(Guest post) ~ Liv…and a survivors story, living with PTSD.
It disturbs me every time it happens… but the flashbacks are getting to be less prevalent.
With my husband in the passenger seat, and my nine month old in the back, we passed a car accident a few days ago. The accident was over. There were several people on the side of the road. The cars were still in-situ. One of the cars had spun into my lane of traffic, the other was on the other side of the road, blocking a lane.
I cast my eyes away quickly. I know that such sights affect me, and avoid looking instinctively. But my husband pointed out that he could see the air bags and I cast my eyes back to the car as we passed. The car was sideways, straddling the middle and inside lane. I couldn’t see the damage as it was on the opposite side. I could see glass on the road. There wasn’t anyone in the car, but I could see the air bags.
‘ PTSD’ Born
It was a cold day. December, bright and sunny. No snow yet. Not rainy. It was probably a very nice day for the rest of the world. But for me, it was like a doorway opened into Dante’s Inferno and I fell straight to the seventh level.
I shouldn’t have been going that way. I got to the exit for the highway, realized that I’d forgotten my phone and I was only five minutes from the house. So I drove past the exit and turned around to go back.
I was probably going a little speedier than I should have been. Not too much, and I was paying attention. The light ahead of me as I came around the curve was red. I slowed and watched two cars on the other side go through the advanced green. I prepared to break. A third car came into that lane. She slowed. My light turned green, so hers had gone red. I looked again, she was stopping.
I put my foot back onto the gas pedal, and she turned. Right in front of me! To this day I don’t know what she was thinking. I saw her, there was no way she didn’t see me. But she claims she didn’t. She claims she can’t remember what happened.
I can tell you what happened. I shouted “What are you doing?” and hit the brakes. Hard. With everything I had.
Then there was a sickening crunch. I felt the back end of the car lift up. The car stopped very quickly and I was thrown forward – and everything went black. When I opened my eyes again the air bag was out.
We were stopped. Yes, “we!” I was supposed to be dropping the kids at daycare before work, they were strapped into their car seats in the back seat.
It all stopped – and the legacy began!
The wind-shield was broken. It was cold. I could feel the sharp wind whistling in the car, but no sound for a few minutes. And then all at once, the sound came back. A cacophony. A car horn, people shouting.
And I could hear my children whimpering. I turned to see how they were – and there was a very sharp pain. Worse than everything I’d ever felt. I don’t remember whether I screamed or yelped or just groaned. My leg. There was something wrong, but I didn’t need to know what.
The children came first! I bit my lip and turned to the back seat. Wincing, closing my eyes, shoving it to the back of my mind. The kids. Are you ok? Reaching, I needed to touch them. To see if they were OK. They were my first priority. Ignore the pain, take care of them.
Someone came to the car. I don’t know who. A Good Samaritan. Someone who had witnessed the accident. I shouted a phone number, three or four times. Call, please. He’s not that far away.
We went in separate cars. “He can be here in minutes”. (I don’t think I said all that) Just the phone number and his name. I was trying not to black out before he got it. I needed to stay conscious for the kids. Someone opened the back door – was checking the kids. They said an ambulance was coming. It was so cold. The kids were crying. Confused. Cold. I grabbed the mittens I’d tossed on the front seat. Please, keep them warm.
Then he was there, my husband. He found me. He was only a minute or so behind me, had stayed behind to go to the wash room. He had my phone. I didn’t need to go back, and yet here I was.
I made him make sure the kids were OK. I could let go now. The kids were safe, someone was looking out for them. So I passed out. When I woke up again, they were extracting the kids from the car. Cut the straps on the car seats, took them right to the ambulance. Go, go with them, they’re more important, I told my husband. Do NOT leave them alone, take care of them.
Then the paramedics turned to me. Or maybe they were there already, I don’t remember. I was too focussed on the kids. They asked me so many questions. I couldn’t get out. My thigh bone was very clearly in pieces. So much pain.
Are they gone? The ambulance driver thought I was worried the children weren’t being taken care of. I wanted to make sure they were out of earshot. Yes he said. So I screamed…and screamed.
I found out later that they weren’t gone. My son remembers my screams, I regret.
They extracted me from the car. My leg was bent at the knee – a 90 degree angle with a large bump in my femur. I couldn’t lay it on the stretcher. One of the paramedics had to brace it that way all the way to the hospital. At 90 degrees. I tried so hard to be quiet. So hard. But I felt ever bump. Every one.
We got to the hospital and they gave me some pain meds, and straightened out my leg. More screams. X-rays. CT. MRI. I don’t remember too much. My Mom and my husband came. The children were OK. X-rays for my son, but nothing – he was sore. The car seats had done their job. A miracle, not a scratch!They were at my mothers. Safe. Resting.
There was something going on at the hospital. They took me down to surgery prep and then changed their minds. Sent me back up to intensive care. They couldn’t operate right away, even though they needed to. I don’t know why. Another, more urgent case I was told. I waited two more days for surgery.
The Intolerable Pain
They brought me a pain pump with a little red button I was supposed to push when I was in pain. It didn’t work well enough. I pressed it again and again and again to no relief. Tried to sleep. In and out of consciousness.
My leg spasmed, again and again. Shooting pain through my body, and I swore – a lot! The night nurse came in to tell me not to swear. I was disturbing the other patients in the room. If I could have gotten out of bed to smack her, I would have. I had no control. The spasms came, I swore. Every time. When will they fix it? Take the pain away!
I couldn’t get out of bed. I could barely move. I wasn’t allowed to eat. Then the day nurse said I could, just a little. So I did. And later, I vomited all over myself, my hair and the bed. And the night nurse yelled at me for eating. Two days in, I’d had nothing. I was empty of everything but saline and opiates. And she got mad at me for eating! Her co-worker said it was ok only an hour before! They were rough when they changed the sheets.
Then surgery. Bliss. Sleep. The doctor came in to tell me what they’d done. A big metal rod in my thigh. They stitched five pieces of my knee back together with a wire. My ankle was casted. So many stitches. Four hours in the operating room, and I didn’t know it at the time, but there was a little piece of bone floating around in my foot. They missed it.
Back in my new hospital room, I started wheezing. Turns out the trauma to my leg had caused a little blood clot. It travelled to my lungs. They saw it on the x-ray they brought right to my room, thanks to the observant nurse. Blood thinners, pain killers, Opiates – that caused an allergy. Benadryl, for the itch.
Days and days in the hospital. Months of pain medication. Two more surgeries. Years of physiotherapy and psychotherapy.
My legs healed faster than my brain. The casts were off in three months, but my brain couldn’t be casted! A mixture of post-traumatic stress and anxiety. Months before I could travel with my eyes open in the car. Almost a year before I got behind the wheel. I still wince every time I have to drive past that intersection. There are still days I drive a different way to avoid it. And now, over three years away, the images still flash if I’m triggered by an image.
Deep cleansing breath. Hot tears on my cheek. “Are you OK?” my husband asks.
Breathe. It’s fading. I am driving. I have control. The accident was just that – an accident. A surprise. One of those little things that life throws at you.
Yes. I’m OK. Breaking me only made me stronger. And I’m stronger each and every time. I will continue to strive and thrive. And live life by surprise.
Live by Surprise is the pseudonym for a thriving, inspirational woman. Liv has thrived through multiple surgeries resulting from her accident and subsequent years of physical and emotional therapy and an emotionally abusive marriage, subsequent divorce and co-parenting issues.
Liv has a wonderful new husband, three children and two dogs. Besides therapy and divorce, she blogs about parenting and learning disabilities. She has articles posted on DivorcedMoms.com and is currently working on an autobiography documenting her learning journey through life – which she is determined to Live by Surprise and take things as they come.