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Defining Moments: THE ACCIDENT

For those of you who read my last post, you will already know that my life seemed to be heading towards some sort of defining moment. At that point, I had no idea what that moment was going to involve, nor how quickly and completely it was going to change my life.

May 9, 2014 started out just like any other day. I went into work to take care of a couple of things that needed to be done before I could leave town with my family. Jereme, my soon-to-be high school graduate, wanted to take a trip to the sand dunes in Yuma for his last official childhood ‘hoorah’. Although riding in the dunes is not my dream vacation (I would much rather be in Disneyland), I was excited to get away and enjoy some down time with the family.

With hindsight, I can honestly say that I didn’t feel good about this trip. I even tried to get my daughter, Aubree, to stay home and have a girl’s weekend with me while the boys went and rode the dunes, but to no avail. With no excuse to stay home, I decided to make the best of it. We took off at about noon and, after a few stops for miscellaneous errands, we were on the road by two. We checked into our hotel about five, rented our off road vehicles at about six, and headed out to ride until dark. We figured we could spend a couple of hours familiarizing ourselves with the vehicles while it was still light outside, and then we would come back the next morning to really ride in the dunes.

After unloading the 2 quads and the RZR, we began the process of learning how to control these vehicles.Blue Honda QuadimageI knew we had rented way more than we were prepared for as soon as I got on one of the quads. It was much more powerful than the three-wheelers we used to ride back in the early years of our marriage. We had rented the RZR thinking it would be a good option for Aubree and me since it would be similar to handling a car, so after just a few minutes of trying out the quad, I switched places with Jereme and drove the RZR. It was pretty top heavy and felt a little unstable as we were riding over the hills, but it seemed much safer than a quad, with its seat belts, netted windows and roll bars. Still, I turned to Aubree at one point and said, “If we start to roll, grab onto the safety bar with both hands and don’t let go!”

Soon thereafter, with the skies darkening and the visibility becoming limited, Jim and I decided to head out of the dunes and just ride around the area by the road where we had parked our car. It was then that I realized I hadn’t taken a single picture of our trip thus far. I headed back to our Yukon to drop off my camera equipment and then made the switch with Aubree so she could try her hand at driving. She was so excited…and she was doing a great job of driving safely. That was when I said, “Do you trust me?” Those words will probably haunt me for the rest of my life. I thought she would enjoy learning how to drift. I’m not sure why I decided that I had enough skill to teach her this particular trick. After all, I had only been executing it for approximately 15 minutes. But for some reason, it seemed like the thing to do at the time.  We took off, she followed my instructions to the letter…and then we started rolling.

It happened so fast that the details are all a blur.  Somehow my arm flew out of the cab and was crushed by the roll bar.  I knew immediately that it was broken and even had the thought (while still rolling) that it was really going to be a pain to deal with.  We landed on the driver side with me hanging above Aubree.  Fortunately, we were both wearing our seat belts  and helmets, so other than some bruising, Aubree was fine.  She tried to release us, but to no avail, so I reached around with my right arm to try to help her.  It was then that I knew…my arm was not just broken, but my hand had nearly been severed from my body.  It was dangling from the end of my arm and bleeding profusely.

Aubree may have freaked out a little bit at the sight of my blood.  Her adrenaline kicked in and she managed to get herself unbuckled just about the time Jim showed up on the scene.  As soon as she was free, she began yelling that my arm was broken.   As Jim leaned over me to assess the damage, I quietly whispered to him that it wasn’t broken, it was severed.  Somehow, I got out of the vehicle and after wandering aimlessly for a couple of minutes, Jim got me to sit down on the desert floor, holding my right hand in my left hand and trying desperately not to go into shock.  I had seen what was left of my hand and arm, and I really wasn’t sure what was going to happen.  Jim wrapped it in his shirt as Jereme called 911 to report the accident.  He told the operator that we were in the dunes and that his mom had broken her arm.  After listening to him repeat that a couple of times, I finally yelled, “SEVERED, Jereme!  Tell them it is SEVERED!!”  (Way to keep your cool, Mom!)

Within 15 minutes, emergency vehicles were on the scene.   That was probably the longest 15 minutes of my life.  I knew I needed to stay awake, but I desperately wanted to pass out.  I went back and forth between praying to remain coherent and begging my body to black out so I didn’t have to feel any more pain.  Jim had sat down in the sand behind me, cradling me in his arms  As a high priest in our church, I asked him to give me a blessing, and as he did, peace washed over me.  I still had no idea what was going to happen, but I knew everything was going to be ok.  As soon as he was done, we began to hear sirens in the distance.  Help was on its way!

When the paramedics arrived on the scene, they immediately began an assessment of my injuries.  Miraculously, I was still able to feel and move all of the fingers on my right hand.  At a glance, my ulna and radius had both snapped and were sticking out of my arm, forming an X.  I had been degloved from my forearm to my fingers and the carpal bones that should have formed my wrist were no where in sight.  Instead, the end of my radius was sticking out and my hand was hanging loosely from where my wrist should have been, attached only by an artery a tendon and a bit of skin that managed to escape the degloving.

A CHP helicopter happened to be flying in the area so they picked me up and flew me to the hospital in Yuma.  I don’t remember a lot about that flight except that it hurt like crazy every time I moved, and considering it was only a 6 minute flight, it seemed like that happened an awful lot!  I felt like I was being tossed around mercilessly!  I’m sure that isn’t true, but that was how I felt!  When we arrived at the hospital, I was taken straight to the ER.  I don’t remember a lot about my stay in Yuma, except that I wasn’t impressed.  The ER doctor that was assigned to my case was mad that he was having to treat an accident from the dunes.  The nurses were trying to get instructions from him, but he just kept yelling at them and walking out of the room.  It was bad enough that at one point, the nurse who had been by my side from the beginning, actually apologized to me because of the doctor’s behavior.  Through it all, they managed to stabalize my vitals, put my arm in some sort of splint, and prep me for lifeflight number two to St. Joseph’s Medical Center in Phoenix.  It was also in Yuma that I first heard the word “amputation”.

I learned very quickly that if I closed my eyes, the medical personnel who were working on me would talk about my injuries and treatment in my presence.  Thanks to them, I learned that my hand had nearly been amputated and that there wasn’t much hope that it would be able to be reattached.  I also learned that they were calling ahead to St. Joseph’s to have a hand surgeon waiting for me when I got there.  He was told to prep for amputation.

Jim and the kids arrived at the hospital before I left, so they came in to say goodbye and give me hugs.  I’m not really sure if that was a good idea.  I wasn’t doing too great at that point and I guess I looked pretty bad.  That was the image Jereme and Aubree had to carry with them until they got to see me again several days later.  Soon thereafter, I was loaded onto the helicopter with my nurse, and we were off to St. Joe’s.

Life Flight 1

Life Flight 2

Nurse John quickly became my favorite medical professional.  As he climbed aboard the helicopter, he told me that he wanted to be sure I was comfortable on the flight, so he was giving me something to help me relax.  Drugs??  Yes, please!!  After that, I don’t remember much.  I was in and out during the helicopter ride, but John kept his word and kept me comfortably sedated.   I’ll always be grateful for that!

Dr. Schaub, the on-call hand surgeon, met me at the door when we landed.  As I listened to the chatter of the paramedics while they were handing me off to the doctor, it hit me once again the seriousness of this injury.  I was taken directly to OR where I met a few of the doctors and nurses who would become my best friends over the next two weeks.  I was given paperwork to sign while my surgeon explained to me that he was going to do everything in his power to try to save my hand, but he wanted to be clear that he  was prepping for amputation.   He just didn’t know what he was going to find once he got into surgery and began cleaning the wounds.  At that point, I didn’t care.  I knew I was lucky to be alive and figured that if I had to live my life without a hand, then so be it.  I was just grateful for the expertise of  all the men and women who had taken care of me thus far and had been able to stabilize me for surgery.  Hand or no hand…I was prepared either way.

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