In the next few minutes I’d like to take you on a journey…moment by moment…through the mere seconds leading up to that disastrous event, which in turn began a struggle that would become a testament of faith and hope. It would challenge the will of a young, vivacious woman's drive to survive a life of loss and dependency.
As I laid there helplessly, flat on my stomach, the cold, frost bitten ground persisted to press against every inch of my bare skin. I cautiously opened my eyes; an unusual numbness seeped throughout my body. I was breathless, dazed and confused. I heard voices in the distance calling out my name, but no one could see me in the hazy darkness…transparent I was. My heart raced. I wasn't sure where I was or how I had gotten there. Breathlessly, I called out for help, but my voice was just a whisper. I tried to move, but my body was numb and frozen. The thought of whether I was dead or alive, continuously forced its way into my mind. I believe the mind plays with our heads at times like this; I believe it has to; it's how we power on.
While I struggled to take my next breath…I wondered if I’d ever see my family and friends again. I couldn’t remember the last time I told my parents or brothers I love you and my nephew was so young…would he remember me tomorrow?? Who would be my friend’s maid of honor for her wedding and would those last moments with my friends be enough memories to last a lifetime?? As I fought for my life I recall all my dreams and aspirations for the future pass through my mind. The darkness surrounded me and took over the night leaving me powerless and even more helpless. The chaos was growing and festering in the air. People scurried all around me…searching and searching...but no one discovered my weak and motionless body tucked securely between the bed and cab of the pick-up truck.
I remember a very soothng and comforting voice in my head reminding me to...BREATHE JENNY…JUST BREATHE. BUT there was one problem, the longer I lied there the harder each breath became. I knew something was terribly wrong because, my breathing was slipping away from me quickly and taking a conscience effort to do. Thoughts and images danced through my mind of what had just transpired. It all seemed like a horrible nightmare, but in time would prove to be reality.
Just minutes earlier, I was throwing a bachelorette party for my future sister-in-law. It was supposed to be a night of bonding and building new memories, something to reminisce about for years to come. Not realizing that March 16th would now become a day of grievance and loss for me. A day that I would never look back on happily ever again.
Earlier that night my fiancé, at the time, had offered to pick me up later. I knew we would be drinking and I didn’t want to have to worry about driving, plus it seemed to be a responsible decision at the time, so I agreed. He showed up later with his two friends and we all piled in his single cab pickup truck and headed home. I remember very clearly singing along with the radio and being only minutes away from home when I would realize that my life was in jeopardy. My designated driver started driving erratically at a high rate of speed. We approached a bend in the road when he made a critical decision that would profoundly change my life forever. He decided to pass another vehicle, carrying two passengers, on the right hand shoulder of the road, at approximately 85 miles per hour. We began to fishtail. He counter steered, BUT the truck lost traction and we soon were out of control.
I recall screaming the driver’s name and I then closed my eyes trying to prepare myself for the ride and what was about to happen next. The gravel consumed us and sucked the truck in. The last thing I remembered was seeing the gravel on the right hand shoulder of the road. We went up and over the ditch, rolling several times before smashing into a tree. The truck landed upside down and sometime during the impact I was ejected out of the vehicle. The cab of the truck was crushed like a tin can.
As I attempted to call out for help one last time my voice was extremely fatigued and exhausted. My body was still numb and lifeless. After what seemed like an eternity, I felt the warmth of someone's hand against my left cheek attempting to protect my face from the icy earth that I had declared as a temporary bed. As I felt this gentle, mysterious touch, I remember feeling a sense of security, but yet a little hesitation and uncertainty. I wasn't sure whether I was imagining it all or not. I cautiously opened my eyes. I SIGHED WITH RELIEF…I AM ALIVE...I AM ALIVE. Drained and jaded I closed my eyes again and fell into a deep, child-like slumber.
The fire and police departments arrived at the scene and the EMT’s were very cautious about touching and moving me, due to a possible neck injury. With an accident of this magnitude, life saving treatment takes over and it becomes mandatory for medics to make a primary assessment in order to treat injuries by priority with the most life threatening ones first. So as I laid there like a wet noodle...broken and exposed…my clothes were being cut and torn off me to expose my entire body, so my injuries were revealed and could be assessed. I had no idea that I was being stripped of my dignity and the modesty I held within. I had no idea that this was only the beginning of a new life where dignity and privacy would become almost non-existent. They did successfully stabilize me and I was then transported by the Flight for Life helicopter to
In case you were wondering, my designated driver, was arrested for driving under the influence and later was charged with first-degree reckless endangerment and causing bodily harm while intoxicated.
His blood alcohol content was .21 percent; more than two times the legal limit.
I was the only one injured and of course the driver, who had so carelessly and irresponsibly put so many lives in danger, was completely unharmed.
The next time I awoke I was in the hospital in the intensive care unit. My family was there standing over my motionless body with tears in their eyes and despair covering their faces hungering for any information the doctors were willing to share. That strange numbness continued to flow throughout my body. I still had no idea that I had injured C3, C5, and C6 of my spinal cord, which basically meant that I was paralyzed from the chest down or also known as quadriplegia.
Some of the many capabilities I once took for granted like, breathing, walking, brushing my teeth, writing, doing my hair and make-up and having the function to go to the bathroom on my own, all had new meaning to me. It was like starting my life all over again, only in a much harder sense. The main difference was that this time around I knew what I was missing and it was a hard concept to grasp on to.
I spent the next two months in the hospital with a vigorous schedule everyday consisting of intense occupational, physical, and recreational therapy. A typical day of therapy began as soon as I got up and dressed in the morning until dinnertime and it consisted of a wide variety of tasks such as, range of motion, lifting weights, hand and finger motor skills, eating, learning how to write again, getting on the mat table, bearing weight, dressing, transferring and grooming.
As each day went by in the hospital I tried to stay focused on Debbie, my occupational therapist's, daily regimen for me and clung to her every word, so that I could go home and get on with my new life. Funny, though…I was terrified at the thought of going home without her.
How was I going to face the world in a wheelchair?
People who don't go through something like this will never truly understand what someone in this condition is going through and never will. There's a physical loss that they may connect with visually, but nothing compares to the emotional loss. That inner loss. A part of me died that day and the loss is unbearable more often than not.
I recall one thing Debbie always reminded me of was that no matter what had happened to me physically I was still the same Jenny and that my body may have changed, but me as an individual had not. I started out this journey completely paralyzed from the chest down and I now have the muscles in both biceps and both wrists, which is an enormous accomplishment. Today, some of the tasks I can do independently consist of writing, eating, brushing my teeth, blow drying and brushing my hair, doing my own make-up flawlessly, and I am totally independent on my computer, just to name a few.
Since I left the hospital I have not hesitated in figuring out how to participate in recreational activities that I enjoyed prior to my accident, such as traveling, hiking, adaptive water skiing, boating, riding harleys, snowmobiling, jet skiing, and 4-wheeling.
Even though, the doctors did not think that I would recover as well as I did there was always Debbie reassuring me along the way that my life did not have to end just because I was now physically challenged. This was just a new chapter in my life and a new beginning. She helped me find an inner strength in my soul that I did not know even existed.
I strongly believe that if Debbie hadn’t chosen me off that blackboard that day, I doubt my recovery would have had the same results. She believed in me when I needed someone to believe in me the most. She helped me to stay focused on what was important at that time during the most critical time of my recovery. It was amazing the strength and fight she was able to squeeze out of me. Funny thing is, she has always wondered how I did it. The ability to hang on and not crumble; this capacity to press on despite the obstacles. I heard something once that really tugged at my heart, the phrase "show me the mother and I'll show you the child." When I heard that statement I found the answer to her question. My mother is the strongest woman I know and has that ability to press on through any obstacle she is faced with. She has been a strong role model for me and my whole family. The two of us together is a force to be reckoned with.
Since, my paralysis, I have always tried to keep the faith and hope alive in my life. I think it's a natural response in us to try not to give up hope, even when any reason for hope has dwindled to almost nothing. To be honest though, faith and hope are hard to hang on to when hours become days, days become months and months into years. The longer this sentence becomes the more difficult it has been on me spiritually and that terrifies me to death.
At one point, while I was still with my ex-boyfriend, I felt like I was headed down a road of despair and depression. Every promise he had made to me from a wheelchair accessible home to practicing total sobriety or to never drink and drive again, kept going unanswered. I was so unhappy and knew I needed to make some changes in order for happiness to co-exist in my life again. I have met a lot of people in my condition and in similar situations that get themselves in a rut and fall so deep into it that they cannot dig themselves out. I knew that I had to dig deep into my soul, deeper than ever before, if I was going to beat this fight before it was too late. I was realizing qualities about this individual that I had never realized before and I needed to get out, so after he neglected me on so many levels, whether physically, mentally or emotionally, I found the courage to leave. I left before he destroyed my life even more than he already had.
TO BE CONTINUED...
Since my accident I’ve been searching for the answer to two burning questions.
What is my life purpose? and Why did I survive that day?
When I look back at how my life has changed and the trials and tribulations I have faced I realized that these obstacles and battle scars I have incurred only makes me who I am today. The more struggles I face, the stronger I become.
The accident was just a stepping stone for me and has provided me with the courage to overcome adversity and an insight on how precious life is. It is a privilege that God has given us all, not a right. We all need to work on respecting the value of life and understand that it can all be taken away faster than the blink of an eye. We need to realize that God has a purpose and a plan for us all. It took me awhile to get to this place. I've always felt that I could fix everything in my life on my own and never turned to God or anyone else for help. It's hard for me to just hand my burdens over without feeling a sense of weakness. I found strength in this struggle that from the moment it occurred was a downhill fight, that in all respects I should've lost, but I didn't. God wanted me to win.
There were times I couldn't help, but wonder if God was punishing me for the mistakes I had made in my life. Well, I definitely was mistaken. I know that God doesn't work that way. I believe this accident hurt Him just as much as it hurt me and every ounce of pain I have endured each and every day came back at Him a million times harder. God doesn't make these things happen to us, but He gives us choices and it ultimately comes down to us and the choices we make. I know that I've made my share of mistakes in my life and made some bad choices along the way. I made a terrible choice that night by putting my safety and my life in the hands of someone who claimed to love and care about me. This accident was one person's fault, though and his alone...
MY DESIGNATED DRIVER
and the choice he made that night!
TO BE CONTINUED...