When Linda Hall began to have trouble walking and sitting up straight, she paid a visit to Dr. Lawrence Babat, an orthopedic spine surgeon at TriStar Skyline Medical Center. Dr. Babat, who’d performed surgery on Linda several years ago when she had similar symptoms, told Linda she needed a spinal fusion. Linda underwent surgery at TriStar Skyline on August 24, 2016, however, complications, including a thyroid, collapsed lung, blood clots and vocal cord paralysis, left her hospitalized for almost 60 days. During that time, doctors finally cleared her for physical therapy, and though she was in excruciating pain and wondered if she would ever fully recover, she never gave up on getting out of her hospital bed. The 64-year-old substitute teacher, who is mom to four boys (two of whom are deceased) and “Nana” to 12 grandchildren, left the hospital on October 21, 2016. Her rehabilitation journey continued as an outpatient and at home, where she wasted no time getting back in the kitchen to cook for her family. Finally, in March, she was able to go back to teaching. She returned to TriStar Skyline recently with her doting husband of 42 years by her side to share her survival story and fill us in on who and what kept her going when she thought she might never walk again. Please welcome this month’s inspiring FACE of TriStar, the lovely and strong Linda Hall.
What was it like being at TriStar Skyline Medical Center for so long?
This place is amazing. Every therapist, every nurse, every assistant, every doctor, everybody at this hospital I came in contact with, talked positive to me, smiled at me, told me I could do it. Every shift, somebody would come in and have something wonderful to say, or before I went to bed at night, a pat on the hand or ask, “Is there anything you need?” I just felt like if I rang my buzzer they didn’t come begrudgingly. They came really wanting to know what I needed because they wanted to help me. I would go to sleep each night with a smile, and my husband always had a smile on his face. Even though he worried about me, he didn’t worry about me being in this environment. He knew they were taking care of me.
When I couldn’t eat, I used to fuss about [my husband] bringing his lunch in there. He came in with fried chicken one day when I was about to go down for my swallow test, and I looked at him like, “I am going to harm you.” I said, “I am going to pass this because I am so hungry.” So, I passed it, and they said, “What do you want for dinner?” I had to have a hamburger that day, but one of the nurses said, “I am off tomorrow, but if you want some fried chicken, I will bring you some.” And Jeffrey [Jeffrey Lanning, physical therapy assistant] asked me what my favorite restaurant was, and I said, “Panera Bread,” and two days later, he came in with a chicken sandwich from Panera Bread and dessert. They did things they didn’t have to do. It felt like family.
Were you ever scared?
Yes, I was, and that’s unusual for me because usually no matter what I faced, I’m like, “You know what? It’s gonna be OK.” At first, I couldn’t tell myself it was gonna be OK. I kept saying, “I’m not going to make it out of here. I’m going to be in this hospital forever.” Every time they came in with those machines to check me out, they’d say, “You’ve got another blood clot.” For the first time in my life I had to have transfusions, and that scared me. So everything was something new that I had not faced before. When I woke up and opened my eyes the first few days, I would say, “Why did I wake up?” But after that, I would say, “Thank you Lord for waking me up this morning and giving me that opportunity. I’m going to take advantage of every minute today.”
What kept you going?
I knew I needed to get up and move for my kids and grandkids, but when I finally got to start physical therapy, Jeffrey and Marcela [Marcela Estrada, occupational therapist] did not let up on me. They always told me I could do it. When Jeffrey would come in in the morning, he would open the door of my room, and I’d be like, “Oh Gosh, I know I’ve got to get up today.” But there were some days that just raising up in the bed and getting out my slide board and sliding into my wheelchair just to go to therapy, I was like, “Can’t I just lay here and sleep today?” But he’d come in the room always with a smile on his face, playing the music I liked. He asked me in the beginning, “Who are your favorite artists?” So, when he’d step in my door, I could hear the music playing softly, and he’d say, “OK Miss Linda, let’s go.”
One morning, I got in the wheelchair, and he said, “Hey, we’re going to walk today.” I said, “OK, you mean in place.” He said, “No, we’re not going to march in place. We are going to walk.” I looked at him, and I said, “I can’t walk, Jeffrey,” and he said, “Yeah, you can.” I said, “I promise you I can hardly stand up without my walker, and he said, “We’re going to take your walker with us, but we’re going to walk today.” So, we got in the physical therapy gym upstairs in the third floor, and I said, “This foot is still dragging,” and he said, “I’m going to fix that.” He got out this milk carton with the top cut off of and a rubber band on the back, and he put that on my foot so it would slide on the floor. I had a shoe on the other foot, and I got on my walker and walked across the floor. Everybody there was cheering me on, and my husband filmed it and has the video. I came back and I sat down. I was totally exhausted, but I had tears of joy just flowing. I really had gotten to a place where I thought, “I’m going to be in a wheelchair the rest of my life. At the age of 64, there ain’t no way that I’m going to recover from this.”
But Jeffrey and Marcela would always talk so positive to me. They would say, “Yes you are, we are going to help you.” I tell them all the time, “Y’all just didn’t give up on me.” Marcela gave me my first shower, real shower, and I sat in there for an hour. I said, “I’m gonna run up y’all’s water bill.” She played my music, and I was singing to Aretha Franklin and the Temptations, even though I didn’t have a singing voice. It felt so good. The amount of time they took with me was just unbelievable. There are just no words for it. I felt sometimes like I was their only patient because every time I opened my eyes, they were there.
How do you feel now?
I’m still moving a little slow. I have a brace for my right foot, and it helps it stay flat, and I have my cane. But when I first left the hospital, I was in a wheelchair. I could not walk. I could stand, but I could not take steps. I started outpatient physical therapy in October, and when I left in January, I just needed the quad cane. When I have my brace on, I can walk without it.
Do you do therapy at home?
Yes. My husband, bless his heart … Skyline’s Rehab Team did some awesome family training. They scheduled us for three different family training sessions when we were here in the hospital, so he would go around with my therapist to see what they did for me, and he just picked it right up when we got home. That’s a big part of my miracle story, too. He’s retired, and he was so devoted to knowing what I needed to do even when I didn’t want to do it. We’ve been married almost 43 years, and he was my best friend and my best therapist and really worked with me.
Today, he takes me out to walk or he massages my legs if they are a little bit tight. He always makes sure I’m moving around because I’m still on my blood thinner because I had so many blood clots.
What are your plans for the future?
I might sub one more year, and I’m hoping that he and I can do some traveling because we haven’t been able to do much. Even after our children were grown, our grandchildren started playing sports, and we’re real sports minded. We both played sports in high school and college, and our grandkids play little league and in middle school and high school. We’ve got two that are adults and two graduating this year, and after that they just go back to back to back. The youngest will be 2 on Monday, and the oldest are 23; two grandsons that are about three weeks apart … they keep us busy.
If you get to travel, where will you go first?
Newcastle, Delaware. That’s where my mom lives with my baby sister. She’s 86. She wants to see me so bad. I video chat with her and call her on the phone. She was like, “I need to be there if you’re having surgery.” She is bedridden, but she is doing great. She’s always been a strong woman. In 2014, I went up to visit with her before Thanksgiving, but I’ve just been talking to her on the phone after that, so she’s like, “I need to see my baby.”
Do you have any advice for those who might be facing similar challenges in their lives?
You have to trust in yourself and be open to those around you who know you, know what you need, and know what is needed to get better. Just be a survivor. At first, I would talk to myself in the middle of the night, and say, “Linda this is not you, you’ve faced worse when you lost children. You leaned on your husband, you leaned on your family, you leaned on the Lord, you leaned on yourself. You can do it. You can survive.” And then, I’d say the Lord’s Prayer. You just have to remember when you open your eyes, when you wake up, the joy of the Lord is your strength. Just believe and have that faith. You can’t give up.
Thank you to Linda Hall for sharing her inspiring story of survival. To learn more about the services offered at TriStar Skyline Medical Center, visit tristarskyline.com.