Pushing the Rock Back Up the Hill

Posted by Reeve Staff in Life After Paralysis on July 22, 2020 # Lifestyle

I resolved last summer to end my life-long cycle of working my way up towards greater mobility only to hit a brick wall and end up either where I started or further back. This cycle started as far back as fourth grade when I distinctly remember my mom telling me, “Don’t worry honey, you’ll feel better in the summer.”

For everyone keeping track, that means for ¼ of the year I had a good chance of feeling good. The other ¾ I was either on the way downhill, hitting bottom, or working hard to bring my baseline back up. If I was lucky or worked hard enough there was always the “carrot’ of an even higher baseline or even no pain. That’s a pretty bitter pill to accept at nine-years old.

I’ve moved across the country, across the Atlantic, and across town and still had various iterations of this cycle. Location, support, and dedication were the trifecta of circumstances that made it the right time to achieve this goal. My PT’s office is a seven-minute scoot from my home. She understands how I work out and thinks outside-of-the-box when I improve in one way or need support in another.

My resolution flourished throughout the fall and I made it through the winter with stiffness and some pain but maintained my mobility. By the end of February, after standing for two hours at my daughter’s birthday to protect her cupcake towers from her little sister and being able to move afterwards, I felt pretty cocky. One of my tangible goals is to walk across a room without assistance or assistive technology. By this time, at physical therapy I was walking twenty feet without holding on within the parallel bars and three to four feet outside the bars.

I was planning a spring full of new adventure. Then the reality of COVID-19 hit me like a ton of bricks. One week it was just a bad flu on other continents; a week later we lived in the hot zone. And a week after that my oldest was home from first grade and this writer was on teacher patrol, daycare, chef, writer, referee and whatever else came my way for fifteen or more hours per day. Daytime and evenings were kid times, early mornings and late nights were for work. When coronavirus was reported locally, my PT appointments and any freedom I had ended. My promises to stretch or march or do any kind of self-care were remembered after 11 pm when all I wanted to do was watch Netflix and not much else. March burned like a fiery ball of stress leaving me with a burgeoning case of cellulitis. My body was literally forcing me to slow down and put my feet up. But I didn’t slow down enough and ended up in Urgent care with some nasty asthma, which gave way to another round of cellulitis. This was the neon sign I needed! If I didn’t listen to my body now, it was going to stop. I called my mom who watched the girls pre-COVID-19 so I could work and asked for the help I needed.

The calvary came bearing dolls and coffee. I could still be teacher mom, rest and do a little fun mom stuff just to remind my girls and I of who I still was. On a prescription run, I saw that my PT was open for business two days per week, and scooted home faster than if I was being chased by a pack of ableds who were praising me for being “inspiring”.

In those moments it all solidified, I could consider seven thousand variables, the juggling, the BS, or I could consider what I needed. I needed back up, time to work, and time for self-care which included going to PT. I was excited, the pretzel of doom my body had morphed into was going to untwist and my mobility would increase as my pain decreased. Win Win!

I decided not to beat back “Covid Kieran,” she’s pretty badass; teaching preschool and elementary lessons and setting boundaries. A month into PT I started a burpee challenge with my able-bodied friends. I adapted the moves for me, before you wonder I’m not getting on the floor. I’d probably nap. I broke it into two-three moves, please see the video of me without my makeup! Do I have an insane sweat wish? Perhaps! But it keeps moving fun. A non- competitive challenge pushes me to excel. And keeps me pushing the rock up the hill.

I’m Kieran Bridget O’Brien Kern. Power is literally my middle name. When my husband and I became engaged, we agreed that parenthood was a two-person job. I am the primary caregiver to our children, but we all work as a team. From infancy onward, we have adapted and grown together. Every day there is a new challenge. Every new challenge is an opportunity to learn more about them and myself.

The National Paralysis Resource Center website is supported by the Administration for Community Living (ACL), U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) as part of a financial assistance award totaling $8,700,000 with 100 percent funding by ACL/HHS. The contents are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the official views of, nor an endorsement, by ACL/HHS, or the U.S. Government.