Tuesday, April 27, 2010

The Accident...Part V: Perspective

This is my last post in my series about the accident itself. I have certainly provided enough details to understand the experience of being trapped and the injuries I sustained. I just have a few more important things to say about the subject.

When you are shown the mirror of your mortality, yet only to glimpse it, you sometimes become afraid of the life you are left with. Many people are in car crashes and have a terrible time getting back into the car. I am thankful that I am not one of them--I have recently started driving and I am just fine. Perhaps more alert and focused, but I am not afraid.

During my recovery these many months, I have learned that people who experience extremely traumatic events may find themselves on auto-pilot in order to get through the day-to-day. Instead of processing what occurred so that they can move on, they instead have not found themselves going through the range of emotions that must be faced. Fear, anger, sadness, hysteria, mourning...all of the above and more...will come to pass...it is simply a matter of when.

Some people can go through it immediately, as their physical trauma initially occurs, so that they are facing everything to come with full acceptance. But the others who wait...whether it is conscious or subconscious...though they try to move forward, find that there is something brewing under the surface. They may not even know it for months. And yet after X many months, that flood of emotions will still come as strong as it would have in the beginning...it may now even feel stronger because they have waited so long to acknowledge its presence.

I know all this because it happened to me.

Being in a near-fatal accident is expensive. I mean, even if you have awesome insurance--which I happened to have--it still costs way more than you would ever think. It’s no wonder to me now why healthcare costs are so high, and furthermore, I have no idea what people without health insurance do in my situation. I can't possibly imagine.

The horrific crash required the Jaws of Life to be used, as you recall. Sometimes when I am in one of those weird, dark humor moods I think to myself, “Wow! I can actually cross that off my bucket list”. I know it’s sick and twisted, but it’s also something that I know that many of you out there relate to when I say it. Coming back to the reality of it, however, the need for that type of assistance to get out of a vehicle is a horrible experience that’s scary and loud and frustrating. Mine took hours…I know.

I didn’t remember her name, but I remembered her voice like it was my mother’s. Tammy (I never knew her last name), was part of the Jaws crew and was assigned to keeping me awake by talking with me, etc. I think I can say with relative certainty that the general population knows this rule: if someone is badly hurt and is fading out, you keep them awake by talking. Well, that was Tammy’s job, and though it sounds like its nothing, it is usually the first thing that saves people’s lives. I know it saved mine.

But as I said, my memory of the experience is in pieces, and I have described the accident details in other posts as I remember them. What I want to talk about here is my phone call with Tammy...a call which occurred long after the accident, my stay in the hospital, my trip home, and even some small amount of time thereafter.

The agency that Tammy worked for did not receive my insurance information at the time of the accident (what? you mean the Jaws of Life people didn't make me fill out a form with my insurance info?), so they sent me a bill, quite an astronomical amount really, and noted that I needed to call to provide the insurance information. I think someone from the company even called my house a few times before I finally got around to them.

I forget what day it was that I called, but I had no PT or CNAs that afternoon (they were coming to my house at that time because I was too weak to leave the house other than for doctor appointments). I was alone. That I remember. And this girl with a familiar voice answered, and I gave her the information. It was Tammy, of course. And just before we hung up the phone, she mentioned that she was glad to hear me doing so well.

Well, I was shocked to have her say this, but almost immediately knew why: she was at my accident sight. Not only was she there, but she was the voice that kept me talking as much as I could. I must have been in complete shock when I asked her if she had time to elaborate more about the accident, as I wasn’t able to remember all the details.

I remember that she first said that it was the toughest extraction they had ever done. I couldn’t believe her at first. How could I be the hardest one…me…little old me? But she was adamant about it. She explained that her role was to keep the victim (me) talking and to make physical contact with the victim…hold hands, rub their back, whatever. She said that she was hanging down into the cab of the U-Haul, but that she couldn’t even get to me.

Again, it wasn’t possible in my mind because I was certain of where I was trapped and how. You see, I had initially thought...no, I was sure that I was sandwiched by my seat underneath the steering wheel. So of course she could see me and touch me. This was my truth as I knew it, and she was about to smash it to bits. I was starting to sweat and my heart was racing, and although I almost couldn’t breathe, I had to continue to listen…and learn.

She told me I was trapped underneath the steering wheel…this much of my understanding and memory was true…but I was way up past the steering column and into the front of the U-Haul. I couldn’t be seen or touched. This was why it was so difficult for the team to cut me out. They did not know where I was. (Note: I know I explained where I was in my post about the accident, but try to understand that up until this moment, months later, I had no clue about these details. During the accident I had it in my mind that I was still in plain sight and that it was taking an achingly long time for nothing.)

As she spoke about this, a sudden crash of small memories came rushing back to me. I recalled the ripped metal that created a small space from which I could see feet and light. I remembered using that space to throw things that had fallen loose…prescription bottles from my bag (which months later I got to see again)…so that the team had an idea of where I was.

I remembered making a deal with the guys who were cutting that I would help them by yelling if they got too close, as I could tell my arm and hand were badly hurt and were not able to move away from the steel. I remembered yelling once, maybe twice, before the cutting was over.

Tammy confirmed all of these memories for me. As I told her of my injuries and how my recovery was progressing, she told me about my groin injuries, and how she knew that they were very bad. She said that as soon as they were able to get me onto a flat board, my knees went straight up into the air again…like a chair position. To hear it over the phone from a stranger whose voice I knew so well, I was almost speechless. She told me about the short stop in the ambulance and then them putting me into the helicopter to be transported to the trauma center.

She wished me luck, again told me how nice it was to hear my voice like this “instead of the last time [she] heard it”, and suddenly we were off the phone. I was alone again in my house.

My body started to shake and I hyperventilated for a good half hour. I called a friend of mine who had visited me in the hospital and used every ounce of energy not to sob into his voicemail asking him to call me back. And then I did sob, for what seemed like for days, but was certainly hours and hours. All of a sudden what happened to me was real. Before that, it was just a bunch of weird memories that were surreal. Yet, through speaking with someone who was there…someone who could tell me things that I didn’t remember but knew were true…it all of a sudden brought all of those memories into one large horror movie...a real-life documentary.

For days after I talked to Tammy I felt grateful and afraid. I was very grateful that I knew more of the truth of what happened, not to mention being able to say thank you to the person who kept me conscious while they were there all those hours. But I was also having horrific flashbacks that I could not stop. One minute I was playing games on Facebook, the next I was flying through the air and feeling sand get into my hair and having that general feeling of being in a dryer.

Speaking to Tammy changed me forever. And although I may sound like I regret it…after all, before her I wasn’t scared or anything like that…I don’t regret it at all. I finally understood the horror on an emotional level that all of those who loved me went through. She gave me perspective that perhaps before our conversation I was not ready for, but I without a doubt needed to have. I still owe her more gratitude than exists in the world. There have been many times throughout this journey where I have re-read this brief story about Tammy, and it continues to do what it did that first day: jolt me into the correct perspective. This woman, this stranger, she saved me…and then returned once more to my life to help move me into the next phase of my recovery.

She is definitely (as my mother call's them) one of my Angels.