By Tara Duffy
Musical notes sounded in my mind like faint memories, bringing me back to a time when misery was not a close friend. I closed my eyes as a stormy breeze swept over my entire body, leaving small bumps on my skin. I had not felt that sensation in so long, that feeling of being alive and free; I breathed it in, let it fill my soul. I hadn’t been outside in two weeks. I watched as people walked by, completely unaware of the great blessings they had this day, blessings they probably never even thought about. It started to rain and that’s when I heard my dad’s voice next to me. “Ready to go inside?” he said, knowing in his heart I really didn’t want to. I nodded and forced a smile. I felt the wheelchair begin to move beneath me across the gravel, and then we reentered through the front entrance of Boston Children’s Hospital. I couldn’t help but notice the people staring at me as I was pushed along, but I ignored them. That’s when I saw her. She was most likely 6 years old, a bandage around her head, but you could still make out her pale hair. As I was passing, my eyes met hers, so innocent and beautiful. The words that left her lips in that moment changed me forever. “Mommy look, she’s in a wheelchair too.” The eyes of my soul were instantaneously broken wide open. At hearing those words, I was happy to be in that wheelchair. My understanding of reality and what it really means to live became clear. Real life is being in the wheelchair where you are truly part of the suffering of humanity, but it is also the joy that can be found by connecting with others who are also living in sorrow and torment. I realized in this moment all I wanted to do was take away the suffering of that little girl and every other child in that hospital.
My journey from darkness to light began October 7th, 2017. It was a Tuesday morning when I blacked out in my kitchen and went to the ER at St. Joseph’s Hospital for the first time. A week later, I had only gotten continuously worse every day at home, but I ignored the signs that something was wrong because everyone was telling me I had to get better. That following Tuesday I was taken to the ER again, but this time I was sent to Boston Children’s Hospital. My body was completely numb from my chest down and I couldn’t walk. I remember that day clearly because of the nightmare it presents in my subconscious. I had been there for only a few hours when I went to the bathroom, sat down to go and could not rise back to my feet; I fell to my knees, tears streaming involuntarily down my face. I could not move, I had no control anymore, I was helpless. The sense of fear that gripped me then was the most powerful I’ve ever felt before.
I remained at Boston Children’s for two weeks, being moved from the neurology unit to the Intensive Care Unit, and back to the neurology unit where they surgically implanted a central line in my neck for a process they call plasmapheresis. The neurology team led by Doctor Gorman informed me they may never find out the cause of this disease they call acute transverse myelitis, an inflammation of the gray and white matter of the spinal cord. This time of trial has taught me many things: determination, that it’s okay to be angry and sad for a time, but that there is an inner strength and happiness inside you if you just believe it enough, and most importantly that the real meaning in life is forgetting about your own suffering and giving yourself to others.
My name is Tara Duffy. It is now February of 2018, and I am still suffering from the constant and fluctuating spinal pain and my spastic bladder, as well as cathing. I am in my third week of school after being out for almost 4 months, most of my senior year of high school gone in the blink of an eye. I feel alone, distant, unable to connect with any of my previous friends or classmates. My old life was stolen right from under me and living with my new life has challenged me and forced me to grow in ways I never wished to imagine. But in of all of this, a newfound compassion for those who suffer, and a dream to one day become a neurologist myself at Boston Children’s Hospital has arisen in my heart and soul. I hope one day I’ll be able to save the lives of children and be there for them just like my doctors and nurses are here for me.