Today, February 18th, is my celebrate life day; my second birthday. 18 years ago today a semi came into my lane and I wasn’t supposed to survive the crash, but I did. This is the day that profoundly changed my life and it deserves a celebration.
I’m often asked: “Do you remember the accident?” Yes, yes I do. I remember vividly and depending what I share I can actually feel, hear, and taste the memories. And since this is my first time blogging this, I will take the time to share a few pieces of the story with you today.
I remember seeing the truck in my side mirror and thinking I’m going to get hit. Before I could react, I heard the sound of metal crashing and my car completely spinning. I would spin to face the truck head-on. By the way, I forgot to mention, I was driving a Geo Metro (yes a roller-skate on wheels). His front grill hit me and spun me again (or maybe I did that with the steering wheel – as I was trying to maneuver the best I could). I spun again heard a loud bang and then complete silence.
The car was stopped by the end of a guardrail (I would not know this at the time – I would have to be told). I was in and out of consciousness and both lucid and not so lucid. I remember telling the medics, I didn’t hit my head, that my lungs were filling with fluid and it was hard to breathe. But then later I’d ask if the car was in neutral so I could release the clutch. I didn’t know the car wasn’t even running.
I had no concept of time. I thought it took moments to get me out when in reality it took two hours. Jaws for life were needed to remove me from the car. I remember screaming when they went to pull me out and then nothing as I passed out. Next I woke up to bright lights in the ER just as they were jabbing a chest tube (the first one – I’d receive two) and let me tell you that hurts like a mother trucker. After that I don’t remember anything until I woke up in ICU at Froedert. I didn’t know I was flown via flight for life or that I coded twice in the helicopter.
I had a bruised heart, collapsed lung, broke all my ribs but one in a flaying fracture (meaning the same spot all ribs) and broke my shoulder in 5 places. All this damage was done on my left side. I had to have a machine breathe for me while in ICU and fed through a feeding tube. I’d be given an epidural in my back so they could take me off the machine and I could finally breathe on my own. That was one of the most amazing days and I think I talked non-stop once the doctors figured out my pain pills. I would have my heart shocked again – twice – to remove the irregular heartbeat that had developed from the bruised heart. I spent 7 days in ICU with a total of 10 days in the hospital. I’d go through OT and recovery for 3 months. It took me almost a full two years to heal both physically and mentally.
I’m lucky. I shouldn’t be here. I have permanent damage on my left side and I have pain every day. The amount of pain varies and for the most part it’s mild most days. I have a heart condition that manifested seven years after the accident and the only cause that can be found is the trauma from my accident. I try not to let my limitations define me.
The thing that surprises most people is that if I could travel through time (that would be so cool) I wouldn’t change having the accident happen (except for the worry that my family and friends went through).
The accident changed my life for the better. While it took a while, I realized the accident was my opportunity for a new start. I didn’t like who I was becoming before the accident and I was given the opportunity to change my fate – to change me. And that is exactly what I set out to do.
I’d like to close with what I recognize every year on my celebrate life day. I take the time on this day to remember all the small things that I do every day without ever paying attention. Things like: I can take a shower, wash my hair, go to the bathroom, brush my teeth, brush my hair, get out of bed, walk to the chair, sit in a chair, drink Diet Coke, get my own food from the fridge, get dressed, talk, laugh, smile, raise my arm, turn over in bed, take a step, and take a breath. All of these things I could not do without help. And it’s on this day that I make sure to take the time to remember those small things. Because when you can’t do them, you finally realize how important those rote everyday things are.
I have only brushed the surface in this post of what I’ve learned. Stay tuned for future posts while I don’t have them all figured out yet (and good thing is I don’t have to) I know that I plan to continue to share this incredible journey I’ve been on for the last 18 years.
Join me in celebrating the little things. Celebrate life today and every day.
P.S This year it’s two milestones in one – turning 18 “again” (though I admit the first time I was much more excited to become an adult but this time around not so much – this adulting thing is really hard) and it’s my golden anniversary – 18 on the 18th.
In three years, I’ll be turning “21” again and I plan to throw one heck of party!
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