The Warrior Way

bag packed for hospital

The alarm clock went off at 4:15 a.m. on Tuesday, Jan. 7, 2014. Mom, dad and I awoke and began our day without a moan or groan. I knew the drill – no frills – wear comfy clothes, no make-up, no perfume, no lotion, no jewelry, and wear my glasses instead of contacts. We went about our business, all doing our part to be ready and out the door at 5 a.m. to head to Orthopedic & Spine Specialists for my scheduled back surgery.

As I exited my parents’ vehicle and entered the hospital, the only part of my body exposed was my big brown eyes. The rest was bundled up to withstand the record-setting low temperatures. That morning my phone indicated that the temperature was zero degrees, “feels like -21 degrees.” We went through the normal hospital surgery check-in process and I was quickly taken to the pre-surgery prep room.


I had fun bantering with the nurses, anesthesiologists and doctors as they administered IV’s, reviewed my medical history and we all prepared ourselves for my back surgery. As usual, they were all in awe by the list of ailments my body has overcome. Once I was cleared to go to the operating room, they allowed one person to come back and see me. I laid on the gurney with an IV in each arm, wearing a hospital gown and stylish hospital cap with a hopeful smile on my face as I saw my sweet father. We kept the conversation light-hearted and positive. As they wheeled me past dad and I grabbed his hand, it made me think of how many times this scenario has taken place in our lives. I stayed strong for him and for myself, but I wondered what it felt like to be in his shoes. I know as a daughter I felt sad to put my father through such heart-wrenching moments.

The woman who wheeled me to the operating room said, “Off to the next adventure.” That put a smile on my face as the operating room doors swung open. There is always an adrenaline rush when you enter that cold, sterile room and see only the eyes of everyone wearing gowns and masks. I felt positive and confident as my surgeon came over and held my hand and told me that everything was going to be ok. Another doctor started to talk to me and I began to feel that “funny sensation.” I knew that meant I had received sedation medicine through my IV. She said, “Positive thoughts.” A mask was then placed over my face and she said, “Here’s a little fresh air.” I gave a little giggle, smiled and said, “A breath of fresh air.” Then lights out and that is the last thing I remember.


Next thing I woke up in recovery with a nurse moving quite swiftly around my bed. She was monitoring me, giving me medicine through my IV and checking her computer screen. I was wide-eyed as the first words said to me were, “There was a complication during your surgery, and you need to lay still.” This was quite alarming to wake up to, as I tried to adjust to being awake, digesting that surgery was over and now there was a complication and I should not move. I soon learned that while operating on my disks, a dural tear took place where I had a spinal fluid leak.

“In order to be irreplaceable one must always be different.”

My scheduled outpatient stay turned into a several day inpatient stay. As usual, I like to be different and challenge the doctors. The surgery was more of a challenge with the complication of the dural tear, which extended the length and difficulty of my procedure. I faced several hurdles post-surgery while recovery in the hospital and was released on Friday, Jan. 10. Upon my discharge, the physical therapist told me that I would feel as though I was in a really bad car accident and had a horrible flu. She was spot on.

I am now working on recovery at my parents’ home. I am embracing that my recovery will be slower than a “normal” person due to the complications with my surgery, my medical history, medicines that I take, and all that my body has endured.

When having surgery, it is imperative to realize the stress that has been placed on our entire body. Our bodies deserve rest and the time to properly recuperate. It is important to listen to our doctors, take pride in how we care for ourselves in order to obtain the best possible outcome from our operations. Although it may hurt to take a deep breath, to do a “log roll” when getting out of bed, to take each step, we owe it to ourselves to get up and put our best foot forward even if it is painful. I know this increased post-surgery pain will be well worth it because I hope it leads to pain-free days. Even if I can’t always feel it, I know I am getting stronger and better by the day.

wings of hope

“The wings of hope carry us, soaring high above the driving winds of life.”

This evening I walked into my parents’ kitchen with the aid of my walker. Mom and dad were sitting on stools at the island and I leaned on my walker for a minute and chitchatted with them. Dad looked at me and said, “You’re a warrior!” He said it with such enthusiasm and conviction. He looked at mom and me and said, “We raised a warrior!” This was a profound statement because in my 30-some years, dad never called me this before. I believe we are a warrior family and the love I am surrounded with keeps me strong and fighting and has instilled in me that there is only one way, the warrior way.


  1. Marsha Byers Etnier

    Valen, you truly are a ‘warrior’. Your stories cause me to be so very thankul that my situation is not any worse than what it is. You and your entire family are in my thoughts and prayers. You are something else and I’m so glad that I’ve gotten acwuainted with you and it is a because of PKD. I too want to be a strong voice for you, Dominuque and myself and any one that I can ncourage like you have encouraged me. Sending lots of love, prayers and healing your way!! xoxoxoxo Marsha Etnier

    • Valen Keefer

      Hi Marsha,
      Thank you so very much for your thoughts and prayers. Even though we have not met, your positive spirit shines brightly through your sentiments. Thank you for sharing that with all of us! xo

  2. Jackie

    You are amazing! A true warrior!

    • Valen Keefer

      Thank you sweet Jackie! I’m lucky to have you in my life. xoxo

  3. Elizabeth

    Boy oh boy how I relate to you! No back surgery but I fear that is in my future. I like to keep my doctors on their toes. I have a great many other conditions that complicate PKD and my son has had eight back surgeries and the doctor nipped his nerve as well and when we got him to the hospital they wanted to “register,” him sitting up. He told the lady if I sit up you will have a mess to clean up. It was horrible to watch him suffering. His spinal fluid was soaking threw towels……your right though, allowing your body to heal is key! I pray for healing for you! I’ll be looking for those positive updates!

    • Valen Keefer

      Dear Elizabeth,
      Oh my gosh, the story of your son gave me chills. I can’t fathom enduring a spinal leak like that. I trust he is doing well now and that gives me the confidence that I will too. I wish all the best for you and your son.

  4. Lisa

    You are a warrior, I love that description. Your parents are warriors, too, so it’s no surprise they raised one. I cannot wait to hear about your pain free days and I pray you reach them soon. Keep fighting the good fight and your battles will be rewarded. I love you and your willingness to share this journey, whether it’s fabulous or difficult. It really does help so many others get through their struggles. Praying for swift healing for you now!

    • Valen Keefer

      Hi Lisa,
      Your beautiful and loving words of support mean so much to me. Thank you!!! I miss you and your family. Would be great to see all of you before I head back to CA. xoxo

  5. Inma Medrano

    A lot of kisses from Spain, you are a warrior and my inspiration for fight PKD. Thank you for your website. I always read it and make me feel better.Love for you and your family.

    • Valen Keefer

      Dear Inma,
      Makes me smile knowing that I have such wonderful support all the way in Spain. 🙂 Thank you very much! I am grateful that you enjoy my blog. If you are on facebook, please friend me, ‘Valen Cover Keefer.’ Sending love back to you!

  6. sean

    All the best Valen, aka warrior woman. Keep fighting! Having a fund raiser on 2/1/14 the “Paddy Plunge” (my son Patrick has PKD) in Long Branch NJ to raise $ for PKD research. I have a web page through look under sean kenny fund raiser. We WILL beat this one day.
    Keep fighting God bless stay strong.
    Sean Kenny Freehold NJ

    • Valen Keefer

      Hi Sean,
      Thank you for this positive message and for all you are doing in our fight to beat PKD. I read about your fundraising event. What a fun idea?! I love it! Good luck at your event and I wish you and your son all the best!

  7. Julia Adams

    Valen, you are a WARRIOR for optimism and healing. Best wishes for a speedy recovery…sending love and light to you and your wonderful family! Stay strong Valen, you are being held by many!! XO

    • Valen Keefer

      Dear Julia,
      Thank you for this extremely heartfelt and touching message. I am smiling as I type this while lying in my hospital bed. Thank you!!! xo


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