Three months ago I walked out of the hospital after an 11-day stay.
Up until now I have been fairly quiet about it because I was (and I still am) processing. As I write this post tears stream down my face. It is a lot.
Most people probably assume the accident was not too bad because I have not really talked about it and I look fine. I do not like to dwell on mistakes. I would rather learn the lesson and move forward.
I will share what I know; some of it is from memory while some has been told to me after the fact.
On the afternoon of May 25th Austin, myself, and our friend Brent left our favorite beach hangout in Santa Monica. I remember saying good-bye to friends who met us.
Then my memory goes blank
The next thing I remember is waking up in the hospital late Sunday morning. There were nurses rushing around me. Austin and our friend Brent were sitting next to my bed. Once the nurses noticed I was awake they asked questions to check my cognitive ability + memory.
I was told I fell off a scooter, hit my head, and I was in the ICU.
That is all I knew on Sunday.
(In fact, upon my release and speaking with family I came to understand what I remembered to happen on Sunday took place on Monday.)
Even though the doctors and nurses did not go into detail about my accident I knew it was bad. (I had never been in a hospital for an extended period of time but I worked in the medical field as an undergrad, so I knew a little.) I was not allowed to get out of bed (not even to use the restroom), I had IVs in both arms, and numerous monitors attached to me.
I felt uneasy but not scared; however, I did not know the extent of my injuries.
Monday May 27th the nurses removed the wires and electrodes from the EEG. Everyone seemed to be in better spirits. I was allowed to have my phone and I actually had somewhat of an appetite. In addition, I was told good news; I was being transferred out of the ICU to a regular hospital room. The doctors expected me to go home the following morning.
Thankfully the room transfer did not happen on Monday.
Tuesday morning I woke up around 3am with a 103-degree fever. I watched helplessly as the nurses tried to figure out what was going on. Finally, the diagnosis; I had contracted a blood infection (staph) at some point after my accident, likely from an IV.
Later that day I was transferred to a room in the neurology wing. Once I was settled I was given more bad news. I also had pneumonia and I was no longer getting out at the end of the day, but rather would be in the hospital for at least 2 more days while they administered the antibiotics via IV.
Fast forward to Friday, May 31st
I was excited to go home, take a real shower, see my dogs, and sleep in my own bed. Because that is the thing about hospitals, patients do not get a lot of sleep. There is always someone checking in or administering medication. You can forget about privacy and being self-sufficient.
Unfortunately, I was given more bad news. The staph infection was still present in my blood and my pneumonia had not improved. I had to stay over the weekend.
The neurologist cleared me on Monday, May 27th so a week later I was hopeful I would be able to go home. I thought surely a week of doing nothing and IV antibiotics helped. I was wrong.
The infectious disease doctor would not release me. One more day the nurses said. If you know me, you can imagine my level of frustration. I promised myself I was going home on Tuesday (June 4th) regardless of what the doctors said. After another sleepless night I was once again told I could not go home. I attempted to check myself out of the hospital against doctor’s orders only to be told if I did so my insurance has the right not to pay ANY portion of the stay.
I irrationally snapped at the poor nurse doing her job. I told her I no longer wanted to have the conversation with her. I laid in bed and had myself an ugly cry session. Frustrated I was stuck for another day. I began to feel trapped and angry. I desperately wanted to sleep for more than 3 hours. I wanted to not be poked by another needle. I wanted to cuddle more dogs.
I wanted to not feel helpless.
Thankfully, Austin convinced me to finally go for a walk. To get out of the hospital room and get some fresh air for the first time in over a week. The nurse practitioner promised to put a do not disturb order on my room so I could get at least 5 hours of sleep that night. It was a kind gesture but did not work. I have a low resting heart rate, which is even lower when I sleep. Every time my heart rate dropped too low a machine would sound. A nurse would come in to request I put on a breathing mask. The only good thing about that night, I was not woken up to a phlebotomist trying to find my vein.
Wednesday morning went by quick! The infectious disease doctor arranged for my blood to be drawn at 6 am while the nurse practitioner scheduled (another) chest x-ray at 6:15 am.
By 7:30am I was released, FINALLY! But, I had to wait for Austin to come get me.
I was so happy to be released but the road to recovery was just beginning. I was scheduled for a follow-up CT on July 18th, 6 weeks after my release from the hospital. I was given restrictions for almost every aspect of my life. Basically, all I could do was walk. So, I did. I walked all of Santa Monica for 6 weeks. I slept more than I have ever slept before and I listened to more audiobooks than I thought possible.
During those 6 weeks, I refused to look at my medical records. I did not know how bad my accident was. To be honest, I was more frustrated with pneumonia, staph infection, and limited activity than I was concerned about the details of my fall.
I spoke to the neurologist on the phone after my CT. He gave me the good news; I was cleared! I began to ask questions. All the questions I did not have the strength to ask before. He explained the ER doctors were unsure if I would live because I was unconscious for so long. If I did live it was questionable if I would have the use of my left eye and what my cognitive deficit(s) would be.
The conversation ended with him stating he had never seen a brain heal so quickly nor had he experienced a person with an injury similar to mine to not have any cognitive deficits.
In his words, I am lucky.
My diagnosis-in simple terms: grade 4 concussion, brain hemorrhage (bleed), and 3 (hairline) fractures.
After I was cleared on July 18th I felt different. I could finally plan my trip to Nashville. I could workout again. I could stop worrying. I could resume life as normal (sans scooter, of course). But more than the small things, I felt a new lease on life. Each day since I was cleared I wake up full of gratitude. Each breath is a little bit sweeter than before. The small things that once occupied so much of my time are insignificant now.
I sit here today, three months out of the hospital, 103 days since my accident. I am healthy, happy, grateful, and fortunate.
I have a scar above my left eye, one in my hairline, and one on the bridge of my nose. My hair is still growing back from the wax of the EEG. Mentally, I only feel the effects of the concussion (which can last over 1 year) when I am tired. It becomes difficult for me to communicate what I am thinking, I become forgetful, and my balance becomes a little off. As someone who has never had a serious mental or physical injury, it is annoying, but I am learning patience (never my strong suit).
I am thankful Austin came to visit me and bring me food every day. I am grateful my Dad was able to come down to spend time with me (and Austin). I am appreciative for family and friends who came to see at my worst (facetime counts, y’all) and those who sent extremely thoughtful gifts from across the country. I am indebted to our family friends who called the hospital on my behalf.
I share my story not for sympathy but for awareness.
Just because someone may look okay, does not mean they are. We each deal with trauma in our own way and if you have never experienced trauma you do not know how you will cope until you do. Be kind to yourself and to one another.
I share my story to encourage everyone to wear a helmet and get health insurance (thank goodness for good health insurance, my hospital bill was $207,000!). But more than anything, I share my story to inspire each of you to LIVE life rather than wait to die.
I turn 36 in 1 month and I cannot help but wonder how I have been so fortunate. The only answer that comes to mind, I am still here because I am not done yet. I was meant for more and I am here to create it.