"Your spinal cord has been compressed," Dr. Bailey, the neurologist, told me. "The swelling is pressing on the nerves that control the lower half of your body. It's too soon to tell whether or not the paralysis will be permanent. You may eventually make a partial or even complete recovery. Right now, the important thing is to make the most of the abilities you still have and learn to compensate for those you've lost."

I was absolutely devastated. I'd always prided myself on my independence, my ability to care for myself and my children on my own, and now that had been taken away from me in the blink of an eye.

"But what about nursing?" Near tears, I could hear the panic in my voice. "I worked hard to get where I am now!"

"You may well recover sufficiently to eventually resume your occupational duties," Dr. Bailey replied. "But if not, there are agencies that help you train for a new one."

"But I don't want to do another job! I want to be a nurse!" I began to sob. "What about Sage and Meadow?"

"With support, you should have no problem caring for your children as before. Many paraplegics are successful, happy parents."

Paraplegics. I'd cared for them many times, changing their catheters, bandaging their bed sores, giving them sponge baths. I'd always had deep pity for them, considering them to be amongst the world's most unfortunate souls. Never in my wildest dreams had I ever suspected that I might one day be one of them myself, and yet now I was.

After Dr. Bailey had left, I cried myself to sleep. When I awakened, the memory of what the physician had told me slammed into me once again, sending me spiraling into a deep depression.

"Can I get you anything, honey?" Mom asked.

"Maybe just a drink of water," I replied. She handed me a Styrofoam cup of ice water, and I eagerly gulped it down.

"Mischa's been asking to see you ever since you woke up," she told me. "Can I tell him he can come in?"

Mischa. What would he think of me now? Surely he wouldn't want to be with a cripple, would he? Should I give him his freedom so that he could find someone else who was still healthy and whole? I couldn't bear the thought of losing him, but neither could I bear the thought of him staying with me out of duty or obligation and becoming bitter and resentful down the road.

"Send him in," I said. Might as well get it over with now, I told myself.

I'll never forget the look on Mischa's face for as long as I live. Never before had I ever seen anyone looking so woebegone. It reminded me of the way Jeff's mother had looked at his funeral.

"Tracy," he said at last. "I'm so sorry."

"So am I," I said.

"I wish it had been me instead."

"No, you don't."

"I love you, Tracy. Don't you believe me?"

"Maybe you love me now, but what if I never get any better? What if I'm paralyzed from the waist down for the rest of my life?"

"I'll always love you, Trace. No matter what."

"Do you really think you'll be happy with a cripple? We could never go skating, horseback or bicycle riding, or dancing together again. Everywhere we went, you'd have to push me in my wheelchair. It wouldn't be fair to you, Mischa, and eventually you'd resent me."

"I could never resent you, Tracy. It's gonna be all right. Please believe me. No matter what happens, we'll work something out. You and me. Together."

He came to me and held me for the first time since the accident. His arms around me felt so comforting, so reassuring. For the first time since discovering that I couldn't move my legs, I felt that I actually had hope.

Just then I thought of something. Would Mischa and I ever make love now? What would sex as a paraplegic be like? I wouldn't be able to move or to feel anything at all. Mischa would have to do everything himself while I lay motionless and unresponsive beneath him. How could either of us derive any satisfaction at all from that? How could it possibly bring us closer?

Lisa and Chris came to visit later, stayed for a few minutes of awkward conversation, and left. Adam came by and brought me a teddy bear. "Now you won't be lonesome at night," he told me.

"Thank you," I said.

Later, I spent a mostly sleepless night cuddling my teddy bear and thinking about Mischa, wondering whether I could ever be the woman he deserved.

"Time for physical therapy." I just stared at the wheelchair that had been brought to my bedside. Nobody had told me this was going to happen.

"Somebody's gonna have to help me into that." I eyed the wheelchair suspiciously. "I can't get into it on my own."

"You can and you will." The physical therapist's voice was pleasant but firm. "Learning to get into a wheelchair on your own is your first step toward independence."

"But I'll fall!" Although the wheelchair was right beside the bed and the side rails were down, to me it seemed miles away.

"No you won't," the physical therapist assured me. "I'm right here. If you start to fall, I'll catch you."

I could tell that there was no point in arguing, but I was still afraid. To raise your butt into the air with your hands without being able to feel it is very scary. I took a few seconds to gather my courage, then slowly lifted myself and scooted onto the wheelchair.

"You did it!" the physical therapist praised me. "See! That wasn't so bad, was it?"

I scowled, irritated by his condescending tone. He rolled me down the hall for a morning's worth of grueling shoulder and upper arm exercises. I was totally exhausted by the time we were finished.