​National Caregiver Appreciation Month

Posted by Amber Collie in Life After Paralysis on November 09, 2020 # Caregiving

I am a caregiver by nature. I enjoy helping others, and I'm a mother of four children. With that said, though, an entirely different type of caregiving was in the cards for me on May 31, 2010.

It was Memorial Day, and I was at a pool/BBQ with some of my family members. My oldest son Zack (15) convinced my husband and me to let him go to the beach with his best friend. We live in Southern California so going to the beach was a regular activity.Amber and Zack

"The call" came in the form of a voice mail, "Amber, there's been an accident. Zack is at Hoag hospital." I thought he might have hit his head and had stitches. We headed towards the hospital in Newport Beach, CA. As we're driving, I called Zack's best friend, Travis. They have known each other since preschool. On the third try, he picked up. "Travis, what happened?" I was not expecting what I heard next. "Zack's not moving! He's not moving." Everything started to slow down. It's that sick feeling of shock. We arrive at the hospital, where we are asked to have a seat. I don't want to sit down, but the doctor insisted. "What's happened to our boy?" The answer causes my husband to need oxygen. The doctor says, "Your son has sustained a severe neck injury. He has a less than 1% chance of any recovery." I think to myself; Zack is alive; I need to see my son now. I spent every day with him in the hospital for the next three months. I learned how to care for a C-4 Quadriplegic. The reality of Zack losing the use of his four limbs was unimaginable. The amount of caregiving required is now 24/7. When Zach turned 16-year-old, I thought he would be getting his driver's license; instead, he was getting lifted into a power wheelchair. I was determined to help my son have the best life he can under these circumstances.

We tried many types of physical therapy. We met others in similar situations, which was amazing for our mental health, realizing we were not alone. We asked questions, learned tips, and got ideas from others who have been injured longer. We made sure Zack was up in his wheelchair daily. Our main goal then was for Zack to finish high school. In the first two years, I felt like I was running on adrenaline. Looking back on those years, I was superwomen. I don't know how I did what I did. I'd get Zack out of bed and ready for the day. I had to get my other three children, who were 5,6 and 13 years old ready for school as well. This meant preparing breakfast, packing lunches, dropping them off at school. Zack and I would then drive over an hour to physical therapy, where he spent 3 hours a day. We would eat and drive back just in time to pick up the other three kids from their schools, get home, unload Zack, shower him, homework, dinner, and bedtime routine. At about the third-year mark as Zack's full-time caregiver, I crashed. I'd given my everything. I was feeling overwhelmed and beyond exhausted. I hired my first outside caregiver. Zack had graduated from high school and was about to start college. We had received a scholarship and had enough for Zack to live on campus. This was something I strongly believed would help give Zack a bit of independence. He moved out with his full-time caregiver.Amber and Zack

Caregiving can be all-consuming, similar to having a newborn baby, constant interruptions, and putting others' needs before yours. If you're a caregiver, you know what I mean. Someone asked me once what are the main things you need as a full-time caregiver. A caring, compassionate heart, problem-solving and multi-tasks, be very flexible, attention to details, stay calm under pressure, and have lots of patience! If you are a caregiver, you have my respect. Please take the time for yourself throughout your day. Even 5-10 minutes, make sure you are doing something for you. It's not selfish; it's sanity! You will be a better one for it. If you have a caregiver in your life, tell them Thank You daily and appreciate what they do for you!

My life has had many parts, I could write a book just on that section but let's fast forward to when I married Adron Collie. Two weeks after turning 20 (yes, very young!) I had Zackery at age 22, Levi at 24, six years later Kaden, and 18 months after that daughter Laila, making me a busy mother of four. At that time, I also ran a photography business. The year Zack was injured I had a child in Preschool, Elementary, Jr. High and High School. Four kids in four schools! I thought I was so busy, just getting their drop off and pick up times correct was a challenge. I have to laugh now thinking back on that because little did I know my life was just about to turn upside down.