Walking in the magnificent high mountains of the Hindu Kush between Pakistan and India in the summer of 2014. I felt something wrong with my walking and thought maybe my knee and hip replacements from Hospital for Special Surgery in New York and so far perfect for 15 years were getting tired. I changed my shoes and kept walking to the next village carrying the medicines I knew the people would need.
A few months later returning to Varanasi, India, I knew something was seriously wrong with me, but I knew not what. Seeing doctors here, I was told I had a deficiency of vitamin D.
I wasn't walking well and my balance was off. I walked like a drunk person, explaining to people as I held myself up against walls that I wasn't drunk. Two weeks later I collapsed in the dirt street and was not able to move.
A friend helped me fly from Varanasi to Delhi and on from Delhi to New York. My family met me immediately in New York taking me to a near by hospital on Long Island where x-rays of my spine were taken. The surgeon came in, never looking at me, saying, "Well, I don't know what I will do, but when I get in there, I will know." Leaving the hospital I said "No, I will not have anything done here" and went to a nursing home to see what was wrong and what to do about it. After a couple of weeks sleeping and getting accustomed to this emergency return to the United States (I had been gone for many years), I remembered my legs and the experience I had at Hospital for Special Surgery, speaking to my sons to look into it.
My son called me saying "Check out Dr. Kim at HSS. Opening my computer, there he was with resume and teaching and Doctors without Borders, every year surgeries on the most challenging spinal orthopedic abnormalities and accidents, enabling people to have almost normal lives in Africa! YES! DR. KIM, he's with the people. In two days, I had an appointment with Dr. Kim at Hospital for Special Surgery! Right away, the excellence of care and technical brilliance was apparent, quite a difference from the pooled blood and compound fractures plainly visible in the corridors of the Indian hospitals from Dr. Kim's office secretaries' kindness to Ashley's close correspondence answering all my questions the entire time. She is my friend now.
I am an artist too and photographer. The radiologist put me in positions no other radiologist had. Enabling the ability of seeing exactly where my problems were. Where the fractured vertebrae were. When I returned to the examining room to wait to see Dr. Kim for the first time, my x-rays were placed as if in an art exhibition, lit from behind, color, ceiling to floor and gorgeous, showing every clear detail of the broken vertebrae at my neck and how much or actually how little of my spinal column was still in tact, a slender thread not cut.
Walking in I heard him gasp and say "We have no time," looking straight at me his face emanating care and an illumination of reassurance and assurance as if we had been good friends for a life time. He smiled, actually, radiated and stood in front of me saying "step here." I looked at my feet standing in front of him and thought "Step, step, one step," and could not.
Dr. Kim said "Is Thursday OK? Come in at 4:30 am for surgery." That was in 2 days!
He explained the surgery to me, which would be a very delicate and dangerous surgery. His voice, his wisdom of human nature and how to create the experience of spinal surgery, the optimal experience, in every detail possible made his teaching me about what would happen with me and my spine, me and my body, me and not walking, an intimate confidence newly shared. He said "You are strong, you will walk, you will be fine. In a year, we will know what your new normal will be." My experience with the entire procedure was a brilliant blessing. I enjoyed it! I enjoyed the joy of my surgeon! I worked hard in rehab and in my home in Mexico to recover walking, and using my fingers and helping my body to return to it's as normal as possible self! Recognizing every day that my experience was, and is, a miracle.
OVER AND OVER AGAIN DR. KIM'S WORDS OF ASSURANCE --- "YOU ARE STRONG,YOU WILL WALK, YOU WILL BE FINE. YES YOU WILL RETURN TO THE MOUNTAINS AND TO INDIA," -- WERE IN MY MIND AND STEP BY STEP WE DID IT-- DR. KIM , HIS TEAM AND ME. WE DID IT TOGETHER.
I AM WRITING THIS TRUE STORY FROM VARANASI INDIA, WHERE I AGAIN AM WALKING AND CARRYING MEDICINE FOR THE PEOPLE WITH NOTHING, AND I WILL BE RETURNING TO THE HINDU KUSH THIS YEAR TOO, IN A COUPLE OF MONTHS.
I CAN WALK.
THIS APRIL FIRST, APRIL FOOL'S DAY, WILL BE EXACTLY ONE YEAR SINCE DR. KIM OPERATED ON MY CERVICAL SPINE.
I stop and chat with my friends crawling in the dirt street who never had this chance, who smile at me putting their hands together in greeting "Namaste" they say "Namaste Dr. Mexico."
"NAMASTE" DR. KIM