Putting faith into words
Linda Shaw had just given birth to her twins and was enjoying daily walks with them in the park when her knee pain began. Within a few weeks, the pain became nearly unbearable. After a rushed examination, her doctor concluded that Linda, then 36, might have the beginnings of arthritis in her left knee. But the best treatment, he said, would be to keep walking and focus on losing weight. That would provide her with the pain relief she needed.
But Linda, now TK, struggled to keep walking. In fact, the pain in her knees was so bad that she couldn’t even get down the stairs without turning sideways to brace herself on the way down. The quick progression of her pain made it extra difficult for Linda, who had always enjoyed walking and various outdoor activities, to accept the fact that she could no longer do some of the things that brought her joy.
“Pain affects you physically, spiritually, socially, psychologically, and financially,” she says.
Without much support from her medical team, Linda decided she needed a new doctor who she felt more comfortable speaking to—someone who she felt really took the time to listen to what she was saying and be proactive in caring for her pain. Finally, she found a female doctor who took her pain seriously. At 40, she was diagnosed with osteoarthritis, and X-rays showed that Linda needed a double knee replacement. But despite the recommendation by Linda’s compassionate doctor, the surgeon concluded that she was too young to have knee replacement surgery. Linda left the surgeon’s office with a cane, a handicap placard for her car, and orders to take ibuprofen.
A drive to work
At the time, Linda worked at the local community college in the computer programming department. But she wanted to get more out of her career, so she began taking classes to become a computer network technician, and soon began working at the college as a network technician.
“Because I was the low man on the totem pole, I was doing a lot of the grunt work,” she explains. “It was physically very demanding, and that was the straw that broke the camel’s back.” Linda was up and down checking computer connections, walking to different buildings across the campus, and lugging her equipment with her everywhere she went.
Linda changed jobs within the college several times, trying to find something less physically demanding while still satisfying her drive and ability to work. But despite trying to maintain a sense of normalcy, she says, “I was just slowly getting worse, no matter what I did.”
Putting faith into words
In her spare time, Linda had begun writing Christian poetry and performing it under the stage name “Praise Poet.” When her condition allowed, she performed everywhere from churches and street fairs to the local college and CCD classes—any place that welcomed Christian-based poetry. She wrote two books of her poetry. Between singing, writing and performance, Linda was able to balance her discomfort with the joy she received from giving of her creative self.
By 2010, Linda began working on a spoken-word CD from the comfort of her home. “The music itself and the words were healing to me and would give me hope,” she says.
A turning point
On July 10, 2010, Linda fell. With the help of her daughter, she was able to get up. But after that, she was never the same.
Linda began experiencing unfamiliar sensations—some days it even felt like a puppetmaster was controlling her body. She could not find comfort anywhere, and nothing she did provided any sort of relief. At that point, Linda had to transition to a walker and says on a scale of 1-10, her pain was a 15.
Still, she went ahead with a plan to open a boutique called UCUB Creations, specializing in African attire, oils, soap, and instruments as well as her own books and CDs. But almost immediately she knew she had made a mistake, as her body kept deteriorating.
“I was lost. I cried every day and could not find any relief; I had to scoot down the stairs at my apartment if I wanted to leave,” she says. “I was truly confined.”
Trying to be proactive, Linda went back to the doctors, who finally scheduled her knee replacement surgeries; however, Linda felt as if there was something else going on with her body besides the osteoarthritis. “It was believed all I needed was replacement surgery on both knees and all would be well,” she says. “But I was bent so far over on my walker that it looked as if I was sleeping on it.”
Upon further examination and imaging, the doctors found that Linda had thoracic myelopathy, a spinal cord compression that could cause paralysis—and explained that “puppermaster” feeling—and she needed back surgery immediately. Her orthopedic surgeon told her it would take at least five years for her to heal and experience all the benefits of her surgery.
Following back surgery, Linda had her knee replacement surgeries. Her right knee surgery went perfectly. But on her left knee, the surgeon repaired her torn MCL at the same time. The rehab for the MCL is different than that of a knee replacement and Linda struggled; eventually she needed a second replacement on her left knee.
Linda still battles a great deal of pain and immobility due to her countless surgeries. “I just want someone to help me so that I can enjoy a good quality of life,” she says. “I am still unable to walk a city block without an assistive device. I cannot walk alone, and I have to use my walker still.”
She has recently been able to add water aerobics three times a week back into her routine. The relief has been priceless. “I’ve jokingly told my family and friends that I wish they could make a suit with water in it that I could wear daily,” laughs Linda.
She also got a scooter, which allows her to do things like grocery shopping that had been impossible before. Her home care attendant works four days a week and her daughters Brandy and Rose Ann and son Mark come and help her as much as they can.
Turning the page
In 2017, Linda decided she would write another book, a nonfiction book this time called From Lamentation to Revelation: Shining the Light of Love into the Darkness of Chronic Pain.
“I attempted to help the reader understand chronic pain and what it does to the body, what it does to the mental psyche, and how caregivers can understand why a person may behave the way they behave,” she says. “It’s very Christ-based and spiritual. It’s truly my story because I’m tired of people saying I look fine.”
“In 2019, I feel I am better than I have ever been in my life,” she says. “I don’t know what the Lord’s plans are in terms of any additional healing to my body but I have learned to live within my circumstances.”
Linda is currently working as a voiceover artist/actor and has produced two of her books—a poetry book and her memoir—as audiobooks, and she recently did the reading for another author’s book as well. Linda believes this will provide a new avenue for her creativity, will allow her to move forward each day, and eventually provide her the financial means to help her take the best care of her body possible. She’s interested in trying treatments that Medicare won’t pay for, like massage therapy, acupuncture, and other complementary therapies. She’s made it a goal to drive again in 2020.
“I’m now walking by faith, and I’m rebuilding my life through my creativity,” Linda says. “And that creative outlet is allowing me to heal myself both mentally, and hopefully, one day, physically.”
U.S. Pain Foundation: uspainfoundation.org
Praise Poet: facebook.com/PraisePoetLCS, instagram.com/praisepoet_author/