August 19, 2014.
The day started like any other.
I donned some snazzy work apparel set out the night before, checked my email over a steaming cup of mint tea, and then set out to go to work. I was only a couple miles from the office when everything came to a very sudden and violent stop.
In a perfectly-timed collision of mangled metal, my left turn met with a fast Mercedes and my body was torn asunder. In an accident that should have killed me, I miraculously survived. Although I did not come away from the incident unscathed. The accident landed me with 3 pelvic fractures, fractured femur, eyelid laceration, traumatic brain injury (diffuse axonal injury to my right frontal lobe with loss of consciousness, brain parenchyma, and brain bleeds) and bone bruises. Still enough to qualify for lifelong injuries, but nowhere near what could have been. By all accounts I should have been dead or sustained far worse injuries. They said the only reason I survived was because my car didn’t have a middle console so I simply shifted over to the passenger’s seat. Had there been a middle console, I would have been dead on impact. (The driver’s side was completely obliterated, with the door smashed in to where the radio console started.)
But the time since that has been no cakewalk. From the three weeks I spent at the hospital to subsequent months of recovery, it’s been a hard road. After arriving a broken mess at Grady Hospital, it was two days before I had surgery. My hip was crushed far enough in that my leg was twisted. Thus, it had to be put in traction (which involved the squeamish detail of having a 12 inch spike drilled with a Dewalt Power Drill through my knee). I was awake for the ordeal as only local anesthetic could be applied. (Thank goodness I have no memory of it. The brain has an amazing capacity to protect itself, so I don’t remember the first few days after the accident.)
As one might expect from hospital stays, mine was a harrowing one. While I was admitting on August 19, surgery didn’t occur until August 21st. There was a lot of concern that the surgery would take countless hours, they might have to rebuild my left hip entirely, and I could bleed out to potential death as can be common with severe pelvic fractures. Thankfully, once the surgeon got in there, they found that I had one massive, but clean break of my pelvis and they were able to put it back together with pins, screws, and a titanium plate in 2 hours. The trauma team at Grady is really top notch, so my hat is off to them. The recovery ward was not so nice…but that’s a different story.
After surgery, I endured emergency blood transfusions, a plethora of IVs, ever-present excruciating pain like nothing I’ve ever felt, energy crashes, intense swelling, and a huge dose of humility at how little I could do. (Example: In the hospital, they spent 6 hours trying to find a way to lay me in the bed without me screaming in pain. It’s amazing how much you take some things for granted like being able to move off of a crease in a bedsheet without wanting to pass out from pain.)
For all of the cries against the darker side of social media, I was lucky enough to witness social media in its most beautiful form – connection of loved ones. Within hours of my accident, word spread all over friends and family’s pages of what had happened, prayers were written, encouragement sent, friends dispersed to the hospital to and fro, updates posted, and a community held together by a singular little brunette gal, waiting in anticipation of the next post.
In an odd turn, the timing of the accident was rather impeccable as I was at Grady Hospital right near Dragoncon. So I had lots of visitors who came both in and out of costume. It became a running joke with the nursing staff if they saw anyone in costume looking lost, “She’s in room 6B35.” Needless to say, it got me through many a hard day. There would be times where I would almost collapse from the sheer volume of pain or exhaustion. Then a new message would pop up of a video from a friend or cosplay buddy giving well wishes at Dragoncon, or posting ridiculously funny pictures to make me laugh. They worked. For a moment, I’d forget the pain.
But then came the journey of adjusting to this ‘new reality’. I had to relearn so much that we take for granted every day; such as walking, going to the bathroom, being able to roll over, standing up, stretching, etc. There is nothing more mortifying than not being able to go to the bathroom on your own. It took me a month or so to be able to hobble far enough to get to the bathroom without any accidents, so I lived with a bedside toilet for a while. (That’s a great conversation piece when your friends come over to visit…NOT!) It was a glorious day a few months in, when I discovered I was healed enough to use a regular toilet. Never thought I’d almost cry over a piece of porcelain.
Then there was the shower. Oh, that blessed, steaming liquid gloriousness. It was over a month from the accident when I was finally cleared to take a shower. A real, glorious, hot shower! I took full advantage of the experience by putting on the spa music, lavender essential oil in the water, and recreated an Herbal Essence commercial by getting to wash my own hair. I felt like a new person! Before that, female friends were literally bathing me. You want to talk about a humbling experience…
As with most recoveries, mine has been a gradual progression of strength. I started out in a wheelchair, then progressed to a walker (which I used for months until I was cleared to put weight on my injured side), then to crutches, and then a cane. I’ve learned so much about being disabled that it’s staggering. While technically, I was disabled before as I’m half deaf, but it doesn’t come anywhere near being mobiley disabled. There’s no fight to figure out if you can fit into spaces with your wheelchair or feeling panic-ridden at being in peoples’ way in stores. There’s no struggle to get to the bathroom in time because you can’t move at a normal person’s speed, no needing to ask friends to carry things for you because you can’t move a glass of water from one side of the room to the other. I had to learn to think differently to overcome these restrictions. (For instance, because of using a walker, I couldn’t carry anything (and there was no basket on my walker), which became real problem with water as it was crucial that with all the medication I was on, to stay hydrated. Thankfully I had some smart friends who hooked me up with a Camelbak so I could have a water carrier strapped to my back wherever I went.)
I’m normally a very active person (former martial artist, fencer, dancer, hooper) even if it’s just the manner in which I get up or bounce around a room with enough energy to power a small nuclear reactor. To go from that to taking a full minute just to shakily stand up was severely frustrating. But I wasn’t going to let it hold me down.
I had a plan.
Coupled with massage therapy to break up the scar tissue on my hip, bum, and knee, I threw myself headlong into physical therapy. My therapist found out quickly that I’m an overachiever type and got to work pushing me as far as was reasonable (The other therapists joked that I was the “ballet torture victim” due to the large amount of reps as well as the ballet-based exercises given). I even experimented with hooping to see how far I could push things (safely, of course). It was no easy task. I had a pretty nasty concussion so I can only focus for a little bit at a time and my energy levels were quite low in the beginning. Getting up and down stairs was a Herculean effort. I either had to have to have someone carry me or two people to wrap my arms around and hop on my good leg up the stairs. By the time I reach the top, I’d be completely spent.
But I was determined.
Life got infinitely easier when I moved to crutches as I no longer had to deal with the constant stop-&-go motion of the walker. But I’ll never forget my time before as it’s made me so much more aware and sympathetic to anyone I see who’s physically disabled. I’d like to think I was kind about it before, but now I KNOW their pain. I know what it’s like to feel like you’re getting in the way, slowing people down, or just plain being frustrated at your condition, taking every fiber of your being to not break down crying at the fact that your legs are useless or being permanently disabled and wishing for differently.
I often share sad smiles with elderly folks with walkers or young ones in wheelchairs when we pass each other in the store. Sometimes it’s a sad camaraderie, but other times there’s a spark of something else there. A fight. Someone who refuses to give up or let their disability dictate their life. I’ve gotten to know some pretty amazing people with physical handicaps that have been truly inspiring. Because of them, I can stand up a little taller.
Now, here I am. My case is closed and the massive medical debt I incurred from the hospital has been miraculously resolved. I can walk. I can even do yoga a little. I walked down the aisle at my close friends’ wedding. My injured left leg is getting stronger. I can even walk in heels now.
I’m overwhelmed with gratefulness. I keep finding out another wrinkle in the story from my car, my injuries, the other driver, etc. of just HOW lucky I am to even be alive, and the amount of damage I suffered could have been catastrophically greater. I should have died in that accident. But it wasn’t my time yet. Not only did God save my life, but He spared my body from extreme harm.
So as the sun pours into my window, I am reminded that every minute I have is special and sacred. To feel the wind on my skin or the sun in my hair, to dine with friends over tasty dinners, or watch a sunset, knowing that I was this close to losing it all. But it wasn’t my time to go. There is still work to do. Still lives to be affected, change to be made, and people to put smiles on. So even if I’m feeling melancholy at times, frustrated, or overwhelmed, one truth is still evident…
I am ALIVE.