Monday, January 26, 2009

So, What Happened? - Part 2

First, let me thank everyone for the wonderful comments after part 1. I am so glad that God uses my setback to help & touch others! Now, it’s time for part 2 of my story.

As the wreck was happening, I awoke briefly to the sound of metal crunching & sliding across the ground, and then I passed out. The next thing I remember is the driver talking to me. I asked what had happened & he said we had wrecked. He said that the gas was leaking & that I needed to get out of the car. I already knew in that first lucid moment that I couldn't feel or move my legs. I knew was trapped.

I didn't panic. "Extremely calm in a crisis" is one of my gifts. I have that strange ability to detach from my personal feelings & focus calmly on others & the situation around me. I only fall apart AFTER the immediate crisis is dealt with. Because of this gift, I calmly said, "I can't move my legs. You'll need to pull me out." The next think I remember was seeing bright lights through my closed eyelids & hearing some strange man’s voice say, “I’m tired of fighting with these clothes. I’m going to cut them off of her.” My thoughts raced between, “No! I’ll be naked in front of strangers!” to “You can’t! These are Guess jeans & a Liz Claiborne sweater! They cost a fortune!” As you can see, my mind was functioning perfectly normally for a 23 year old girl. :-) After that, I passed out again. The next time I came to, the EMT was telling me that I had to stay awake. I answered him back in a, shall we say, forceful, yet calm voice, “I’m tired! I don’t have a concussion! I’m just sleepy! I was asleep when this happened! Just let me go back to sleep!” At that point, I heard the guy who had been in the backseat say my name & I instantly calmed down & passed out again. The next time I awoke I somehow knew I was somewhere different. I said, “Where am I?” A female voice, which I later discovered was that of the ride-along trauma MD named Dr. Apple, answered, “You’re in Lifeflight helicopter. We’re going to airlift you to Georgia Baptist Hospital.” I immediately said in a happily excited voice, “Oh, goodie! I’ve always wanted to fly in a helicopter!” As the flight crew was laughing at my response, we lifted off & a thought came over me & I said, “Oh, no! I’ve never flown before. What if I get airsick?” As the laughter grew, I again passed out.

When I came to again, I was in the ER surrounded by medical staff. They were asking me all sorts of questions – my name, did I live with my parents, my age, my address, my phone number, my dad’s address & phone number. I dutifully answered each one until that last one. When I told them I didn’t know Daddy’s information because he’d only been in his new house for six months, I guess I must have passed the head injury assessment because they stopped asking questions. At this point, my wall of calm began to crumble & I started asking to see my mother. Like any hurting child, all I wanted was my mommy. As they wheeled me out of trauma to move me to the ICU, they paused in the hall so that I could see her. I don’t recall what we said, but I remember her face leaning over me, trying to smile. That face both calmed & frightened me. I felt comfort having Mama near me, but her being there was somehow my first confirmation that what I was experiencing was very serious.

After that, events sort of blend together. I remember various things that happened, but my timeline is confused. I remember the first time I saw Daddy. It was an important moment. You see, I was always a big Mama’s Girl, but I was Daddy’s LITTLE Girl. I remember he came into my ICU cubical with his strong, fearless face masked with an almost too happy expression. At the time, I could still move & feel my arms because the spinal cord swelling had not yet set in. When I saw him I said, “It’s OK, Daddy. I still have my arms. I’ll learn to walk again through those parallel bars like they do on TV shows.” That moment defined my attitude throughout this entire ordeal. That’s who I was. That’s who I am. God made me an eternal optimist – full of hope & always finding the bright spot. Over the course of the next several hours, the swelling did set in & I gradually lost all feeling & movement up to 3” below my shoulders. That fact did not deter me. Oh, don’t get me wrong. I’ve had moments of frustration over the years, but I can honestly say I can’t remember a moment when I didn’t at least have hope. I’ll go into that more later. For now, back to the facts.

I remember at one point in those first few hours thinking that my legs had been amputated. I couldn’t feel them or see them, so I thought they were gone. My sister, Sharron, who at 11 years my senior has always been a second mom to me, went out & bought a big hand mirror just so she could prove to me that I still had my legs. Sharron also stood up to the medical staff & defied hospital rules in order to spend that first night with me. She slept (or tried to) in a chair in my cubical. I remember she kept checking my arms for feeling. She literally watched my injury worsen. I didn’t know at the time that the doctor had told my family that I would soon become totally paralyzed up to my neck & most likely spend the rest of my life in bed with my arms drawn up to my chin. Boy, was he wrong! Sharron told me sometime later that I had been in a lot of pain that day & night, but I don’t remember it.

**SQUEAMISH WARNING** I remember the Neurologist putting me in traction. He sat behind my head & literally drilled pins into my skull on either side near my temples. He then attached a contraption that resembled ice tongs. They suspended 30 lbs. of weight from it the first night, but lowered it to 10 lbs. the next day. I was in that rig for two weeks until my surgery. I never saw it that I remember. I don’t know why I didn’t use the mirror. Maybe I did, but I have no memory of it. I just remember feeling like a big ice cube. Perhaps those of you who saw me can comment.

I remember various visitors. Mary, who I had just met as a part of that Sociology class & is still one of my dearest friends, came with the class friends &, I think, the driver & his mom. My friend Joe came & had to collapse into a chair because of the shock. (He won’t mind my telling that.) I remember Susan, who I’ve known since we were 4 years old. I asked her to take on the task of telling everyone. Not a very nice assignment, but she accepted it & I am most grateful. There were others who came as well after I was moved to a different ICU, & I certainly appreciated every visit.

I WAS moved to a different ICU & I was placed in a rotating bed. The bed had a motor & it would roll back & forth from side-to-side 60 degrees. The object was to prevent pressure sores. Unfortunately, the staff didn’t get my head braced well enough & it slid side-to-side about ½ inch on every rotation, clunking into the supports each time – not a great thing for a broken neck & spinal cord injury. We’ll never know if that made the damage worse or not. Oh, well. C'est la vie. Also when I was in the rotating bed, they gave me prism glasses to wear. Those were cool. I would look straight up, but the prism in the glasses bent the line of sight & allowed me to see the foot of the bed & watch TV.

I was at Georgia Baptist for 5 days. Then I was moved to Shepherd Center on Wednesday, November 26th – the day before Thanksgiving. In my next installment, I’ll tell of my 4 months spent in rehab at Shepherd. If you have memories of those first few days at Georgia Baptist, please share them in the comments below. I also welcome all other comments.
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