Saturday, January 04, 2014

Fourteen Years Ago Last Month...

...I stood on the wet and snowy sidewalk at the crosswalk in front of the hospital in Ketchikan AK where I worked.  It had been snowing for awhile and the roads were starting to get slushy, and I remember wondering if anyone was going to stop for me in the middle of "rush hour".  There's only one main road in Ketchikan and traffic was moving, but it was definitely busy.  A car to my left finally slowed down and waved me across and I waved back.  I stepped of the curb looking the opposite direction, and was struck in the median by the minivan that sped around the car that had signaled me to cross (and then turned into the hospital driveway without waiting to make sure I was safe).  I didn't see it coming.  I remember the sensation of falling...I thought I'd slipped in the slush...but then moving so impossibly fast I was confused... I remember thinking "Wow!  I didn't know a body could move this fast!"

Then everything stopped.  I remember complete and utter silence...I couldn't hear the cars around me... and having the realization that I'd been hit.  I then realized with complete certainty that I was dying.  I knew I had a collapsed lung.  I knew that my back was broken.  I knew I was really damaged inside.  And I thought of my kids.

I don't remember being afraid, just really, really sad that I wasn't going to get to see them grow up.  I'd just had them with me at work the day before and had crossed this same street, one on each side of me, holding a little hand inside each of mine, and I remember being glad that 'this' hadn't happened yesterday.

It all happened in a split second, though strangely I remember it as a long drawn-out process.  But as soon as I accepted that this was it, everything turned back on.  I could feel the cold puddle that my face was in. I could hear the cars all around me.  And it hurt a lot.  But I also knew with the same complete certainty that I wasn't going to die.

A man came up to me and knelt in the puddle with me and leaned down and said "Oh my god...are you alive?"  I told him "yes...don't move me".  He started hollering for someone to call an ambulance.  I could hear a woman repeating over and over again "She just stepped out in front of me!  It isn't my fault!  It isn't my fault!"  I heard the man yell at her to give him her phone already and heard him call 911.  Someone covered me with their coat.  No cars were moving.  It took over 10 minutes for the ambulance to get through the now stopped traffic that I was blocking, and this whole time, the man knelt by me talking to me and making sure no one moved me.  I wish I knew who that man was.  I'd like to thank  him...

I remember being annoyed with the EMT's who kept asking me the same stupid questions over and over again... "What's your name?"  "Where do you work?"  "Who's the President of the United States?"  "What year is it?"...not understanding at the time that they weren't forgetting the answers, they were trying to keep me conscious.
They got the backboard out and one of them told me "This is going to hurt".  I have a brief recollection pain so shocking, and then my next memory is of snowflakes falling on my face and a huge jolt as the wheels of the gurney hit the inside of the ambulance.  That was the only time I lost consciousness.
Since I was on my way home from work at the time this happened, and I worked at the hospital, the ambulance ride was short...just up and around the corner to the ER entrance. Two guys from Radiology (who I'd just had lunch with a few hours before), met the ambulance as it pulled up.  They took me inside and pulled the curtain, and suddenly there seemed like too many people running all around me while someone else cut off all of my clothes.  I never did find one of my shoes...
When they spoke to me, it was only to ask quick question:  "Where does it hurt the most?"  "Are you warm enough?"  But no one gave me the substance of what was going on.  I heard snippets of conversation:  We can't deal with her injuries here....  "Has someone called Flight For Life?  Call Harborview in Seattle and let them know we're sending someone down STAT".  No one really listened to me when I told them I wasn't going to die.
Finally I was able to get someone to tell me what was going on:  Massive internal bleeding of unknown origin as my abdomen was visibly filling with blood (it was assumed I had a large amount of organ damage).  Pelvis broken, whiplash, contusions, road rash, large laceration on my face from hitting the windshield wiper, broken ribs, broken leg...they weren't sure yet of everything.  No one gave any reassurances other than "It's going to be alright" (I coulda told them that!).  I was told that they weren't equipped to perform the exploratory surgery needed to stop the bleeding, but that I was going to get a CT while they waited for the plane to arrive.
One of my coworkers in Radiology wheeled me out to the CT while we waited for the plane.  He laughed when I told him I was going to be fine, but he wouldn't stop crying.
A little while later, I was told that my boys were being brought in to see me.  I told them absolutely not, but no one would listen to me.  They told me that it was "important" for the boys to see me.  Now.  I argued and argued, but no one listened.  I finally asked them to at least cover me with a blanket to hide all the blood on the sheets, and wash the blood off my face.  The boys were just babies at 7 and 5.  I remember smiling at them and telling them we'd still bake Christmas cookies when I came home, but that it would be a couple of days.  They held my hand.  Will showed me his new Power Ranger that Gramga had gotten him.  Zach was being so brave, but cried really quietly and held my hand, and told me he'd be waiting for me in the lobby.  I still hope no one actually told them to say goodbye to me.
Not long after that, the doctor came in.  The CT scan showed no internal organ damage.  The amount of blood in my abdomen could not be accounted for only through the bleeding that would have occurred even with three breaks in the pelvis.  But there was no organ damage.  We were still waiting for Flight For Life.
Some time later it was determined that I was stabilizing.  The bleeding, wherever it was coming from, was slowing and I was stable enough to perform surgery.  My flight had been cancelled.  An operating room was being prepared.  Not long after that, more lab work came back and that showed I had somehow stabilized.  And the only actual broken bones I had sustained were the pelvic fractures.  Everything else was just banged up.  No surgery.  They were doping me up and putting me upstairs.  I remember telling someone "See?"  They laughed but didn't look convinced.
There was a large room in the corner of the ward floor where the doctors would sleep when they had free time.  I was put in this private room, all by myself.  People who I'd seen every day since I'd worked there came by to bring me a warmed blanket, to check my vitals, to take blood.  I slept a lot for a few days.  When I finally woke up, I found my room, still only with me in it, full of flowers and cards and balloons.  A kind man came and washed my hair over and over in a tub to get the blood out.  I didn't even know all of these people personally, but they were all so kind.  I finally cornered my doctor long enough to learn that I "had a long road ahead of me" (I didn't believe him), but that since I hadn't "thrown a clot or caught pneumonia" ("so far"), he didn't think I was going to die after all.  The EMT's came by to say hello and laughed at me for getting frustrated at their questions.
I spent most of the rest of the month in the hospital, but was able to come home the day before Christmas Eve after completing a series of "challenges" the doctors hadn't actually thought I'd be able to accomplish (i.e., get in and out my wheelchair and into a car by myself). My boss from work stopped by my house with a money tree that they had passed around the hospital with hundreds of dollars on it.  Vans arrived filled with presents for my kids that people in town had  donated.  For the first time in my life, I couldn't do anything to help anyone or even myself.  I just sat there and cried, overwhelmed at how caring people were.  There were so many presents, the kids donated half of them to other kids who might not have Christmas.
For months I couldn't walk, and sat in my house watching my mom live my life as a busy single mom, as well as hers.  I hadn't realized how long it had been since I'd actually taken the time and really looked at my kids.  And I understood what "Be careful what you wish for" really  meant.  After all, in the weeks before the accident, I'd wished for more time to really enjoy my life.  More time to spend with my parents and kids, more time to read, and any amount of time to relax.  It had seemed like life was moving so fast and I was hardly keeping up.
I spent 3 months in a wheelchair, followed by months and months of physical therapy (years actually), then more time having operations once I'd healed enough that it was safe to undergo them.  Over the next few years, I was in and out of hospitals having surgeries and procedures and diagnostic studies.

But I have a job that I enjoy going to every morning.  I've married my best friend and met my first grandchild.  My boys are growing into fine men I'm proud to call mine.  And I can walk.   I've gotten to see the beautiful house and land my mom and dad bought when they finally moved away from Alaska, and spend time with them there.  I don't limp when I walk.  I have a fabulous doctor who I can also say is one of my best friends, and have gotten to be a part of her families' life.  Just to look at me, no one would know how broken things are.  I have the life I've always dreamed of having.  And, did I mention I can walk? :)

Next week I'll be 44.  I don't think I'll ever be one of those women who lies about her age. 

I'm just so happy to BE.

Starting on January 6th I'll begin an exercise program in the hope that I can get off the large amounts of narcotics I've been on for the last 11 years.  This is going to be one of the harder things I've ever done.  The pain meds I take only keep my pain at a tolerable level.  They don't eliminate it.  Exercise not only isn't something I would want to do, it hurts.   A lot.  But after losing the weight that I needed to lose in 2013, I'm committed to becoming a woman who ages with strength, not just grace and great shoes.  So this blog is going to take a little bit of a different turn for a while and focus more on the Health tab than the Fashion aspect.  Bear with me.  

I take my 'before' photos tomorrow.  Stay tuned!                     ~M