During the summer of 2005, Nan Reilly was enjoying a day at the beach with her family and friends. It was a wonderful day until she was in a terrible power ski collision. Nan was airlifted to MetroHealth’s Trauma Center where she was in critical condition. She spent months receiving care in the trauma center and rehabilitation center uses what she has learned to help others as a volunteer at MetroHealth. We asked Nan about her recovery, and reasons for volunteering with the TSN and this is what she said.
What helped during your recovery and what motivates you now to help others?
I cannot easily pinpoint one thing that helped me most during my recovery. My goals, my support system, and my faith are all equally important to my recovery.
I have always been goal driven and as I was recovering I kept setting goals and working toward achieving them. In week six of my recovery I remember wanting to walk to the nurses station across from my room, fifteen feet away. It took me close to two weeks to reach this goal, but I was so happy when I made it. I wanted to make a card for my daughter’s 6th birthday, and I worked for 2 hours to write bubble letters and make one card for my daughter.
Having a support network of family and friends definitely was helpful. My husband was almost always at my side and seemed to always know when I was struggling. One night I was choking on mucus and could not call for help as I was trached, and could not speak. I was panicking and scared that I was going to suffocate. Somehow my husband sensed this, at home, and raced to the hospital and got me help. Before the accident, I was running my own business teaching pottery and some of my dearest friends stepped in and continued teaching my classes while I was recovering. My Mother-in-law and Father-in-law moved into our house while I was in the hospital to help keep things as normal as possible for my children. This allowed my husband to spend time with me and not worry about the children. My church arranged meals to be delivered a couple of times a week so my family did not have to worry about cooking. People don’t realize that when you get home, life is not the same and you learn to measure your achievements from where you came from after the accident, not before. Two of my closest friends came over after I was home and helped me clean my house. I could not pick up a frying pan or even run a vacuum cleaner when I got home due to muscle loss. I felt so helpless. My friends and family helped me through these tough times and helped me achieve the small goals I set for myself. I wanted to be able to cook dinner, and they helped me to achieve that. For example, they would set the pan on the stove for me so I did not have to pick it up.
My faith in God motivates me today, and I feel that I was kept here for a reason. While I was in the hospital, I received letters of encouragement from former pottery students I had taught. They spoke of how much I had done for them, and that I had made a difference in their lives. If I could do this for others, maybe that is why I am still here. I decided to go back to school and become a teacher. I now teach Mathematics to middle school children and love what I do. When Dr. Como, my trauma surgeon, recommended me for the TSN as a peer visitor, I could not say no. I felt I could help those going through similar challenges that I went through. It is sometimes difficult to explain your fears to your nurse and doctors, not only because it is hard to put into words, but because the nurses and doctors are approaching our challenges from a physical lens, not an emotional lens. I have learned that healing from trauma is a lifetime experience, not something you get over in a year or two. I want to be there to help others on this journey of recovery and discovery of what new adventures lay ahead. We cannot always do what we did before, but there is a world of new things we can do and may not have tried yet.
I owe my life to the people at MetroHealth.
MetroHealth is an amazing learning hospital that is on the cutting edge of new programs and technology. They put the patient first and are always looking for ways to make the experience better for the patient and family. It does not surprise me that Metro would be pioneering this program and I am happy and proud to be a part of something that will help so many people.