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Suffering a serious spine injury, Indian-origin American adoptee Miriam Gaenicke has not had an easy recovery; but she continues to work incredibly hard, and with hope.
Meet Miriam Gaenicke, who was adopted from India by an American couple when she was only 10 months old. Growing up in the US, she wondered a lot about her roots and found it difficult to understand why other Indian Americans she saw around her did not resemble her – they were from a different part of India than she was. As an adult, she’s been looking for her birth parents for some time now.
As Miriam says in her piece on Women’s Web written 6 years ago, “Adoption is an act of will and it’s natural to want to know more. Curiosity and the need to complete our identities are elements which naturally spark us to ask, “What do my parents look like? Who ‘has’ my spunky personality? And why am I so tall (1.73m)?”
Some time ago, Miriam suffered a serious spinal cord injury. She is well on her way to recovery now, although it has taken her immense effort along this journey; we talked to her to understand her experience and how she has faced up to this daunting challenge.
One day, Miriam had an accident while in the shower, and this caused calcified herniated discs in her backbone to shift and so injure her spinal cord. There was no fall or hit – just a spontaneous movement of some vertebrae when Miriam tilted her head in an odd way. This caused quadriplegic paralysis, which means paralysis of all four limbs. Thankfully, someone else was home at the time and was able to get Miriam immediate medical attention.
Miriam said that she was in shock for a long time. She couldn’t move and was constantly on painkillers. The entire situation was obviously extremely stressful. “You know you’re not in good shape; you just want to get better,” she said.
Miriam went through a surgery, which included spinal fusion. This is essentially a process in which the vertebrae are fused together to form a single, healthy bone to prevent further damage to the spine and to stabilise it. She now has two cages in her neck to replace the two vertebrae that were removed. She also went through physical therapy, which included two weeks of occupational therapy. Now, she still does pool therapy in the mornings, twice a week.
Sharing the gruelling journey, she talked about one of her lowest points, “I knew I was in a bad shape when I was in the ICU. In the same room, I could see someone who was deceased. I think it was from a gun injury.” But she was determined to pull through. “I’ve gone through it all,” she added.
She explained how her recovery was a medical miracle and that doctors had thought she wasn’t going to make it. “But I’m a smart cookie, a smart woman,” she exclaimed. “I wasn’t very old, just 39 at the time, not 60 or 70, so I had my whole life ahead of me.”
When I asked her how she coped with her situation, she told me that praying helped her. “I’m a practicing Christian,” she said, “Praying gave me internal strength. All the time, all the time. And it was like beginning from square zero.” She continued after a pause: “Think of it like you’re a baby. You can’t do anything on your own and you have to relearn everything – well, except talking of course,” she said, laughing at the last phrase.
Miriam received quite a lot of support from friends and family. She said that this was important to help her get through. She explained that her brother-in-law, who is a doctor, helped by ‘translating’ medical jargon for her other family members. After she had recovered partially, she also went to visit her parents.
She then talked about her best friend who also happened to have had a severe injury recently, and coincidentally had the same doctor. “We bonded over that,” she said. “I also lost a couple of friends. We had nothing in common anymore, and I never heard from them, and they never visited. In your lowest points, you find out who your real friends are, and you make some new friends.”
I asked her if the experience had changed her in any way. “One hundred and fifty percent,” she said. “Your priorities change; what you regarded as important is not so important anymore. And health is wealth – that’s something most people don’t realise. You also become more empathetic to others in the same situation. There are other things, too. For example, my hair is wavier now than it used to be,” she added on a lighter note, with a chuckle.
Miriam told me that this experience has only made her more determined to find her birth parents. She said that her adoptive parents met an Indian couple while traveling abroad and it just so happened that the woman in this couple had known Miriam’s birth mother, something they found out in a conversation that began after Miriam’s parents told the other couple that they had adopted her from Karnataka. “Now I only have to go and find them,” she said. “I’m one step away from finding them. I just have to go to India and find out now.” After a pause in which she seemed to be musing about this situation, she said, “I just want to get out there and live. It’s a bit harder now, though.”
Soon after her partial recovery, Miriam starred in a commercial. “I had originally thought I would be sharing the commercial with this nice gentleman, but it ended up being just me. It was really cool,” she said. “I got a lot of positive feedback and that felt good. I had to answer some questions that I had got beforehand. It was recorded in a TV studio. So, not really challenging,” she concluded.
Miriam has also gone back to her occupation from before the injury. She works part-time to make investments for teachers. It felt good to know that despite her injury, she is still putting herself out there and doing things.
What advice does Miriam have for people who might be caregivers for someone who has suffered such an injury? “It’s exhausting,” she said. “Make time for yourself. Be patient. Recovery will not happen overnight, and not everyone recovers.” She told me that she was lucky because she had had only a partial injury, and if her spine had got cut, she might have been one of those people who do not recover. “It’s a long journey, and it’s stressful. So choose your battles.”
And what about advice for people who are themselves suffering from such an injury? “Be yourself. Be honest. If you didn’t know yourself before, you will now,” she said reflectively. “Focus. Nobody can do this – recover from your injury – but you. All the treatment in the world will not help you if you don’t work for it.”
The main thing that struck me about Miriam was how positive she was despite it all. She laughed at little things about her recovery and was brimming with life when she was speaking with me. She seemed unapologetic and outspoken, and didn’t take herself more seriously than she needed to. That’s a life lesson all of us can do with!
Images courtesy Miriam
Arya. Teenager. Madcap book lover. Writer and poet. Feminist. Dog lover. Professional procrastinator. read more...
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