Last Sunday would have been my dad’s 63rd birthday. This piece gives you a deeper insight into the man who said, ‘This is now the new normal,” as well as some of the fun summertime activities I’ve done. God gave me the gift of life, and I’m not going to waste a minute! Mom and Dad, thanks for surrounding me with so much love!
I walk on the wild side of life. If someone asks me, “Rachael, don’t you think this is a little dangerous?” I look at them with a big smile and with no hesitation, and I reply, “Hey, Danger is my middle name!” It makes people laugh when they answer, “Well then, go for it!” You could say it’s my slogan. People who know me really well exclaim, “Uh-oh. Here comes Danger. Look out!”
I was born on February 8, 1983. My mother couldn’t quite put her finger on it, but she knew there was a problem. For some reason, she was very sick during her second pregnancy. This time, something was different. That particular day was her worst ever. She felt so bad; my dad was very hesitant to leave her alone.
“Are you sure you’re going to be okay?” he asked.
“Go ahead and go on with your day; I’ll be fine,” my mother insisted. “I just need to rest.”
“If you’re sure,” my dad answered, “call me if you need me.”
“I will. I promise.” My mother responded.
“Okay,” he replied as he kissed her good-bye and walked out the door.
Shortly after my dad left, my mother went over to visit with the next-door neighbor. While there, she called my grandma. Grandma knew what was going on. “You’re in labor,” she said. “We need to get you to the hospital right away!” Grandma hung up the phone, rushed quickly to the neighbor’s house, and there, paged my dad to meet them at the hospital.
“What, labor already? How could that be?” thought my dad.
I wasn’t expected to arrive until April 8, which was two months away!
Once we got to the hospital, the doctor rushed my mom into surgery, and I was delivered by emergency C-section. However, when I came out of her womb, I had stopped breathing. Within fifteen minutes, the doctors were able to get no more than five breaths out of me. Imagine trying to hold your breath for 15 minutes! My skin was blue; I didn’t even make a sound – not even a faint baby cry. I was quiet, too quiet. My mother’s water had broken early causing me to become very ill. Two days later, the doctors realized I had pneumonia, and a lack of oxygen had caused serious brain damage. They tried everything medically possible, but my body just wouldn’t respond. No one thought I would survive. The doctors were about to lose hope, when, suddenly, they tried one more thing…antibiotics! I began to recover. Within 24 hours, they knew I would survive!
Still, that didn’t mean I would go home right away. Because of complications, I weighed only three and a half pounds. Being underweight, my homecoming was delayed for another five weeks. Finally, I gained five pounds, and the doctors gave the okay for me to go home. Yet, the doctors’ visits weren’t over. They still had to closely monitor my condition. For the first year of my life, my mom took me back and forth every month to see about 10 different professionals.
At this crucial time, my dad’s immediate response was, “This is now the new normal.” He knew it was going to be hard, but he was so happy and relieved I came out alive, and I was coming home at last. He was willing to do whatever it took to take care of me.
When I was three months old, my condition was finally diagnosed. Dr. Faulk announced to my mother, “Mrs. Benson, Rachael has cerebral palsy.” Stunned, she just sat there listening as he continued to explain. “We need to get her connected with the Regional Center right away so you can get therapy for your daughter.” ”The sooner you get the right kind of help, the better it will be for Rachael in the future.”
“Thank you,” my mother replied as she shook the doctor’s hand and quietly left. She drove home in silence. She couldn’t believe what she had just heard.
Arriving at home, my Dad saw the look on my mother’s face. “What happened?!” he asked.
Mom replied, “The doctor finally confirmed Rachael’s diagnosis… she has cerebral palsy! He wants us to connect with the Regional Center so we can get her therapy.”
Sensing my mother’s fear, my father placed his hands firmly on her shoulders and said, “Well…we’ll just have to take care of it! We’ll just do whatever we have to do!”
Today, 28 years later, the legacy of my father’s strong leadership and courage still carries on in my family’s life and mine. My father and mother bravely pulled together and built the firm foundation upon which I “dangerously” approach my life. A “Woe is me, I’m disabled” attitude has never been allowed. Whenever I start to get bitter about having this disability, my mom reminds me to focus on what I can do rather than on what I can’t.
When I was a child, our favorite family activity in the summertime was water skiing. While everyone else skied standing up, I skied with my legs extended behind my torso on a skibob to avoid direct vein constriction and hip socket displacement. If you knew anything at all about CP, you knew sitting on your legs, the “W” position, was what the doctors and therapists warned against. Even if I had to do it differently, I skied, and I loved it! I was still able to be part of the family and participate in the family activity.
Today, when doing many athletic outdoor activities, such as, cruising along tops of trees riding the zipline, climbing all the way to the very peak of a rope’s course, swimming free as a fish underwater, flying high in the sky in a hot air balloon, dancing the night away twirling in my wheelchair, or pecking on the keyboard composing one of my stories, you might ask, “Rachael, don’t you think this is a little dangerous?”
P-leeeasee!!!! If I survived my birth, I can survive anything!! I may have entered the world quietly, but I’ve now made up for it! So, if you hear my chair humming down the street, don’t try to stop me! Remember, “Danger is my middle name!” A.K.A. Rachael “Danger” Benson!