Six days before Natasha Davidson turned 11 years old her mother suffered an accident to her spine. Natasha has been her mother’s caregiver ever since. Now, at age 15, she feels guilt, stress, but also a sense of pride in her mother’s fight to be well again.
On September 13, 2009, her mother, Dawn-Anne, 46, a registered nurse working for Comcare Health Services, now known as Revera Community Health Services, in Windsor, Ontario, was on a house-call. It was her first visit to this particular client who was afflicted with mesothelioma – asbestos cancer. When she drove into the driveway, the client’s son ran to her in a panic, saying that his mom couldn’t breathe.
Dawn-Anne grabbed her 30-pound medical bag, placed it over her shoulder and quickly headed into the house. As she entered, the concrete stairs crumbled beneath her and she fell forward. Her medical bag swung around and twisted her spine, which resulted in three herniated discs in her lower back vertebra, two in her mid back, two in her upper back and three more in her neck.
One month later she underwent spinal surgery, including a microdiscectomy, to alleviate the pain she was experiencing in her lower back and legs. She should have felt improvement after the surgery, but the pain continued. A follow-up MRI was scheduled. By February 2011, Dawn-Anne had a second surgery to remove a “dime-sized” disc fragment from the same area.
By September 2011 Dawn-Anne was back in surgery – this time to have a spinal fusion to the L4, L5, S1 region of her spine. “This is when (the surgeon) put the screw right into the bone graft. He missed the vertebra altogether,” Dawn-Anne said.
Two days later, after a CT scan and an MRI, the surgeon operated again. “He went too far the other way with the screw and put it in my sacroiliac joint.” It has been there ever since, sitting on the S1 nerve, causing Dawn-Anne extreme pain and limited mobility.
She suffers from excruciating shooting pains down her left leg; foot-drop; bodily function disorders and neuropathic pain, which causes her feet to feel as if they are on fire. The list of her ailments goes on and things are getting worse.
“I don’t know what I would do without my daughter, Natasha,” said Dawn-Anne.
“I do a lot of stuff around the house,” says Natasha. “I do the laundry and clean the house, I put out the recycling and the garbage.” Natasha’s grandfather, who lives nearby, does most of the outside work. Even Natasha’s boyfriend helps when he can.
Dawn-Anne said that she has often seen Natasha turn down sleep-over visits with her friends, opting to stay home. She has been doing her own laundry since she was 11 years old and she never complained about eating processed foods instead of the healthier diet that she was used to before her mother’s accident.
Natasha often helps her mom to keep her balance when she tries to stand or when the situation calls for it. She reminds her mom to take her medication, “especially late at night, she forgets,” she says.
As a single mom, Dawn-Anne helped to put her first daughter, Leah Evola, 23, through dance lessons, training to become a physical trainer and a college travel and tourism diploma program. Leah now works three jobs in each of those roles.
“I can’t do the same for Natasha. It’s just unfair.” said Dawn-Anne. “I had to take Natasha out of her Tai-kwon Do classes, because I couldn’t afford it. She loved those classes.”
Natasha has been doing the groceries since she was 11 years old. “I don’t mind doing that,” she said. She also took a cooking class at school so that she could create healthier meals, which is something else that she is enjoying.
But time is going by and, as her mother’s condition gets worse, Natasha’s responsibilities are increasing.
“Sometimes I want to go out and spend time out with my mom, but usually she is in too much pain,” she said.
“The pain prevents me from going on bike rides with her, going rollerblading with her, going ice-skating with her,” said Dawn-Anne. “We never used to watch TV, we were always active doing something outside.”
“Sometimes she needs help so I have to cancel plans,” said Natasha. “I get frustrated, because I just want to do stuff, but I can’t.”
“I feel like she’s lost her childhood because of my back,” Dawn-Anne said, breaking into tears. “It’s so awful.”
When something goes wrong, Natasha calls her grandparents and they assist with emergency measures, such as transporting Dawn-Anne to the hospital, if necessary. But one day, about a year ago, while her personal support worker (PSW) was there, Dawn-Anne suddenly couldn’t walk. Her PSW called an ambulance.
“I was on the stretcher to go to the hospital,” said Dawn-Anne. “I asked the PSW if she would find Natasha for me so I could tell her that everything was going to be okay.” She found her in Dawn-Anne’s bedroom, sitting on the floor, arms wrapped around her knees, crying.
“I kind-of feel guilty,” Natasha said. “It’s stressful. Obviously, she doesn’t deserve to be going through this. It’s not easy seeing your mom cry practically every day.”
Natasha refuses to tell anyone about why she feels guilty about her mother’s condition.
Dawn-Anne believes it is the position of the screw in her spine that causes the excruciating pain that she feels. “Every time I walk, or move, or sit, or stand, it keeps hitting that nerve,” she said.
Dawn-Anne has been fighting a battle, trying to prove to Ontario’s Workplace Safety Insurance Bureau (WSIB) that her condition is entirely due to workplace injury and that she cannot work. She is also appealing to the medical industry to do what they can to correct the misplaced screw in her spine. “I loved my job,” she said. “I would be working if I could. I want a pain-free life. I keep hoping that someone will listen.”
The pain that Dawn-Anne is experiencing is constant and Natasha helps her mom in any way she can. “She likes it when I pull on her legs,” Natasha said. “I know it sounds weird, but it relieves the pressure on her back.”
In the meantime, Natasha does what she can to lend her mother some hope, but it has been a stressful experience. “She’s feeling useless,” Natasha said. “She thinks that she’s a burden to everyone around her. It’s not fun.”
Dawn-Anne wonders if Natasha’s guilt has something to do with a birthday wish she wished for on her 11th birthday, just six days after Dawn-Anne’s accident. “She wished she could have a stay-at-home mom,” she said. Dawn-Anne was deeply touched by her wish and has often reassured Natasha that her condition is not her fault.
Recently Leah told her mom, “I can’t believe everything you’ve been through. You are the strongest person I know.”
“I stay strong for my girls,” said Dawn-Anne.
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