Living with Pain: Surviving Pain and Disability After Being Shot

Living with Pain: Surviving Pain and Disability After Being Shot

Pop! Pop! Pop!

Kathy Haley freezes with fear, though she knows she doesn’t have to.

Over the last two decades, Kathy hears gunshots hidden inside firecrackers, construction hammering, or the backfiring of a motorcycle.

Twenty-one years ago, while getting out of her car at her father’s house, Kathy’s worst nightmare appeared: the physically abusive husband she just divorced walking towards her aiming a gun.

In the dark under a soaking rain, Kathy, turned away and ran.  But, she couldn’t outrun his gun or the bullets that cut her down.

The first bullet slammed into her upper back, the next one in her lower back, and a third bullet hit her in the right arm.

Kathy Haley

Kathy Haley

Lying on her back with her nightmare standing over her, Kathy watched helplessly as he aimed the weapon at her head and pulled the trigger. But when he pulled the trigger the gun jerked and the bullet pierced her abdomen instead.

Assuming she was dead, but with Kathy seeing everything, the nightmare pressed the barrel of the gun to his left temple and blew himself into eternity.

Thus began Kathy’s odyssey of disability, pain, fear, depression, and, yes, hope. The hope that comes when the human spirit rises from a crippled body saying, “No, I will not die.”

Three years before that deadly encounter, Kathy and her stalker were married. From his pit of rage and jealousy, her husband abused her. But Kathy found the iron strength to leave him and file for divorce.

It was the day the nightmare received the divorce papers that he stalked her to that dark driveway and took aim.

Those violent moments in the rain left Kathy near death, badly wounded, her spinal cord damaged, her legs paralyzed, and unable to use her right arm. Using her left arm and hand, Kathy called for help.

Kathy is now 51 and lives in Bartow, Florida. In the years before and for some years after the shooting, Kathy worked as a probation officer — making her familiar with the darker impulses of humanity. However, the disabilities and pain inflicted on her by the gun violence recently led her into retirement.

Having nearly died from her wounds, Kathy spent the next year in hospitals and rehabilitation facilities, learning how to use her damaged body so she could live independently.

The grievous wounds she sustained have caused her to live permanently with a colostomy and a catheter to pass the waste her body can’t eliminate on its own.

After a lot of therapy, Kathy now has use of both hands, but it took perseverance and hard work.

She spent over four years trying to relearn to walk. But all that work ended fruitlessly as she couldn’t develop her gluteus maximus muscles.

“It’s really hard, well, it’s impossible to walk without butt muscles. They’re the muscles that support you when you stand to walk,” Kathy told me with a small laugh.

“How do you find the humor in that?” I asked.

“I always, always look for the good in the bad,” she responded with a steely edge in her soft voice.

Though she has movement in her right leg, it’s simply not enough to enable her to walk.

Turning to the pain that Kathy still lives with, she explained that the second bullet severed the nerves in her back, causing the immediate sensation that her legs were aflame from the inside out.

“The burning isn’t as bad now all these years later, but it’s still there,” she says.

From the bullet wound in her lower back, Kathy lives with chronic “deep, stabbing nerve pain.”

Kathy also suffers from degenerative joint disease in her lower spine and has undergone three implants of spinal cord stimulators, a different physician for each one. With all the nerve and muscle damage she suffered, complications have prevented the stimulators from working optimally.

Kathy now takes 4800 mgs. of Neurontin daily. But even that heavy dose only provides some relief from her constant pain.

For non-neurologic pain, Kathy takes dilaudid daily, as well as a powerful fentanyl patch.

“Those drugs don’t help a lot,” Kathy said matter of factly. “I’m trying not to use OxyContin even though I hear it might help. I’m afraid of getting hooked on it.”

My stomach rolled and I wanted to say, “Oh, no, Kathy. Taken under your doctor’s supervision, the chances of addiction are really small.”

But I kept silent. I’m a disabled crusading columnist, not a doctor.

Kathy tries outwitting the pain by keeping busy. But her hardest time is at night when she lies down to sleep. That’s when the pain demons come out to play.

Kathy fights pain by keeping busy. She’s a well regarded part-time volunteer with her police department. And she feels especially valuable assisting domestic violence victims.

This work was interrupted when Kathy shattered her osteoporosis weakened femurs when falling out of her wheelchair. She now has rods holding her legs together.

Like many of us, Kathy suffers from depression caused by pain and disability. She fights this off by forcing herself to get out of bed and, yes, keeping busy.

“I’m a Christian and I pray everyday. Helps a lot.”

Her most treasured activity is talking to groups of women 2-3 times a month about domestic violence, how to avoid it, and what to do should it enter their lives. She shares her own powerful story.

Her message?

“Stay positive; never, ever give up knowing you can help others.”

Like I said, Kathy is someone you should know.  She’s one of the good ones.

Mark Maginn

Mark Maginn

Mark Maginn lives in Chicago where he is a poet, writer and social justice activist. Mark suffers from chronic pain and was a longtime volunteer with the American Pain Foundation. His blog “Left Eye Blind” can be found here

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