Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Life Today

I am running - on my own two feet! I can run!
My thoughts were much more than the excited thoughts of a couch potato getting off her duff and putting one foot in front of the other. Words from doctors were swirling in my mind;
“Your leg might need to be amputated. Even if it’s saved, don’t expect to walk on it”
“You need to think of running as part of your ‘pre-accident’ life - it won’t be a part of your future.”
With each step, I assessed the aches and pains coming from the lower half of my body. My legs were supporting me, though my nerves were complaining – some stabbing knife pain, along with areas of rubbery numbness. (Like when your arm is sleeping)
I also thought of the words my husband Jerry heard from doctors, as I lay unconscious in the hospital …
“There’s only a fifty/fifty chance your wife will live.
“She might have brain damage and/or injuries so that could prevent her from walking again.”
Now four years after the accident, I am not only walking, but running on my own two feet. I can only run a few minutes at a time, but I can run! I'm so thankful for healing.
Sign at my 'homecoming' 4 yrs ago
Here's the story of the past 4 years –
Jerry and I, along with Joshua, Joseph and Jonathan were in California during May of 2004 on a trip across America. We ‘hit the road’ six months earlier from Morgantown after selling our property, business and house. After managing a garden center for eleven years, we were thrilled with this unique opportunity to rest and process the next step in our lives while traveling. The boys (ages eleven, thirteen and fifteen, at the time) continued their education with the basics coming from books and the museums/factories we visited supplying the rest.
Suddenly on May 20th, Jerry and the boys were watching a helicopter fly away with me in it - not knowing if they would see me alive again. Jerry tried to stay calm as he surveyed the accident scene in front of him - five semi-trucks and our motorhome. While the damage to the trucks was minor, it was severe to the corner of our motorhome where I had been sitting. As he watched the rescue workers repack the Jaws of Life, he shook his head in disbelief at this sudden turn of events and the massive injuries he had seen on my body.
When the paramedics put me in the helicopter, they evaluated my fading condition and assumed I wouldn’t survive the short flight to the hospital. I arrived with blood flowing from too many places and as white as paper, hardly breathing. Dr. Hinika, the trauma surgeon, instantly assessed my critical state, put me on a ventilator and rushed me into the operating room. A believer in God, he asked for wisdom as he evaluated my extensive injuries - collapsed lung, wounds the size of Texas, splintered femur, a Humpty Dumpty pelvis and countless other wounds/fractures. The combined blood loss was life threatening and they instantly began transfusions. Transfused blood is cold and my body temperature dropped to a dangerously low ninety-one degrees - they needed to give me forty units in the first twenty-four hours. (Average person normally has eight units.)
Two weeks later, as I woke up in bits and pieces from the medically induced coma, reality blurred with the nightmares I had regularly. I had no memory of what happened and I was confused. At some point, I figured out that we were in an accident and I was hurt. Though my eyes felt like lead and I could not move much of my body, I wondered if I was hurt badly and if we could continue our trip.
My first clear memory of Jerry is him grinning one morning as he came in the room. “Why are you so happy?” I asked.
“Because of you, you’re awake and talking!” he responded.
Puzzled I asked, “Why is that a big deal?”
He realized I did not understand what happened or the situation I was in. “Because of all your injuries you were unconscious, on a breathing machine and feeding tube for eleven days,” he gently said. “I have been talking to you and it’s great to finally hear you respond.”
He said that my parents had flown to California the day after the accident, stayed a week and taken the boys back to Morgantown. I strained for memories, but all I could conjure up was what Jerry told me. I was scared, but being an optimist at heart, I thought that in a few weeks, I would be okay again. From somewhere within me, I prayed … “Help me become better, not bitter through this.”
After I was awake, I began to learn about all my wounds and to understand where the pain was coming from. Each time the nurses changed a different dressing, I was appalled as I saw more wounds and staples in my body. The nurses reassured me that nothing malicious took place when I expressed feeling as if I was living in a movie where they did experiments on me while I was unconscious. I also learned I had acquired a fifteen-inch titanium rod in my femur to hold the broken pieces in place.
From conversations, I knew my left leg injuries were massive, so I blocked my view with a pillow whenever those dressing were changed. I do not faint when I see blood, but I had no desire to see my lower leg with about seventy percent of the skin and soft tissue missing. The early recommendations from Dr. Hinika’s colleagues had been to amputate it. Thankfully, Dr. Hinika called in another specialist to evaluate it. They decided to save it by harvesting muscle from my back and skin from my thighs for the significant skin graphs it needed. These ‘donor sites’ added to my pain and discomfort.
“Is there any spot on me that is not injured?” I questioned Jerry.
“Thankfully, your head is fine, along with most of your upper body. You are hurt from the waist down, because your legs were pinned between the seat and the dash of the motorhome,” Jerry said.
Preferring to focus on the positive (or wanting to ignore reality) I didn’t ask if I would walk again. However, overhearing some conversations about my future abilities, plus the reality of where I was, along with my pain forced me to question at times. Most times, as I talked to God about my fears, I felt a measure of peace, though I didn't know what the outcome would be.
A workout for me pre-accident meant running anywhere from two to ten miles, so I looked forward to physical therapy to do something to help myself heal. Three weeks after the accident, therapy began. Hearing the accolades from the therapists the first day made it sound like I had run a marathon. Reality was I only lifted my legs three inches off the bed. But their cheers buoyed my spirits and gave me resolve to reach for five inches the next day and a little more each day.
My recovery progressed faster than anticipated at first. Three months of tough physical therapy and then - steps! I walked across the room on my own two feet with help from my therapist and a walker, happy to be finished with the wheelchair.
Now four years and sixteen surgeries later, scars/deformities still cover my legs. But, thankfully the last surgery in February helped my pain and discomfort decrease to the point where I can live without meds most of the time and brought me to the place where I can run again!
The emotional journey was as hard as or harder than the physical process, but thanks to a caring creator, some good counseling and giving myself time to process it all, today I can say - life is good. I know the ‘wall’ between life and death is thin, so I celebrate and enjoy the miracle of life. I marvel at the creation of our bodies and the way they can adapt and heal from trauma. I have a new appreciation of waking up each morning and filling my lungs with a fresh breath.
If I had a choice, I would like to skip the pain of the past few years, but I don't have that choice. The choice I have is this life today. What do I do with the life given to me each day? A few things - tell how physical and emotional healing can happen and go for a run!

4 comments:

My Semblance of Sanity said...

AMEN JANET AMEN!

merrymstamper said...

Amazing Janet!!! How exciting to celebrate with you!

MandaJoy said...

Your story is so inspiring and i know that God still has alot in store for you!!

Melissa said...

Janet,

You have been an inspiration to me ever since I met you almost 3 years ago! Because of you (the Lord working through you) my faith is stronger and my endurance greater.

I'm so glad I found your blog through your last facebook message. And I'm so thankful we've indirectly reconnected through the internet.

Keep Running and Keep Writing!
Love,
Melissa