‘I was at the supermarket buying cake mix when I suddenly heard a loud crack. ‘This may sound strange, but I think my leg just broke.’: Young woman says ‘life is beautifully fragile’ after near-death accident

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“On the 2nd of May 2016, when I was only 17 years old, I was on my way home from school with my motorcycle. The year hadn’t started out very well for me. I had just recovered from a hospital stay in January and managed to finish my driver’s as well as my trainer’s license at the end of April. However, it was tough to deal with extra activities while managing schoolwork.

I was in grade 12, so I had only one year left until graduation. Getting my A levels shouldn’t be a problem, I thought. My grades were almost always straight-As without ever having to study for a test. Sure, people were super jealous because of it, but my intellectual gift allowed me all the extracurriculars. Since I was eight, I did gymnastics. My club was excited to have me as a trainer soon, and I was planning to get two classes in the middle of May.

My motorcycle license was over a year old at this point, and the 12-year-old Honda enduro had been with me for about 10,000 km, cruising around with friends, breaking down in the middle of nowhere, and undergoing several color and part changes. Three days before, I was visiting my mom at work. When we were about to leave, I noticed the odometer was at exactly 30k.

Courtesy of Lina Ellert

What a coincidence, but after trying to find my phone to take a picture, I realized my mom had my backpack in her car. So, I ran to her. It must’ve been about 200 meters, with my arms gesturing for her to stop so I could take my phone. The odometer read 30,073 km when I crashed. I thought about the exciting days I had as I passed the pink blooming trees. The day before I drove about four hours to pick up my grandparents so they could’ve enjoyed my little sister’s confirmation.

I had been filling my tank and oil and cleaned my bike. It was spring, after all. The sun was shining and the temperatures were nice. I had also wished my car a happy two-year anniversary because it had been exactly two years since I bought my first car, a ’93 Volvo. Even if it wasn’t registered yet. At an intersection an oncoming articulated bus turned left in front of me, so I took my hand off the accelerator.

Courtesy of Lina Ellert

When the bus passed I wanted to drive straight on because I had right of way. There was another car behind the bus, a small green one, but I didn’t really pay attention to it. It shouldn’t have been in my way. I should have waited. In a split second, I saw the car accelerating, and I knew that was it. My gaze went down to the front as it crashed into my front left side.

I remember the dull sound that came from the steel and plastic colliding and my leg breaking. I hit the A-pillar and the windshield before I saw the sky rotating. And the only thing I thought was, ‘Oh, you gotta be kidding me.’ I even had my outfits planned for the week.

The ground came into my view what felt like seconds later, and I instinctively rolled off with my hands hitting the ground first. As if I hadn’t been a gymnast for ten years. And then I screamed. I screamed three times as loud as I could. A friend who happened to be nearby said the whole town must’ve heard me.

In my panic, I took off the helmet with my right hand. Later it turned out it was broken. People came running to me, talking. ‘Who took off her helmet?’ It was me. Someone asked for my mom’s phone number and after accidentally starting with my own, I told them the right one.

A male voice circled around saying how sorry he was, a woman told me she had been right behind me and would stay as a witness, and some other man always reassured me the ambulance would be there soon. I guess he was more afraid than I was.

Maybe it was the adrenaline, but I was sure I would be okay in the end. My left shoulder hurt, I figured it was broken, as well as my left leg which I couldn’t move. I told the people to take off my gloves because I didn’t want them to be cut. It was the only part of my clothes that wasn’t destroyed. It felt like an eternity lying on the warm asphalt, taking in everything, so I would never be able to forget about it.

The police arrived first and I took out my wallet from the inside of my red leather jacket. After a few questions, the ambulance arrived, simultaneously cutting my clothes and examining the injuries. When he started talking about a dislocated shoulder, I extended my other arm, showing the elbow. ‘But I want to sleep first.’

The next day after occasional blurry moments, I woke up in the ICU hooked onto several beeping monitors when my family and best friends came rushing in. It turned out that my upper and lower left leg was fractured and had been fixed in emergency surgery. And during that particular operation, I died once. A nurse casually told me a few days later.

Courtesy of Lina Ellert

In the same week, my left shoulder and wrist got fixed with screws, as well as my right hand. Prognosis: 12 weeks for the right hand, 6 weeks for everything else. What really sucks is to have both hands in casts, and not being able to move one leg. So literally every simple ordinary activity I took for granted before, wasn’t possible anymore. Just imagine. Or don’t.

But you can imagine how frustrating it was to let my friends understand which emojis they should use because I couldn’t move my damn fingers the first days. I only learned to write a week later when my classmate had to write a physics exam without my answers to copy from. So she sent me the tasks, and I sent her the solution.

During week three I got a wheelchair and was able to finally leave the room and my 60+ snoring roommates for the first time. From then on I got pushed around the hospital, explored different stations, and raced through the hallways. It was as much action as someone just recovering from a polytrauma could get.

After four weeks, I could leave the hospital and finally go home after seeing nothing but sterile white and yellow walls, getting syringes, having plasters torn off, and sutures removed. Really, those ‘small’ things were worse to me than actually breaking my bones. It felt great to be home again, to finally have a part of my life back. Even if I had several visits from mobile care service, physiotherapy, occupational therapy, and psychotherapy.

Courtesy of Lina Ellert

It sucked, it hurt, it annoyed me and sometimes I broke down because of the pressure, but otherwise, I would’ve never gotten so fit in such a short time. And yes, a couple of months are short in this timeline. My hope of being able to walk after six weeks was crushed at the first doctor’s appointment. One doctor asked if I was able to lift or bend my leg and I was like, ‘No, should I?’

He made it clear that if I didn’t do like 400 exercises per day, I would never be able to use it properly. And that made me realize how bad the whole situation was. In the end, it took me about four months of rehabilitation until I could walk without a wheelchair or crutches. Well, I started omitting the crutches when the doctors told me I could put 10kg more weight onto my leg each week. When I finally got permission from a different one, he asked, ‘Do you walk without one yet? There won’t be an entry in the class register.’ See, people my age drank alcohol or took drugs, while I walked without crutches when I hadn’t been given permission.

Meanwhile, my arms were healed but not as flexible as they should be, so I wasn’t able to fully lift my arm or rest on my hands. Still, the best feeling was when I was finally able to sleep on my side again. I went to school five months after the accident; due to special tests, I was allowed to continue my education as planned, even though my body was too weak to attend all courses.

Courtesy of Lina Ellert

In September, I was called into court for the trial against the young man who caused the accident, and of course, I can’t say much about it, but it was one of the weirdest situations I have ever been in. Beforehand, it was indisputable that he had been mistaken; he didn’t see me coming. The judge asked me how I was doing, and I said I was doing okay. And I really thought so. I went for walks, I was now only driving cars since the bike was totaled, and my grades were straight-As again. So what could go wrong?

On the 22nd of December 2016, I had turned 18 one month before. I drove back home from school eating a Christmas muffin I just got in physics while we talked about radiation. Surely I had to show all of my x-rays which had been taken every six weeks for the last seven months. I explained the bones, the implants, and everything.

You know, the thing with disabilities is that you become an expert in your field whether you want to or not. So I was stopping by the supermarket to buy a baking mix, when I suddenly heard a crack from below causing me to stumble a step forward and shift my weight instinctively to the right, healthy leg. An experimental push with the damaged one made me realize the nightmare I had just entered.

There I stood in the vegetable department, two days before Christmas with a freshly broken leg. God really had a sense of humor. A man stopped his shopping, asking if everything was alright, and I looked him dead in the eye. ‘This may sound strange now, but I think my leg just broke.’ I leaned on a counter, waiting for the ambulance I just called with the man’s phone. My bag was waiting patiently for me on the passenger’s seat.

People were gathering around me, and I explained over and over that I had had a motorcycle accident some months ago. I already felt like a broken record after so many times of being asked the exact same questions. As I stared down at the glass I rested my elbows on, I found myself in an actual comfortable position considering all the things that would happen next.

It didn’t even hurt. Just when the paramedics lay me down on the gurney, my upper leg hurt like hell. But the worst was,I felt so embarrassed to get carried away in a supermarket in my hometown. I’d be the number one topic the day after. We drove to the hospital, I got X-rayed, a doctor confirmed my suspicion of a broken leg and metal plate, and upon my request, I was transferred to my main hospital. It’s weird to have something like a favorite hospital.

After six hours (thanks to the muffin I ate) of snapping pictures and chatting with worried people, I was ready for surgery. All of this time I wasn’t on pain medication, because, yeah, I didn’t need it. It only hurt when the staff moved my leg, but mostly I just lay there waiting for my leg to be freshly sewed.

And that’s just how the next days went. On the 23rd it was my mom’s birthday and I felt so bad that she had to spend it in the hospital taking care of me. Just like when the whole family had to come to my room for Christmas Eve. I unwrapped the gifts that were carefully placed on my lap, careful not to hurt the incisions on my leg and hip.

Courtesy of Lina Ellert

This time I not only got a new implant but also some bone marrow was taken from my hip to accelerate the healing process. After a week of enjoying my single room (no one scheduled surgery during Christmas/New Years) with a huge bathroom and balcony I had no benefit from, I was allowed to go home again.

I knew what I had to expect. I spent my days on the sofa with my TV and Playstation and occasionally got pushed to the bathroom in a chair before I could walk on crutches about a month later. I bought a second car out of boredom. My dad injected the thrombosis prophylaxis, and my physiotherapist helped me to lift and bend my leg on my own. Seriously, I couldn’t even lift my own damn leg for weeks.

Of course, my hopes for the prognosis to be true were shattered after the first X-ray. And after a long, emotional discussion with my parents, I realized I wasn’t able to finish my A-levels in such a health state, so I took my time for rehabilitation. Thus, I spent about three months at the rehab clinic getting picked up every day by the same taxi company, chatting with the drivers who all knew me from when they had driven me to school before I turned 18.

In the rehab gym, a trainer asked why I was constantly walking with one crutch and why I couldn’t shift my weight onto the left foot. I told him I was afraid the metal implant broke. ‘Oh, those things don’t really happen.’ And I looked him straight in the eye and said: ‘Except for when it happened to me once.’

Courtesy of Lina Ellert

Seven months later, my leg was still not healed so a doctor bluntly told me I should undergo another surgery. He didn’t say he thought that certain events could repeat themselves, but I knew what he meant. So he asked if I was free the week after. ‘Sorry, I’ll be on vacation then.’ ‘So, the week after that it is,’ he shrugged. You can imagine how this vacation went.

After a long time of being shooed around the hospital explaining to the doctors, it would be my fourth surgery the next day and I was familiar with the procedure. It was about 9 p.m. and I knew I wouldn’t be able to sleep so I called my grandma and told her everything would be fine even though I was scared as hell.

True, the doctors assured me I would be able to move my leg afterward, the healing process would be way shorter, and I could load the leg with my whole body weight directly after. I should be getting an additional plate, some bone marrow from the other hip and a newly approved fancy stuff to help bone formation.

Despite the doctors disappointing me so often, I still trusted them to do whatever was best for me. And this time they were partly right actually. Recovery took about two months, yet I had to learn to lift and bend my leg again. So when my long-time boyfriend and I moved into our first own apartment, I wasn’t a big help.

I did some more therapy and started school at almost the exact time as last year, just at a new class now. It felt weird and wrong to be there again, doing everything again I had fought for, with whole different students, because I had seen all my friends graduating without me.

But somehow I managed it. I dragged myself up the stairs with my crutch to the second floor, hindering and annoying my classmates. See, with disabilities you always feel like a burden. You don’t see the things you’re able to do, the little steps forward, the life quality you gained back. Recovery is never fast enough, good enough, easy enough.

You hate that you can’t go out with friends, ride a bike, go swimming, partying, on a journey or even a damn walk. It feels like you’re left behind, seeing their Instagram stories of having fun without even thinking of you. In the beginning, everyone is there, but people forget. Life goes on, or it goes on for everyone but you. And it feels so lonely. I was going to school every day, pushing my body to its limits, promising it we’d take care of our health once we finished our A levels. Obviously that was anything but healthy.

Courtesy of Lina Ellert

And so my body took revenge in January 2018. From one moment to the next, I constantly felt dizzy, tired, unfocused. In short, I was losing control of my body. I went to school for one more week, realizing it couldn’t go on like this. I went to the hospital hoping they would find out what’s wrong with me again and send me back to school.

After two years, I should’ve known not to have any hopes. Instead of taking my finals, I broke up with my boyfriend, began to lose my friends, and went from doctor to doctor for half a year, some finding issues but not enough to explain what was going on with me. And that’s when my therapist started suggesting antidepressants. But I wasn’t depressed, was I?

After a life story like mine, it was inevitable to have some kind of PTSD, but it had never restricted me more than what I was able to handle. I was scared of loud noises, the sound of something breaking or driving past that one intersection, and I avoided supermarkets. Having severe physical symptoms from a mental illness was something unknown to me.

I protested at first, afraid of gaining weight (yep, I did gain about 7kg), but as I got worse and worse I agreed to make an appointment at a psychiatrist for one last chance. Which was three months later. I had gone from ‘I’m sporty, smart, and I have big plans’ to ‘I will do everything it takes to recover and get my life back’ to ‘I haven’t left the house in two months and I don’t know what to do anymore.’

I usually hate all those metaphors but here is one of my own. Imagine a house with, let’s say, five floors. The penthouse has nice, luxurious furniture while the first floor is equipped cheaply. Before the accident I had lived on the 3rd floor, maybe 4th sometimes, then I ‘moved’ to like one or two.

But now I was in the basement. A dark, empty, unwelcoming room, in which someone had pushed me and taken the ladder. No pictures of hobbies or things of importance on the wall, nothing. As outdated as this symbol was with the dark space and no way to escape, I had learned it was true. Unbelievably true.

Before, I couldn’t imagine how someone could possibly feel like being in a deep hole, restrained by some invisible, unnameable forces, draining all of your energy and taking your will to live. You won’t understand until you have lived in one of the worst nightmares our world has to offer. It’s not cool to break down crying in front of your mom and your therapist because you are so afraid to leave the house and go to the hospital for your appointment to get medication. Darling, that’s called rock bottom.

I don’t know where I got the strength to actually go there, pouring my scarred soul out to the nice woman and going home with a prescription, but I did. The first days I had the normal side effect of SSRIs, but I felt it working and I was so relieved. It took about half a year until the medication was adjusted properly. Meanwhile, I went out once a week with my mom until I felt stable and safe enough to explore the neighborhood on my own.

An in-patient stay at the psychiatry in June 2019 helped me to believe in myself again. I met people with similar diseases, stories I could relate to and habits I knew too well. Like we all were sitting outside and everyone was tapping their feet, fiddling with their clothing or occupying their hands. Just a bundle of nervous fighters getting their messed-up lives back on track. Sadly, I couldn’t stay for as long as I planned because my body refused to walk between facilities, but this short amount of time granted me more life-experience than I could’ve hoped for.

Nowadays, in 2020, I’m doing pretty okay. I’m able to walk without a crutch at home, yet I need one when I go out. And I can’t walk farther than around 50 meters. My mental health is better due to therapy and medication, yet it has its ups and downs. And there are still severe anxiety attacks from time to time.

Courtesy of Lina Ellert

I still have no graduation, yet I’m doing homework for my friends to keep me sane. And I’m in contact with the government to find ways to take my A-levels. I still can’t do gymnastics, yet I found other hobbies like sewing and writing. And I rediscovered my interest in cars and started my own company.

I’m still bad at socializing and find it difficult to stay in contact with friends, yet so many people reach out to me and make sure I’m alright. And it makes me feel so loved and needed. I’m still in constant pain, yet I have started meditating and working out. And I’ve adapted to the pain and can understand it better.

It’s been over four years now. Four times we have celebrated my second birthday, the day I got resurrected. Four times I’ve reflected on everything that has happened to me, everything I’ve overcome, every barrier in my way I’ve fought, won, or lost. I’ll have to deal with this my whole life, the doctors made that clear. So I have to adapt, change, improve to the life I’ve been given. I’m stronger now, wiser, and more aware than I ever was before.

And I don’t know if the accident was entirely bad because I have learned so much about myself, my body, my environment, and my whole life. And there’s one thing I would never be so aware of otherwise: how beautifully fragile our whole existence is, how in one second life as we know it can be completely altered, and how we’re still capable of modifying everything we know, everything we thought we’d be so sure of to finally bloom in a completely different way.”

Courtesy of Lina Ellert

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Lina Ellert of Velbert, Germany. You can follow her journey on Instagram. Submit your own story here and be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.

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