My Last Step Backward
Perfect Bound Softcover
After showcasing her talent as the lead in her high school’s production of Grease, Tasha Schuh began to dream of a career in theater. No one knew that the stage itself would steal her dream—and almost her life—during a rehearsal for the next big show. Just days before her opening night performance in The Wizard of Oz, sixteen-year-old Tasha took one step backward and fell sixteen feet through a trap door. On that day, Nov. 11, 1997, she landed on the concrete floor of the historic Sheldon Theater, breaking her neck, crushing her spinal cord, and fracturing her skull. She would never walk again. For the next three days, Tasha prepared for a surgery that would at best leave her a C-5 quadriplegic. Post-op complications turned Tasha’s struggle and ultimate triumph into an unbelievable journey. From loss and grief to self-discovery and achievement, Tasha’s faith, resilience, and honesty have allowed her to leave the old Tasha behind while she confronts the new Tasha’s life from a state of the art wheelchair. Discover Tasha’s remarkable spirit in My Last Step Backward, a poignant memoir that seeks to inspire you to welcome adversity and face your own trap door of opportunity.
CHAPTER 5: The Wizards of Rochester
“Can you feel this?”
“Can you feel this?”
“Can you feel this?”
X-ray beckoned and put an end to the repetitive quiz for which I hated the answer. No, I can’t feel whatever it is you are doing to me, but your question stabs my soul more painfully than that prodding tool. Heavy medication numbed my consciousness while doctors demanded that I stay awake. It was 11 p.m.—four and one half hours after the fall. I had been at St. Mary’s Hospital for most of this time without any family contact. While I endured careful inspection, my parents faced the overwhelming news that I would never walk again.
One doctor entered a private lounge in the final hour of November 11th where close family gathered to support my mom and dad. With a business-like tone, this doctor stated what the initial screening clearly showed:
• She’s broken her neck at the C5 level. She has a fractured skull. That boney bump on the back of her head apparently hit the concrete first, thus making this a 16 foot fall. Ten feet from stage to basement, but remember her head already stood 6 feet above the stage—this makes it 16 feet of force when she falls from standing position to head-first contact on the basement floor.
• She has C5 vertebrae broken off, forming a perfect arrowhead that’s pierced her spinal cord—a triangular sharp point. Surgery will address this.
• She has a crushed spinal cord—not “severed.” Same outcome: paralysis.
• She’s suffered a cerebral hemorrhage—bleeding which threatens brain damage.
• Bottom line: she’s a C-5 Quadriplegic. She’ll never walk again. She’ll have limited use of her arms, but she’s going to be in a wheel chair for rest of her life.
No one said a word. Did they wonder if the doctor would follow with some kind of consolation like, “Well, if she works hard and stays focused, Physical Therapy might…” Tasha’s that girl! If there’s a glimmer of optimism, Tasha’s your candidate. But the doctor followed up with nothing.
Finally, my mom broke the silence. “And who is going to tell her this?”
The doctor replied, “She already knows.”
Hmmm… she already knows. Even if I recalled being told such harsh news, which I don’t, do you think for one moment I accepted it? Who would buy this grim prospect only hours after a fall that did not even knock me unconscious? Who would comprehend the finality of this news without doubts and denial?
This much I recall from the last hour of November 11th-- that I couldn’t move-- that my body wasn’t responding the way I commanded it to. I fought the heavy sleep that comes with IV pain killers, and believed I simply needed time. Time to heal-- the antidote for stubborn nerves knocked senseless by an extreme fall.
My mom called Angie in South Dakota where she and her husband Scott lived.
“Don’t drive tonight. It’s too far on bad winter roads in the middle of the night. Come tomorrow morning.”
My sister didn’t listen. She filled a laundry basket with clothes—no time to dig out the suitcase. While she hurled random items into the bin, Scott tried to translate the few details that Angie acquired during her frantic call from Mom. He then tossed his own change of clothes into the basket and jumped in the car with Angie for their 5-hour trip to Rochester.
My brother also received a phone call from Mom just before midnight. Ryan, a junior in college, took Mom’s advice and chose to wait until morning to come. I can now only imagine the level of despair my family felt from the grim facts conveyed by the business-like doctor. Yet, I will tell you that everyone showed strength in my presence… while I demonstrated utter cluelessness.
“Thank you so much for coming. You didn’t have to drive all this way. I’m doing okay. I just need to heal. You guys are awesome. How’s Sarina?” To this day, my family says that I asked far more about Sarina’s status than my own.
“It’s just going to take some time,” was my mantra for the next few days as I comforted friends, grandparents, aunts, uncles and some relatives I didn’t even recognize. My revolving ICU door withstood constant use as the staff tried to monitor my small-town celebrity status.
My parents and I were in awe of the love and support that came to the neurological intensive care unit. Visits were challenging with my haloed head and constricted body in a seasick rotation from the traction bed. Yet, we turned away no one.
For three days, I slowly swung from my left side, then to my right side. This was not a leisure hammock design. The bed was hard, and in my med-induced drowsiness, I imagined I was lying on a Formica table-- hard, thick, unforgiving to my masked pain. The halo, hooked to a hundred-pound weight hung behind me, elongated my vertebrae. The hope: my shattered neck bones would settle into place like jig saw puzzle pieces seeking a comfortable new arrangement.
Despite emotional outbursts from many of my visitors, I still did not grasp the magnitude of my injuries. I told friends that I couldn’t wait until the weekend “so I can get out of this place.” Travis whispered, “You know, you’re going to be here for quite a while. We’re talking’ months.” Travis was one visitor who lacked optimism. He cried and couldn’t cover his true feelings. In retrospect, I believe he had one of the most realistic understandings of my grave outlook.
I, on the other hand, thrived on cluelessness. When my bed rotated toward the direction of friends, I asked if they would, “make sure all my teachers know that I won’t be in school for a while.”
Afraid to disagree, these girls were silenced by my absolute disconnect with the gravity of my predicament. One of them later confessed that when my bed rotated away, tears rolled down her face; when my bed rotated back, she pulled herself together.
Survivor, believer, fighter—Tasha Schuh is an inspiration, and hope for all who face life’s greatest challenges. Winner of the National Rehabilitation Champion Award and Crowned Ms. Wheelchair USA 2012, Tasha travels and shares her story of resilience and triumph over tragedy. Tasha works and resides in Western, Wisconsin.
Tasha your book is amazing. It is one of the best books that I have read. I really do not like to read books but your book was one that I could not put down. Thanks so much for an awesome book.
Perfect Bound Softcover