I woke up in the hospital and was not surprised to be there. I remembered that I had crashed but yet it took me several minutes to process my surroundings. I remember feeling as if I was floating above myself and watching from outside my body. I felt no pain, my brain was foggy, and I couldn’t move. To be honest with you, I remember less of that first day waking up than I do of the crash itself. The nurse tending my needs began to ask me questions like: What is your name? What is your birthday? Do you know where you are? And what year is it? I was able to answer my name and birthday with no problem. I answered Minnesota because I had no clue what hospital I was in. But when she asked me what year it was; I faltered for a moment because a fear came over me that perhaps I had been gone for a very long time. I answered 2013 hoping like hell I was right. As it turned out, I had been in a drug induced coma-like state for four days. My crash was on Wednesday and I did not wake up until Sunday.
I saw that I still had a leg; it was pinned and bandaged like a robotic apparatus of some sort from the foot to the goody bits, but it was still a leg (at least I hoped that’s what was under there since I saw toes at the end). The more I woke up, the more I could feel that indeed it was still a leg. The fog was wearing off and the scene was coming back to me. On the wall in my room I saw the calendar and that is how I realized I had been gone for only four days; four days – that’s not so bad.
And then I saw it… The most beautiful site that I could ever have laid my eyes upon; the one thing that kept me alive all these years; the one thing that kept me alive again this time… My Son was there!! He looked tired, he looked drained, but he was the most handsome man I had ever seen! I cried and I wanted nothing more than to stand up and take all 6’2” of him into my arms and never let go. I wanted one of those hugs we’ve shared so many times before when troubles were about us; the hug that is tight, long, and without words; when we knew that the other was there for us and loved us deeply. Instead, he had to come down to my level and moving for me was quite difficult at that point so the hug was not the hug of which we have shared a million times before in our lives together. But he was there and I was there and I knew in that moment that I was not dreaming and that I was not dead. I later heard the stories of the turmoil my son endured over the four days that my life lay in the brink. At some point when I was drugged to the hilt the staff asked me if I knew who my son was and I answered wrong and said that was not my son and when he tried to assure me that he was, I denied it. (I don’t understand how that could have been; he’s the one and only thing that has ever been a true constant in my life and the one thing that was on mind the entire time I laid in the ditch – how could I answer such an obvious question so wrong when he was the deepest person imbedded in my being? And how, oh how horrified the kid was when his mother denied knowing him?)
My son and I have never lived an extravagant lifestyle and he is a single man with a job and his own apartment, also trying his best to do what he can for the good of his young daughter. So to say the least we don’t have a stash of cash somewhere. He had come to Minnesota with my dear friend Larry. They had taken the necessary steps to collect my motorcycle and Larry was taking it back to Illinois. What I learned later was that my sponsor from Rider’s Claw had taken it upon himself to put Nathan in a hotel for his visit while I was hospitalized. I have said it before and it is NOT because of business association, but it is because of human connection… I am blessed to have the Rider’s Claw family in my life. Ken Reinert and his family have done a great deal for me as a rider and now they have gone above and beyond business or even casual friendship in manner that showed true grace and true caring.
I must also give a huge thank you to my buddy Jimmy Z (Jimmy Boots) because he bought Nathan an airline ticket to get home when the time came. (*I had previously thought that Ken from Rider’s Claw did this; I’m not sure why I had that notion, but I will blame the drugs. Ken told me that this was not true and I asked my son who bought the ticket and when he said Jimmy Z, I felt horrible for the mistake I had made and for not giving proper gratitude and appreciation to my friend.*)
My sister was there as well; she had come in from Georgia. She informed me that my Aunt and my Mother would arrive Tuesday and that my Dad had it setup so that I was never without family during my stay. He and Ma would be coming later in the week when my Aunt had to leave. My Mother had the option to stay as long as needed. My sister is an ICU nurse and a strong-headed woman, similar to me. During the two days that I got to see her she was all over that ICU making sure that they were doing all they should for me and informing me in simple terms all that they had already done for me. She told me the leg was still intact, but she did not tell me that it may not stay that way. I suppose the doctors get the big bucks for doing that part of the dirty work.
All in all the first day awake is kind of a blur. The second day awake was much better in many ways. I was more coherent and the fog in my head was beginning to truly pass, but with that came the realization of the pain and discomfort. My son and my sister stayed with me in and out pretty much all day long. My friend Mark from ULRB and my first husband Steve (whom lives in Minnesota) visited me. I was beginning to learn more and more about my condition and about the things that had transpired while I was asleep. On that day the most impressive thing I learned was that my first husband had been there several days and had slept in the lobby waiting for any moment when I might wake up. He is Nathan’s biological father and we have not seen him in 21 years but he has befriended us on Facebook and has followed The BROAD journey since the beginning. He has been encouraging and supportive.
I think the hardest thing I heard was about my son’s encounter in the hallway with Anthony, the kid that hit me. If I remember my sister’s story correctly, she and Nathan were leaving when Anthony and his mother were looking for my room. They had brought flowers. I guess I had several visitors and with all the people I know, neither my sister nor my son thought twice about these two strangers asking for my room. Yet for some reason my sister spoke to them (she will speak to anybody; again similar to me). She said the kid looked rather distraught and at some point during the conversation he asked of my sister and son, “Do you know who I am?” Suddenly my sister was concerned for my son and turned to see him turning red, fists clenched, and veins popping from his neck. She swiftly sent my baby Nathan to the waiting room in fear that somebody was about to get hurt. (Later she told me that during their private time, my son had wished that boy dead. I suppose that’s a fair emotion and I’m sure Anthony would say the same if it were his mother. For that and obvious reasons, my sister wanted to get Nathan away from that kid as quickly as possible.) She and Anthony had a brief conversation and she spoke on my behalf in a manner that I think, if I recall correctly would have been just about what I would have told the boy. In short form, she told the boy that her sister (me) is a loving and forgiving person; that he made a dumb mistake and that he better learn a lesson from it. She told him that I am not a person to hold a grudge but rather a person that would encourage a mistake to be turned into wisdom. My sister took the flowers as they cannot go into ICU and she promised him they would not be put in the trash as he suggested they might.
My sister then went to check on my son as Anthony and his Mom went to my room. Christy found Nathan in the waiting room distraught and stressed. She tried to console him but he simply wanted to be left alone with his tears. She obliged him this privacy and returned to my room to check on me. She recanted the site she saw as she poked her head in the door. Anthony was sitting next to my bed close to me crying in full force; his mother rubbing his back. He kept repeating that he was sorry and that he wished he could take my place. Again, my sister obliged this young man of his privacy and returned to find my son. Two young men, only a year apart in age, both affected so traumatically by such a terrible accident; I cannot begin to fathom the pain that either one of those boys was suffering while I lay there fighting for my life, oblivious to the world around me.
I was still on a great many drugs that made me sleep a lot and made me have strange dreams and visions. But when I was awake I was coherent and spoke with reason. There was a lot of pain and discomfort but it was not unbearable – good drugs Rock! I think the strangest thing that I kept seeing (hallucinating perhaps) were dragons. Now I have a fixation on spiders due to my nickname I was given in my youth because of my long legs and height; so I have no idea where dragons came from. They are pretty cool but I’ve never really been drawn towards them. Somebody asked me, “What kind of dragons?” I replied, “Normal dragons. You know, not the scary kind just the pretty ones with colorful scales that breath fire.” These dragons never caused me harm or scared me; they just flew around blowing fire in all their beautifully colored scales. I had some very strange and vivid dreams that I wish I could draw because some of them were oddly beautiful. During the lag time when I would begin to awaken from my drugged state I often watched my room slowly morph into crazy places and I was watching it happen from what seemed like a distance. My room turned into so many different scenes that it was twisted, but once I was fully awake the dragons and room morphing stopped.
On the second day that I was awake and coherent my orthopedic surgeon Dr. Cole came to speak to me about my leg. My son was there holding my hand as Dr. Cole explained that the upper portion of the left leg was intact and in pretty good shape over all. It had a 4” cement spacer that would eventually have to be replaced with bone. He then proceeded to talk about the bottom portion of the leg; my son squeezed my hand a little harder. We already knew that something was not going to be right. Dr. Cole explained that the bottom portion of the leg was fairly well destroyed as it took the hardest part of the hit. After seeing pictures of the crash bar on my bike bent all the way back to the motor, I can certainly understand my leg being crushed in there. The doctor indicated that I had significant tissue, nerve, and bone damage. Basically it was like putting a 10,000 piece puzzle together with a guarantee that a lot of the pieces were missing right out of the box. I had two options:
- The leg could be pieces and parted back together which would take many many surgeries. After the leg was pieced together I would likely have a floppy foot due to nerve damage. The therapy to attempt to walk again would be harsh as the leg would be deformed and the foot, as I said would be floppy.
- The leg could be amputated below the knee doing away with the bad tissue and useless nerves. Skin grafts could be performed to cleanup some of the wounds. This would be just a few surgeries and would more quickly move me on to physical therapy and a prosthetic so that I could get back to walking. (I still had to have the 4” of femur installed before therapy, but that would only be about 8 weeks down the line.)
Dr. Cole finished his summary and told me that when I made my decision I needed to inform the ICU staff so that he could begin preparing for whichever choice I made. He and his assistant left the room and still holding my hand, I looked up at my son with glassy eyes. Neither one of us cried but I knew as I gazed into his eyes that he already knew I had made my decision. I merely said, “You know it will be the fastest way for me to get back in the game.” He merely said, “Yep”. We had a very short discussion basically reiterating the benefits of the amputation and then I asked my son to fetch my cell phone. Together on speaker phone we called my father to tell him what had transpired and the decision I was making. During my coma-like state my father had already been preparing for me to lose the leg and was already preparing for me to come live with him and Ma during my recovery. On the phone call to explain my options and decisions, I clarified with him that he and Ma where ready and willing to help care for me for what could be a very long time. My son would gladly have cared for me but frankly it was not the optimal way. He has a life to live and family to support. He would have to move because there were too many stairs. My father and his wife are retired and live in a one level home. They have the time and means by which to handle my situation. My father is also by way of age and wisdom more suited to help me with all the paperwork, insurance, and legal stuff that would eventually ensue. My father assured me that he was ready for me to ‘come home’. He has begged me and bribed me for years to come live in Georgia; in the worst of ways, he has gotten that.
My sister returned shortly after the call with my Dad and I sent her to tell the ICU nurse tending to me to pass the word along to Dr. Cole that I had chosen the amputation. In some strange way, I had a certain amount of peace knowing that soon I would be on my way to walking again. Not truly walking for a long time, but at least the wheels were moving forward on the fastest and least painful way to accomplish this. The rest of that day was spent with my son and my sister mostly with a few visitors in and out. My son and sister would both have to leave the following day to return to their work and families. Many many times over and over I told my son how much I love him. At one point during the day I told him that lying there in the ditch he was all I could think about. We both cried hard together and he held me tight. I am so thankful that I’ll get to see the rest of his life develop and to be able to watch my granddaughter grow.
On Tuesday my son and sister had to fly to their homes and both came to tell me that they would see me later. My Aunt Angela was on her way in from Georgia and my Mother from South Carolina. ICU staff removed me from oxygen and told me that my progress was swift and that I would be moving out of ICU. My friend Jimmy Z was visiting me when this news came about and he gathered my personal belongings and followed me to the 11th floor, south wing. Jimmy Z sat at my bedside and fed me lunch. We talked about our visit in Wisconsin the week preceding the crash. Jimmy Z said he should have been with me, as he had intended to tour a bit with me before returning home. I told him that had he been with me, he would have been riding the left side of the lane and he would have gotten far more head-on crash and would not be here today. He accepted that explanation and we didn’t talk about it further.
My Aunt arrived in the early afternoon; she is a dear sweet woman full of love and caring. She is also a very hyper woman that talks a great deal and has a voice that carries. Jimmy Z said his good-bye and my Aunt and I were left alone. She made herself busy trying to do all she could to straighten my room, attempt to feed me, and arrange me so I was comfortable. It was all appreciated but way too much energy and talking for the discomfort I was experiencing. I asked her politely to take it down a notch as my head was spinning. Indeed she did and when I needed something and asked, she was all over it. She washed my face, neck, and the parts she could reach without me moving. She moisturized my body with lotion and brushed the knots out of my hair. Being the oldest niece and other than her own daughter, the only girl – I knew her actions were purely from love and wanting to spoil me as she always has.
The only disappointment I really had related to my care at Regions Hospital in MN was the lack of communication between the various surgical teams that were taking care of me. When I say this I mean that they gave me a date of amputation of this day and then came back and changed it to another day and then changed it yet again. I had already called my special people to tell them that I loved them and that the deal was going down. And then it didn’t. I was getting fed up and stressed out with the not knowing. I told my father of this on the phone and within a few hours I was told when my surgery would occur and apologies were given for the lack of communication.
My mother arrived later in the afternoon and we filled her in on the progress as far as we knew at that point. My mother and I have had a sketchy relationship since I was a child, but I tell you now as God as my witness, she was amazing and I simply couldn’t imagine going through all of that without her. She was calm, smart, and provided me great comfort and peace. I do believe that these circumstances have thrown a bit of super-glue onto our relationship.
On Wednesday I was scheduled for my surgery, but at the time we thought it was only the first step in the process with the full amputation to occur the following Tuesday. When they wheeled me to surgery with my mother and aunt in tow, we learned that in fact the entire process was being done right then. I was not expecting this but I was relieved to have it all being done right then. Dr. Fletcher, my plastic surgeon, drew a picture and explained in detail what they were going to do.
As I was coming out of the anesthesia in recovery I had a very weird and scary feeling; like none I ever had before when recovering. It was a weird and paranoid feeling. I could see that my leg was shorter but I was not concerned about that for the moment; instead I was just sort of weirded out in my surroundings. I suppose at one point they felt I was awake enough to return me to my room. As they wheeled me through the halls the lights above moved so quickly that it make me sick to my stomach and made my head spin. My aunt and mother soon reappeared in my room. I came back to my room somewhere around 5:00 pm and I was in and out of sleep until about 10:00 PM. But from that point until 5:30 AM, I began to have horrific pain that made me scream out loud and cry uncontrollably. I rocked myself like a distraught child and rubbed the remainder of my leg with vigor. As the process went, the nurse would have to contact the surgeon on-call for advice (the nurse may or may not have reached him immediately). Once the surgeon approved a drug or an increase, the nurse had to send the order to pharmacy. By the time the nurse executed whatever order or drug she was advised to do, at least an hour or so had passed; all the while I screamed and cried. This one hour of sleep and one hour of pain continued for what seemed like forever to me. Finally around 5:30 AM I asked my mother to call my father’s house. I cried and sobbed in a panic and told my father that I needed him to come there now and kick somebody’s ass. He needed to stay in his pajamas and go to the airport. I know my father called to inquire why I was in such pain and I don’t know what was said but within 2 hours my surgeon’s assistant appeared and she ordered a constant drip of pain medication and she ordered that my personal drug clicker be moved to every 5 minutes versus 15 minutes.
During these bouts of excruciating pain I was basically delirious saying that I wanted my pocket knife so I could cut off the leg because I didn’t want it anymore. I begged my aunt for cab money so I could go home. I ranted that my father had abandoned me there when in fact he hadn’t even arrived yet. I asked every medical professional that came into my room why they let a person go through this conscience. I begged for them to put me back in ICU in a coma-like state again. There are many other delirious things which I don’t recall and which my mother and aunt will not share. After my surgeon’s assistant came and ordered the increased drugs, she also ordered that I be returned to ICU where they are more equipped to handle extreme trauma such as mine.
By the time I got to ICU early that morning my breakfast had arrive and though it didn’t seem appealing, my mother coaxed me to eat a little food considering I hadn’t eaten since more than 24 hours prior. I was in lala-land mentally but the pain was again bearable and though I slurred, slouched, and looked doped up, I was again more or less coherent. My father and Ma arrived that day and I was so excited to see my Daddy I simply cannot explain. I spent the rest of that day and that night in ICU and then due to capacity they transferred me on Friday to the burn unit where they are also equipped to deal with extreme trauma.
For the next several days I continued on a heavy drug regimen that certainly helped the pain, but still kept me in a doped state of mind. I could have a conversation, was being my silly self from time to time (especially with my father there to tease me), but often I fell asleep in the middle of a visit. My Daddy and I would often take naps together; me on my bed and he in the recliner in my room. My mother and Ma took shopping trips to fetch me socks, pajamas, and other miscellaneous items. Both my mother and Ma spent time feeding me, massaging my butt, and helping me reach things I couldn’t reach; plus so much more.
I truly am blessed for I had visitors that traveled up to 7 hours to see me and visit me for a couple hours only to turn around and go back home. A few stayed in the area and returned the following day for a ‘good-bye until next time’. But really, how blessed to have such wonderful friends. One of my dear friends Angela came to see me and brought things I needed from my bike which she had gotten from Larry’s shop out of my destroyed bags. My sponsor Ken Reinert and his wife Barb visited me. We teased about how my Rider’s Claw stayed on the handle bars even though the bars didn’t stay on the bike and that my phone remained undamaged in the Rider’s Claw which made it easy for young Anthony to find when I sent him to search for it that fateful day. Ken was none too pleased at the means by which I had quality tested his product, but it was worth a little laugh. Staci, one of my riders from ULRB came to visit and brought some cute little gifts; I have met Staci a couple times but have never really gotten to know her, but that is changing. My friend Annie from CMA (Christian Motorcycle Association) sent Minnesota reps to call on me. I had a very encouraging and peaceful visit with them and ended it with a prayer for myself and all our fellow riders. They also gave me a new Biker Bible and I had no idea if mine was still in my saddle bags for I was not certain at that time what did or did not survive. Judy from my chapter of ABATE had contacted a Minnesota rep as well. Ron visited me while I was in ICU and gave me some ABATE information that I would need as time went on. He visited once again in the burn unit and not only brought me a few t-shirts, but he gave me a walker he once used and took my mother to dinner and short tour of St. Paul. A rather impressive visit was from an all-female motorcycle club called Wild Cougars. They had heard of my crash via Facebook and since they were based in that area, they brought me flowers and visited with me for some time offering words of encouragement and allowing me to speak of my accident and the challenges I had faced thus far. Mike and Lori are a couple that met in ULRB and have thanked me numerous times for bringing them together. My visit back to IL was geared purely on attending their wedding. They came through Minnesota to visit me as they cruised on their bikes for their honeymoon ride. Of course my very dear friends Cheryl and Mike came to visit. (You would have heard of them in other blogs as well regarding my attendance at their wedding in Memphis while on my journey and attending their reception when I returned to IL for a visit.) They too brought me treats and as it turned out I had asked them to take home my damaged boot as I was considering auctioning it off as a joke that came about on Facebook and to give to my son the quilt my mother had brought for my granddaughter. Embarrassed as I am to admit this, there are visitors and conversations that I forgot about and even forgot that Cheryl took my boot; I was stressed and pissed that it went missing but she eventually told me that I instructed her to take it. Again – good drugs Rock!!
As those doped up and happy days of visitors passed, I was becoming ancy to leave the hospital. I was ready to get on with the rest of my life and start working on the ways that would help me walk again. I was pressing the staff and they told me I could only do that if I were off the intravenous drugs. “Well then, let’s drop the constant drip and move my clicker back to every 15 minutes.” They did as I requested and replaced the drip with an oral pain reliever the day after we slowed the drip. That still had me a little dopey but relieved the pain for the most part. The following day, I asked them to remove the clicker and at that point it was Sunday night and I was determined to go home that week. On Monday, my doctors told me that nobody has ever left only one week after an amputation and they just didn’t see it happening. At best I was looking at three weeks. My father, my mother, and Ma watched as I battled them and convinced them that I was leaving that week. The walker was already there and I requested that the physical therapist come evaluate me. They removed my catheter and I began to test drive the wheelchair, the walker, and the crutches. The only one I couldn’t manage was the crutches and that was due to the fractured collar bone. I was simply putting way too much pressure on it and that was not going to work. Later that afternoon the physical therapist scheduled me for a session downstairs in the PT facility. In the meantime, I wanted to get out of my room since I was finally free of the bed. My mother took me on a short tour of the hospital and it really is a beautiful hospital. I strolled myself part of the time and when I was tired my mother would push me. We did a few small exercises with the therapist later and she was impressed. We did this twice again the following day, Tuesday. I pressed and told them to let my doctors know that I was leaving Wednesday. My father sort of shook his head as I politely bossed the staff into what I wanted. The social worker and the physical therapist gave me rave reviews and the doctors said my wounds were healing rather fast and nicely. Ultimately they had no real reason to keep me there.
So it was stated, so it was done. I received my walking papers (ooops – rolling papers) and I rolled out of that hospital on Wednesday; two weeks exactly from the crash and one week exactly from the amputation. My father and Ma took a super early AM flight back to GA so they could prepare a few things for my arrival home. My mother stayed behind with me to go through some paperwork, to help me pack, and to take the flight back with me. She would fly with me to GA and then continue her route on to SC. Though I was still in pain, it was bearable with the narcotics and I knew that I could bear it more out of that disruptive environment and with family in a peaceful environment. The moment my mother strolled me out into the fresh summer air I felt human again; as if I was part of society again. They had a very small farmer’s market across the street so we rolled over there and each got a treat. I had gourmet herbed olive oil on delicious crusty bread – now they DIDN’T offer THAT in the hospital. Our taxi finally arrived and I was wheeled into the back of a mini-van and strapped down, never leaving my wheelchair. The driver was fast and efficient at the process. I watched St. Paul pass me by as we made our way to the airport. Sorry I had not toured the city, but thankful I survived to perhaps do it again someday.
My mother and I were clueless as to seeking the handicap assistance I needed and we got in the regular check-in lane. A business man in the express line for being a frequent flyer approached us and told us to follow him into his lane. He politely excused several others to move out of the way and lifted the barrier tape for us to go under. He put us in front of him and within a few passengers we were at the counter receiving assistance. We thanked the kind stranger several times and were off with an aid to take us through security. Again, we were taken to a line that was express; the personal scan and check took a little bit of time but all in all we were out of there faster than I had ever experienced. Believe me; I’d wait in that hour long line if I had two legs to stand on, but the service we received was excellent at the St. Paul airport. The same thing happened as we reached our gate. We would be the first passengers on and the last passengers off. I was able to leave my bag in front of me so that I could prop my leg up. Within no time at all I fell asleep. I was out for 1.25 hours of the 2 hour flight; so it was bearable. My mother along with the help of another aid at the Atlanta airport got me safely to my father whom was waiting in the car.
I gave my mother a hug such that we had never shared before. I thanked her and told her I couldn’t have gotten through it without her. She promised to check on me often and I agreed to call more often. With that my father battled the wheelchair as he tried to get it into his sporty little car and soon we were on the roadways of Georgia which I have traveled thousand on miles by both 4 and 2 wheels. I was on my way ‘home’ and on my way to start anew.
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