Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Mortality makes you want to hold on for dear life...

I'm emotionally exhausted. The Kansas City area was hit by some winter weather which I am not a fan of anyways... because I will always be a Texan at heart. Well, I was thrilled that I had the day off so I could stay in my pajamas all day and be lazy. Then, Patrick called and told me that his car hit an icy patch and he spun out and hit a light pole. Luckily he is OK but his truck is not. We both just realize it could have been a lot worse. You see, we know from experience...

I am a lucky person. Not in the lottery winning kind of way. I just am very fortunate to be alive and to have people around me that love and care about me. I'm lucky to be alive because on February 14, 2011 I was in a horrible car accident. At the time I was in my last semester of nursing school. I had just moved in to my grandparents house to help my grandpa take care of my grandma. She has Alzheimer's and was getting to the point that she didn't know he was her husband anymore and she was really starting to need assistance with things like showering and going to the bathroom. It was just better if a female helped her with those things.

I had stayed on campus late that day to utilize the Internet for an online quiz since my grandparents did not have Internet out on the farm. As I was driving home in the dark on a country highway heading east and talking on the phone to my mom, I saw the headlights of a car on the intersecting road heading south. They seemed to be going a little fast considering they were coming up on a stop sign but my mind didn't really have time to process the possibility that they might not stop.

They didn't.

It was kind of like something you would see in a movie. All I really remember is the headlights and that panicked feeling. And then everything went black.

I have flashes of memories from that night. It's weird when you can't remember but I think that our bodies have a way of hiding these memories in order to help us cope. The first thing I remember after they slammed into my driver side is sitting on the cold wet ground. I couldn't really see anything but I could feel someones' hands on my head and neck as if they were trying to stabilize me and I could feel the icy snow underneath me that had not yet melted. It hurt to breathe. I could here a lot of voices as things started to come into focus and I saw the ambulance pull up close to me through my foggy eyes.

I woman that I couldn't see but was obviously very close to where I was sitting told me I was going to be OK. I remember asking her what happened and she said said, "Can you see your car?" I couldn't even really see her so I didn't know where to look.  I glanced around and finally spotted my little red Honda Civic. The lights from the firetruck (that evidently got there while I was out of it) were shining on my little red car. In my memory of this moment my car was dented. In reality, it was demolished. I don't know why my memory is so different from what actually happened... again, maybe this is just how I was able to cope.

This is when I first realized that there were other people involved. In the distance past where my little red crumbled piece of metal had landed there was a large group of people. I figured they were helping the other(s). The majority of the flashes of memories that I have are of me asking EMTs, Police officers, bystanders etc how the other people in the other car were doing. No one could really answer me though.

When I got to the hospital they ran their tests and asked questions... most of which I didn't really know how to answer. They told me that my left lung had collapsed and that they had to put a chest tube is so my lung could fully expand. They didn't have time to numb the area so they pretty much just dug in. I'll spare you the details. The also told me that my arm was broken pretty badly. This was all in the ER. I still have no real sense of how all the timing worked out but there were all kinds of people there: Grandma, Grandpa, my two closest friends from nursing school (Reanna and Julie), my fiance's (now husband) parents and brother. I looked at the group of people that loved me, tried very hard to focus (in my desperation to try to act like I was OK) and ended up kinda crossing my eyes... which allowed me to see all the blood on my face/nose. It was then that I realized I was in bad shape.

The flashes of memories continued.... and I woke up in a hospital room with my best friend's mom sitting next to me. She knew my family wasn't going to be there for a while and her kind motherly heart told her someone should be there when I woke up. She was right. I woke up very confused and emotional. Like I woke up from a bad dream. But it wasn't a dream. My dad showed up that morning. He had jumped on the first flight from Houston, TX to Tulsa, OK, rented a car and drove two more hours to Joplin, MO where I was in the hospital. My fiance, Patrick, showed up that day too. Several doctors came in to update my dad and Patrick and the orthopedic surgeon told me that he suggested surgery for my left arm. My radius (one of the bones in the lower part of the arm) was broken in such a way he didn't think I would have much luck in healing without surgical intervention. He said he could fit me in that evening so I agreed.

That day was almost as exhausting as the night of the accident. I had so many questions but quite frankly I didn't have the energy to figure anything out. I was in and out of sleep. Patrick and my dad went to pre-op with me. The nurse in pre-op told me the doctor was a little behind schedule and that I had time before she gave me any medication to make me sleepy. My boss called to check on me as I was laying on the cart. I told her I was about to have surgery and I told her everything else I knew (which was very little). I told her that I wish I knew how the other people in the other car were doing. There was a very short pause on the other line...

She told me that the driver of the other car was actually the GA for the women's basketball team and that she had died along with the 4 month old baby that was still growing inside her and her husband of a few weeks was in critical condition. Neither of them were wearing seat belts. I couldn't hold back the tears. I looked at Patrick and my dad and I saw the look on their faces. They already knew. And they knew that my boss had told me even though it had been their intention to get me through surgery before giving me that kind of news.

I blamed myself. Even though there was nothing I could have done to change it, in my mind all I could focus on was that SHE died because she hit MY car. I was inconsolable. I called the nurse in and asked for medication and I was out in seconds.

It's hard to tell but all that scabbing is from glass. I still have some that never came out.
My face the night before leaving the hospital. Black eye is healing!
Bruises from all the IVs and at the elbow where one infiltrated plus lovely tape burns.
Hematoma... still numb where this bruise was.
Chest tube atrium. I had a picture if where the tube went in but I thought it might gross people out.
Reanna washing my hair... so thankful. 

Scar from chest tube.
Keloid scar from surgical repair of my broken radius.

Blurry but this is the scarring on my left elbow from all the glass.

I was in the hospital for a week. I had chest x-rays everyday, sometimes more than once a day, to see how close my lung was to fully expanding. I slept often except when I had visitors which was more often than I expected. My two best friends from nursing school came and helped me wash my hair which I will never forget. It was such a small act of kindness that made a huge difference in how I felt. The day before I left the doctor took the chest tube out and they continued to monitor me for the next 24 hours until I was finally discharged. But recovery didn't end there.

I am so thankful for my dad for being there throughout my hospital stay. He was so calm and while I know he had so many emotions he really helped me by staying positive and leaving the emotional breakdowns to me. I am equally thankful for my mom who flew up to Tulsa the day I was discharged. My good friend, Julie, (who also held my hand while they stabbed me in the side to place the chest tube in the ER) picked her up and drove her to the hospital. My mom stayed with me for about 2 weeks. She helped me with everything from showering, to dealing with insurance, to replacing personal property that was crushed in the wreck, to driving me to school, to getting me a rental car, to helping taking of grandma etc.

It has been almost two years. I wish I could say that I have completely moved on and that I never think about it but that would be a bold faced lie. I think about it everyday and I still deal with the emotional guilt that two people died. I know it wasn't my fault but that doesn't take away the emotions. I take care of patients with chest tubes and broken bones every day and I relive it. The silver lining is that I can relate to my patients when they talk about their pain. Patients see the keloid scar on my arm and the wounds on my face and elbow from all the glass and ask what happened... and I tell them. And because I open up to them while they are in a vulnerable state they trust me and know that I am doing my best for them.

As traumatic as it was and as awful as it sounds, I have to say again... I am lucky. It was not the kind of car accident that people typically walk away from a live a normal life, but I don't want people to feel sorry for me. Patrick and I were dealing with the reality of mortality and the thought of losing each other 5 months before we were even married and he was my rock throughout the months that followed. We were long distance at the time and he came to see me every weekend and listened to many tearful phone calls and held me tight when he was physically present for them. In a weird way, it is like the accident brought us together and strengthened our relationship. Normal people would have been exhausted... but not Patrick.

So today when Patrick spun off the road and into a ditch and slammed into a light pole off the highway I was terrified. I was emotional. But we can deal with the damage of a car. I am beyond thankful that he is OK. He is a little sore but no broken bones and no blood... his heart is beating and he is breathing. Oh, the little things we take for granted! Hug your loved ones, y'all, and BUCKLE UP!.

Found this oldie but goodie and couldn't help myself... October 2008

Love is friendship set on fire.


  1. Hilary, that is so scary! I'm so glad you're okay, and that Patrick is okay. Prayers for quick and simple fixing for his truck! You are very right about buckling up. I was in a car accident when I was 5, and red lights still scare me. Seatbelts save lives, no doubt about it! You and Patrick are in our prayers.

  2. How scary!! I'm so glad you both are okay!