Thursday, July 17, 2008

Remembering the car accident

I actually started writing this post last Thursday. It is a long one ... kudos to you if you can read it all!

So, today I met a girl who was actually at the scene of my car accident (I've got a picture further down). I have been flooded by memories this week of that time in my life. I have always wanted to get the whole story down on paper, but never have taken the time. I’ll try to break it up to make it easier to read, but I just know it’s going to be a novel! ;)

This is Avery and Aubrey on the first day of Kindergarten, about a month and a half before the car accident.

THE day
October 12, 2005 was a typical day in our life. Well, not soooo typical. Braden was just 10 weeks old. Aubrey was a 5 year old, enjoying going to Kindergarten. We were watching Avery during the day (she is 6 months older than Aubrey, I had watched her since Aubrey was 5 weeks old, so they were like sisters.) Since Taylor was home job hunting (he had lost his job the week before), I left Braden home as I went to pick up the girls from school. On the way home, just four blocks from home, I was waiting to turn left at the intersection of 7200 South and 700 East in Midvale. From what I remember, there was a car in front of me who had turned left. I pulled forward and was waiting to see if I would have time to turn before the oncoming car came. That is where my memory stops.

A woman in a Jeep (witnesses say she was talking on a cell phone) ran the red light and hit us on the driver’s side. She was not speeding, but the police say there were no skid marks which means she hit us full force. Apparently, her car lifted us up, turned and ran into another car. I was unconscious (hence the lack of personal memory) and so was Aubrey. Avery was awake the whole time. The firefighters had to cut the roof off to remove me from the car. Aubrey and I were life lighted (me to U of U and her to Primary Children’s) and Avery was transported by ambulance to Alta View.

These pictures were taken a few days later when Taylor and Aubrey went to see the car at the junk yard:

The picture gets me every time. This is Aubrey looking into the car. You can just imagine what is going through her mind as she takes it all in.

You can see where they cut the roof off. I am amazed when I see this picture, to know that we are all alive.


It's so hard to explain everything, since there were so many things going on simultaneously. So, please bear with me as I try my best!

The Injuries
Avery, had a laceration to her forehead and was released from the hospital same day with several stitches.

Aubrey had a laceration and a concussion (no broken bones, though she was sore in her left hip/leg for a few weeks). She received stitches and staples to her forehead and ear. She was released from the hospital the next day. Who would have guessed that Taylor losing his job would actually be a blessing? Because he was home, Braden was not involved in the accident and Aubrey's car seat was able to take the impact and had room to move towards the middle. (Did I mention that it was a huge blessing that Aubrey and Avery were in their car seats even though it was not yet a law? If you have ever thought the car seat to be inconvenient, let me tell you it is one inconvenience that is well worth it!)

I had several broken bones (left hip, pelvic bone, shoulder, rib(s?) and internal bleeding (they removed my spleen and repaired my liver and a kidney). I had several surgeries, including a surgery placing a large screw into my pelvic bone. I was in the hospital for almost a month. The first few days I was in the SICU and I was intubated (NOT fun!) The last week I was at the In-Patient Rehab. Taylor and I celebrated our birthdays as well as Halloween while I was in the hospital.

How people found out
There were so many tiny miracles that happened before, during and after the accident. My friend, Angie Gray, has a cousin who was eating on the patio at Kneaders. She saw the accident and happened to be talking to Angie on the phone. Her cousin described the cars to her. Angie knew that I had a Toyota Camry, but you see those all the time, so surely it wasn't me. She was in the neighborhood and drove by. After realizing it was my car, she started making phone calls. I think Taylor was online (we had dial up back then) so she wasn't able to reach him.

As we were right down the street from the High School, many of the kids were on their way home. At the time, I worked with the youth in our church. One of them (whose name is also Angela) was with a car load of friends. They stopped to see the action. It took her a few minutes to realize it was my car and to recognize Aubrey and I. She called her mother frantically. As her mother calmed her down, she then called our bishop and the word started to spread. The Bishop tried calling Taylor (again, couldn't get through on the phone) and then went over to the house. He tried knocking on the back door. Only thing is, the back door is not directly connected to the house (there are two more doors to get in) so you can't hear anyone from the back. So he thought Taylor was already gone.

Taylor got a call from the hospital at approximately 5:30pm. (This is about two hours later). He had been wondering where I was, thought that maybe I had gone to the store or something. Braden was getting hungry, so he was warming up some breast milk to feed him when the call came. He was frozen, with a crying baby in arms, not knowing what to do next. The neighbor across the street (Shauna) called right then, unknowing, to ask if he could come help with some work in the yard. He stumbled over the words as he told her about the call he had just received. She came over immediately and told him to go and she would take care of the baby. Marlies got there at this time and reassured him that Braden would be fine. As Taylor was pulling out, Josh Jorgensen (another friend in the ward) told him to go see me right away. I guess that through telephone game that was going on, it was being said that I was having cardiac problems.

When Taylor got to the hospital, the bishop, Randall Decker, Angie Gray and Brenda Anderson were already there. He could not see me right away, since I was in surgery. They told him that I was stabilized and had not had any cardiac problems. He then went to see Aubrey. Luckily the two hospitals are right next to each other. As he got there they were just starting to stitch her up and she was still pretty much out of it. Shortly after he got there, Trent and Kacie (his brother and sister-in-law) showed up. Taylor thinks he must have called his mom before he left but honestly can't remember. From the hospital he called my sister, Tammy. Tammy called my Mom (who boarded a flight from Florida to Utah the next day) and my sister, who was in Chicago at the time. Tammy came down and was there throughout the next 1-2 weeks.

Somehow, someone (we think it may have been a paramedic, but might have been the hospital) called the Elementary School and the principle happened to answer (normally no one is there to answer the phone that late) and was able to give them Avery's Mom's phone number at work. Avery's grandmother was able to get to the hospital quickly and Karla (Avery's mom) about 30-40 minutes after she received the call. I am so glad that they were able to get there so quickly, because with her being fully conscious the whole time, she needed to have them there. It took some time for Karla to find out how Aubrey and I were doing (the hospital wouldn't release the information to her).

In the original police report, Avery was not listed as having been in the car. So when Taylor asked how Avery was, they had no record of her. Taylor thought I was supposed to be picking her up as well, but was hoping that her Mom picked her up last minute. Later that night, Karla and Avery visited Aubrey and I at the hospital. It was important for Avery to see with her own eyes that we were alive, even if we weren't looking that great.

Tara's Story
I did not meet Tara until today, but she played a big role in our well being that day. Tara was driving home on 7200 South, when her car broke down. She pulled into the McDonald's and when the car wouldn't start again, started walking home. She did not see the actual accident, but heard the crash and saw the glass flying. She hurried over and was met by a man who had been a medic in the military. He was able to stay calm and kind of direct things. The car we hit had a young high school girl who was screaming frantically. Tara tried to calm her down. She came around to my side of the car. The man looked in and said, "She's not breathing, she's dead, we should help the kids." She said that I looked dead. My head lay to the side and one eye was slightly open with one tear sitting there. I can only imagine how that image was burned into her memory. They knew that they shouldn't take the girls out of the car. The man was talking with Avery on the passenger side and Tara looked in on Aubrey. As I said she unconscious, but she kept coming to and then her head would abruptly flop to the side. She didn't want Aubrey to further injury herself so she reached in (the window was long gone) and held Aubrey's head up until the paramedics got there. Aubrey did not ever fully come to consciousness, but she did attempt to a few times.

When the paramedics arrived, the first EMT called to the others to send two life flights (he hadn't even reached the vehicle by the time he called this out). They took over attending to Aubrey and me while one of the EMTs took Avery out of the car, car seat and all, and put her in another car. (I think they did this because it was obvious that she was in shock and they didn't want her to be there to see anything else traumatic.) Tara got into the back seat with Avery and talked with her about anything and everything. She learned Avery and Aubrey's name, what school they went to and the grade they were in. She asked her questions about school, trying to help distract her from what was going on. Tara said that she did pretty well though visibly in shock. A little while later, the EMTs attended to Avery. She did really well until they put the neck brace on. She kept begging for them to get her backpack. Tara went back to the car, which by then was swarming with firefighters, trying to figure out how to get me out of the car. They asked her to step back. When she asked if they could just reach in and get the backpack for Avery, they said they couldn't and she needed to give them room.

In the days and weeks following, Tara tried to find out what happened to us. The hospitals and fire stations would not give out information due to the HIPPA laws. She went to the Elementary School and asked if they could give any information. She never did know what happened, and it haunted her for a long time. When the first anniversary came, she said she felt comatose that day (I can SO relate!)

It has been such a blessing for us to connect and meet even with all the time that has passed. It's funny the way it happened. Stacie Garn, lived across the street from us for a short time (1-2 years) and it was during this time just before and then after the accident. I never got to know her really well, but from what I did know she seemed like a fun person with a very cute family. She has a daughter who is a little older than Aubrey and they played together sometimes. She moved just before we did. I did see her once since we moved when we ran into each other at Robert's Crafts. About a month ago, I got this comment on my blog ...

carrie it has been a long time so hi from stacie garn. I tried losing 30 by 30 too but didn't quite make it. But i also wasn't running marathons, your'e awesome! Hey i have a friend in our new ward, just behind where you used to live who would like to meet you. Her name is Tara Horton and she was one of the 1st people on the scene of your accident. She said she is the one who held up aubrey's head until the paramedics got there. She thought you were dead and needless to say was ecstatic when I said I knew you should would love to maybe get together at the park sometime. east midvale just put in an awesome park and is a great place for the kids to play you can send me a message through my blog, jandsgarnfamily.blogspot.com, or call.

Well, I read this and just started bawling! How crazy is that? She happened to move right by Tara and they just happened to start talking about the accident (Tara and Stacie were in an accident themselves, which got the conversation going). Definitely NOT a coincidence. So today we went to the park and I got to meet Tara and we were able to share or stories. It was so interesting to hear from her side and fill in some of the blanks.

Another (not) coincidence ... the next day when Tara went to get her car it started just fine. It just happened to start without any effort. I am so grateful to Tara for the love that she had to stop and be there for us. Aubrey may not remember her holding her head up, but the love that was present through her actions was there. Her prayers made a difference. She was there to comfort Avery during one of the most traumatic experiences of her life. Thank you, Tara!

Here is a picture of us at the park today ...



My Recovery - the first few days
It is surreal when I think back over my recovery. While there are a lot of painful (literally!) memories, overall I can see how much good came from the experience. I had several glimpses which helped me to really see why we go through these hard times in life. While I did not have a near death experience, I can say that those first few weeks I had some of the biggest spiritual experiences of my life.

My first memory is waking up in the hospital and not being able to move or talk. I heard a voice explaining to me that I was in the hospital and that I had been in a car accident. I went back out of consciousness. Instead of being out of it altogether, I was in this place of being aware and thinking, though I knew my body was unconscious. Kind of like when you are taking a light nap, but still totally thinking. I can remember everything was really groggy feeling when I would be awake (conscious) and it was hard to piece things together, but when I was in that place of unconscious thinking, everything was clear. The way I pictured it was I was in a dark place, like a cave, although it wasn't a scary dark place ... more of a warm place that was comforting. In fact I preferred to be there as it was much more comfortable than being awake and feeling the pain. I did a lot of thinking there and while I did not "see" anyone else I had discussions in my head with others. Whether actual discussions or just my own thoughts, it could be argued ... but that is not my point. I can remember thinking logically, "Okay, I was in a car accident. I may have brain injuries and have lost some memory. Let me see what I can remember." I went through the day in my head up until the last memory I had.

When I came into consciousness again, I believe Taylor was there. He told me a little more about the car accident, starting with the fact that Aubrey and Avery were okay. I couldn't talk at this point, because I was still intubated, but I would write letters in the palm of his hand to get the message across. I spelled, "where" in his hand and he told me where the car accident had happened. I remember going back into that unconscious state and feeling so relieved that I had been able to remember things accurately. I was grateful that I could not remember the sights or sounds of the actual accident itself because I had heard how that can haunt people. I was worried about Aubrey having to be in the hospital without me as I had always been there with her. I knew how worried she and Avery must be, but I knew that they were well taken care of.

I remember waking up and Tammy (my sister) was there. She looked at me with such love in her eyes and told me that she could feel Paul there with us (Paul is my uncle who had died just a month before). She told me that my Mom was coming and she would be there the next day. I was SO glad. No matter how old I get, I'll always want my Mommy there when I don't feel well.

I remember seeing several people that first and second day. I saw Sharon and Leilani (Sharon was married to Paul and Leilani is their daughter). I could tell how hard it was for Sharon to be there (Paul had spent his last days/weeks in the hospital). I wanted to give her a hug and make it better. Leilani got close to me and talked to me for a few minutes. (When Paul was dying, Leilani and I went to the hospital together. We talked to him willing him to come back, expressing our love for him.) She told me that on their way down she had been praying for me and in the prayers she was telling me all the things that we had told her father. I don't know if I actually told her or if I thought it since I couldn't speak yet, but I remember telling her that I knew ... that Paul had relayed the message to me. I could feel her prayers. I can remember seeing Karla and Avery and I tried to look like I was okay so Avery wouldn't be afraid (as okay as you can look when you arms are tied down and you have a tube down your throat!)

My Mom was there the second day and I was so relieved to see her. Just having her there and to make that eye contact felt so good.

Since Braden was still so young, I had been nursing him. I was very anxious to start pumping because I wanted to keep my supply going. Just about everyone who came to my bed felt me write "breast pump" in the palms of their hands. I knew that I was medicated which meant he couldn't use the milk, but I didn't want to dry up. They asked the doctors, but as long as I was in the SICU, they wouldn't consider it. Their first priority was getting me totally stabilized. Looking back I can understand, but at the time it was so frustrating that they wouldn't listen to me.

I don't know if it was that night or the next day when the doctors explained the extent of my injuries ... they told me that I needed to make a decision. They were considering an operation where they would insert a screw into my pelvic bone which would secure it so that the bone could heal in the proper position. I could either have the operation right away or wait and see if the bone would heal properly on its own. If it did not, I could opt to have the surgery in a few weeks. The operation carried a risk of being paralyzed on one side from the waist down, since it was very close to a main nerve. I went into that unconscious state and weighed the decision back and forth in my mind. I can remember discussing in my mind with my Uncle Paul (he had been a doctor) and asking him what I should do. The answer was to have the surgery so I could begin healing.

A day or two after the surgery, my orthopedic doctor came in to check on my recovery. He tested movement in my left leg and I could not move my leg or foot or even wiggle my toes. He assured me that there was still time for it to come back. Within another day or two (time is SO hard to piece together) I was able to have some minimal movements in that foot ... what a relief!

A funny memory I have is from the middle of one of those nights. I remember hearing two aides talking about a sports game. One of them was cussing a bit as he talked about his team that had lost. The other guys said, "Do you think you should be talking like that in front of her?" He replied, "She so medicated with drugs that cause her to forget, she'll never remember." Well, I was determined to prove him wrong and worked really hard to remember ... in fact it was one of the first things I said when I could talk again! ;) Don't tell ME I won't remember!!!

During those first days, I remember having so many feelings that I just couldn't express once I was conscious. I've said that I had some of the most spiritual experiences of my life, but most of it I can't even describe. Part of it is the doubt that comes in as I started to become more cognitive and also the grogginess I felt. But a lot of it is really not having the words to express what I experienced. I think that is part of why it has taken me so long to get this all down. Ultimately I remember that unconscious state as a place where I was able to think more clearly than I ever have before. Communication was very easy. I was not wracked by emotion, though I still had it there. It was such a place of peace and comfort that was so preferable but I knew that I wanted to come back to consciousness because my family needed me. While I was "alone" I knew I was not actually alone. I know that there were a lot of thoughts, words and feelings that I wanted to take with me, that just did not translate.

My Recovery - out of the SICU
When I was released from the SICU, I was admitted to the regular ward of the hospital. I am thinking it was the 6th floor, but I could be wrong. The first room I was in was shared with another woman. During this time I spent more time going back and forth between consciousness (where I had a LOT of pain) and drug induced sleep.

The nurses brought in a breast pump and we attempted to pump for about 24 hours, every 2-4 hours. It was very difficult because I could not sit upright, but I would incline the head of my bed as far as I could. The first time I barely got an ounce and each time after it was less and less. This was after being able to easily get 8 oz., on one side, with a manual pump before the accident. I finally realized that it was just too much for my body to handle and that I needed to let it go. It was a really hard (emotionally) thing to admit. I grieved not being able to have that connection with Braden anymore. I knew he was taking the bottle just fine, but just hated that my choice had been taken away from me.

The drugs made it hard to keep things straight while I was awake. I remember Kent and Marlies coming to visit and I had totally forgotten that they had visited just a few days before. I do remember that visit, though, because that was when they told me they were expecting Braxton! ;)

I was having many worries about what my longtime recovery would look like. My Mom had been in a car accident 20 years earlier and it took a long time for her to recover, and it still burdens her today. She was bed ridden for a year and it was several years before she could walk without a cane. Our bishop gave me a great blessing while on the 6th floor. I think I had one in the SICU as well, though I don't remember that one. During the blessing, I was promised a full recovery. I was so relieved ... I knew it would not be any easy road but that promise gave me such hope.

While I was in the shared room, I was in a LOT of pain. I was on a morphine drip that I could administer with the push of a button. At first, my Mom would press the button at each scheduled intervals, so I did not have a lapse in the medicine. The nurse then told us that we couldn't do that. I needed to be awake to press the button; otherwise I could possibly get an overdose. Any noise or slight bumps to the bed were extremely painful. My Mom hounded the staff until I got transferred to my own room (thanks, Mom!). It was a huge room with a big window.

It was about this time that I started getting a rash and a fever. Now if you know me, you know that I get weird skin rashes, especially when my body is in trauma (after having Aubrey I was covered in a rash everywhere the epidural tape had touched my back). My Mom and Tammy told the doctors from the beginning, but it was not a priority. Once the rash started coming, they began applying hydro-cortisone cream (which I only recently found out from allergy testing that I am ALLERGIC to!!!) which did not help a bit. Because of the fever and needing to rule out infection, they could not begin right away with oral or topical steroids. You see, if I did have an infection, the steroids would help the infection to get bigger. The nurses wanted me closer to the nurses' station so that they could monitor me more closely, so I got moved to a third room. Still private, but much smaller. After doing a skin biopsy on my arm and several blood tests, they ruled out infection and could begin the steroids. By this time the rash had take over and was covering my whole body. My Mom, Tammy and Taylor took turns putting that topical steroid over every inch of me. The itching and feverish feeling was enough to drive you crazy. Luckily everyone was so calm around me that I was able to endure.

Because I was in so much pain, besides moving my arms and head a little, I really couldn't move. When they would change the sheets, they would have to use a board or another sheet to move me from side to side. I had many moments of feeling pretty helpless. There was one time that a nurse and an aide were arranging me and I told them that my left leg was slipping to the side. They assured me that it was fine. I said, "Please my leg is going to fall off the bed!" Sure enough, my left leg (the same side as my broken hip) fell of the bed right to the floor. I screamed out in pain, it was unbearable. I think they had to give me a shot to calm me down.

During this time, my Mom, Taylor and Tammy took turns being there with my 24 hours a day. Tammy would take the graveyard shift while my Mom took the morning and early afternoon leaving Taylor for the evening shift. It was such a comfort to have someone there, because I didn't have to explain myself to the nurses, they could speak for me.

Tammy would sleep during the day and stay awake all night, even though I slept most of the time. She brought the chair really close to the bed and watched me. I now joke that it could have been creepy ... waking up in the middle of a night to see someone watching you ... but it's wasn't, because we know each other so well. She later told me that she was constantly praying for me and when she would hear me groan she would will her energy to me. She helped me with visualizations ... my happy spot was on the beach. I had never before experienced a panic attack, but had at least two in the hospital. First a little background, I have had this recurring dream for years that alternates from one or more teeth falling out whole or crumbling as I chew. One night I woke up from this nightmare and reached into my mouth and my tooth was actually crumbling. I pulled out a chunk of it and looked at Tammy with horror in my eyes as I screamed, "My nightmare is coming true, my nightmare is coming true!!!" She knew exactly what I meant and immediately started going through a visualization with me. It took a while for me to stop freaking out (my body was in FULL freak out mode) but I was finally able to listen to her and come back to reality. What had happened is one of my fillings had fallen out. We figure I must have clamped my teeth during the impact of the car accident, and it just happened to come out at that time.

Sometime during the second week, I had to have a surgery to remove a device they had put in though my neck to prevent blood clots. I had been out of the room a few times that I could remember to have x-rays done. When they brought me to the room where they would do the procedure, they asked me to transfer to the bed. Ummm, yeah right! I explained that I needed to be transferred with a board and explained how they did it when I had to have x-rays. They didn't realize I needed the extra help, but went and found a board. I could tell that they were not as familiar with how to transfer me, so as they began I was trying to explain my needs. Well, instead of doing it gradually, they did it altogether and to my sore body it felt like I was slammed down on that table from a three story drop. I started screaming out in pain. I begged for them to put my out, but they said I needed to be awake for the surgery. I couldn't imagine how I could bare to be alert for the surgery and endure the pain. They finally got approval to give me a shot of morphine which helped my body to calm down enough so that I could do the procedure. They apologized profusely saying they didn't realize how bad my injuries were.

After the procedure I had to get more x-rays done before I could go back to my room. I was so scared to transfer again, but I saw the technician and recognized him from the last x-ray I had. I knew he was very gentle and this time was no exception. When they brought me back to the room, I think the calming effect of that morphine had worn off, because I looked at Taylor and started telling him what had happened. The horror of it came back to me and I started to have another panic attack. I could tell I was losing control and tried to explain that I needed him to talk me out of it, but it was too late. I could not calm down. It is such a bizarre feeling to feel yourself losing control of your body and to not have any choice in the matter. The nurse came in and gave me another shot (thank goodness for drugs!) and I was able to finally relax and really sleep, which my body (and mind) really needed.

While I could not put any weight on my left leg or right arm, the doctors wanted me to work on standing up. There were three physical therapist aides that came in several times a day. I don't remember their names, but it was two guys and a girl ... let's call them the Dream Team. The guys had an almost crude sense of humor and the girl evened them out. One of the guys was pretty cute and would always flirt. Looking back, I can see that they were so good at what they did because instead of just offering a bunch of pity, they would razz me and light a fire under me to get me going. But they totally knew when enough was enough.

The bed I had was this amazing thing. (At $25,000 a pop, they SHOULD be!) The top of it came to a full sitting position as you would expect, but the bottom folded down so it was like sitting in a big chair. The Dream Team gradually worked the bed into this seated position. For the first few days, that was all I could handle. I would count down the minutes until I could lay down again. While lying down was not pain free, it was so much better. It was time to attempt standing up. I couldn't even fathom the idea. My body was so weak. It took the three of them supporting and pulling me up to stand on that right foot. I don't think I actually used any muscles but all of my energy was focused on not dying from the pain. Once I was up I could start to put some weight on that leg and almost had some relief. Have you ever been really sore and it hurts to start standing or walking, but then it goes away once you start? Well, it was kind of like that. The pain never went away all together, but definitely receded. I think I probably stood for about a minute. Within a few days I was able to stand with the help of only one aide and I could slide my foot and sit in a wheel chair (equipped with a BIG cushion).

Transferring to a wheel chair was a HUGE step ... it meant I could then transfer to the toilet (hooray no more bed pans!) and take my first shower! The toilet was not so exciting, but the shower was! They have these "shower chairs" which are basically a wheel chair that can get wet. The shower I used is in a big room with several stations (think locker room showers). I just wheeled in and took the shower right there. I remember it felt so amazing to wash off after that yucky rash had just festered. The poor aide who was helping me didn't know how to touch me without it hurting. After that first shower, my Mom or Taylor always helped, since I didn't have to explain it to them. When I got back to my room, I was so tired and slept like a baby. It was a different kind of sleep, because I was so physically exhausted. Somehow that kind of sleep is always so much better.

For some reason, while I was in the hospital I could not stand sugar. It made me nauseous. I really had no appetite, but would force myself to eat something as I knew my body needed to energy for healing. I would try to go for the foods that offered a lot of bang for the buck. Probably 1/2 of what I ate was nutrition shakes. I could always eat the veggies and salads. Normally all I want is sugar and I have to force the veggies, so this was quite unusual! I am sure it was the combination of the drugs and how my system reacted. If only I could duplicate that reaction now without all the other side effects!

If you have ever had to stay in the hospital, you know that the gowns they provide are not so pretty. However, when you are hooked up to all kinds of machines, you can't just throw on a t-shirt and flannel pants. So, the gown you must wear. My amazingly talented sister, Stacey, who was living in Phoenix at the time, wanted to be here so bad. But, she had three small children and it just wasn't feasible. Plus I had more than enough help. So, she decided to be my fashion designer and took several seemingly ordinary nightgowns and turned them into the most fashionable hospital gowns you'll ever see ... complete with snap close arms and ties in the back. All of the nurses were quite impressed. I still think we need to market that idea, Stace!

Each day I was doing better and better. It was getting close to our birthdays (Taylor's is the 24th and mine the 25th of October). It was time to transfer to the In-patient Rehab. I knew this was the last step before I would get to go home, but I also knew it was going to be the hardest in many aspects. You see, I would be doing a minimum of three hours of therapy a day. This may not sound like a lot, but at the time most of my therapy revolved around using the bathroom or taking a shower, transferring for x-rays or whatnot. The three hours of therapy was in addition to all of these things. I was ready, but I was feeling overwhelmed. Would you know ... I was actually transferred down there on my birthday?

My Recovery - In-patient Rehab

Now that I was doing better, I was no longer under "24 hour a day surveillance" by my family. It was now the third week and Taylor had started a new job (hooray!), Tammy was back in Logan getting caught up with the things she needed to do and my Mom assumed my role at home (taking Aubrey and Avery to and from school and caring for Braden.) I began feeling strong and confident. I knew it wouldn't be long before I would be able to come home.

As I was being checked into the Rehab on the first floor, I began to explore the new room with my eyes. I was no longer alone, but had TWO roommates. Of course since I was the newcomer, I was not by the window, but in a small corner that barely fit my bed, right by the door. Our room was right by the common room, so you can imagine all the activity that went by. The aide was surprised when she saw that I was still depending on the bed to bring me to the seated position before standing as opposed to turning and getting out on the side of the bed. Honestly, the thought of EVER doing that again, seemed impossible. There was no sliding or schooching on that hip going on.

The more I laid in bed waiting, the more panicky I got. I was feeling claustrophobic and unsure that I would ever hack it here which meant how would I ever make it home? Right about this time, Taylor's cousin, Jane (or Sydney), came to visit. Now, she and I don't see each other that often, but never before was I ever so glad to see someone in my life. It was all I could do to not bawl like a baby. She was able to visit with me for a while provide such a needed distraction. I know she has no idea how much that visit meant. A while later, Jerusha showed up for a visit. She had this cute silver necklace (had charms with the birthstones for Aubrey and Braden) for my birthday. I think I wore that necklace for a good year straight! She and the kids had made word strips with words of encouragement (faith, love, etc.) and colored pictures for me. They put them up all over my wall. Those words helped me so much during that week and a half. By the time Jerusha left I was feeling ready to take it on again, one step at a time.

Since I was transferred to the room in the middle of the day, I did not have any scheduled therapy for the day. I am so grateful for this "break" so that I could ease into things. That night, everyone came down to celebrate my birthday. Since my new quarters were so tight, we used the common room, which was a nice big room with sofas and a TV on one end and tables and chairs on the other. I tried to sit in the wheelchair, but I was in a lot of pain. The kind nurses wheeled my bed in so that I could be right in the middle of all the action. Here are a couple of shots from that night ...


Early the next morning, around 6:30 or so, the doctor along with several interns came in to access things (took all of about 2.5 minutes and cost how much?!?). Then my breakfast was brought in along with my schedule for the day. I would be doing at least 1 1/2 hours of physical therapy and 1 1/2 hours of occupational and recreational therapy. It took a few days to get the hang of, but eventually I figured out how to plan naps and pain meds around this schedule so that I could get the most out of it.

On the first day of physical therapy I was wheeled into the main room and told by the physical therapist that I would be getting down on the bed/mat for some exercises. I thought he was crazy. First off, the foam was only about 1/2 thick, and it was way lower than my hospital bed. Not only that, but it did not incline like my hospital bed to help me get in and out. Well, I did it. Yes, it was excruciating and yes, I pretty much had tears coming for that entire half hour, but I did it! I honestly don't know how I got up off of that thing. On the second day, my regular Physical Therapist (Susan, I think) took over. She was awe inspiring. She was not afraid to jump in as we figured out modifications for my odd weight bearing restrictions. (You try getting out of bed without putting any weight on your left leg and your right arm or rolling ... seriously, try it!) She was able to push me right to the edge. It was all about getting stronger and becoming more independent. She taught me how to use the wheelchair myself (with my right leg and left arm) and to transfer without assistance. Let me tell you the first time I brought myself back to my room by myself, it was so exhilarating! I won't even go into the first time I went to the bathroom or took a shower on my own ... such freedom!

Around the 2nd or 3rd day, one of my roommates was discharged. I was able to move to her side of the room which had the most room as well as one side that was all windows. It was SO much better to have the extra space. The natural sunlight was so healing. I no longer felt discouraged but could see how all the tiny baby steps were slowly but surely helping me move forward and get better. I WAS able to learn how to get in and out of the bed from the side and I could dress myself again (through OT). That mat in therapy was not so bad after all.

While I had hoped to be home for Halloween, it was not to be. However, our area put on a huge trick or treat celebration for the patients and their families. Aubrey, Braden and Avery came down all decked out ...

As the days went by, things got better and better. I was feeling stronger and more independent. I was making great strides in therapy. I actually had some time to enjoy watching some tv as opposed to sleeping constantly. One night, I was watching the news when they showed footage of a car accident and reported that the couple had both been life flighted to the same hospital I was in. I was so impacted by the pictures and knowing what they and their families must be going through. I quickly turned off the tv, but I could not shake what I was feeling. The aide came in to check on me and asked if everything was okay. I tried to fib, but couldn't hold back. I explained to her and started crying. She was so thoughtful and explained that considering what I had experienced, my feelings were totally normal. It took months and months before I could watch the news again. It's gotten easier, but even now, it's still hard when I see or hear about a bad car accident.

About three days before I was discharged, we got a new roommate. Her name was Jeannette. She was a cute old lady with a husband who totally loved her. She had many health problems and just two weeks before her heart had stopped. She was very weak. I recognized that scared, overwhelmed look that was in her eyes. She was in that same claustrophobic space I had been in when I was first checked in. I spent a lot of time talking to her and her husband, reassuring her that it would be okay and letting her know what to expect. I could see how much pain it caused her husband, who was in good health, to see her suffering so much. We got to be good friends quickly.

I don't remember if it was her first or second night, but I was awoken when I heard a lot of commotion. (This was not unusual as our other roommate, who was healing from a severe stroke, often needed help in the night ... she would have horrible nightmares where she would be shouting out frequently. Also, because of her condition, she did not have control of her bowels and for some reason the middle of the night was when her bowels were the most active. I know ... too much information!) The nurses were trying to get Jeanette to wake up but she would not respond. I was panicked, remembering how her heart had stopped. I began praying for her immediately. I was able to pick up that she was still breathing and her heart was beating, but that her blood sugar had dropped too low and hence she was not responsive. They gave her sugar through the IV and she started to come around. They needed her to eat, since the IV sugars would not last. She was so out of it and she thought that the nurses were trying to poison her. She was frantically swatting at them, calling for her husband (he was home ... our area did not accommodate overnight visitors.) At one point she called out for my help and I immediately got in my wheelchair and came over. (Never was I so grateful to have the independence. If I had any pain, I certainly was not aware of it.)

Somehow through her delusions, she was able to remember me. I explained to her why she needed to eat and that it was not poisoned. She would let me feed her, but was still frightened of the nurse. I told the nurse I would feed her the rest and help her calm down. The nurse left and Jeanette was able to calm down as I fed her the toast. Slowly she started to come back to reality and grasp her surroundings. I ended up staying by her bedside for well over an hour and a half. We talked about everything including our religious beliefs and what happens to us after we die. She was raised Catholic, but hadn't really been to church since she was a girl. I told her my beliefs and she hoped that I was right. She was afraid to die and never see her husband again. At some point during our conversation, I had something amazing happen. It was nothing physical, but this spiritual insight, you could say. I was totally okay with everything that had happened ... I knew that out of all the places in the world that I could be, that this was the one place in the world that I was needed right then. I could see the design which led me to be with her and there was no fear or pain in that design. As I am trying to describe how that felt, there really aren't words. It was such an amazing feeling, one that brings me strength over and over again in my life. It was light and peace and love beyond anything I have ever felt. I'll never forget that night, holding her tiny hands gnarled by arthritis talking about such precious things.

The next time I talked to Taylor he expressed how hard it was for him to leave me alone at the hospital. I explained to him the experience with Jeanette and told him that he did not need to feel guilty ... I was totally content to be there as I knew I was not alone. Those last few days flew by ... I swear I was smiling the whole time!

The day before I was released, My Mom and Annette came in to get training from my therapist so that they could help me when I got home. We borrowed a wheel chair from Tammy (she had it after her knee surgery) and Annette and Shauna loaned us a ramp and shower chair. I couldn't do stairs yet, but luckily we had an extra bedroom and bathroom on the main floor. I was ready to go home!!!

My Recovery - Going Home!
Never was I EVER so glad to go home! My Mom was worried that I might have a hard time driving home between the bumps and general worry. Luckily I was just fine. I am so thankful that I have no memories of the actual accident, so I didn't have those sounds and images to haunt me. It was amazing to see how much things had changed in just one month.

After a harrowing ride up the steep ramp to get up to the porch, (thanks Ron and Taylor for hanging on to me!) I was finally able to relax in the comfort of my own home. It felt so good to be able to hold Braden whenever I wanted and be there when Aubrey got home from school. Luckily the kitchen was so spacious so it made it easy to navigate in my wheelchair. The hall to the bedroom and the bathroom was not as easy and the walls got quite scuffed up! Braden slept downstairs with us and while Taylor would normally get up to change his diaper and prepare the bottle, I got to help with feeding him during the late night feedings. That alone made it worth all the hard work in physical therapy.

I was still on pretty high dosages of oxycotin. What's the one thing you hear when you talk about that drug? It's SOOO addictive. People rob pharmacies just for this drug. I've always had a hard time taking narcotics and was especially anxious to wean off of this strong drug because I heard so many negative stories. So I decided to begin weaning off of it as soon as I could. The side effects were not pleasant. I felt nauseous and weak. I felt like jumping up and down and so exhausted that I could sleep sitting up ...all at the same time. It felt like my insides were literally crawling and trying to get out of my body. I was constantly praying to get from one moment to the next.

I was on two different types of it, a slow release dosage and a fast acting dosage. On this day as I was attempting to cut down the dosage, my Mom cut one of the long acting pills in half. After I had already swallowed it, my Mom was reading some paperwork that indicated, do NOT cut the pills in half as it could cause an overdose. (Flashback to the possible morphine overdose in the hospital!) Panicked, she tried to get through to the doctor and then poison control when the doctor wasn't available. She couldn't find the number anywhere, so she called 9-1-1 asking for the number. They were able to transfer her. Poison control reassured us that most likely it would be just fine, but they told us what symptoms to look for. Problem solved, or so we thought.

A few minutes later I was looking out the window I saw what appeared to be a police officier. Then I saw the stretcher. I yelled for my Mom and started panicking saying, "Please don't let them take me to the hospital, please don't let them take me to the hospital." Turns out any 9-1-1 call needs to be checked on (why didn't they tell us on the phone?!?) The paramedics were very nice and as I told them the side effects I was having and showed them the dosages I had been taking, they explained to me that was coming off of it too fast. Basically in one day I had cut my dosage in half. They equated it to jumping off the roof of a building vs. climbing down a ladder. If I reduced the dosage just 5-10 milligrams each day, my body would respond much better. They did say that there may be some more adverse effects, but that it would be worth it to work through it. They explained that they had met many people that were now addicted to the drug, because they did not have the discipline to cut it down when they should.

I followed their advice and took another dose which brought me back up. As I swallowed those pills, I could feel them begin to take effect almost immediately. The jitters went away and my heart beat calmed down. I had a small glimpse into what it might feel like to be addicted. It gave me so much more understanding to what addicts go through. It would be hard to resist forever, if that was a constant urge I was faced. My Bishop came to visit and counsel me through what I was experiencing. He helped me to realize what a miracle these drugs were to me as they helped me to manage the pain in such a way that I had been able to recover so much in just a month. I would NOT be addicted because I was using them for the purpose they were intended for. He counseled me to read my scriptures even though I couldn't comprehend what I was reading. He equated the action of reading the scriptures to holding onto the iron rod. Since there is no physical rod, reading the scriptures was a way to "hold to the rod."

As I stepped down gradually, I had no other adverse reactions. There were some days that were tough physically. I was so grateful for the bishop's advice because I was able to read the scriptures when I was feeling desperation and it carried me through those hard moments. There were days when I read 8-10 different times.

During my first two weeks at home, our wonderful neighbors brought us yummy dinners every night. Some women that I only knew as acquaintances were so willing to offer us service. The Young Women in our ward signed up to come by each afternoon to clean or help in any way they could. I remember Jerusha coming and asking what she could do. I couldn't think of anything, but she went and found laundry that needed to be folded. I was so impressed by the willingness of everyone to be there for us.

I spent a full 8 weeks avoiding weight to my left leg and right arm. This meant full wheelchair use aside from transfers. Just before Christmas I was able to begin using crutches. My right arm was weak, so it took some time to build up to using them more and more. I was able to begin working with a new physical therapist doing therapy in a warm pool. This was the best, since I could finally move freely. I started out putting 20 lbs. of pressure on my left leg and each week could add 10 more pounds of pressure. So it took a few more months until I could ditch the wheelchair and crutches altogether. I remember chatting with a girl at the pool who was about my age. She had broken her hip 5 years earlier in a car accident. She told me that it would get better and better. After one year she was walking tons and hiking the mountain and at two years she was back to running. I laughed thinking there was no way this broken body would ever run! Now who's laughing?!? (I completed a half marathon just two months ago!)

Here are some questions I get asked a lot:
Do I still have pain today? Yes, but it is not debilitating. It's less when I am exercising regularly. (Why do I still struggle to exercise consistently?!?)

Will they remove the screw? Nope ... not if I have anything to do with it! It is actually designed to fuse and become one with the bone.

Does the screw set off metal detectors? Nope. It is made of some metal (knew what it was once upon a time) that is super strong but does not set off metal detectors.

Do you hate/Are you mad at the woman who hit you? No. I never have been and I'm grateful for that. It would only burden me if had to carry that with me. Maybe things would be different if she had been drunk or speeding. Yes, she was carelessly talking on the cell phone, but how many people do you see talking on the phone each day? I've even caught myself doing it a couple times since the accident. We all need to be more aware of things while we are driving.

Will you be able to have kids again?
I can bear children again if we are lucky enough to be blessed again. For at least a year or more, I couldn't imagine ever allowing anything that would cause my hips to spread and put added pressure on that pelvic bone. Now, I know I could totally do it. We'll see what happens!

Soooooo ...
Wow, I really didn't think this would be quite so long ... if you are still with me, I am VERY impressed! This has been so healing to write. I am so thankful for the positive experiences and friendships that I will carry with me forever. I still have a jar of notes that the sweet girls in my neighborhood made for me. I am VERY grateful for the level of medical care that we have available so that I can live a normal life. Looking at my Mom's care just 20 years before, things were done so differently. As a result she is much more affected by her past injuries than I am. Hopefully Aubrey will not follow in our footsteps! ;) I am grateful to all my family and friends and people I don't even know who prayed for us and helped us make it through that time. I don't even know all the houses that Braden traveled to those first few days (Brintons, Deckers, Jorgensens, Andersons to name a few). Stacy Jorgensen even offered to be a wet nurse if it was needed (and she already had her arms full with one high maintenance little girl!) Taylor's Mom took care of Braden for a solid 2-3 weeks. It's no easy task to handle those midnight feedings. My Mom dropped everything and put her life on hold for almost 6 months until I could do everything again. My sisters were there for me every step of the way. Taylor couldn't have been a better support to me ... talk about "through sickness and health". Aubrey was so strong and brave ... I loved our visits in the hospital! Braden adapted so well, he really is a special spirit. Thank you, thank you, thank you ... I am SO blessed!

6 comments:

Josh and Stacy said...

Wow, that was an amazing story! I am so glad that you shared it. I am sorry I missed playing at the park. I hope we can all do it again sometime.

Dan and Dee said...

Oh Carrie. I am so glad everything turned out fine. What an incredible experience. I am still in tears. I am amazed at how well you remember everything. You are an amazing woman.

Stacey said...

I needed a good cry. You are such a brave and amazing sister. Thanks for being such a great example to me!

Myrt said...

I can remember when I first heard about my daughter Carrie's accident. It was at about 9:20pm at night after a long day of computer consulting. My roommate told me, and I called immediately. I cannot remember who I got through to first.

I do remember talking with my wonderful son-in-law Taylor and all I could choke out was "I love you Taylor -- Help is on the way."

I knew from my accident 20 years earlier what Carrie would be going through in her recovery process, but realized her internal injuries were much worse than mine. She had her spleen removed and the doctors were worried about continued internal bleeding. I had more broken bones, she had more internal injuries, but many of our fracture sites were similar.

I went online and placed a plane reservation and spent the remainder of the night alternately packing, praying, and occasionally throwing up because of the intensity of what I knew my daughter and granddaughter were going through. Indeed, what the entire extended family was going through.

The first available flight was around 5am and I was ready. I knew when I went that I would be staying for many months.

Though little 5-year old Aubrey and Avery were doing well, we all were unsure if Carrie would even make it through the first night.

During the plane trip from Tampa to Salt Lake I was calm. I knew if I showed signs of the extreme stress I felt, they might not let me fly. This is due to post 9-11 extra sensitivity to possible terrorist situations.

Interestingly, I had returned only two weeks before from being with my dear sister Sharon, who was only recently widowed.

Sitting on the plane in flight, I couldn't know how things were progressing for my daughter and granddaughter. I tried to have faith that all was being cared for properly.

I remembering thinking I could hear my sister's husband Paul say to me quietly -- you need to be here with family. This is where you need to be.

I tried to decipher some sort of cosmic indication that my daughter yet lived, but the reality of the flight and my own humanity precluded such inside knowledge. I had to go on faith.

Only a month before I had taken a similar stressful flight because of Pauls' death. At that time, I had helped my sister pick out the casket and arrange for her husband's burial plot, funeral, et al. Who knows where this flight would take me and what new information I'd discover on my arrival. (Why CAN'T we use cell phones on planes? They used to have pay phones on the seat back in front of us for a hefty $49.5 per minute or so.)

This time on the plane back to Utah, I recognized that had I still been in Utah, I could have come to my daughter's aid even sooner.

This flight was spent praying continually for the physicians and nurses that cared for Carrie, Aubrey and Avery -- that their minds would be clear and their bodies strengthened despite the rigors of caring for their many trauma patients.

I also began to pray for my 10-week old grandson, Braden that he would take the change from breast milk to formula in stride, and that he would not suffer from detachment, missing his mother as he would during her recovery. I actually had a lot of calmness about this -- I knew that with God all things are possible.

My eldest daughter Tammy met me at the airport in Salt Lake. My first concern was to hear how things were going and I was overjoyed to hear my child was still alive.

I then asked Tammy to tell me how to handle seeing Carrie. I wanted specifics about her looks, the machinery and such, so that I could appear calm when I walked into her SICU (surgery intensive care unit) room. I knew that if Carrie saw panic in my eyes, she would know things were bad. And even though things WERE bad, I didn't want her to see it in my eyes and discourage her recovery.

It was of primary importance to remain as calm as possible, so be as alert as possible to every indication, and to respond as appropriately as possible.

Even though I am a physician's daughter, accustomed to the smell of hospitals, NOTHING could have prepared me for seeing my beautiful youngest daughter laying there hooked up to every possible machine for life support.

Initially Carrie opened her eyes enough to know it was me, and she lapsed back into semi-consciousness as we held hands tightly. She had tears coming down from her closed eyes, and I am surprise I could see anything through my tears.

Carrie was only allowed one or two visitors for two 15 minute segments an hour. That meant I soon had to leave for the waiting room. Someone told me that my grand daughter Aubrey had been released from the adjoining children's hospital, so I once again prepared myself to show nothing but hope, faith and LOVE in my entire being when I saw Aubrey.

To my surprise most of Taylor's family was already in the waiting room, and dear little Aubrey looked like a little lost lamb -- floundering for a comfortable spot.

I knelt on the floor beside her, not knowing where I could touch her that wouldn't hurt. It was obvious from the stitches and staples on her upper left forehead that she had suffered terrible injuries. I remember praying immediately that her brain cells would recover and that she could return to normal soon enough.

I knelt down beside Aubrey so she wouldn't have to crane her neck to hear me, and so as to not appear overwhelming to her.

Carrie has reported much about her time in the hospital -- fairly accurately.

Carrie couldn't tell you that I knew she was going to recover because when she wiggled her fingers (a signal to indicate she wished to write something in your palm) she didn't write anything, but used my palm as resistance so she could crack her knuckles.

This is a habit that has always bothered me, and I remember thinking or perhaps even saying out loud "OK, she is going to recover, she is acting like herself, she is cracking her knuckles." [grin]

Carrie also didn't know how it was when the nurses came to remove the breathing tube. Apparently you cannot be on one for too many days, or else you are destined to be on it permanently.

The nurses explained this to me and Tammy as Carrie lay still connected to many other diagnostic machines in SICU. We were told she had to keep her oxygen level above a certain point. (Was it 92?)

When Carrie wasn't remembering to breathe, then the monitor indicating her oxygen level would begin to beep the alarm. We'd have to calmly talk with Carrie and remind her to "BREATHE, HONEY, BREATHE, so you won't need that tube anymore."

This was heart breaking. Tammy and I had to pray and help Carrie remember to breathe at this critical part of her recovery stage. It felt like her life was in our hands and carried on the strength of our voices.

Another thing Carrie couldn't know was that following that hip surgery to insert the screw, the doctor spent much time with her, then pacing back and forth to the nurse's station. At first Carrie did not respond with pressure in her foot against the doctor's palm, as she should have. We all tried to remain calm. About 30 minutes later, he came in again, and there was finally movement.

Later in the hallway, the surgeon stopped me and Tammy to say that Carrie's recovery was assured, though he had been very worried he had made a mistake because of her her initial lack of response. He had been at the nurse's station talking with his partner and describing what a miracle he felt the recovery was, since the initial response was not normal. He told me he was so grateful that he had not paralyzed her for life.

I wished I could hug him, though propriety didn't permit it.

All I could do was assure the doctor that we knew he had done his best and that either way we appreciated his efforts more than we could express. This was quite an insight for me to observe how much a physician cares and worries about his effectiveness.

Another thing Carrie could not describe to you is the incredible amount of cooperation among the family members for getting things done.

I particularly recall how Tammy and I passed each other in the hallway at the change of our shifts. We'd cry together over the enormous emotion of the entire process. I'd tell her how upset I was when I inadvertently bumped Carrie's bed, and Tammy would weep, sharing similar concerns about her term of caring for Carrie.

All in all, this experience has brought our family closer together.

I remember being so thankful when my dear sister Sharon brought her children Matt and Leilani to visit with their cousin, my daughter. Sharon was easily upset by hospitals having just lost her husband, and I know it took great selfless love for Sharon to make the trip. One time she came after appearing at a dinner where her husband was honored posthumously for his contributions to the welfare of others through the Swanson Family Foundation's trips to deliver medical equipment to Mongolia.

I also particularly remember Stacey hearing about Carrie's developing skin rash. Within 1 day, thanks to her efforts and FedEx delivery, Carrie received the several soft hospital gowns created with love by my talented middle daughter, Stace.

Oh, I don't know if these comments make any sense. I dare not go back and attempt to edit as I am so exhausted from going through these emotions again.

However, I must acknowledge Carrie's strength and courage. I never would have dreamed that a little over 2 years following the accident, Carrie successfully completed the 2008 Ogden Utah half marathon.

WAY TO GO, girl!

Remember who loves you!
Mom <3 <3 <3

Frostiekat said...

I just ran into your blog after looking for a chicken noodle soup recipe. I just have to say...what an amazing journey you have been through. You are incredibly strong! I hope your days are spent continuing to heal and be the beautiful strong person that you are! Thank you for sharing your story and your recipe!

Raleigh Crowl said...

It’s so very fortunate that you have recovered and are all right. Looks like Someone Upstairs was definitely looking out for you guys that day. I also think it’s very decent of you to let go of any anger or bitterness that you might have felt towards the driver. You definitely had enough grounds for legal action there, but you chose the other path. And I applaud you for that.

-- Raleigh Crowl