​Real Life Stories of a Disabled Mom: A Post-Vax Day Off

Posted by Kieran O'Brien Kern in Life After Paralysis on July 27, 2021 # Lifestyle

Central ParkPerhaps it’s my charmingly relentless personality, CP brain or mom mode raising its nurturing head, but I live in a state of perpetual motion. The irony is as a scooter user, the world sees me as inert when, in reality, I am what keeps our family moving. I’m mommy, I get it done. The other day, I was in NYC for an MRI and a doctor visit to prepare for a major surgery that might have me relearning to move this summer. In deference to this and my nonstop way of life, I switched up my usual modus operandi for a pandemic era trip to the city. I grabbed the latest train so I could white-knuckle-scoot across town, dodging pedestrians (I steer clear of kids and old people… all others are fair game). This time I caught an early train at the tail end of rush hour to enjoy stillness for the first time in 18 months. One might ask why I want to go to a city for relaxation. New York City is one of the few places where, as a wheelchair user, I can go almost anywhere without asking for help or coordinating last-minute rides. It’s liberating not having to bargain away my time.

I had no overt plans for the day yet besides a good cup of coffee. So, I kicked things off at a French-Korean coffee and pastry place where I planned the rest of my day in small, manageable chunks. New York Public Library, my favorite park, lunch, hospital dinner with my girls (who didn’t know each other, but this was my day), and then home again. This may seem revolutionary to you: but nowhere in this day was there a plan for a call home for a check-in. For the first time, I was putting my needs first.

I was in the hospital in January/February of this year and ordered groceries and diapers while on oxygen for an asthmatic exacerbation because a storm was coming. Getting reacquainted with my needs and voicing them must happen because my life and body are screaming for it. I consistently deal with chronic pain and loss of sensation that makes it nearly impossible to write this piece. In fact, the pain is so bad that I have a cervical fusion this month in the hopes of forming a better connection between my brain and limbs that will pave the way for strong, clear and pain-free motion. I’ve avoided it because I couldn’t see a way to slow down and make time in my life for myself. For two years, I tried to exercise myself out of the problem, and I tried for two years, until it became extremely bad and still, I couldn’t justify putting myself first.

This day for the first time in 19 years, I was putting my needs first. My attempt at accessing the New York Public Library was thwarted as they were still closed, however, that opened up the opportunity to go to Bryant Park, which, since I had visited in 2019, had a more accessible wheelchair path that was wider than diverged around many sets of stairs. Piano music permeated the air as little children chased bubbles across the green, and a juggling class was, quite obviously, kicking off for the summer season. I stopped myself before I could fill the quiet space with my brain’s regular playlist and drank in the moment, savoring it because this wouldn’t happen again, at least not in the same way. For 90 minutes, I sat in peaceful calm. I’d love to tell you that I now take 90 minutes per day to meditate…but that’s a bit too aspirational for a parent of two under 10--or most parents for the matter. Instead, when things get hectic, I find five minutes or one minute, or if I’m desperate-30 seconds, take myself to that space of sunshine, piano music, and bad jugglers to regroup and remember that I have a voice and needs. And when I finish refereeing, booboo kissing, strategizing, or brokering dinner options to a preschooler (“PB&J or hot dog?”), I can revisit my calm place and hit the reset button and come out a better person.

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.