Tuesday, March 6, 2012

10 Years Since the Worst Day of My Life

Today is the 10 year anniversary of the worst day of my life.

March 6  2002/2012

I was 22, I was living in New York City, working at a really fun job that I loved, and I was invincible.  The year before (March 2001) I was hit by a car in the city (lame) and I was in the process of settling the lawsuit, I had a bunch of money and vacation time from work... so to mark the anniversary, I planned a two week roadtrip with the person I was dating at the time.  We didn't have much of a plan... we thought we'd end up in Florida, maybe visit my grandparents.  We left the last week of February, took a week driving south on I-95 and did visit my grandparents in Florida.  I took lots of photos along the way and remember walking on the beach barefoot in March, when everyone else in New York was freezing.  We were driving in my then-boyfriend's super retro van (from the 80's??) and sleeping in the van too.  We washed up at roadstops; it was a total roughing it vacation, but it was fun.  We had no where to be and the entire east coast to explore.  Since we drove south along the coast, we decided to drive home a more wester route - through Alabama, Tennesee and the Appalachian Mountains.  We had a road atlas and were taking small highways kinda figuring if we stay north, we'll eventually get home.  Since it was his van, and too much car for a lady (apparently), he did all the driving and I was the navagator.

On maybe the seventh day of the trip, we stopped in some national park and hiked... then ate dinner at some crappy Chinese buffet in a KMart shopping center.  We were somewhere in western Florida (about 45 minutes outside of Panama City), it was a little after 7PM and we were going to drive a little more before finding somewhere to camp out for the night.  It was dark already and I remember calling my dad and leaving a message letting him know we were OK and I was having fun on the trip.  We were on a very rural highway, and I saw a brown bunny run out in front of the car and felt the double thud of both the front and rear tires going over it.  I, being both an animal lover and apparently a drama queen, was enraged at this.  I started yelling about how humans kill animals and we don't even care... blah blah... and because I was young and invincible, I wasn't already wearing a seatbelt (stupid... I have never since rode in a car without wearing one), and I made a big dramatic show of putting it on to insult the driver.  The Nine Inch Nails "And All That Could Have Been" (live) album was on.... it had just come out and I was addicted to it... the song playing was "Wish."  We were driving fast... but not THAT fast (not more than 60, it was an old ass van and couldn't GO that fast.)  And all of a sudden I saw a stop sign approach us at that speed...  and then the double yellow arrow sign filled the windshield.

I don't remember the impact.  Just seeing that yellow sign in the blackness of the night... then the car was still and everything was pitch black.  The bf opened his car door and the interior lights went on, and we could see the the engine was smoking.  We could smell it actually, because the windshield had shattered.  I had my wallet & cell on the dashboard and they were both gone - somewhere in the woods ahead of us.  The road had come to a T... and we didn't turn... and the car went into the embankment/ditch.  The driver had turned the wheel left at the last second (which is instinctual to protect yourself) and so we hit on a diagonal with my side taking the impact.  There were no air bags (like I said... ancient van.)  He yelled at me "get out, it could blow up."  I couldn't get my door open, it was dented in and jammed shut.  I took off my seatbelt and lifted my top leg off (i was sitting with one leg crossed over the other)... and when I did, the bottom half of my leg dropped out - it was broken clear through the femur and I grabbed the bottom of my leg and said "i can't get out, my leg is broken."  I was clearly in shock, because there wasn't much pain... anywhere.  Panic started to set in then... we were in the middle of NO WHERE, no phone, and it was dark as hell.  But a few minutes later some people showed up... there was a bar nearby and they heard the crash.  Someone called 911 and someone else reached through my window (since my door was jammed shut) and took over holding the weight of my leg for me (I was crying that I couldn't hold it anymore).  They finally had to put my seat into a fully reclined position and take me out the back door.  At this point, my left foot was in major pain, someone took off my shoes for me.  It took over an hour for an ambulance to get there (we were really far away from the nearest hospital) and the ride to the hospital was another 45 minutes or so.  I asked the paramedics many, many times if I was going to die.  Part of me hoped I would.  I got there and they cut my clothes off and did IVs, catheters, tubes, etc.  And then I had to go for X-rays.  I begged for pain killers.  Begged.  And was denied.  I had to go through about 30 minutes of being positioned and repositioned for hundreds of X-rays of my entire body.  They finally gave me IV painkillers before putting me in the CT scan tube (where they took images of my head and ALL my internal organs.)  I must have been in there for an hour+, but I was somewhere else in my head.  I remember asking them if they were going to "set" my leg with me conscious because I couldn't take that.  I begged to be "put out."

My bf called my father and told him we were in an accident and I broke my leg, but I was OK.  Six hours later he got a call from my surgeon telling him I was out of my first surgery and that they better come down to Florida.  That was a shocking call and much different than just a broken leg.  My parents arrived first thing in the morning.

The next few days were a blur of painkillers, surgeries, pain beyond belief, and nightmares.  As it turned out, I had broken 8 bones... including my L-1 vertebra in my spine, my tibia/fibula (both sides of my left ankle), 4 metatarsils in my left foot, and my right femur clear through.  I was fitted for a body cast (a turtle shell) and was told that my burst fracture of my vertebra would heal on it's own, but a tiny piece had pieced the spinal column so I had to be completely immobile in my cast for 12 weeks so it wouldn't pierce further and risk paralyzation.   I had a horrible DENIM printed turtle shell of a cast... and I cried when I saw it.  My right femur had a titanium rod set into it (it is IN the bone, where the marrow goes) and it was screwed in at my hip and the side of my knee - this was done the very first night.  My left foot though developed compartment syndrome (severe swelling) and I was at risk of losing the foot, so they had to perform a fasciotomy and they left the wounds open for 2 days, before they finally went back and fixed the bones with an assortment of plates and screws.

I was in that hospital for 10 days, moved to a rehab center for 10 days, and then my parents had me flown to New York on a medical jet... where I spent another 3(?) weeks in a different rehab hospital.  Twelve weeks after the accident, I had to have another surgery to take out some of the pins/wires setting my foot/ankle before I could bear weight on it again... but to this day, the steel plates and screws remain (as well as the rod/screws in my femur).  It was about 6 months before I would walk again.  It was a long, really painful and difficult recovery.

I healed.  I'm all in one piece now.  But I carry a lot of scars (over 10), a lot of metal, and a residual limp that is only noticable sometimes.  The vertebra healed, but is now about 50% the size/height of the rest.  And when my femur healed, one leg ended up half inch longer than the other.  The rod in my leg is a little too long, and rubs the underside of my kneecap and my hip joint.  I'm all sorts of crooked and asymmetrical (not to the observer, but I can feel it.  Try putting just one 1/2 inch insert in your shoe - you can feel it.)  I was never an athlete, but I was an active New Yorker (walked miles everyday to and from work, etc.) and in one day, that all changed.  For the past 10 years, I have lived with pain every - single - day.  Retrospectively, I was "lucky"... i'm not paralyzed, my face wasn't injured, I healed.  But really, if it hadn't happened at all... THAT would have been lucky.

This accident changed the course of my life in a lot of ways.  I sometimes see it as the first day of the life I live now. 

One year after the accident, I got a rabbit (running) tattooed on the injured ankle (see photo above) to memorilize the rabbit that saved my life.  Had we not run over that bunny and I put on my seatbelt just 1-2 minutes before, I doubt I'd be alive at all.  When I woke up from surgeries the first thing I remember saying was "the bunny saved my life."  I'm sure my parents & the nurses thought I was nuts... but somehow the universe came together and sent me a sign.  I do regret that the bunny had to die, but I owe my life to it.

People know that I've been in an accident and/or that I have some physical "handicaps", but I don't think anyone really has the nerve to ask "what the hell happened?"  So today seemed like a good day to share...

Right femur with rod & break.

Some of the scars I have today...
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