Saturday, November 14, 2009

November 17, 2003: part one

November 17, 2003 started out an ordinary day, but it would end up anything other than ordinary. My nursing class was already involved in clinicals (that's where you go to a hospital or nursing home to practice your skills) and I woke up before 5 AM so I could be at the nursing home I was assigned to by 6 AM. For the next six hours I worked at the nursing home learning the finer points about taking care of the different needs of the residents at the nursing home. My classmates and I were released from clinicals about noon, and then I was off to tackle the rest of my very busy day.

I would head home to change out of my white student nurse uniform, and then I would go to school to take my Dosage Calculations final. After this I would go to St. John's Hospital for the physical each new employee was required to get. (I'd just gotten a new job at the hospital as a patient care tech so that I could gain experience.) Finally, I would head to the movie theater where I worked as an assistant manager to work from about 5 PM to 1 AM. These were my plans, anyway, but I wouldn't even make it home.

Leaving the nursing home was the last thing I remembered that day, and would be the last thing I remembered for quite some time. (The rest of the events that happened that day have been told to me by my family and friends.) When I got to the intersection of 21 and 141 I was stopped at a red light and was the first car in line. When the light turned green, I started to make a left-hand turn onto 141. As I did this, a car going perpendicular to mine ran a red light and T-boned my car on the driver's side. That car was going approximately 50 mph, and it struck my car with so much force that I was immediately knocked unconscious. The force of the impact caused my head to swing to the right, breaking my neck at the second cervical (C2) vertebrae. It also collapsed my left lung, ruptured my spleen, dislocated my pelvis, broke several of my ribs on the left side of my body and caused severe internal bleeding. 911 was called by someone that witnessed the accident, and it was reported that I arrived at St. Anthony's Hospital in South County, MO, six minutes after the call to 911 was made. With my neck broken at the C2 level, I was no longer able to use my diaphragm muscle which is used for breathing, so it was a good thing that the paramedics arrived so quickly so that I could be intubated and put on a ventilator.

Fortunately, I was very close to St. Anthony's Hospital. I was taken to have emergency surgery soon after arriving at the hospital to stop my internal bleeding. (My mom later found out from the surgeon that my internal bleeding was so severe that I would've bled to death if I'd had to wait any longer for surgery.) My bleeding was stopped and my ruptured spleen was removed.

Meanwhile, the police officers were trying to track down my mom. They went to my house and there was no answer, but they'd found the number of the movie theater on a pay stub in my purse. They called the theater and talked to my boss, Bob. He didn't know where my mom might be, but he knew where my younger sisters went to high school. The police officer called the school and asked the school secretary to notify my sisters that I had been in a car accident. She did and drove my sisters up to the hospital.

To make a long story short, my mom was finally tracked down at Barnes Jewish Hospital where she was doing her practicum for school. (Mom was in graduate school at this time getting a Master's degree in pastoral care.) Mom was in a patient's room with a woman who was sick with cervical cancer when her instructor called her out into the hall. She then told my mom that one of her daughters had been in a car accident. It was 2 PM so that meant the high school hadn't let out yet, so Mom knew that I was the one that had been in the car accident. Her instructor gave her the number of St. Anthony's Hospital and my mom made the call. The nurse that answered the phone told my mom that I had sustained a cervical fracture and that I'd already undergone emergency surgery. My mom asked the nurse, "Please, I have to know, is Heather alive?" The nurse told her that my vital signs were stable, but that I was hurt very badly, and she needed to get to the hospital right away.

Lawrence, one of the chaplains my mom was working with, decided that she wasn't in a fit state to drive, so he drove her to the hospital in her car and a couple of the other chaplains followed so that they could take Lawrence home afterward. On the drive to the hospital my mom started making the necessary phone calls. She started by calling my boss, Bob, to let him know I wouldn't be working that night, but Bob already knew since the police officer had talked to him earlier that day when he was trying to locate Mom. Mom also asked Bob to get word to my dear friend and coworker, Adam, because she knew I would want him to know what had happened. Bob told her that he already had.

Next, Mom called her friend Paul (also a chaplain) because she knew she would need the support of friends. She also called a neighbor and asked her if she could find two men from our church who could come to the hospital and give me a priesthood blessing. After the calls were complete, Mom started thinking about what the nurse had said on the phone... a cervical fracture. Initially, my mom was thinking cervical referred to the cervix, but when she actually thought about it, she realized that I had broken my neck.

More about that fateful day in my next post.


Amy Baron said...

As I was reading this post (and the 2 other posts that followed immediately after this), I was gasping and holding my breath. I’m so sorry that your accident was this bad! It’s very, very fortunate that you are still alive. Did you or your family ever consider legal action regarding this accident? Did you ever find out what happened to the other driver?

Lorraine said...

As I'm reading this, I am also holding my breath. I don't know how you can write about all this. I have have trouble writing and sharing about the tragedies in my life (very different ones than yours). Blessings.

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