“Waking up in the surgical trauma intensive care unit (STICU) is a blur; I don’t remember the exact day, but I still have very distinctive memories. The details, timeframe and storyline are all a bit blurry, but here’s my story.
I was in a wreck rendering me a partial quadriplegic because I fractured lots of important parts of my body. I was in a medically induced coma for 17 days. I awakened to some very dark news. The doctors said, ‘You will never walk again and will have limited use, if any, of your hands and arms.’ They said, ‘You will probably never move more than two fingers.’ I am hearing this, but I can’t respond. I could not talk. I couldn’t even breathe on my own. I’m scared, and regardless of who was around, I felt very alone. I wondered why I was still alive. Truly, I would not want to live like this, I thought, it’s not ME! I had survived what was a near death experience, but for what purpose?
Prior to the wreck, I had long thick hair. They started washing it. Nurses were pulling out glass and other debris. I begged them not to cut it, as it was all I had left of my previous self. God, how I missed her. Sadly, they were forced to cut some knots out here and there and all I could think was how much I missed being ME. I was a mother, I had a job, and I was self-sufficient. Now, I just had a bunch of doctors and nurses telling me what to do all the time and not being able to do anything for myself, and being told I never would be ME again.
Voice or no voice—I still found a way to assure the doctors I was not going to give up. I had to be restrained because I started moving enough to remove IV’s, the ventilator, and other cords around me. The LAST time I ever ripped my feeding tube out, I wished I hadn’t because I didn’t want to have to swallow it again. I knew it was time for me to get out of the cursed hospital bed.
I was absolutely terrified the day I was allowed get out of bed. I was going to be placed in a bulky green chair which folded out into a bed, where I would learn to sit again. I had been flat on my back due to my injuries, but it was time to move. I vividly remember the pain which came with sitting. The goal was to spend an hour sitting up and the angle would change over time allowing me more movement of the spine. One day they left me to watch TV, and the same day I ended being upright for hours. I even dropped my suction and call button, having to spit in my own hand so I wouldn’t choke. The doctor came in angry when he realized I was still sitting upright.
I began feeling I could physically do a little more again, and they switched me from being completely intubated to only having a breathing machine at night and oxygen during the day. After I had gotten used to breathing that way, I made the decision to take myself off oxygen. The nurse was in my room and I removed the oxygen tube from my nose. I mouthed, ‘I can breathe,’ as I was throwing the tube to the floor.
The most distinctive memory I have from that time would be the pain I was experiencing. Yet, I also clearly remember the excitement my nurses had when I went to the stepdown unit. They were anxious to see how I would do. I was anxious, also.
When I went to stepdown, I still had a feeding tube, tracheostomy, little movement, and was still on so many meds I did not even know them all. I got pushed there in the awful green chair. I didn’t care, it was time to fight. I had to move. I wanted to get better, someway, somehow. I wanted to defy the odds.
It was during this time when I returned to social media and had personally started contacting people again. I had not had any real contact with others outside my room for more than 40 days. I had yellow thera-bands tied to my bed to work my arms and had to use hand adapters on my silverware and other instruments. I threw a ball at one of my favorite doctors. I finally got to eat again, Chinese food, I believe, and I began to feel like me again. Not the old me, but at least ME. I recall the first time I was strong enough to change the channel on the tv myself. The little things normal people take for granted were all welcomed additions to my advances.
It was in the step-down unit when I started to make little noises. I still had no voice. Mouthing everything was difficult. My favorite nurse was the only one who could understand me. Yet, I was determined to be heard again. One day they gave me a little breathing device to use with my trach in order to learn to breathe without it. I was told, ‘You may not get your voice back due to damage or complications from keeping your trach in so long,’ yet I continued to want to be heard. Then, it happened. I was so emotional the first time I heard my voice because it was barely there, yet I could be heard!
With the return of my voice, I was convinced I could get better. Some top-notch rehab people came to see me, but I was too sick to see them. I was so disappointed, yet determined. My very first acute therapist was a survivor and I know his story has helped me and continues to help me.
Some of my favorite times in the hospital were in the rehabilitation unit. My trach was finally removed. I became weight bearing on my arms. I learned how to sit up properly. I started by lifting a measly 1 pound weight. I worked with 2 or occasionally 3 people basically all the time. I slept a lot as I was so tired from working. The rehabilitation group and the family I developed there are amazing; they all still stand by me to this day. I plan day trips just to go see them.
While in the rehab unit, I got to start seeing my son more. I was too weak and too sick prior. We had his 3rd birthday party in the hospital, but they tried so hard to let us make it feel like home. I got to hold my son as he cried for all the normal reasons a 3-year-old would cry. It was the first time he sat on my lap and drove my chair around or he’d hold my hand as he walked beside my chair, as he still does. He will always be my inspiration. It was that little boy who made me want to get better.
I decided my own destiny inside of the rehab unit. I saw people as they really were, or at least who I thought they were, or perhaps who I wanted them to be. I realized there, people really do change when faced with trauma or other high stress situations. Nothing will ever be the same again for anyone involved. Nope, not even the things which stay the same, because even they will be modified. No one will you treat you the same. Your closest friends, family or really anyone you were close to before your trauma will forever speak to you differently. Perhaps with a different tone, different words, or different ways, and they won’t even mean to do it. Whatever the reason may be, I get it. I understand my trauma has affected everyone around me, but it doesn’t make the fact it is MY trauma any less true. Sometimes it felt like I was not allowed to have my own grief because everyone around me carries similar grief due to the situation, but it isn’t true.
Depression finally found me 60+ days into my hospital stay. I went through a dark time. Reality of the situation had set in and dark voices started whispering things inside my head: ‘I am scared to be a mother, aunt, friend or an employee again. Oh God, I can’t go back to work or be the independent provider I’ve always been. I am scared to be a person.’ It was time to go home and it really had me scared.
I left the hospital to move into my grandma’s house. I saw my son in between hospital stays, doctor’s appointments, etc. I was not getting to see my son as much as I wanted or needed to see him. I was in constant physical pain. I had many illnesses from the after effects of these injuries, thus I had hospital stay after hospital stay. It was getting darker. All of this was taking a huge toll on me. Loneliness continued. Eventually I found a way to use all the pain as a drive to reach my goals. I began working on my physical and mental health every chance I got.
I thought I did better while I was pissed at the world, but I finally realized it was just a farce. I started looking at the bigger picture and applying myself constructively and trying to rid myself of the anger. You get angry for lots of reasons—especially when you are in the situation I was facing. I knew I had to get rid of it. I wanted to use my successes to build new successes. I began to live again, as ME.
I am now 2 + years in and I can walk, guys! I’ve gone through various stages of stepping stones to obtain this goal, but I made it. Physical therapy has succeeded. I have progressed. I’ve willingly spent what combined would be months in inpatient facilities to return to ME. In the last 2 years I’m going to guess I’ve spent a year or so in a hospital somewhere. I’ve lived with family and had help with every single aspect of my daily life, but I now feel like ME.
Not all of it has been glamorous. I’ve been in the back of the ambulances around my hometown so much I’ve even gone through the drive-through in them. I know most of the EMS personnel on a first name basis, because I have needed them so many times during this journey. I’ve missed holidays, birthdays and other important occasions and so much more. Yet, I say it has been worth it.
It has been worth it because TODAY, I walk with one KAFO (leg brace), one AFO (ankle-foot orthosis) and my walker. TODAY, I talk louder than I have ever before! TODAY, I am doing what everyone said I was never supposed to do. Is my journey over? NO. It is not even close to being over, but I’m starting to feel like ME again. I am a full time mom again and I am going to start college soon. I want to become a physical therapist’s assistant and most of all, I want to live independently again. I now attend holidays, birthdays and special occasions. TODAY, I am a survivor and I finally feel like myself. One thing I have repeatedly said, ‘I know this isn’t the rest of my life, I can feel it in my bones.’ I keep pushing through, working towards and achieving new goals. I just needed to realize I am still ME.
If you didn’t know who you were before your trauma, it’s only going to be a hundred times harder to figure it out after a life-altering event like the one I experienced. Everything you thought was real is gone. Everything is seemingly stripped away from you, or at least it’s how I initially felt. Perhaps it wasn’t that way after all. I say, search yourself, deep within yourself, and find the strength to accept YOUR situation, like I did. Understand what it will take to get better even if just mentally, and FIGHT to survive. Get back to living life, as life is still in us!”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Karlee Dent of West Virginia. You can follow her journey on Instagram. Do you have a similar experience? We’d like to hear your important journey. Submit your own story here. Be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.
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