Rifqah The Trachstar
'Cause it makes me that much stronger
Makes me work a little bit harder
It makes me that much wiser
So thanks for making me a fighter
I guess you could say that I’ve been a fighter from day one (cue that hit Christina Aguilera song here! LOL). No, but seriously, I was born with a hole in my heartand severe scoliosis, a sideways curvature of the spine. That brought its share of struggles, but my mother and I pushed through and I lived as normal a life as possible for someone born with severe health issues. At the age of 13 I had open heart surgery and by 15 I’d had major back and feet surgery. Doctors put Harrington Rods in my back and as you can imagine that made for some tough times during my teen years (like “hi, nice to meet you. I’m Rifqah, nevermind this body cast and extreme limp. What are you doing this weekend?”). Going to high school after months laid up in a body cast as you might imagine is pretty crazy, but again I persevered with my family faithfully at my side.
Fast forward to present-day. The older I’ve gotten the more severe my scoliosis became. I landed in the hospital several times because my spine was pushing up against my lungs, trapping liquid in my rib cage area preventing me from breathing properly. At that time, I had been making ends meet by delivering food for Door Dash, Amazon Flex, Uber Eats, Lyft and driving friends around. For months I’d noticed that my energy and breathing was becoming more and more of a challenge.
It all came to a head on April 2, 2019. That particular night I noticed when I walked just a few feet I felt like I could barely breathe, I was about to pass out. I just remember calling 911 around 2 a.m. I awoke two days later in the hospital with a tube down my throat. I couldn’t talk or eat and I could barely move for that matter. I didn’t know where I was or what had happened. Friends said they had visited me, but I did not remember any of it. Over the course of the two months I spent hospitalized, I learned that I had been shocked twice for heart failure and I had been relying on a ventilator literally to help me breathe. I needed help walking again (I still use a walker and sometimes even a wheelchair for long walks). It was one of the scariest times I’ve ever experienced in my adult life. But like I said, I’m a fighter. So, while in the hospital, I was determined to do things on my own and to become more independent. Instead of waiting for the nurses to help me with the restroom, I figured it out how to scoot around on my own with all of the wires and tubes in tow. It probably took me all of 30 whole minutes just to get to the commode, but dammit I was proud of myself. This may be TMI, but it took even longer for me to figure out how to poop on my own. But when I did, I was amazingly proud of myself and the nurses cheered me on like I had just scored a touchdown in the Super Bowl. Those memories still make me laugh, but admittedly are also a little embarrassing for me to share. It’s the only way, however, that I can convey what kind of shape I was in at the time. Leaving the hospital was eventually a major milestone to celebrate, but it also marked the beginning of my life living with a tracheostomy. A tracheotomy is a surgical procedure which consists of a doctor making an incision on the neck to open a direct airway through an incision in the trachea.
I won’t lie, it’s been a rocky road (and I’m not talking the glorious ice cream flavor). I am thankful, however, for my family who has been there for me throughout what many times has felt like me living out my worst nightmare – only it’s not just a bad dream. I am grateful for some awesome friends who brought food and chocolate to the hospital once I was able to eat. And honey, let me tell you, I ate everything up like I’d never had a meal in my entire life. I was so greedy my young niece and others actually warned me to slow down. I am forever indebted to my friends who just came to sit with me and the hospital staff that were nothing short of stellar and unbelievably kind to me. To this day I still tear up and smile when I think about how their compassion and support carried me through each and every day and, honestly, sometimes each minute of my ordeal.
I have been home from the hospital since June 2, 2019. Since then I’ve basically been homebound, but I have learned to garden, cook and knit. I’ve relearned crocheting and I’m even flirting with the idea of opening an online store, especially while I deal with the paperwork mess of filing for disability coverage. I’ve become a vegan, as going dairy-free is necessary to cut down on the mucus that can build up in a person’s throat with a tracheostomy making it darn near impossible to breathe. I’m learning and living every day. This blog is to share my journey as a Trach Star and to be a voice for so many of us whose voices – literally and figuratively – have been taken away by living life with a tracheostomy. The reality is that our lives are not over. We’re still alive and living and we have experiences worth sharing. I hope you enjoy my posts and encourage others – with and without a tracheostomy – to check me out. Thanks to family and friends, I am reminded every day that I am an overcomer, a survivor (cue that Destiny’s Child song) and yes, a TRACH STAR! Hear. Me. Roar!