by Phil Speer at WWE.com on 5/17/02.
WWE.com contacted Lita at her home in North Carolina on Wednesday. Two weeks after having surgery in San Antonio in which part of her hip was removed and used to fuse her C5 and C6 vertebrae, she graciously took the time to answer all of our questions.
WWE.com: How did the surgery go?
Lita: It went as good as it possibly could have, and there were no complications. So I'm fortunate for that. But the best case scenario still sucks, you know?
WWE.com: How are you feeling?
Lita: Well, I've gotten used to my boundaries of what I can and can't do, and how I can and can't move. My neck brace goes completely up to my chin and down to my chest, so it limits any movement there. Being in the shower is the only time I can take it off, and it's a little freaky and scary not to have it on. I use one hand to shower and the other hand to support my head. I don't know that it needs it, but I feel like a little noodle is connecting my head to my body, still, right now. And the main thing that I still feel is my hip, because they had to take the muscle out of my hip to get to the bone, to take the bone out of my hip.
WWE.com: That's what Chris Benoit and Rhyno have said -- the hip ends up being the sorest part.
Lita: Yeah, the neck brace is entirely more aggravating than anything -- than any pain could be -- because it's constant. But as far as physical pain, yeah, my hip is worse. But this neck brace, I wouldn't wish it on anyone, as far as how aggravating it is to have it on all the time.
WWE.com: You must have trouble sleeping.
Lita: Yeah, I have major, major trouble sleeping because when I'm doing something other than just lying there, I can try to take my focus off the fact that it's on. But as you lay there, when you start to notice things, that's when I realize it. And I remember I was talking to Benoit, and he said, "Don't you feel like that thing is choking you?" And I said, "Well, it's not too bad." But when I did wake up, I had shoved all my covers up underneath my collar. I guess it was choking me at night when I finally got to sleep, and I shoved all my covers up my collar to try to put some more padding in there, because it's just going up against my sternum -- there's bone there that it's pushing against. It's just kind of ... I wouldn't say painful, I'd say extremely uncomfortable.
WWE.com: When do you get to take that thing off and get a less-cumbersome collar?
Lita: Hopefully in two months. In about six weeks to two months, I'll go see Dr. (Lloyd) Youngblood again (in San Antonio), and he'll take more X-rays to make sure that everything is healing as it should. And then from there, I'll get to switch to a soft collar.
WWE.com: How does the neck itself feel?
Lita: Well, I took my Steri strips off yesterday. Over that, they put on a patch in surgery which was airtight and 100 percent sanitary, because it was done in the surgery room. I took that off after a week and then I took the strips off after another week. My hip seemed to close up pretty good, but my neck -- there was still a hole in there, and that was pretty freaky. And I've seen Steve (Austin's), and I know that it goes away. And I've seen X-Pac's. I know it will get smaller. But it's still pretty horrifying to look at, knowing that people were in there, poking around and moving stuff around and taking pieces of my body from one place and putting them up there.
WWE.com: Is it painful still?
Lita: Like I said, as long as I don't do anything, it's fine -- I'm used to it. But if I were to turn my head or poke at that cut or anything, it'd be pretty painful. My hip at the end of the day is more where it hurts, from the basic walking around that I do. And then in between my shoulder blades at the base of my neck -- and I don't know why that is, but the doctor said that's normal. It seems more too like a tired thing, like at the end of the day it will be more painful than when I wake up.
WWE.com: What kind of exercises can you do? I heard the day after you were walking around a little bit.
Lita: Yeah. Well, all I can do is walk on the treadmill or walk around my neighborhood. No weights. I'm not supposed to hold anything more than five pounds for six months. I kind of try to do what I can when I'm at home, just as far as organizing paperwork and simple stuff that I can do. Actually, I bought a sewing machine, so that's going to be my little project that I can do, that doesn't weigh that much.
WWE.com: So you're going to make some new clothes and stuff?
Lita: I'm going to try to. And then, basically, whenever Matt (Hardy) is home, he just comes and picks me up. I can't do a lot, but I can come along for the ride. At least I have a change of scenery besides my house. It depresses me to be at my house because I'm here so much now.
WWE.com: And the prognosis for full recovery is a year, right?
Lita: Yeah, a year. The doctor said that regardless of how great I feel, because the injury is so serious, and because the bones need to fuse together as one bone that was three -- one vertebra, my hip bone and then another vertebra -- it needs to be 100 percent. He won't release me until a year to the day (of surgery) to have a match. Jazz has her surgery (for a torn ACL) on Thursday, and then on Monday she starts rehab. So right there, even though it's limited, she is in control (of her recovery time) to some extent, being a tough girl and being able to push herself and get better as soon as possible, as opposed to a housewife or someone who doesn't workout on a regular basis. My rehab for six months is not lifting anything over five pounds, and keeping my neck as still as possible. And that's totally the most frustrating part. Benoit was saying that too. And then also he was telling me about getting back into the ring, and that it is scary because you haven't done it for a year, and the last time you were in the ring, you were in a lot of pain.
WWE.com: Did you watch "Dark Angel"?
Lita: I watched it later. When it aired I was actually traveling home from the hospital after having surgery, to my house. I went to watch it a couple of times; I hung on to it for about five days before I put it in there. I thought they did a great job editing the person who played me in the fight scene, and everything else. But it was hard to watch. I hated watching it -- even if I didn't get hurt, being gone for my job for two weeks for six minutes of TV. It was fun before I got hurt, just meeting new people and portraying a character other than Lita. The idea of that was fun. Sitting there in my neck brace watching, it was just real frustrating.
WWE.com: In retrospect, hindsight being 20/20, I'm guessing you wouldn't have done that again, even if you hadn't got hurt.
Lita: Well, I think my head would be different if I came back (to WWE) and I was great, and I came back with a lot of new friends, and I felt great and I got to be back on (WWE) TV. But the last time I was really on TV, being myself, was before the split, when Matt had a match with (Chris) Jericho. That was the last time I consider myself being in the ring, because after that, I wasn't me. So it's still already been a long time for me. Potentially, ("Dark Angel") was a great experience, but it ended up being the worst nightmare I ever had. And I keep wanting to wake up every morning hoping it's a nightmare.
Emotionally this has been so hard. I got home late Friday night. On Saturday, the only thing I could do was go outside and walk around the neighborhood. It was raining that first day. The second day, it wasn't, but the only thing I could do was sit on the couch and watch TV for the most part. I remember calling Matt that night as they got back from the European tour. I said, "I don't know how I'm going to be able to do this. These past two days have been so much worse than the past Monday and Tuesday." Those were my pre-surgery day and my surgery day. Because at least those days, I felt like, "Well, I know I'm in good hands. I'm going to take a step to getting better." But now it's just waiting, and feeling so helpless. It's like my gimmick in life that I'm so independent. Now I'm not able to do anything other than make myself a sandwich -- that's like my activity of the day. And I don't have a lot of friends here in North Carolina who aren't on the road, or in Cincinnati. I keep saying it's just me and my dog, and he's a great dog, but he can't drive. So it's a strike against him. I would come home when I was healthy, and I'd be excited to get home. I was into decorating my house -- it was a little project. I loved coming home, and I just had the greatest feeling coming home, even if it was just for a day. Now it's a prison. It's a total prison.
On a side note, my dog Cody had the same surgery that I had. Right when I first started on TV, he went from a limp to not being able to walk in one day. We took him to a specialist. It was his third and fourth vertebrae. They did a simpler procedure for a dog; they didn't put the plate in that they did for me. They just fused the two vertebrae, so his neck is a quarter of an inch shorter than it was before. It affected him neurologically; he was temporarily paralyzed. We had to rehab him -- lift him up with slings under his belly and try to teach him how to walk again.
WWE.com: Is he OK now?
Lita: Yeah, he's great. He just can't drive.
WWE.com: Have a lot of people from the road called?
Lita: Yeah, I've talked to them. Actually, initially, I got flooded with calls. And it gets a tiny, tiny bit easier every day. But just because it is so much more of an emotional battle than a physical battle, I've been not answering my phone a lot. And then if I'm feeling OK, I'm like, "OK, I feel OK, I can talk to this person without crying.
"Then I'll try to quickly call back people who have been calling me, because I don't want them to think I'm ignoring them. It's just been so hard for me. I know they're just calling to be nice. They'll say, "Hey, what's going on?" And it's kind of like, "Do you really want to know what's going on?" You know what I mean? They don't want me to be crying, which I do a good portion of the day. So when I'm not, I try to call people back.
WWE.com: We interviewed Matt in Europe, and he said you were really frightened leading up to the surgery because it was the first major surgery you've ever had. Can you comment on that?
Lita: Yeah, I'm really glad, actually, that Dr. Youngblood scheduled that surgery -- it was a week to the day that he told me I needed it. It was enough time. I was by no means excited about it, but I was accepting of it. The surgery itself wasn't really what was scaring me at that point, it was just knowing that I have -- and I did have and I do have and I will have -- such a long road ahead of me, of not living my life as my life. I'm living somebody else's life right now because this isn't mine. I mean, I don't have a life. My life is Matt coming to pick me up when he gets home from the road and driving me around while he does his errands. Eh. It's horrible.
WWE.com: Is this going to help you and Matt get closer?
Lita: Obviously, Matt has been really instrumental in helping me get through this. But fortunately we have and we have had such a great relationship that it didn't take a tragedy such as this to get us closer. We just have that bond. It didn't make it any better or stronger by this happening. Because we're so tight and we already were, it wasn't a question of, "I hope that he's going to be there for me."
WWE.com: What about the fact that Matt's been wearing the Lita shirt? That's cool, right?
Lita: Yeah, that's cool. It's crazy. As independent as I am, and he is -- we're both independent souls -- like, just especially at this time, I have no idea what I'd do without him.
WWE.com: I hear that you're the new foreman of the house he's building.
Lita: He has lived in the same house his entire life, and so they're asking simple questions like, "Do you want a garbage disposal?" He's like, "Nah, I don't need a garbage disposal." I'm like, "Matt, yeah, we probably want garbage disposal in the house." (laughs) Just because he's like, "What? I've lived for 27 years without a garbage disposal. I don't need one now.
" So yeah, I've been coming with him when he's been picking out everything and that's fun for me. His dad always goes over there and checks on things. And once I can start driving, I can just go over there and make sure everybody stays in line. (laughs)
WWE.com: One of the things about having this much time off is that it would give somebody a chance to plan a wedding.
Lita: That hasn't been talked about at all. But at the same time I think we're the type of people who don't need a ring or a piece of paper to know how much we care about each other.
WWE.com: But it would be cool eventually, right?
Lita: Yeah, sure. There's a lot of stuff would be cool eventually but I'm not in a hurry for.
WWE.com: When can you start driving?
Lita: Well, the doctor said two weeks, but I don't know what that's supposed to mean because I can't see anything. All I can see is straight ahead. I might have misunderstood him, and I'm pretty sure that I did, just because I would think it would be two months, because that's when I'm switching to my soft collar. That's at least when you can move a little bit more. So I guess maybe when I get into my soft collar. Rhyno actually showed up in Chicago (for a recent WWE event), and I asked him how he got there, and he said he drove. And he was in his soft collar. So maybe when you switch to your soft collar you get to drive.
WWE.com: Can you watch WWE shows? What's that like?
Lita: Well, yeah, I watch the show because all I do is sit at home and watch TV. But I had the option one night actually -- somebody offered to pick me up and take me to Wal-Mart, and it coincided with the time of the show, and I jumped at that chance to get out and catch a ride to Wal-Mart for a change of scenery. But I can watch it still. I more watch it trying to see what Matt and Jeff are doing, really. I watch everybody's stuff, obviously, digest it and have my own opinions on it. But when I was out for the six weeks over Christmas, not hurt, I paid much more close attention to the women's stuff and what they were doing and seeing where I might fit in. Knowing that whatever anyone's doing right now has absolutely no bearing on what they'll be doing in a year, I kind of just look forward to seeing Matt and Jeff's stuff. Normally, if you're sitting at home for whatever reason and watching it, you always want to see where you would fit in and what you'd be doing if you were there.
But because that's so, so far away, I just kind of watch to see it, hope nobody gets hurt, and watch my friends on TV.
WWE.com: What is it about Dr. Youngblood that makes everybody go to him? He must be like "Super Doctor."
Lita: Well, Steve Austin just developed a good relationship with him. Steve needed to find somebody locally. And seeing how great Steve looks after being in such a bad position ... and I know with the other guys too, he's been so helpful. Dr. Youngblood will talk to you like a person where you actually feel like you understand what happened, as opposed to just talking over your head. Steve and Debra came with Matt and me when we talked to him. Steve was asking questions right along with me, knowing what questions to ask, having been there. I just feel like, if there's anyone whose opinion I would trust in the locker room ... I think it's a pretty safe bet to go with the same person that Steve Austin did.