up her friends with a supportive word or a dirty joke, or good-naturedly thrash her peers in a hundred-metre sprint. It seemed so horribly tragic and wrong.
Anna and I hadn’t stayed in close touch over the years, but in the early months of this year I thought of her constantly. I thought of her, lying in bed, willing her arms and legs to move, her eyes filling with tears of frustration. I imagined her thinking, in desperation, of her four children.
I have to get home to my kids.I have to get up out of this bed.
During the past five months, her determination has been inspirational beyond belief. She has spent literally every waking hour trying to recover. Even in the dark first days of her stay in the ICU, she learned to communicate by blinking at letters on a board (those around her would painstakingly piece the letters together into words and sentences). After endless seemingly futile attempts at physical movement, the day came when she finally managed to move one finger. Huge further efforts brought greater and greater achievements – moving a whole hand; wriggling her toes; turning her head. She regained the ability to speak.
She spent entire days in the rehab gym, petitioning nurses and family members and friends – any able-bodied person she could enlist – to lift and manipulate her limp body into the machines so that she could train. She pushed herself, physically and mentally, past all reasonable limits, and at a pace no one thought possible.
I was blown away the day she started posting on Facebook again.
And yesterday, less than six months after she was first hospitalised, we got the news that she had stood upright, unassisted, for two whole minutes.
Sometimes bad things happen to good people, but Anna chose to defy fate. Through sheer determination and an incredible refusal to give up, she brought about an honest-to-God miracle for herself and her family, right in time for Mother's Day.
I don’t know if she fist-pumped the air in triumph, but I sure as hell did.