A few days after Christmas 2013, I was repairing a window in our home. Unfortunately, in the process I fell out of the window and landed on a brick sidewalk 17 feet below. The physical damage was focused primarily on my right arm/wrist and my pelvis. Both areas had multiple breaks and fractures. I remained conscious and was aware of what was going on around me and the unbelievable pain coming from my body. I could not move. My wife called 911 and I was taken to Vanderbilt Emergency for evaluation and treatment. I was moved to the Vanderbilt Trauma Center and the next day surgery was performed on both my pelvis and arm by Dr. Alex Jahangir. A steel bolt was put through my pelvic bone to hold the fractured pieces together so they could heal. Likewise, a steel plate was put into my arm, at the wrist, and attached with screws for the same reason.
I was at the Trauma Center for the better part of four days before being transferred to Stallworth for another 10 days of initial rehabilitation. I had to have assistance to lift my legs onto and off of the bed, to go to the restroom, to take a shower, everything. I was restricted from putting any weight on my right leg or right arm and thereby confined to a wheel chair, or later, a walker with an elevated platform for my right forearm. Following my discharge from Stallworth on January 11th, I continued to receive “in home” rehabilitation 3 times weekly until 18 February. On this date, during a visit with Dr. Jahangir, I was finally allowed to put weight on my right leg and right arm, lose the wheelchair and the elevated platform from the walker. With this progress I began rehabilitation at Result Physiotherapy in Hendersonville, TN which continued into April. It was suggested by Result Physiotherapy that I make arrangements with the local YMCA to continue my physical rehabilitation by working with a trainer for balance and strength improvement utilizing both the pool and weights. This work continues.
I am not sure which was worse, the physical pain or the emotional trauma that accompanied this experience. I was forewarned that there would be emotional issues to be dealt with. I initially brushed this off as thinking this will not happen to me. It did!!
I am a Christian, a husband of 49 years, a grandfather, a business owner, a pilot, a global traveler and very active physically with exercise and slalom water skiing in the warm months. I woke up the day of the accident happy and confident in all of these areas of my life. I fell around 9:20 AM. Looking back, I realize that my confidence was shattered from the very beginning and that my inability to cope with the pain, the confinement and restrictions was growing rapidly. I could not sleep; there was a lot of anxiety; and I was frightened beyond understanding and even words. It was during these times that I actually wondered what surviving would look like. This fear and doubting continued well into the phase of my rehabilitation work at home. It wasn’t until I visited Dr. Jahangir on February 18th and he asked me to stand up from my wheelchair (I did) and then to take an unaided step (I did) that I could see that there was potential to return to a somewhat normal life. It was a euphoric experience. It was liberating. With this achievement, came the physical and mental energy I so desperately needed to press on with my rehabilitation work in order to return, as much as possible, to my pre-accident life.
Throughout this life altering experience I was constantly being encouraged and cared for, first of all and most genuinely by my wife who also suffered mightily as a result of the accident. There were the doctors, the nurses and the rehabilitation therapists all doing their best to encourage me and to bring assurance that I would be alright in time. Additionally there were family, friends and church leaders all coming to show their love for me and to pray for me. This was so beneficial. Even if the strain and stress, which was relaxed a little during each visit, returned with their departure, it was so wonderful for them to come and talk with me. They came out into the very cold winter weather and drove 25 miles, one way, just to help me. This let me know that they really cared.
Through this traumatic experience I have gained wisdom and knowledge about life. I have learned to spend my time on things of high value. I have learned to be more compassionate. I have learned that Peer Visiting is not about me. I believe that I can be a friend to someone in need of a friend, be an encourager as someone who has “been there” and I know that by doing so I will become even stronger and more complete in my own recovery. During my traumatic experience I learned how much both physical and emotional recovery depends on support. I feel that “giving back” is something that I need to do or have been “called” to do. I want to be helpful to patients who have encountered trauma and are afraid, confined, restricted and perhaps suffering with anxiety/stress because they feel trapped and have no idea what their recovery is going to look like. I have learned to listen to what the patients and families are really saying and respond accordingly. I have learned that there is an inner peace and comfort that I experience when attempting to comfort and give hope to patients and their families. I have learned that it is a God given, unique privilege to be equipped to serve the patients and their families that unexpectedly find themselves in the environment of trauma.
Volunteering with the TSN
I think it is important for me to share my experience with others. This is because I have survived both the physical and the emotional impact of the accident. When I am working with trauma patients and their families I use a combination of my being a trauma patient/survivor at the Vanderbilt Trauma Center and Stallworth Rehabilitation Hospital, along with the TSN material, to help them understand that there is “life after trauma,” that they will likely develop a “new normal,” and that the TSN programs offer professional help that is always available to them even after they leave the hospital. I really emphasize “Next Steps” and encourage them to get involved. Next Steps provides a healing environment. It is a place to learn, to encourage and to be encouraged. My experience is that patients and families alike are so receptive to “Peer Visits” and are encouraged to learn about TSN and what it has to offer. It is very gratifying to visit a trauma patient a second time and have them tell me how much my visit the week before has helped them. This is “high value”!
Just minutes prior to being put to sleep for surgery on December 29th, my surgeon asked if there was anything else I wanted to say to him. I told him that I thought that he should have me back on my ski by July 1st 2014 (6 months). He said “doable!” However he went on to say that there were 3 things that must happen for this to be achievable;
1) He had to do his job correctly…he did!
2) The therapists that I would be working with throughout my rehabilitation had to do their jobs very well…they did!
3) I had to do my part, work hard and not settle for less than optimum recovery, to the extent possible, considering my injuries….I did!
I had frequent visits with Dr. Jahangir during the process of healing and as it happened, one of these checkups took place on July 1st, 2014. After x-rays, I reminded him of our discussion on December 29th. He released me to ski!!! The photo was taken on July 2nd. It was very short ride but a very happy occasion!