BEHIND THE SCENES: From the ICU to the Walking Down the Aisle


They say it takes a village to raise a well-rounded child. While this may not be the case in the modern times we live in, in the past, an entire community would watch out for a child while their parents went out to work to provide for their children.

I think similar parallels can be drawn today when a person has a traumatic injury, disease, or disability. If you are on your own with no support or help when you break your neck, for example, life can be infinitely more challenging with an extremely bleak outlook for life without the support of family, friends or community.

I can personally attest that I would not be where I am today without a Herculean effort from my family and closest friends. This article is dedicated to more people than I will be able to thank personally in helping me survive the ICU in the early days 9 years ago to walking down the aisle just a few weeks ago.

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When I moved from China to Raleigh back in 2015 I could not have imagined ever getting married, let alone getting married to my “Partner in Crime” and best friend.  I married Aaron Watkins on Saturday, May 18 and it was one of the happiest days of my life!

I would be remiss not to clearly thank my family and Aaron’s family for everything they did to make this wedding possible.  My parents have been there every step of the way for me, unwavering in support and love, which is why I truly believe I am where I am today.  Sometimes they say it takes a village to raise a baby, but in my case it took a clan of Ingersoll’s to raise me after the accident.

I was so certain when I was first injured 9 years ago that I would have a fulfilling life, but a life without love and a partner.  I had come to terms with this and made peace in my mind.  What I did not realize is how much love can literally transform one’s outlook on life.  I used only live from one challenge to another – now I look forward to future adventures, and when those challenges do arise I know will have someone by my side every step of the way.

Originally we wanted to have a very small ceremony with immediate family only, but my father thankfully convinced me this was an occasion we would not want to forget.  He was right in more ways than one.

We had family and friends from Raleigh, around the United States, London, Germany, France, and China join us for four days of round-the-clock festivities.  It was a world wind weekend and I prepared for months to make sure everything went smoothly – and it was over so quickly.  Everyone always told me to make sure to take a moment and enjoy everything around you when you’re getting married, which is exactly what I did.  I neurotically planned everything down to a T and the week before the wedding I was relaxed, present, and able to connect with people who I had not seen in over 10 years.

I didn’t even realize how much love Aaron and I have in our life and support around the globe.  Living life is about people, relationships, and quality time in my opinion.  I know at the end of my life I will not look back at how hard I worked, but rather the people who have influenced my life, and I theirs.

While I meticulously planned the wedding there are just certain factors you cannot control.  I ended up getting severe bronchitis three weeks prior to the wedding.  I did everything in my power and by some universal grace I stopped coughing four days before the wedding.

Unfortunately, I also developed a pressure sore that Thursday before the wedding.  I was very careful, leaned back in my chair a lot to shift the weight off my bum, and I don’t know why or how, but I got really really lucky!

Now, onto the Wedding Celebration Festivities:

Thursday, May 16

Of our 73 guests who attended the wedding, about 50 of them were scattered around the globe.  Many of them arrived on Thursday, which was also my big brother’s birthday.

We were not quite sure what to do with 50 guests who were sporadically arriving at different times throughout the day.  We decided to cater a Lebanese feast at my pool.  My apartment has lovely outside seating by the pool with couches, chairs, a kitchen, etc.  I thought what better way to receive the first of our international guests than on a beautiful sunny day by the pool with fresh food and drinks!

(One of my BFF’s, Kira, did a great photo bomb!)

It was a slightly bewildering feeling for me to have all of this attention on such a happy day.  For the last six or seven years we usually all gathered together in times of crisis for medical emergencies.  This was truly the first time in 9 years, as my brother reminded me, family had not come to see me in the ICU!  What a treat indeed it was for me.  I was completely over the moon to have so many hugs, long conversations, and support around us for a happy day this time.

Funny enough, Facebook popped up a memory over the weekend saying that three years ago that week I was rolling into the ICU with the new boyfriend.  I was headed in for pressure sore surgery and I honestly did not know what life had in store for me all those years later.  I married my husband who I used to call the “Boy” as many of you will recount 😉 How times have changed!

Friday, May 17

I think everyone had a late night that Thursday before and the rest of the guests were set to arrive midday on Friday.  We planned drinks and Peruvian hors d’oeuvres at this fabulous restaurant right below my apartment.  My dad and I strategically helped place most of the guests within a mile of my apartment and a mile of all of the festivities.  Since my energy levels dwindle at the end of the day and pain levels rise we wanted to make sure I didn’t have to drive a lot.

During the day Aaron and I met up with most of my girlfriends and guy friends.  Some of my friends I met when I was 8 years old, 12 years old, 15 years old, 20 years old, etc.  These women, whom I am honored to call my friends, are also smart, beautiful, intelligent, and really determined.  It was interesting to see how they all connected with one another as I’d met them at different times in my life.  It was almost like a painting depicting my life with people.  I’ve been through so many different phases in life, but apparently I’ve always been able to find incredible people to inspire me and support me.

As the afternoon came to an end we all went our separate ways for a few hours as we prepared for drinks and cocktails for some of Aaron’s family and all of the out-of-town guests.  My 18-year-old niece is basically a professional makeup artist.  I don’t know how she does it, but she made me look like a Barbie doll.  I commissioned her to do my makeup for the wedding, so this was a test run.

Prior to the event we met downstairs by my pool area with the wedding party for a rehearsal.  My dad, ever the perfectionist, went over to the wedding venue to get the schematics of where the ceremony would be held so we could draw on a large piece of paper where everyone needed to be.  I must say he did it with military precision and even my little flower girl nieces were told to pay attention.

I know brides are supposed to arrive fashionably late, but I just can’t help myself.  If I’m on time I’m late in my mind.  Aaron and I walked around the corner to where we were hosting our event, I think I scarfed some food quickly so I wouldn’t have to talk with my mouth full, and waited as all of the guests arrived one by one.  I soaked up every moment, gave as many hugs as I could, and tried to imprint everyone’s faces into my memory in that exact moment.  You see, many years had passed since I had seen many of our family or friends, and I didn’t want to miss a single second of it.

Everyone laughed, drank, and were pretty much merry the entire night.  9 PM was approaching and I simply didn’t want to leave.  However, I knew if I wanted to be a refreshed bride in the morning with no medical issues I was going to have to say my goodbyes.  I couldn’t believe the night was over so quickly.

We had arranged for Aaron to stay at my sister’s house that night, but his brother surprised him with some other family members with a hotel room right next to the wedding venue downtown.  Unbeknownst to me at the time my little sneak of a husband went out and really had a fabulous time from what I hear 😉 Anyway, that’s what I was told the next day as many of the guys stumbled in.  Hey he showed up to the wedding… That’s what counts!

Saturday, May 18

I could hardly sleep a wink the night before as I was so excited.  One of my best friends Jenny from China spent the night with me.  I woke up at 5:45 AM with a strict plan of getting to the wedding venue at 12:30 PM for a 2 PM ceremony.  Of course I wanted to double check everything was in order before the guests arrived.

After I finished up all of my essential caregiving duties I put on my beautiful white pants and wedding top.  I have not worn a dress since my accident and I wasn’t about to start with a wedding dress for fear of pressure sores.  So, the head of the Carolina Ballet costume design department personally designed my wedding top over the course of eight weeks.  She was so fabulous in making changes to ensure the top was absolutely perfect for me.  There was no detail too small for her!

At 9 AM I had my niece come over and do my makeup to which my father’s first words to me were “Ali, you look five years younger!”  Thanks dad 🙂 I’ll have to commission my niece for more sessions.  At 10 AM I had a lady come from a very cool company called Makeup-for Your-Day to do my hair.  It was quiet in my house as everyone was getting ready in their respective locations.  I didn’t want to have a big wedding party with the hustle and bustle because trying to get a quadriplegic ready for a wedding from a technical dressing perspective is challenging enough.

When I walked into Vidrio at 12:30 PM, a gorgeous Mediterranean restaurant with hundreds of colorful hand-blown glass plates on the wall, to say I was gob smacked would be an understatement.  I felt like a fairy princess walking into her kingdom.  Our florist, a good friend of mine who owns a florist shop in Raleigh called The Purple Poppy, did the most stunning and outstanding job with tropical flowers all over.  Over the last several months I’d also put together many tables with decorations, signage, guestbook tables, etc.  I wanted to make sure every detail was noticed, and it was!

As I waited in the bridal suite with family and friends I was finally signaled that it was my turn to roll down the aisle with my dad.  I decided to raise my chair all the way up to be eye level with my future husband.  Walking down the aisle to Fleetwood Mac’s song “Landslide,” with all eyes on me, was an experience no bride should ever forget.  I had to have my dad hold my flowers because I couldn’t hold his arm and drive my wheelchair at the same time.  I’m good, but not that good.


My brother dressed up in a captain’s naval costume because we have this quirky sense of humor in our family, and he delivered a humorous, yet touching ceremony speech.  Aaron and I wrote our own vows, which were so emotional and I truly hope somebody videoed it.  There were so many tears in the room of joy, and while I don’t generally cry myself, the waterworks came on for me when I saw tears in Aaron’s eyes as I walked down the aisle.

The sermon was over before I knew it and we were married!  I mean officially married. We’d been talking about it for the better part of year and half and we finally did it.  I met my partner in crime on online dating and he saw me through my hospital days early in our career… I knew he was a keeper after that!

Following the wedding ceremony we had the traditional wedding pictures with the photographer while guests started drinking and passing around hors d’oeuvres.  Around 4 PM it was onto the main event … The Reception!

Unfortunately, I don’t get my pictures from the photographer back for another month or so, but many of the photos in this blog were sent to me by so many folks.  The room was so bright and colorful with tropical flowers and palm leaves hung everywhere around the room, the head table looked out onto the entire room of guests, and the service was impeccable.  We opted for a family-style type dinner where they brought each table bowls of food including perfectly cooked salmon, the most tender beef you’ve ever eaten, and paella.

After an hour of merriment and laughter the wedding toasts commenced.  I had my sister, one of my brother’s, and one of my best friends give a speech on my side, and Aaron’s brother and one of his best friends gave the other speeches.  This time I truly had tears streaming down my face as my brother was recounting all that we had been through over the last nine years as a family.  I even saw few tears in my dad’s eyes, which is unusual 🙂

After speeches we had cake cutting.  I asked Aaron not to shove cake in my face, but you can’t win them all.  The cake, oh the cake! I’ve never seen such a more beautiful work of art.  I found this photo in a magazine and commissioned the most amazing cake designer named Chloe Lee who has a company called Cakes by Chloe to make the cake.  She not only designed the most beautiful cake, but has since become a good friend of mine.  The cake had three different layers of flavors.  One was vanilla with hazelnut and coffee icing, the second layer was chocolate with cream cheese and raspberry preserves, and third layer was carrot cake.  It was the best wedding cake I’ve ever tasted and was even more fun being the one to cut the first slice with my husband.

Now, the true party was about to begin.  The dancing.  Aaron I had our first day of song by Sonny and Cher –“Babe, I got you Babe,” followed by the mother/son dance, and then a wedding game called the chair game, followed by the anniversary dance.  With the anniversary dance every married couple dances on the dance floor until the last couple standing – who have been married the longest.  My parents were the last ones on the dance floor and I swooped into a mother/ father/ daughter dance before the party started.  We danced to an old Doris Day song “Que Sera, Sera.”


After that Aaron and I took some more photos and then started drinking ourselves.  To be fair, while Aaron may have had a hell of a night on Friday, I had a hell of a night on Saturday.  As the hours rolled on and I danced like a maniac with anyone who would dance with me, somehow the end of the night became a little bit of a blur for me.  I promised myself I wouldn’t do that, but because of the bronchitis weeks earlier I couldn’t taste much, especially the vodka!  It was my wedding day, so I had so many wonderful people help get me home.

In any event, the entire wedding day went off without a hitch.  Sure they were certain things that didn’t go according to plan, but the moment I walked down the aisle with my dad I just let everything go.

We concluded our night’s festivities and Aaron I left around 10 PM because we had a day of goodbyes on Sunday and a beautiful bunch planned the next day at 12 PM.

Sunday, May 19

I don’t think I would do the English language justice trying to describe how underwhelmed I felt the next morning.  Vodka and I had gotten into a fight the night before and she won in the morning!  The silver lining is that my new husband took extra tender care of me to make sure I was up in my chair and ready to go to our brunch.  Thankfully I was not the only one at the wedding to have had a few too many as I learned the next day at the brunch.

We hosted the brunch at a Mexican restaurant and rented out the second floor.  We had about 50 guests attend our brunch while we said our goodbyes.  We spent the rest of the day by the pool with about 15 people who had later flights relaxing, chatting, and swimming.

I think that about sums up the entirety of our wedding and I’m leaving out a lot of details.  I might have to write a book on our four day event celebration.  I have so many tips, tricks, and hints for fellow spinal cord injury folks on helping make a wedding go more smoothly if anyone is interested.

Thank you to everyone who was part of our unbelievably special day.  I will never forget it and cherish it always.

More Photos



I was lying awake last night battling my arch nemesis “Ms. Insomnia” and she engaged me in a fight of a lifetime.  I couldn’t move, but my mind was running through a jungle fighting for my life as she tried to attack every fiber of my positivity.  She ran me up a tree at an alarmingly pace and as I clung to the tree branches for dear life, and tried not to let her get the best of me, she managed to claw me back down to the ground.  While I was being mauled by this insidious monster I laid there completely paralyzed unable to move as she had had her way with me.  By the time she had had her fill she left me battled and bruised.  As I was lying on my back gasping to breathe I decided to give in and just sit with my swirling thoughts.

I was trapped in my bed wide awake, angry, and frustrated that she had gotten the best of me as she so often does.  Many folks with spinal cord injury share the same fate night after night as I do whether that be from stress, anxiety, intense nerve pain, involuntary muscle spasms, etc.  I couldn’t help but think about the concept of happiness in life as I laid awake for two hours struggling to desperately get myself back to sleep.

I kept pondering what is this idea of happiness anyway?  I feel like it’s always wanting more, which makes me lose perspective and mentally spiral out of control on a regular basis.  This idea of happiness coupled with creating hopes, goals, and dreams — when not fulfilled — can end up leading to endless suffering for many folks from all walks of life.

The question I kept asking myself is “Am I happy?”  Continue reading

“Dear Cat Island, My Home – A Story of a Broken Heart & Forgiveness”

“Fernandez Bay Village (Home) – Half the homes are part of a resort and half the homes are private homes”


Several years ago I reached a point where I finally made the best peace one could make with breaking my neck and having my life change forever.  I spent so much time constantly pushing forward and not thinking about my accident through sheer determination of will.  This worked for a time, but eventually I had to find a way to dig deep in order to find some resemblance of happiness in my life and search for the best way I knew how to live a full life despite my circumstances.

Through quite a fair bit of soul-searching I arrived to where I am presently living the most fulfilled life I know how with work, finding love, getting married, spending time with friends & family, and traveling when able.

For the last six months Cat Island, Bahamas (my home) has been on my mind.  My family has had a home in the Bahamas for the last 40 or so years and it is a place so magical words simply cannot do it justice.  It is a beautiful out Island in the Eastern Bahamas spanning 60 miles long and 2 miles wide with a population of roughly 2,000 people.

The airport runway to the island is so short that no large commercial airlines are able land on the runway giving it its unique, and rustic charm because only those who know about it know how to get there.

I grew up on this island and made my first trip down when I was only several months’ old back in 1983.  I have lived in so many countries around the world that Cat Island has always been my home base, my center, my world, my escape, and my favorite place in the entire world.

I spent my time on the island with family and friends spearfishing, scuba diving, exploring caves in the middle of the island, taking Robinson Caruso style boat trips with my family to unnamed deserted islands, jumping off rocks into the ocean, picnicking on deserted beaches, kayaking through crystal clear lagoon waters, taking long walks on the beach, building bonfires with family, and countless other surreal adventures. Continue reading

Wedding Bells & Wheelchairs

My fiancé and I have finally set a date for our wedding — Saturday, May 18!  We got engaged back in August of 2017 and simply cannot wait to be married to one other.

I had envisioned getting married in a bikini with a giant barbecue on the beach and having a big soirée with family and friends while we frolicked about in the water.  Clearly, I’ve had to adjust my expectations as I’m not quite sure a bikini would be very flattering these days in a wheelchair nor would getting stuck in the sand with my wheels 😉

I’ve been thinking critically over the last several months on what I want to do for my special day.  I came to the conclusion that I want my fiancé.  Plain and simple.  I just want to be married to this man who loves me dearly, and I him!  Frankly, I wouldn’t say I don’t care about the wedding, but I’ve never been the type of girl to throw a giant wedding with all the bells and whistles.  Honestly, I rather save up all that money spent on a wedding for a wonderful honeymoon and adventures traveling with my main squeeze.

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A Change in Life Perspective – My Personal Metamorphosis


First off, Happy New Year to you! 


Coming into the New Year I thought it only fitting to discuss the concept of perspective.  I was asked by a fellow reader if I could touch upon the topic of how my mental perspective has changed over the last eight years since breaking my neck as opposed to just how my physical life has changed with being paralyzed.  I will start off by saying my life perspective has changed drastically and I can’t be entirely sure if this is due to my accident or the fact that I’m also getting older.  I suspect it is probably a little bit of both.

In general a change in perspective in life is quite gradual in my opinion, takes many years, and is usually preceded by many hardships along the way, which affect one’s opinions on many topics.  When I broke my neck my world got turned upside down, which violently shifted my perspective on a lot of things in life very quickly, but more from a physical standpoint.  I was so engulfed in trying to figure out how to live a life with a body 80% paralyzed that I didn’t have the presence of mind to think about how my mental health was going to change.

For the most part my perspective change has been for the positive, but there have definitely been some dark changes that I would be amiss not to dive into as well in light of always being open with my writing, and my life even though I run the risk of exposing myself further 😉

The old saying “we only have one life to live,” no matter how cliché it may be, means more to me now than it did prior to my accident merely due to the fact that I suffered a life altering event.  I see so many folks who live simple (and I don’t mean that in a bad way), but happy lives, and go about their business not realizing how easily life can change on a dime.  While it is easy to say that we will change our lives when something drastic happens – it is a lot easier said than done to take actionable steps each day to change.  However, these small steps are not only key, but they can take very long time to see the effects of as they require determination, and will over a long period of time. Continue reading



(Before I get started on this heavy blog… I will preface by saying I’m posting photos that are not even a little bit related to what I will be writing about below. However, these photos represent moments of pure Happiness in my life! … And, let’s face it, we all need to keep that happy place in the forefront of our minds at all times.)

Over the course of the past month I’ve pretty much been on a hiatus from life, work, writing, posting blogs, going out, and enjoying life.  For the first time in my spinal cord injury career I developed a severe case of Bronchitis.  As I’ve previously mentioned time and time again being physically paralyzed can pale in comparison to the secondary complications we face with spinal cord injury.  For example, pressure sores, respiratory infections, sepsis, urinary tract infections, etc. are just a few of the major culprits that can take many of us out for the count for weeks, and months on end.

Generally folks with spinal cord injury suffer from just a few secondary complications on a regular basis.  I have always been Princess and the Pee when it comes to severe skin issues with pressure sores and osteoporosis.  Knock on wood I have not suffered from many infections, respiratory issues, urinary tract infections, etc.  However, this past month I was surrounded by a myriad of sick individuals in my household, which finally did me in.  I started with a small cold that developed into bronchitis.

I have many spinal cord injury friends who suffer from upper respiratory infections all the time and I could always sympathize with what they were going through, but I could not empathize because I did not know what it felt like.  I do now!  The challenge with spinal cord injury, especially when you are a quadriplegic with paralyzed abdominal muscles and use your diaphragm to breathe, is that coughing, breathing, blowing your nose, etc. are tremendously challenging.  You don’t have the core strength to bring up all of that nasty phlegm that gets stuck inside your lungs.

So, when you’re stuck with mountains of dark green phlegm in your lungs you literally have to have someone push on your stomach, lean forward, and hack up what feels like all of your internal organs coming out at the same time.  It’s quite a process and extremely exhausting to cough to get the phlegm up & out.  There are, of course, machines that can help with this, but they can come at a pretty hefty price.

“Being an Aunt is the Best”

Continue reading

An Engagement to Remember


… I was staring at a blank page while thinking how to write the perfect article on how I got engaged this past weekend. My mind kept wandering back to when I was first injured in 2010 laying in my ICU bed with tubes coming out of every orifice of my body, a neck brace immobilizing my head, and copious amounts of morphine coursing through my veins.

I distinctly remember several people huddled around me, thinking I was mostly unconscious, commenting on how devastated they felt that I would no longer be able to live a full life and likely not get married or find love. I know it was not meant to be hurtful as they were just intensely concerned for how my life would turn out, but I recall thinking at that exact moment the romantic part of my life was finished …

… The point of complete comfort, love, intimacy, and trust came for me when he saw everything I physically had to deal with on a daily basis. I always joke, but up until I met my fiancé I would never go out in public or let a man see me without mascara and eyeliner on … Seriously! One day I decided to not wear any makeup and he told me how utterly beautiful I looked, and that he actually preferred me without makeup. It was at that moment I knew I had a keeper; okay maybe there are a few other things that made me know he was a keeper, but that was definitely a big one for me …

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Life’s Sacrifices & Choices with Spinal Cord Injury





When we are growing up we are faced with all kinds of choices a consequences and as children that we are blissfully unaware of.  Do we want a cookie or a doughnut?  If we finish our vegetables then we get dessert; if we go to bed early than mommy will read us a bedtime story, etc.  At a young age we don’t really associate making a choice with sacrificing one thing for another either.  It’s only as we develop into young adults that many of us come to the realization that everything in life is a choice, sacrifice, or compromise.

Choices and compromises become exceedingly more complicated as we grow into adults.  If we want a family, then we have to save to have a baby; we can’t go on that family vacation because we are trying to save money to buy a house; if we keep eating donuts every day then we run the risk of becoming obese; the list goes on.

I was thinking about sacrifices and choices the other day as it relates to spinal cord injury, and more specifically, the compromises I have had to make and continue to make as a C6 quadriplegic.  As I was pondering some of these choices lately I was surprised at how many things I have had and will have to give up in my life.  I was having a challenging day, so of course this was a glass half empty point of view, but after waking up the next morning feeling more like myself I made a list of the things that I have gained, and given up over the last 8 years since my accident in 2010.

Living with spinal cord injury presents such a unique set of challenges that many folks, unless you are the one injured or know someone who is, may not think of on a daily basis.  I often play this game with myself because while I know that I am faced with seemingly insurmountable challenges at times, there is always someone who is dealing with A LOT more than I am.  This is not to say that we should go around comparing ourselves to other people, but I do find pausing on certain days to take stock of what you have in your life is a quality many of us lack.  This age-old saying may seem outdated and redundant, but I personally find that it rings true when the proverbial “ship hits the fan” in people’s lives … “You don’t know what you have, until you’ve lost it.”

Here are a few of my choices over the years: Continue reading

Caregiver Neglect and Abuse – The Legal Side – My Recent Story


Over the years I have spoken with dozens and dozens of fellow quadriplegics who seem to share in the story of having their caregivers leave without notice, emotionally abuse them, physically abuse them, and so many other horrifying tales. If you know me or have read some of my blog posts you will know that I, too, have had more than my fair share of horrifying incidents with caregivers. This blog is not to recount what has happened to me, but rather shed some light on interesting facts I have discovered over the last month due to a recent caregiver leaving me with no notice, no phone call, no text, etc. I have learned some useful tidbits of information and also picked up on some tips & tricks for the hiring of future caregivers, which I hope will help some.

Six weeks ago I was on the hunt for a new live-in caregiver several days a week and after interviewing several my entire household agreed they liked this one particular lady. I don’t use caregiving agencies because they are too expensive and cannot cover the hours I generally need, so I usually look to and Craigslist as so many other quads in my situation do as well.

I think my caregiver radar is broken, so I like to have other people’s opinions to help me choose my caregivers these days. She did really well, was pleasant, a fast learner, and told me repeatedly how much she loved working with me. I was thrilled as I thought perhaps, this time, just maybe we would find one who would stick around for a while.

Anyway, things were going swimmingly, in my opinion, and two weeks ago after one month of employment she simply did not show up the night she was supposed to come into work. She left all of her belongings at my house and we were all completely dumbfounded. I called her multiple times, texted her, but to no avail. Naturally, my first thought was that she was in some sort of accident and was in the hospital. I was worried. Normally, when caregivers leave they take their stuff (secretly I might add) and just don’t come back. When this happens I usually just let it go because I am in such a rush to find someone new that I don’t have time or energy to follow up.

This time seemed different. Continue reading