Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Rose #9 - A Year Later


A year ago...





  



If not for the kindness of the strangers who saw our car on fire and decided to pull us from the wreckage, the last year in our lives may never have existed.

When I first started writing about this, I wrote about the tragedy. I wrote about Jade's ileostomy bag, and about not being able to walk. I wrote about Mackenzie's struggles, scary surgeries and about the emotional traumas that linger after meeting death head on.

But today is different.

Today a year has passed and not a single one of us has forgotten to live.

Jade took her story on the road after having her ileostomy reversed and presented in front of an ostomy support group who needed a boost. Her take home message:



Mackenzie spent a year making some of the most incredible artwork EVER:



Jason and I became active in our community through volunteering and advocacy efforts aimed at helping to create a healthier more sustainable world.

 

 

Complete strangers risked their lives to pull us out...there is so much good in this world.

Not a single picture in this blog would have existed if we hadn't made it.

A rose??

Nah - a whole garden...

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Rose #8 - My Kenzie

I haven't yet spoken much of Kenzie in this story. I started this blog for a school assignment and my aim was to try and move the story along from the time of the accident to where we ended up today within 10 blog posts. In doing so, I've neglected to mention much of what went on with my Kenzie because following our discharges the bulk of our physical difficulties rested with the extra medical care of myself and Jade. The nervous apprehension I felt about Jade's pending surgical procedure (she was set to go back and have her ileostomy reversed and closed up at the 3 month mark after her discharge) was enough to make me physically ill and did.

With that said, Kenzie's story deserves a spot of its own

My aunt-in-law Lynne took Kenzie in when she was discharged (5 days after the accident). Jason was still at his parents discharged before her with multiple broken ribs, cuts, contusions, and stitches in several places. Ironically, though Kenzie was the only one of us to have ended up in the ICU, she was somehow the first of us girls to be discharged.

The visits she made to the hospital in the ensuing weeks are so much of what pulled me and Jade through. Each time she came in she came smiling. Her bright face, and soft hugs gave us motivation to get better and get home so we could all be together again.

Once we got home though, things became difficult for Kenzie. Jade and I required a lot of help and though Kenzie had been discharged and granted a clean bill of physical health on her follow up, other things she dealt with were going unattended.

We were so sick with worry over the physical aspects of Jade's condition that I'm not sure any of us really stopped to ask Kenzie how she was dealing with it - if she was okay.

One medical issue ensued after another with Jade and me - she randomly ended up with a boil on her ear from an infected earring, I ended up with a skin infection on the palm of my hands, Jade's bag was causing a rash.

One doctor's appointment after another.

The topic of the day was how much my hands and Jade's rash hurt, how our incisions looked, and whether our physical therapy was doing the job.

Kenzie fell between these cracks.

She fell between them but refused to fall willingly.

Instead she decided to leave for a party she was forbidden to go to and refused to come back.

Informing me that "accidents happen all the time," she couldn't grasp why all we seemed to discuss was the accident.

She needed to get away from it. She'd spent almost a week in a hospital room with her sister, watching her get sicker and sicker, laying helpless beside her, trying to heal from injuries of her own. With the deepest degree of laceration to her spleen, an additional laceration to her lung, and a busted collar bone, sternum and sprained foot she was no stranger to pain - instead she was a stranger to the attention she should have received.

I remember how completely helpless I felt when she ran away. In the midst of all that was going on I couldn't believe she would be so thoughtless.

Didn't occur to me at the time that all she was doing was giving me a dose of my own medicine - even if not consciously doing so.

Not knowing what to do (the law in Maine dictates that at 16 years old you can leave home without legal repercussion), I let her go and tried to give her a bit of space.

All I could see was myself. How scared I was, how difficult it was to make peace with my new scars, how little I wanted to ride in cars.

It never occurred to me how scary it must have been for her to have to heal primarily alone because both adults in her life were unavailable. Jade at least had the comfort of her older sister, but Kenzie - she had her friends.

Deciding to try and get her to see where I was coming from I wrote to her. I figured trying to talk in person or over the phone might cause an argument, so I wrote.

What I got in response punched me in the gut. She wasn't mean - on the contrary, for the first time since everything happened she opened up.

She opened up and I realized that as grown as she is she's still my baby. She was scared too - but because she didn't have surgery resulting in ongoing physical ailments she didn't have the same need to continue to discuss this thing that scared and hurt us all - as a matter of fact it was keeping her from being able to move on from it.

Communication is key.

Thank goodness I had the type of mom to instill that truth - it brought my Kenzie home.

I love my Kenzie :)


Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Rose #7 - Shallow Progress



Finally home, and suddenly realizing that home wasn't nearly as handicap friendly as the hospital, I found myself yelling inappropriate things at tables and chairs and any other inconsiderate pieces of furniture that dared to get in my way.

For every effort I made to roll my walker smoothly from one room to the next, I'd find that each entry was inevitably buffered with some sort of inclining door jam or carpeting.

I also couldn't ignore that doing something as historically un-time-consuming as getting myself a glass of chocolate milk now took up a truly decent chunk of real estate on the clock. Activities like returning the milk to the refrigerator became entire projects of their own with the maneuvering of my bulky walker and bum leg. My brain signals weren't getting to their destination, so on top of the incision in my knee keeping me from bending, I also couldn't lift my leg from the hip.

Getting in and out of the car became a two-man process until my occupational therapist gave me a contraption that looked a lot like an invisible dog leash meant to stick my foot in for swinging my leg in and out of the car at will.

Trying to put on underwear in the morning - fugettaboutit - it would have been hilarious if not for how frustrating it actually was.

Once I'd practiced enough physical therapy to be able to bend my knee I still wasn't getting those brain signals, so in addition to not being able to lift my leg from the hip I also couldn't kick forward from the knee. My physical therapist kept telling me to stop throwing my leg while I walked.

I couldn't help it.

Each morning Jade and I would get up, throw on a Youtube of Eye of the Tiger, and start our physical therapy. Things for her were difficult because she was stuck in a back brace and couldn't bend forward. She was also still in a considerable amount of pain.

Mine was reserved mostly for the first hour after I woke in the morning. The physical therapy helped it to go away, which was nice since it felt a lot like I'd been hit by a car...........

Jason and my mom (who stayed with us for an entire week after Jade and I finally got home) did what they could to make life easier. The shower doors were taken down, meals were cooked, much of Jade's immediate needs were tended to (especially those which required the climbing of stairs).

They did what they could but I was still frustrated. I felt like my body was betraying me. My physical therapist trying to get me to lift my leg from the knee, one day without thinking said to me, "You just really don't want to lift that leg, huh?"

I replied by crying.

I thought I was permanently partially paralyzed.

Feeling defeated, as if progress was so slow it might not come at all, I finally got a new physical therapist who I pleaded with that I was only 33 - I needed to be able to walk again.

"Well, keep throwing your leg like that, and you will. You'll just look weird doing it."

Should I admit at this moment how shallow I am?

Hell, why not? Three weeks into having that physical therapist remind me of the inevitable weirdness that would be my gait if I kept up doing it wrong, this here is what I could do:



A rose...

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Rose #6 - The Kindness of Strangers


Days whizzing by like they don't exist, my doctors tracking me down while I'm visiting in Jade's room to tell me I'm ready to be discharged (code for 'hey lady you're off the IV, so your insurance thought it would be a good time to stop paying for around the clock care'). I ask politely if I'm allowed to stay in Jade's room with her - they tell me, of course I can.

Lucky for me Jade's nurses have an in with the cafeteria, so I'm set up for meal deliveries. Good thing because when I tried strolling down to the caf with my walker in tow it took me almost 20 minutes to make a round trip just for a coffee and donut.

I remember watching people walk by me and feeling jealous that they could hustle to their next destination. I didn't want to feel jealous but I did. Of course, jealous though I may have been, I also recall feeling proud as hell of my walker (or my Ferrari as I liked to call it). 

The first walker I'd been issued from the hospital was a standard silver model with legs that came to a rubber stopper on the end like a cane. The one I ended up with by virtue of Jason's late Grammy, however, made me feel like the debutante of the hospital halls. This thing was fancy - metallic red with a built-in seat, an attached cup holder, 2 sets of wheels, and best of all, a set of hand brakes the likes of which you'd normally find on a bike. This thing was sick.

The fuzzy haze of Dilaudid that helped me find the glee in a stylish walker didn't last forever though, and before I knew it I was writing depressing poetry about whose fault I felt the crash was and the frustration of Jade's tennis match recovery and changing discharge date:

I'm mad, I'm sad, I'm happy, I'm fine, I'm sick of this roller coaster ride. We're here to stay, we're going home, she ate enough, she's skin and bones. "It's not your fault, it's just bad luck," I feel like a stupid, idiot fuck. I want to go back, I want to rewind, take the wheel, and not be blind. This sucks, I hate it, I ruined her life, it's stabbing me inside out like a knife. Look on the bright side, don't be sad, it won't forever be this bad. Okay, I get it, it's totally rad...my mistake...and so my bad.

After several false starts, being told we'd be going home the next day only to be told she'd lost too much weight and would need to continue to stay I began to lose hope and any desire to take a stab at literary device apparently...

Hope was waning thin.

All I could see was pain and what ifs. It's not like Jason didn't say he was tired. He woke me to tell me, actually. My reply: 

"If you need me to drive let me know."

This is the type of sentence that will get stuck on repeat in the mind. This is the type of sentence that did get stuck on repeat - it got stuck on repeat and it sucked the faith I had in myself right out the window. With it my faith in others dwindled too - how can you have faith in others if not in yourself?

But then, a knock on the door:

"Hi there, are you Sass?"

Seeing me nod with a look of confusion the woman at the door explained that she was Ethan's aunt, Lori.

I had to rack my brain..who the hell was Ethan??

And then it came - Jason's sister's boyfriend.

"Oh, yea, hi! Ethan seems like a really nice guy - what can I do for you?" I asked still slightly confused.

"I'm a nurse. Have been for 20 years. Ethan told me about what happened to your family, so I just wanted to come by to let you know that it does get better."

With that she handed me a small pewter angel, a box of chocolates and a gift bag for Jade.

She didn't stay - her message was clear:

It gets better.

The kindness of strangers...

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Rose #5 - A New Friend

"What do you mean she needs surgery? She just got to eat today for the first time since the accident!"

These were the words that careened out of my mouth fervently trying to deny the news - Jade needed surgery...again.

It had been a little more than a week and a half since the accident. Jason, despite multiple broken ribs and permanent nerve damage in his leg, and Mackenzie despite her cumbersome collection of internal injuries were both already discharged, and I, although still admitted, was actually beginning to get around without a wheelchair. No doubt I had to use a walker for balance since my surgeon had stressed how important it was I didn't bend my leg and risk reopening my incision. Of course, in truth, I couldn't bend it anyway, that little joy wouldn't become available to me until after weeks of intensive physical therapy at home.

But this - I couldn't believe it. I'd spent the last evening in my room talking to Jade on the phone about all the things she wanted to eat when she was finally allowed to the next day (because of severe abdominal swelling from the impact she was receiving nutrients through IV since the accident and had finally started to feel hungry as the swelling faded).

She wanted soup. Badly.

In a haze of IV drugs I was beginning to become accustomed to, I swallowed the news harder than in moments prior.

The doctors explained to me that Jade had an aggressive intestinal infection called Clostridium Difficile and that her blood was beginning to become toxic due to a leak in the intestinal stitching from her first surgery. They needed to open her up to explore the damage.

"She's not going to need a colostomy bag, is she?"

"99% chance yes, she will, though it will be an ileostomy not a colostomy. Can you sign here?"

Tears.

Guilt - I couldn't let her see me crying. She needed to be brave.

I spent the next hour or so going back and forth between hyperventilating and listening to my mom on the phone tell me to ask the nurse for a tranquilizer.

I finally gave in.

Nothing made the time move quicker. The doctors told me the surgery was virtually risk proof, when I asked what the likelihood of death was I remember the surgeon said 0%. This did not sit well with me since I like to think of myself as an honorary physician with all my years as medical mumma to qualify me, and in any surgery I'm well aware that there's at least some risk.

Wishing I could pace I watched every second of every hour pass on the clock in front of my hospital bed. An ileostomy? Was she really going to be shitting into a bag at 10 years old? I could barely wrap my brain around it - the only saving grace to the thought came when the doctors explained that the bag was only meant to be temporary to give her colon a chance to rest and heal.

With Jason by my side (he'd come to the hospital to be a support for me and for Jade when she woke from surgery) I waited and waited.

Finally, the phone rang. She was done and surgery a success.

*Hooray!

Should this be the rose? You'd think so but this time I have something even better (as if there's anything better than my daughter surviving surgery - but seriously, want to hear it? Here it go:)

Upon discussing the bag with Jade a day or two later, me clearly still shaken by the whole thing, she turned to me and said, "Mom, look at the bag as a friend, if it weren't for that I wouldn't be alive."

A rose? I think so...


For more information on ostomy solutions please visit: The United Ostomy Associations of America, Inc.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Rose #4 - No Need to Roll

Still high off the family visit and steady drip of morphine pumping through my veins, I was starting to feel settled in. It had been three days since a surgeon I still can't recall the look of cut my belly in half and cauterized my liver and spleen; three days since my youngest daughter, Jade (my 10-year-old) survived the same cut as my own - straight down the belly. Unlike myself, however, she also survived a fractured vertebrae, the "theft" (as she sees it) of her appendix and sigmoid colon, and a cut to her side meant to repair the hernia that had popped through her hip muscles when she slammed against the seat belt she was thankfully wearing.

My oldest, Mackenzie (16-years-old at the time) was lucky in that she didn't end up going under the knife, though lucky I'm guessing isn't what she'd call it. Certainly not too lucky anyway; she'd broken her sternum against her knee when she instinctively lifted her leg to kick against the front seat on impact. The force also lacerated her spleen to the fifth degree, sprained her foot and broke her collar bone. It's a wonder she didn't break her leg.

The doctors thinking she might bleed out decided instead of opening her up to put her into Intensive Care to monitor her while her organs rested and regenerated.

Finding this information out while under a haze of intravenous pain killers was probably the best way to receive it since the very retelling of it now still shakes me to my mom core.

Either one of my girls could have been dead right then. If not for modern medical technology they would be. Actually, we all most likely would be. This is a thought I am happy to say was already beginning to brew on this third day, and let me tell you, there's nothing quite like gratitude to push you through fearful happenings.

This day though one of slight anxiety also prompted excitement in the journey of my healing - this was the day my surgeon would perform the second out of an estimated three more needed debris cleanings of my knee. This procedure though I knew would be painful was bringing me ever closer to getting the vacuum pump holding my knee together removed, which would finally enable my wound to be sewn shut.

*Hooray!

I wanted to walk to see my kids, I was sick of being rolled to them - though that, of course, didn't stop me. Couldn't have paid to stop me actually; seeing my kids was the absolute highlight of each day I spent in the hospital.

The only thing that could have made it sweeter would have been the presence of my husband and perhaps a racing flag attached to my wheelchair.

I remember waking up from my knee procedure hours later confused. Confused because the pain that was crawling up my leg from my knee was unfamiliar - and excruciating.

"Can I have some Morphine?"

"We already gave you as much as we can, Hun. Calling the Doctor now to see about a different cocktail."

Tears.

"How many more of these do I have to do?" I wailed,"I don't want any more."

"I can't imagine any, Hun, look at your knee. They closed you up."

A rose...

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Rose #3 - The Original Unit

The searing pain that ripped through my knee birthed out a screech the likes of which I didn't even know I was capable. This was no playground yelp; this was a visceral, dirty, deep down in the gut, throaty howl - the kind that could only be motivated by something like buckets of ice and water being thrown onto raw flesh. Raw flesh exposing my knee cap.

"Your kids can hear you."

Guilt.

Tears.

Impaired judgment: "Can't you move them into another room further down the hall?"

More tears.

Lots of explaining that no, we're in the ER, remember? And won't I just let them put me under?

"No, what if they die? What if I die? No. No. Just give me a towel n' I'll fuckin' bite down on it."

My aunt holding my hand, tears rolling down her cheeks.

Suddenly I'm being rolled down the hallway, a doctor explaining to me that I no longer have the choice, it's not just about my knee anymore, my liver is bleeding and my spleen wants to fall apart. They need to open me up and "explore" to make sure my pancreas isn't crushed. Not to worry, my youngest will be in the O.R. next to mine.

I don't comprehend this.

The next thing I know I'm in a different bed with a belly full of stitches, a vacuum pump holding my knee together, and a tube up my nose. The room is dimly lit and I think I'm dreaming.

"All of you at once?" I ask not believing my eyes.

There before me stood my most original unit: my mom, my dad, and my older brother. A clan of people I hadn't been in the same room with at the same time since my parents' divorce - 28 years earlier.

"Are you all actually here?"

A rose...

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Rose #2 - A Familiar Face

"I'm sorry," my husband (Jason) croaked from the other side of the ambulance.

"No," was all I could muster through the elephant pressure sitting on my chest.

"Fine, then," he said in a husky voice, "I love you."

"I love you too," I squeaked, wondering if it was going to be the last thing I said to him, knowing an apology certainly wasn't the last thing I was willing to hear from him.

The following ride to the hospital could have been on a spaceship for all I can remember at this point, all I know is I spoke to my mom during the ride and I told her how much my head hurt. Once at the hospital there was a lot of hoopla about broken necks and broken knees, so I was put into a neck brace, and told I needed a CT scan.

In and out doctors and nurses hustled telling me over and over my kids were alright. I remember being relieved that I didn't need to worry about them since the likelihood of my having internal injuries seemed pretty great judging by the tone of the doctors' voices.

*I later found out my oldest was in ICU.*

Not much after this is reachable in my mind until the doctor leaned down to inform me that after getting all our scan results back both my girls and I were going to be med flighted to Maine Medical Center. Good news though, my neck wasn't broken!

**Hooray!**

I promptly refused said med flight because being in a state of shock left me with the good judgment to insist on a leisurely ride down via ambulance. Apparently since I'd already pressed my luck for risky vehicular behavior for the day, this was the way to go.

This ride again could have been taken on a space ship.

Once the three of us got to Maine Medical Center, the doctors informed me I was going to need yet another CT scan and a cleaning for my shredded knee. They told me I was going to have to be put under for the procedure.

I refused. I wanted to stay awake until I knew the state of my girls was stable.

"Just stick a fuckin' local in there and do it."

This is what I was quoted as saying by my aunt-in-law. My aunt-in-law who I didn't know worked as a nurse for Maine Medical Center. My aunt-in-law, Lynne, who just so happened to be working that night.

A rose...

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Rose #1 - Hooray, We're Alive!

Mother's Day, 2012.

Cruising down the road at 50 miles an hour, asleep in the passenger seat - without warning the piercing screech of skidding tires rips through my slumber. Before I can even make sense of what's happening my body heaves back into oblivion with one of the loudest, chest-punching smashes I've ever felt.

We made impact. With a car in the oncoming lane.

I remember before passing back out my eyes refusing to move from the dashboard fan while I yelled repeatedly, with what seemed to be someone else's vocal chords. 

*Trauma does weird things when you're not looking.*

The next thing I know my armpits are burning from being dragged out of my smoldering car by a fuzzy form a pleasant scent and a gentle voice - a voice assuring me that I wasn't dreaming despite my garbled arguments to the contrary.

"Your kids are okay, they're over here."

On the ground, my knee wide open, I do what I can to turn my body enough to shield my two daughters from what I figure as an expert on car fires from my many televised experiences with them, that the car is destined to blow up. I can hear the strained voice of an older gentleman declaring, "Dad's in the worst shape, bleeding from the neck."

It was at this time I began asking over and over if I was going to die, and scared as hell, if my husband already had.

"Is he alive?"

"Yes."

A rose...