‘At 20, I had a poo bag attached to me. I had my 3rd set of surgeries in a year. They removed several FEET of intestines.’: Car accident survivor shares recovery journey, ‘You can be you again, even if the ‘you’ is different’

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“I sit here picking my brain for a way to begin my ‘story.’ ‘Story,’ which is a word defined as a narrative of past events in one’s life. However, I do not have that. This is not the past for me. This is simply another day in my life through this journey of recovery from a car accident that I was in nearly four years ago on October 8th, 2017.

I had barely begun my life as a 20 year old when this car accident sent my entire world upside down. I was in the passenger seat of a friend’s car going for a drive the night before Thanksgiving, when somebody T-boned us at an intersection on a green light when they were turning. My friend was screaming, I was confused, and I was in a lot of pain. It felt like I had just been stabbed in my abdomen. All I could smell were chemicals from the air bags being deployed and I knew I had to get out of that car because I was about to expel that day’s lunch all over the dashboard. A woman who had witnessed the accident assisted me to the curb after I ensured my friend was okay and she sat with me until emergency personnel arrived (I did expel my lunch, but I made it out of the car first).

car crash
Courtesy of Ashtyn White

Some time later, a paramedic did initial checks on me to ensure my stability and was walking me to the ambulance as I began to collapse, only to be caught by her and steadied. From the ambulance I was taken to the hospital where I was met with my mother and my friends’ mother who asked me if I was okay. The moment I said, ‘I’m fine,’ the world got wobbly, it sounded like I was underwater, and suddenly I heard people asking ‘Ashtyn can you hear me?’ and ‘Please get out of the way we need to get her out of here’ to which I could not respond. I lost consciousness then and was transported from that hospital to a different one in the city where the trauma center is located. According to medical reports, during this time I was resuscitated three times on the way to the trauma center. I regained consciousness once more while on a cold, metal slab to a huddle of medical personnel trying to explain to me what was going on. I felt my clothes being cut off, then I felt my bowels give out, warranting the thought ‘well that’s embarrassing,’ then I woke up 48 hours later with my mom next to me in the ICU, in a lot of pain and on a lot of drugs.

woman with a breathing tube
Courtesy of Ashtyn White

I learned some time after, the seatbelt of the vehicle had locked upon impact of the car and broke the blood vessels in my intestines and they had to remove several inches of damaged small intestines from my body. I was in the ICU for six days and released back to the care of my mom and taken home to recover further. I thought this was the end of it. It wasn’t.

In December, two months later, after spending the months from the accident very fatigued and still in some pain, I went and saw my family doctor after waking to an incredible pain. She did a palpation of  my abdomen and agreed that something was wrong. I was sent back to the ER, had a CT scan done, and it was discovered that my intestines never healed properly after the accident. I was diagnosed with an intra-abdominal abscess. For the second time in my life in a span of three months, I got another surgery to essentially vacuum out the infection. I was prescribed antibiotics and stayed in the hospital over Christmas. My second holiday spent in the hospital.

woman in a hospital bed
Courtesy of Ashtyn White

Upon leaving the hospital after another couple of days, I had a feeling that this wasn’t over… and 10 days later, I was in the hospital again in pain, nauseous, and scared. I was admitted once again to the ER for monitoring as they were nervous to perform another surgery since I had just gotten one a little over a week prior. I was given heavy antibiotics once again and left the hospital a couple of days later with the hope the antibiotics would finally kick the infection. They didn’t. Over a course of three months, I lost 40 pounds, I couldn’t keep any food down, I could not stand up and walk around without getting dizzy, I could not wash my hands without getting weak, and my mom had become my caretaker. At this point, I was being followed by a surgeon who was getting me CT scans and monitoring the status of the infection. When it became apparent that antibiotics were not doing the trick, the possibility of another surgery was brought up.

And at the end of April 2018, I had my third set of surgeries in a year. They removed several more feet of intestines, and this time in order to give my abdomen some healing room, they gave me an ileostomy which is an operation in which they take a piece of the intestine and they put it into an opening in the abdominal wall. At 20 years old, I had a poo bag attached to me. And due to the severity of the infection, it had also soaked my right ovary and fallopian tube which had to be removed as well, leaving me with only the left tube intact which was also smooshed in the accident. I was embarrassed, I was sick, I was tired, but I was no longer dying. And that gave me hope.

two people hiking, woman with ileostomy bag
Courtesy of Ashtyn White

In November 2018, I had the ileostomy reversed and my intestines reattached, but during that time I did not hide it from the world because while it wasn’t how I expected to look in the summer of my 20’s, that ileostomy saved my life. That was my last surgery, and for the last three years since then I have been battling the aftermath of all the intestinal surgeries, I have been to the ER multiple times a year since the accident due to malnourishment problems due to my intestines not taking in nutrients properly anymore and other related problems. I have had to get injections of B12 for over two years, I have struggled with anemia, fatigue, chronic back and neck pain, questions of fertility… all the while attempting to live a somewhat normal life. I completed a one-year college program over a two-year time span due to my struggles holding me back from completing in the one year, and I have intentions of returning to university to get a bachelor’s degree in hopes that someday I will become a Naturopathic Doctor.

I have felt absolute hopelessness over these last three and a half years. I have felt optimism, I have felt pain, grief, anger, love, gratitude, happiness, and sadness. A lot of sadness. As much as I want to break down and cry some days over my circumstances, I have not stopped working towards being the healthiest me I can be. I have met with many specialists, doctors, and physical therapists seeking answers to the struggles I continue to face with my health due to my injuries. Although it has almost been four years now, it almost feels like it happened last week as my whole life has revolved around recovering since that day. I have put my social life on hold, but I have also found the love of my life through all of this… myself. I have had days of hating myself and feeling sorry for myself, but I have also managed to hold my head up high and have continued to advocate for myself to those who question my recovery or what happened to me. As much as I want to give up sometimes, I owe it to myself to keep going and keep pushing for myself and my health and my loved ones. And I especially owe it to my mom, who has been with me every step of the way and prioritized me during that year when I had to sleep in her room with her like a child.

During this time, I have pushed back against my faltering self-esteem due to the large scars on my body by taking opportunities like modeling and making them visible on my social medias. I try to promote self-love and show others that scars truly do tell a story and they are absolutely beautiful and nothing to feel shame over. In my time of sickness, I have also begun to stream video games as a way to relax and escape on a streaming website called Twitch, where I have met many friends and have had many moments to distract me from the struggles I face in my everyday life. I also started an Instagram profile to share different procedures I’ve experienced since the accident, like colonoscopies, videos of injections I must get now, and different therapies I’ve undergone to assist in the pain I feel daily. I explain many things related to my health struggles and hope to meet more people who have gone through what I have gone through or teach people a thing or two about things they otherwise might not know about. I feel if I stayed silent about my journey to recovery, it would have resulted in a lot more depression than what I currently face. Speaking about my experience makes me feel less alone and a lot more loved, and helps me to express love to others.

surgery scar on stomach
Courtesy of Ashtyn White

When I am not working on something to better my health or working towards a better education, I also spend time volunteering at my local animal shelter the SPCA and the local wildlife rehab facility in my city, Hope for Wildlife. I love camping and spending time in nature with my boyfriend who has been a good support during this very hard time as well.  I know not everyone has a great support system after accidents like mine, and if this reaches someone who feels alone in their recovery, just know you have a friend in me. I hear you. You can be you again, even if the you is different from who you once were. It might be hard, but we’ve got this. And for anyone this reaches who has lost someone in an accident like mine, I am so sorry and I wish you all of the strength in the world.

woman in gaming headphones
Courtesy of Ashtyn White

My 20’s went in a completely different direction than I anticipated, but that’s life isn’t it? Expect the unexpected. And boy was this unexpected. I just turned 24 and I think about the accident every single day. I have had four surgeries and over five procedures, at least 17 CT scans, I am missing over six feet of small intestine, I have pooed myself more times than I’d like to admit due to ongoing bowel problems, and I have had enough blood tests to last a lifetime. I didn’t think I was going to survive past 2018, but here I am now, and I hope one day the accident will be just a distant memory and until then I will continue to work as hard as my body allows me to be healthy, stable, and happy. I’m not sure when all of my questions will be answered regarding the state of my health now, but I won’t stop searching until I have all of the answers, and I will continue to share my story with whoever wants to hear it in hopes to help and inspire others.”

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