This past week, I found out that one of my running friends, Angi, was diagnosed with breast cancer. This past week, I watched a television special about Representative Gabby Giffords, and her struggles reminded me so much of my own. Tomorrow is Thanksgiving, the day when we stop to be thankful for all we have been given. All this has reminded me of the gifts for which I should always be thankful. It seems only appropriate to continue “my” story here, the story of how I nearly died but ultimately survived a terrible car accident.
When I got to the emergency room at Truman Medical Center, I was in pretty bad shape. I was unconscious. I had a couple of broken bones (specifically my left collarbone and my nose), blood coming out my nose (due to the break) and a bloody gash under my left eye which later required stitches. Eventually most of my body was covered in bruises.
Perhaps the most serious issue was the unknown. Since I was unconscious, I couldn’t respond to commands or tell them where it hurt. In these cases, without any further input, the doctors have to assume the worst, which is why I was on a backboard and in a cervical collar. Given how badly the car was destroyed, the doctors had every reason to believe that I’d had a spinal cord injury and internal injuries. Since I was unconscious, they KNEW I had a brain injury, and they assumed (correctly) that it was a severe injury. Doctors use a scale known as the Glasgow Coma Scale to judge the severity of comas, and at that point I ranked a 3 on the GCS- which is about as low as you can go before you’re dead.
I believe it was at this point that I was intubated and put on a ventilator. AKA life support. I don’t know for sure but I suspect I was “bagged” and mechanically ventilated as soon as the paramedics arrived on the scene and while the firefighters were cutting me out of the car. It’s a bit more complex to intubate a patient, so I don’t think that occurred until I was in the ER.
In the next few hours, I received MANY x-rays and CT scans, which was how the doctors were able to determine that I did not have a spinal injury or any internal injuries (other than the broken bones).
I didn’t have a spinal injury or any other internal injuries.
That was quite miraculous in itself, given the severity of the accident. However, they also confirmed that I had a very serious brain injury- a subdural hematoma compounded by a subarachnoid hemmorage. In other words, some blood vessels had sheared, and blood was building up between my brain and my skull, thus putting pressure on my brain.
Once they’d ruled out any other significant injuries, it was a bit of a waiting game. An orthopedic surgeon came in and set my broken shoulder. A maxillofacial surgeon set my broken nose and stitched the cut under my eye. If the bleeding in my skull didn’t resolve, the neurosurgeon would need to cut into my skull to relieve the pressure. In other words, brain surgery.
The bleeding in my skull resolved itself. I didn’t need brain surgery.
I’ve been asked if I had any dreams or remember anything from that time. I don’t. I consider that a HUGE blessing. Anyone who knows me knows that I am a VERY private person- not, like, “women must not be allowed to show skin” modest, but suffice it to say I’m not even comfortable having a doctor poking around down there. Oh, also- this was a teaching hospital so I KNOW that some of my doctors were really good looking 20-something residents… and I was naked. ‘Nuf said.
Anyway. For the next 11 days I was in a coma. Some days I improved; other days, not so much. I was diagnosed with pneumonia, which is actually not uncommon with ventilators, so they slipped some hard-core antibiotics into my IV. I actually had several IVs throughout that time, because they have to move to a new vein every 48 hours or so. I think I had a total of five different IVs during my time in the hospital. I also got daily x-rays after I was diagnosed to pneumonia. Plus there were a few more CT scans to monitor the progress and healing of the brain injury.
It’s now past 11pm and I’m hoping to get up early in the morning for a run, so I think I will end this for now. Tomorrow, though, I will return. I have much cause to be thankful, least of all my life. To be able to run is just icing on the cake.