Autumn Van Komen

Lifestyle blog about my disability as a paraplegic.

Another First.

September 24, 2006

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Today was my first time leaving the hospital since my accident. The anxiety that came along with it was crazy. I asked my dad to bring the suburban to drive in because of my fear of driving in a car. I used my sliding board to transfer to my wheelchair and after taking the elevator down to the bottom floor and arriving to the car I knew there was no way I could transfer into the suburban. My dad scooped my up and set me in the front seat.

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At the time I didn't realize how often I would be carried and transferred that way. I asked to ride in the front seat because I was so scared to ride in the car again. Any time I felt out of control I became concerned, the thought of the fact that I made the choice to not "back seat drive" when my accident happened made me feel like maybe I could have prevented the accident kept popping into my head. I made sure to voice my opinion each time I felt nervous. I'm sure my dad didn't appreciate it, but he understood.

We went to a family party at my aunt's house in South Jordan, Utah. My dad pushed me and for the first time I had to used the therapy I learned to get my wheelchair up 1 step into my aunts house.

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 I felt more comfortable with a blanket over my knees for some reason. After about an hour total of sitting up in my wheelchair the pain became too much to handle along with the anxiety of so many people around me. So I laid down in my aunts bed and fell asleep with an occasional visitor or two. 

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Before long I was ready to go back to the hospital. That's where my comfort zone was and I was worn out for the day. The anxiety was the same driving home, although it was only a short drive. Once I made it back to my hospital bed I could finally feel relief of that anxiety. To others it was just "a lot to handle" to me, it was a whole new view. This was when I really realized my point of view was going to be so different. My life would be viewed from 3 feet tall and everyone standing 2-3 feet taller than me. Counters were now eye level and my view was so different.

After we arrived back, I ate some left over pizza and went to sleep. I was so worn out.

September 25, 2006

The pattern continued. Along with the good came the bad. I was sick, I was tired, the nausea didn't get any better. My back incision wound wasn't getting any better. The wound care specialists visited my room daily and my mom continued to document the wound progress. The specialists derided my wound (cleaned out all of the dead tissue in hopes of healthy tissue replacing the dead tissue.) They used an "Enzymatic Debrider". This was so painful. The incision along with the muscle around the incision was so sensitive that when they started the procedure it was almost unbearable. I was so numb to pain. I remember laying in my bed, turned on my side as everyone stood behind me examining my back. I remember the tears running down my cheeks feeling like "Why Me?" I felt like I had been handed enough. Because all of the dead tissue was removed from my wounds, I had big holes in my back about 1.5 cm deep. There were 3 openings, 1 was a deep pinhole, the second was bout 5-6 cm long and the third was about 2 cm long. I wasn't able to participate in physical therapy. This was frustrating because I couldn't come home until I learned basic skills . I also had a limited amount of days due to insurance coverage. If my wounds were bad enough the solution would be surgical intervention. I would have to start all over and re-heal. It seemed like a vicious cycle, 10 steps forward, 5 steps back.

*WARNING- GRAPHIC IMAGES BELOW* 

Stage 3-Image 2

Stage 3-Image 2

Stage 3-Image 1

Stage 3-Image 1

Stage 4 after wound debridement

Stage 4 after wound debridement

The 1st Promise

September 22, 2006

*Warning graphic photos of incision

The nausea and vomiting continued. Each morning around 4:00 am the lab tech would sneak in my room and flip on the dimmest light possible, come to the side of my bed and take my blood. By this time I was so tired of the 4 am wake up call that as soon as the light flipped on I would throw the sheet over my head and throw out my arm that had my hospital bracelet on and prepare myself for the pinch that came along with getting my blood drawn. At this point I had no I.V. because the plan was to attend rehab and go home. Usual spinal cord injuries usually don't go through the complications that were to come. By this point I felt like I looked like a drug addict. I had marks all over the inside of my arms because of previous I.V.'s and having my blood drawn. My tummy still had bruising and marks from my daily shot of heparin to my tummy. If I was up attending therapy my legs were wrapped or in pressure socks to prevent blood clotting. As usual the hospital food brought for breakfast looked less than appetizing so I picked at it and ate a few bites.  If there was anything that sounded yummy to me, mom or one of my family members would go get it for me.

Mom helped me get dressed and get ready for therapy. After dressing and wrapping my legs, my mom laid me down and rolled me on my side. She examined my back incision and expressed her concerns for my incision. My mom was a physical therapist and had many years of experience as a wound care specialist. She knew something was not right. I complained of tenderness and my incision became red and warm to the touch. Before long it started to open in 3 spots. This was not a good sign. My mom started to document my incision with photos. Along with the nurses she prepared a new dressing and covered the wound. Hearing the concern made me feel upset. The nurses and my mom conversed about the situation as if I wasn't there. I felt numb once again thinking "oh, whats next?" (insert eye roll).

Stage 1

Stage 1

Stage 2

Stage 2

Feeling down, I wheeled myself in a new "cooler" wheelchair down to the rehab gym. I had a seat belt on my wheelchair and "Wheelie bars" to protect me from falling backwards. I felt down and didn't care to participate in therapy.

As I approached the therapy gym I made eye contact with another patient. This particular patient was "my friend". I had met him a few days prior during therapy while rolling around the rehab unit. I asked what his injury was and he told me he pinched his spinal cord somewhere in his cervical spine and he completely severed his spinal cord somewhere in the thoracic region of his spine. As we shared our injuries and paralysis we came to the realization that we were injured the same day at nearly the same time. He was injured in a motorbike accident while camping. He was married and had kids at home. We instantly clicked. Anytime we would see each other on the rehab unit we would encourage each other.

As I made eye contact with him I immediately felt selfish, he was working so hard with no complaints, just happy to be alive and working hard to go home to his family. He asked how I was doing and I replied "I'm Okay...". My therapist motioned me to the mat next to him and I maneuvered my wheelchair right next to the mat.  She got out my trusty transfer board and I began to transfer from my chair to the mat. As I was doing this I couldn't stop thinking about my selfishness. I felt bad. I promised myself in that moment that I would work as hard as I could, and I would be grateful for the movement I do have. 

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There is a picture of me looking at my wheelchair before my transfer. To most, I was checking out my new best friend but that photo means so much more to me than that. I was realizing what I did have. Realizing that I was young and had so much life ahead of me, this was not the end. I had the choice of giving up, having a negative attitude and playing the pity card or I could stay positive and maximize what I did have. That was the thing, the pity card was mine to play because I had been through and still was going through so much. I had my family and friends giving so much for me to do whatever they could to help the situation. I was done playing the pity card and I was going to do my best, with a positive attitude.

I laid flat on my back as the therapist put a pillow under my head. We were working on rolling over, this was not easy. I no longer could just roll over on my own. I had to put a pillow under my hip to act as a wedge, bend my leg up twisting my lower half on it's side. (This killed, twisting my back was so uncomfortable and painful.) I then put both my arms to one side and throw them across my chest as hard as I could to get momentum to roll my upper body to one side. After 2-3 tries I got it and started to get a feel for this new trick. My therapists were impressed and now on to the next task on the list- Sitting up on my own.

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My therapist Misty helped me sit up from laying on my back showing me how to use my arms to help my tummy muscles (the muscles from my belly button down were paralyzed). As I sat up, my legs were directly out in front of me and I felt so unbalanced. There was no sitting up like that! Misty bent my knees and made an oval with my legs to allow the most support possible. It felt more balanced and she said "Ok- i'm going to let go and you're going to sit up on your own." I was so scared and I told her to stay close. I put my hands under my knees and used my arms to help balance as misty let go. I was doing it! I was sitting on my own! It hurt, it felt so uncomfortable and I felt nauseous, but I DID IT! Mom took a photo and before I knew it the pain was too hard to stand. I laid back down and rested while mom made small talk with Misty. I was so proud of myself and when Misty asked if I could do some strength I told her I could. (I'm sure I threw up a time or two during this, the pink puke bucket was always near because of my nausea.)

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 I felt so proud. I ended my therapy session with the arm bike and then headed back to my room for some much needed rest.  I felt accomplished.

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The Fighter

 

September 20, 2006

If there are words that were rarely said during my hospital stay they would be " Autumn has done great today".

Today was a day I felt accomplished. So much happened.

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For my therapy session Misty (My PT) came to my room, helped me sit at the edge of my bed and balanced me while I dressed myself. Do you realize how hard it is to put on pants without standing?  I learned to transfer from my bed to a wheelchair with a sliding board. I did it with minimal assistance although it felt super uncomfortable. I thought I was going to fall at any moment. I wheeled around on my own for a bit and then returned to my room. Before laying into my hospital bed I sat on the edge of my bed and Misty let go while i sat UNassisted! It was so hard. Losing the feeling in my butt and hips changed things so much.

 

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Even though today was a "good day" I was dizzy, unbalanced and so nauseous I threw up all throughout therapy. Today my pain med dosage was a lot lower and I thought the pain started to subside. At this point in time I had lost 17 pounds and the weight loss wasn't showing any signs of slowing down. To get my weight the nurses slid a mat under me, rolled me to the other side and flattened the mat under me. They then hooked the four corners to a machine that lifted me off of the bed. I felt like a whale being transferred. I hated this feeling. Why couldn't I just stand on a scale like a normal person. Things were so much more complicated.

This was the biggest issue I was facing at this point in my hospital recovery. Nothing sounded appetizing and any time I did force myself to eat I threw almost everything up. My stomach always hurt.

Hailey let me use her cell phone to text my boyfriend. Before I knew it he sent me the text "I just don't think things are going to work out" and later learned he was seeing someone else. I felt broken. I felt like I was no longer lovable. I was disabled and broken. My self esteem was no where to be found and I was hurt. Not only was I in pain physically, I was sad mentally and emotionally. My parents were right about him and thats the last thing I wanted to hear.

My sister Aryn showed up in the afternoon and told me she had a surprise for me. Through the door walked Jared the subway guy. (Back then it was cool, now I'm not sure I would feel the same-haha) either way I felt privileged.

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The night ended on a good note and Hailey stayed by my side at all times. One perk of being so young was that I got my own room and didn't have to share with another patient. Hailey slept on a small bed next to mine every night. Having her there made a huge difference in my attitude. I'm not sure I ever thanked her for it.

 

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September 21, 2006

Surprisingly we had another good day. I worked super hard in physical therapy even through the nausea and vomiting. The hospital food was less than appetizing and because of my weight loss being such a problem my mom and dad took Hailey and I down to the cafe to get the good food.

The nurses finally cleared me to sleep on my left side for the first time after getting my chest tube out. Having that option seemed amazing because I had been limited to my right side and my back.

About a week before, my sister Mandi collected donations from friends and family and bought me an iPod Shuffle. I was so bored and I was excited to have music to listen to. My brother Nate loaded music onto my iPod and there are a few songs that will forever remind me of my emotions I was experiencing. 

I still was so emotional. I was a 16 year old girl who had just lost all function in her legs, just been dumped by her boyfriend and didn't really know what or how to feel anymore. I remember laying there in the dark with tears rolling uncontrollably down my face almost hoping there would be no morning. Wishing this would be my last day.

"Chasing Cars" by Snow Patrol was playing in my earphones. The lyrics:

"If I lay here, If I just lay here would you lie with me and just forget the world?" and "I need your grace to remind me to find my own" 

only felt fitting. After that song ended Christina Aguilera's song "Fighter" came on immediately after and my pain instantly turned from depression to determination.

"Cause if it wasn't for all you tried to do, I wouldn't know just how capable I am to pull through. So I want to say thank you cause it made me that much stronger, makes me work a little bit harder, it makes me that much wiser so thanks for making me a fighter. Made me learn a little bit faster, made my skin a little bit thicker, makes me that much smarter so thanks for making me a fighter." 

This song still means so much to me. It lit a fire in me and made me want to prove him and others wrong. It is probably the only way I got through the dark emotional nights I felt like I just couldn't keep going.

New Bed, New Views and a New Attitude.

September 18, 2006

Today was supposed to be moving day! We were supposed to transfer hospitals so our insurance would cover my rehab treatment. The amount of medical bills started to pile up and I started to realize how important good car and health insurance was. After finding out that the LDS Hospital just down the road from the U of U hospital didn't have room for me, so they set my transfer for the next morning at 9:30 am. I would be transferred via ambulance. My cousin Hailey stayed by my side at all times. I started on Oxycodone for pain because the University Hospital did not want to release me while on morphine. This made my pain management once again an issue.

The physical therapists came and did one last session with me before I left. We just did basic things like stretching my muscles and I sat up the head of my bed for a little bit. I wore compression stockings on my legs at all times to help prevent blood clots and I was still getting a shot of heparin (blood thinners) in my tummy each night.

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I had a few visitors before the hospital change, I sure looked forward to visitors. Mostly family and close friends came to visit.

 

(Left to Right) Mom, Luke, Noa, Brit (my sister) and my aunt Jen.

(Left to Right) Mom, Luke, Noa, Brit (my sister) and my aunt Jen.

 

September 19, 2006

At about 8:30 the nurses started to come into my room to prep me for hospital transfer. They removed my I.V.'s but I still had a catheter in. It felt amazing to not be hooked to an I.V. for once. 9:30 am came and Hailey and my Dad were with me at the hospital. They had the ambulance ready and Hailey and I got to ride together in the ambulance. I was transferred via a stretcher and wow, they are so uncomfortable, especially with a broken back. We were sent with a camera and I smiled the whole way to the new hospital, with exceptions to each bump we went over. Having Hailey there sure brightened my day. Laughter is the best medicine besides the fact that with each laugh came pain,

My dad made trip after trip to clean out my old room and move everything over to the new hospital room and then he met us at the hospital. It was such a process to be checked in and I finally arrived to my new room. My rehab doctor ordered all of the previous testing I completed at the U so he could know the exact extent of my injury, surgeries and progress. I tried my best to do all of the testing, that sharp dull test once again topped the list for my most despised test.

The doctor said if all goes as planned I would be in rehab for about 3-4 weeks. My physical therapist came in and introduced herself. Her name was Misty and we instantly clicked. She sat me up on the edge of my bed and it felt great to be up, although the pain and balance felt uncomfortable. I can't feel my butt, that means my balance was completely thrown off and I was going to have to relearn how to balance with no feeling. By the end of the day I was so tired and struggling with pain... again. The doctor prescribed me a Percocet and it helped ease the pain. I was happy this day was over because it was hard on me. I was ready to heal and start rehab so I  could get back to "normal" whatever that meant. I would have to learn to roll over, operate a wheelchair, transfers from the floor to chair, bed to chair, chair to car and so on.  Not to mention learning to self cath and teach myself to have a bowel movement and create a strict schedule for that. This was just the beginning of rehab and I was ready for the challenge. Even though I knew it was going to be hard.

Settling into my new bed. During my hospital stay this was the position I laid in the most. If the head of my bed was elevated at all, my arms were usually behind my back, for some reason it eased the pain and uncomfortable feeling. I still lay like this at times to this day.

Settling into my new bed. During my hospital stay this was the position I laid in the most. If the head of my bed was elevated at all, my arms were usually behind my back, for some reason it eased the pain and uncomfortable feeling. I still lay like this at times to this day.

The Surprise

September 17, 2006

My pain was an issue once again and the medicine made me so sleepy. I was still on morphine. My pain levels were so high and morphine would take away some of that pain. As the nurse would give me a dosage of pain meds into my I.V. I could feel the temperature of the medicine and it was always so cold. Often times that feeling of medication pushing through my I.V. gave me the chills and I could feel the morphine travel through my system and trickling down my back numbing that pain.  I slept most of the day while my Step-Dad watched football. (My father passed away in a car accident when I was 2. Since 5 years old my Step-Dad had taken care of me. I call him dad, after all he didn't have to do what he has done for me and treat me as one of his own.) My mother had gone down to St. George for 24 hours to attend my cousins endowment session. My parents are very religious and active in the LDS church. She wanted to feel the peace of entering the St. George LDS Temple. There was someone at the hospital with me constantly, so many friends and family were helping out at home so I could have the attention that was needed. My sisters Aryn and Mandi came up to the hospital to visit, it was a beautiful Sunday afternoon."

I woke up to a whisper, "Autumn, I have a surprise for you" my mom said. I was surprised to hear her voice because I knew she had been away and I was happy for her to be "home". She always gave me a sense of security because my mom is a medical professional. She always asked the right questions and made sure I was recovering as well as possible. As I opened my eyes my cousin Hailey walked through the door. So many emotions came over me and I couldn't help but cry, and she cried.

Hailey was 13 months older than I was. All growing up my cousin Hailey and I were super close. She lived in Mesquite Nevada. I would go to her house for 2-3 weeks each summer or she would come up to my house in Northern Utah. We were about as close as it gets, she was like my sister. Hailey missed a whole week of school and had to get coverage for shifts at work. She came with the clothes she was wearing and thats it. Nothing made me more happy then the fact she was there when I needed her most. Hailey stayed by my side the whole time she was up north with an exception of going to my house to steal some of my clothes, grab the essentials and shower once. I was so happy she was standing inside my hospital room.

Hailey was so kind to share her side of the story with me that I will attach to the bottom of this blog entry.

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"Hey, Autumn! I'm here to remove your chest tube!"  The nurses often times were quiet, compassionate, quick and helpful nurses who really tried to understand your pain. There are also nurses who came to work to be paid, put on a fake face and personality and take the approach of happy and bubbly. You wouldn't believe the difference in my attitude when I had a nurse that I connected with.

As the tube removal procedure began I was so nervous. I was instructed to hold onto the railings of my bed while they slowly pulled the tube out. Pain to me now had a whole different meaning and It didn't hurt as much as I thought it would. I more had anxiety at the thought of what was going on. I looked down and to the right at the floor and started counting. 1-2-3-4-5 finally the nurse covered the wound with a bandage and the tube was out! The feeling of being disconnected from 1 of what felt like a hundred tubes attached to me was amazing.

We were supposed to be transferred to LDS Hospital the next day. I would be transferred to their rehab unit to start recovering and learning to take care of this very different lifestyle.

If you feel uncomfortable reading about my bowel and bladder experiences feel free to skip ahead. I feel very strong about telling these experiences because in my opinion that is the hardest part of being paralyzed. 

Up until this part of my story I was constipated. My body was so confused and it felt like nothing worked correctly. Nurses use a procedure called Digital Stimulation.  If my dignity was not already gone, it was every. single. time. the nurses did Digital Stimulation. Occasionally they would use Suppositories to try to get my digestive system moving, but not much luck. This played a big part in not wanting to eat, things weren't flowing correctly and it caused severe stomach aches and vomiting. There was no where for the food to go so I just continued to fill up.

  • Digital Stimulation: Circular motion with the index finger in the rectum, which causes the anal sphincter to relax.

 

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A portion of Hailey's view of "My Story"

"September 3, 2006

We had just gotten home from church when my mom got the phone call. I remember when she told me I felt so helpless. All I wanted to do was drive to you. I kept thinking maybe Ryan and I could drive up tomorrow since we didn’t have school. I doubt my parents would let me go with my boyfriend, but they both had to work. That plan didn’t work out. My mom told me we would find a weekend when you were better and at home to come up and see you, that you had plenty of loved ones around you. I wasn’t happy with that. I told her I wanted to go and see you as soon as possible, I wanted you to know that even though I was 7 hours away, I was thinking of you every minute. She said we would figure it out and go sooner than I thought. I cried a lot that day, wishing I could call you, my mom cried a lot too. I am sure she was worried sick about you, but I know she was worried for her sister. Her sister who had lost a husband in a car accident and now almost lost her child. The loss of a child was all too familiar for her.

Throughout the next week at school I was out of it, I couldn’t focus you were all I could think of. Ryan was the person I would cry to and helped me get through my day. I was devastated, selfishly, I wondered how this would change our relationship. We were cousins, but I always felt the closest to you. I didn’t have a sister, and I always put you in that position. You were my person in our crazy, big, super close, tightknit, family. I was dying not being with you that first week.

September 17, 2006

Mikey and Tenille had been married a year, and were going through the St. George Temple today to get sealed. I wasn’t old enough (or worthy enough) to go into the temple, so I waited outside with Levi, and all of Mikey’s friends. I remember when everyone came out I was so excited for them! We started walking toward them, and I saw your Mom walk out behind Uncle Dave. I ran right passed Mike and Tenille and everyone else, and ran straight to your mom. I hugged her so tight and was so confused why she was here. I asked her, “What are you doing here, I thought you would need to be with Autumn, how is she doing, I have been so worried.” She said with tears in her eyes, “I needed a break, and I needed the peace the temple brings me right now” I cried, she cried.

We all went to Samari 21 for lunch and after your mom said, we need to get back and they were leaving.... This was my chance! I asked my mom if I could go and she said Hailey I won’t be able to come get you until next Saturday, you will miss a whole week of school, but I am more worried about your job. If you can get the time off I am fine with it. I jokingly said, if Georgia (my boss) won’t give me the time off I will quit. I think I was joking, I probably wasn’t. My boss was a jerk. I called and she said absolutely not. She was at Jamba Juice where I worked, two of my good friends were working and when she told them what I had asked they both said we will cover her shifts, tell her to go! Thankfully they were there or I would have had to call and find people to cover for me, and make your parents wait longer. I called Ryan and asked him to get all of my school stuff out of our locker, because we shared, because we were cute like that ;) and too keep me posted on what assignments we had. I got in the car with your parents and drove to see you with the clothes on my back and my cell phone. I am pretty sure I asked your mom a million and a half questions. We drove straight to you.

I remember getting to the hospital and your mom was saying you were just coming off morphine and you were still pretty out of it. She told me that you might not seem like Autumn. I was so anxious but excited walking up to your room. We got their and Mandi and Aryn were with you. Your mom peeked in and ushered them out so you could sleep. I remember peaking in behind her and seeing you that way, and I turned to your dad and just started to bawl. It was so hard to see you laid up in a bed, you have always been so active. Mandi, Aryn and your Mom all came over and comforted me. I knew it would be hard for you to see me cry. They went in the room as I collected myself in the hall. Your mom was so excited to wake you and tell you she had a surprise for you. When you asked what it was I walked in, and we both cried.

I was with you for 7 days, I left the hospital one night to go home with your mom and steal some of your clothes and shower. I remember on our drive home, your mom just bawled to me. I had never felt so close to her. It hurt to see her in so much pain. Now as a mother I can’t even imagine what she was going through. She just kept saying it was so hard to see you like this, that she knew the challenges you were going to have to overcome, and she was worried for you. We both cried, it felt good, it was like a therapy session. "

New things were coming, moving to a new hospital, a positive attitude and becoming "me" again. 

Blood, Bile and Bodily Fluids.

September 15, 2006

Because the ICU Unit was so full I was moved back over to 3N to recover. I was underage and because of that the nurses did their best to give me my own room, but this night the hospital was so full I had no option but to share a room. There was a curtain between our two beds but there was hardly room to even walk around my hospital bed.

The nausea didn't let up either. Fever, Chills and Bile was on the agenda for the day and number one priority was pain control. I remember filling pink puke buckets up over and over with yellow stomach bile. Each time I threw up the strain and pressure put on my back and side was unbearable.  

Easily this was one of the worst nights of my hospital stay. I was so claustrophobic and I wanted nothing more than my own space. My dad stayed with me this night and he had to sleep in a tall backed wheelchair that reclined. I'm sure he was just as uncomfortable as I was, even though he wouldn't admit it.

Along with the nausea fevers and chills came the poking and prodding to try and figure out why. This also meant more medication that came along with its own set of side effects. On my family blog my mom requested no visitors and that was an indication to family and friends how things were going. At any moment we could be transferred to an IHC Facility to accommodate insurance.

 I mentioned to my mom "My left foot burns". At the time, my family and I thought this meant feeling was coming back. After years of this "burning" feeling I have found out that this is what phantom pains are. There are times that my feet feel like they itch but scratching doesn't satisfy that feeling. The worst phantom pains are when my feet hurt and there is no way to relieve the pain. I deal with phantom pains on a weekly basis now and its a constant frustration.

September 16, 2006

Around lunch time I was finally moved to my own room. After being back in my own room, I never took that for granted again. I was so blessed to have a place where friends and family could come hang out and spend time without feeling like they were invading another patients privacy. My claustrophobia improved immediately after moving to my own room. My pain and nausea improved although I was still very lethargic.

The poking continued and after a lot of blood work, wires and monitors hooked up to me and tests running in the lab the my medical team finally came to a conclusion. My red blood cell count was way too low and that was why I was lethargic, not very responsive and my heart rate increased significantly.  The doctors made the decision that I needed a blood transfusion.

That evening I was given 2 units of transfusion and immediately my color started to improve and I perked up and started to participate in conversations. My mom chose to stay later than planned to spend more time with me while I was feeling better before she turned responsibility over to my sister Brit.

My uncle Jim raced sprint cars at Rocky Mountain Raceway and he came to my hospital room the day after his final race. He won 1st place and dedicated his race to me. He brought me an autographed frisbee and totally made my day. I've always had a special connection with my uncle Jim and I don't know if he'll ever realize how much that meant to me.

The doctors decided that my chest tube would be removed the next day (September 17). I had mixed emotions, obviously I wanted it out for more comfortable sleeping, less pain and my incisions could begin to heal.  But also came the scared feelings. To remove the tube they would just slowly pull it out. This was not a small tube, it was probably a 3/4 inch tube. It wasn't a small thing to have to be awake and alert while they pull it out. I began to realize how to have a high pain tolerance and when I get nervous during a procedure to just look the other way and stare at the floor. For some reason if you didn't look at what they were doing, it didn't hurt as bad.

The doctors would determine if I would get my chest tube out by the amount of discharge that comes out of the tube. There was a clear container that you could see all the bodily fluids that drained and the look of it was so gross but had started to let up. Once the chest tube is removed from my side, the next thing on the agenda was moving me to another rehabilitation facility that IHC Covered. Our Journey at the University of Utah was coming to an end.

Surgery Number Two

 

September 13, 2006 (cont.)

There are medications that are used to help with anxiety that I continuously took throughout my hospital stay. There is no medication out there that will take away the anxiety you go though when you're being wheeled back to have a major surgery.

The surgeons did these surgeries daily and it was a routine thing for them. They did so well explaining everything and telling me what the plan was for the procedure. Among all of the surgeries I have had, I will never forget the feeling those huge lights gave me in the operating room. As they wheeled my hospital bed through the operating room doors, i looked around. The anesthesiologist stayed at the head of my bed along with a couple of nurses. There were surgery tools set out sterilized and ready to be used. The nurses had all of their operating robes on and they were washing their hands with special (orange) soap. They moved around as if this was a routine thing for them. They had specific ways to keep sterile and it was almost chaos with so many people prepping. The words "you're going to start feeling drunk and tired now" were always my indication i would be "out" soon. I just laid on the bed, looking up at the lights thinking "here we go..." and I couldn't help but feel like whatever happens happens. My condition wasn't in my hands anymore and I had to gather every bit of confidence I could. I didn't know if I would be ok and honestly in my mind I was prepared for the worst. Before I knew it, I was asleep and the surgeons got to work. 

 Here is the Operative Report from my second surgery:

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We went in the operating room at 8:30 am and I was transferred to recovery at 3:00pm. The surgeons initially told my family it would be 4 hours but they all knew it would be extra long. My mother, step-dad, my brother (Nate) and my best friend (Manda) all waited for me in the waiting room during the whole surgery and I remember being so excited to see them as I woke up. I didn't know Manda would be there, I was confused at first at who it was (I had horrible eye sight) but quickly realized it was her when I saw her "Shorties" Pink hoodie that she always wore. It made my day.

The nausea was so bad waking up from anesthesia. I felt so "drunk" and out of it. I remember every time I moved it tugged on the chest tube that was just placed to allow my collapsed lung to drain. It was so painful. Once I transferred to my room in the ICU to recover and they moved the drain I finally saw what my chest tube was attached to. It was disgusting. So much drainage and blood nasty bodily fluids. 

Having the chest tube was the hardest part of healing from that second surgery. It was uncomfortable. Laying flat on my back was painful and to lay on my tummy was especially out of the question. Because of the chest tube on the left side, my right side seemed like my only option. The nurses did not like that because they were worried about pressure sores. They came in every hour to switch my positioning and used blankets and pillows to try to make things more comfortable for me. The first night of recovery was what I thought was the hardest (a few nights later I soon realized that I was comfortable the first night of recovery and I took it for granted.) I was freezing cold and lethargic. All I wanted was to sleep and be left alone. Heated blankets were constantly being changed to try and warm me up. It was a long night and the image is engraved in my mind of the nurses coming in every hour to change position, check vitals and stay up on pain meds. As they repositioned me I remember the intense pain. Not just back pain, but pain from the chest tube also.

Many questions ran through my mind:

"How can things get any worse? How can my pain get any worse? I haven't heard from my boyfriend in days, does he even care? How am I ever going to recover from this?"

I had the feeling that I just wanted to give up, I was finished fighting.

September 14, 2006

The nausea came and was in full force. Constant vomiting, there was nothing in my tummy and the bile just kept on coming. The nurses brought in my meds that morning and the cups of pills only grew. I had always been good at taking pills and I would just put them in my mouth and take a drink of water. Everything about taking pills changed for me at this point. With each cup of pills that I forced down came a gag reflux and before I could get the last cup down, I vomited them all up. Feeling helpless, trying to heal from these physical blows that were coming my way was so much to take on. Its hard to look back and remember these feelings of defeat and what I thought was my lowest low. At the time I had no clue what was in store for these next couple of months. The surgeries were just the beginning of it all.

I spent the day recovering, and vomiting again and again. Nauseous, sick and defeated.

-

More Medical Records from the surgery- Perioperative Record and Care Plan: 

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My New Point of View

September 11, 2006

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I only broke 1 nail during the accident. It was my middle finger on my right hand. Excuse my natural curly hair, haha.

I only broke 1 nail during the accident. It was my middle finger on my right hand. Excuse my natural curly hair, haha.

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September 11th was the first day of this incredible journey I've been on. It was the first day I transferred to a wheelchair, being paralyzed. Most people have sat in a wheelchair and popped wheelies a time or two. It was completely different. Aside of the pain that came from sitting up, every single crack or bump in the flooring sent sharp pain up my back. I couldn't feel my lower half, my legs, hips and feet. I couldn't tell if my feet were on the wheelchair or floor. Not to mention the transferring process. Have you ever tried to move around pretending to be paralyzed? Its 10x harder than that. My legs felt so heavy and I had to use my hands for everything. With assistance from two therapists, I had to move each leg to the opening on my bed and without any help from my lower half somehow I had to get myself from the bed to the chair and then back to the bed. Everything became more complicated. Remember a few posts back when I realized how impatient I really was? It was a frustrating lesson of patience.

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These 2 therapists did ALL of the work transferring me to the wheelchair. I just held on and even said to my mom "This looks scary"

 

I know I look rough. But inside I felt accomplished.

I know I look rough. But inside I felt accomplished.

After Transferring to the wheelchair my Mom pushed me around the hospital, over to Primary Childrens Hospital and the rehab unit at the University of Utah. I knew as soon as I recovered from my next surgery I would be switching hospitals due to insurance reasons, so I would never attend the U of U rehab facilities.

I was in the chair for about an hour and 15 minutes. As my mom pushed me around the hospital I felt many emotions. I was a paraplegic and I knew this was my new point of view. I now sit about 48-50 inches tall and it was intimidating, everyone around me was so tall. I got anxiety and overwhelmed fast so mom pushed me back to my room. An hour and 15 minutes was already such an accomplishment, I needed rest.

I started to feel like myself again and was awake more often.

Mom wrote on the blog "Autumn is bright-eyed and talkative and I bet before long, she will get bored and want some things to do (besides watching TV and movies)! When people ask Autumn what they can bring her, she says "a cell phone to text my friends on." We'll have to see about that."

What I wanted most was a cell phone to text my friends on. My parents weren't too happy with that request. Having past issues with my parents made things hard for me during my recovery process. My parents didn't trust me and to be honest the "consequences of my actions" made me feel small and secluded from the world. In the past I had been grounded a lot. Grounded from phone, friends, internet-everything. I truly felt secluded and like a loner at times.

My surgery was scheduled for Wednesday (48 hours away) and just as I started to feel better I knew the recovery was going to be hard. The surgeons would be working on my spine through the left side of my chest. They would collapse my left lung to access the spine laparoscopically. This meant I had to have a chest tube out my left side between my ribs for a few days to allow my lung to heal back to normal. This was scary for me, just another tube to be attached to.

September 12, 2006

 

It was my little sister Madison's birthday. I was so excited that my family was coming to the hospital to have a small get together to celebrate with the immediate family so I could celebrate with them. A couple of my close friends came up and hung out. These 4 friends, I owe a lot to. They cheered me up, they made things seem possible. I was able to transfer to a wheelchair for about 45 minutes and I began to accept this new feel of needing a wheelchair to function. 

I ate well this day but it was so touch and go. One day would be good, the next I wouldn't eat anything. (Whats new, the struggle is so real.) We had fettuccine alfredo for Madi's birthday and I ate two servings of it.

I still had a foley catheter placed in my bladder but my bowels still were not flowing regularly and I remember feeling pregnant because of the bloating. Being a paraplegic meant paralyzed bowels and bladder and this was  (and still is) the hardest ongoing battle. Its exhausting.

Good friends, good food, today was a good one. The procedure tomorrow was in the back of my mind throughout the whole night . My 2nd surgery (and what we thought was my final) was at 8:30 the next morning, it made me anxious. I'm not sure I will ever get used to that feeling.

September 13, 2006

Mom wrote a blog post at 7:00 am:

"Hi loved ones---

I am sitting here at 7:20 am waiting for the team to come take Autumn to surgery."

The Waiting Game

September 10, 2006

A knock at the door usually meant a doctor, nurse (for vitals, meds or procedures), visitor or physical therapist. It was early in the day and my mom just left so it was only me and my best friend Manda at the time. There was a soft one knuckled knock at the door, "come in" was always the response we gave (but lets be honest they're going to come in no matter what your response is because once again, this is not a hotel, its a hospital. At the hospital there is no privacy and you have a full schedule for the day with doctors, nurses and physical therapists with a little time for visitors).

As the door opened a male aide came through the door with a smile on his face and an outgoing attitude.

"Good Morning!" (opening the blinds on the window)

"We need to get you up and walking today! Doctors orders!"

Manda and I glanced at each other confused...

"The doctor said I need to get up and get walking today?" I said  

"Yep! Now, I'll sit your bed up and help you sit up to the edge of the bed." he said.

Keep in mind- I had not sat up by myself assisted by physical therapists. I had only set my bed up to 90 degrees and sat up with my bed. He pulled my legs to the opening on the side of my hospital bed and started to sit me up. He tried to help me sit up and I felt so unstable like I had no balance.

"I'm paralyzed so I can't walk, but i'll sit up."  

I said as we reached the point that I knew I wasn't going to be sitting assisted let alone standing and walking! The aide had a look and tone to his voice, so confused on why the doctor would write in the notes to have me up and walking if I was paralyzed. He helped scoot my legs back in position and lowered the head of my hospital bed. "Nice job, now i'll go figure out why i was told to get you up and walking." He said as he left the hospital room. Later on we found out he read another patients notes and walked into the wrong room. 

Manda hung out with me all day. we caught up on each others lives, I talked to her about the accident and my relationship with my boyfriend, my fears and concerns about going back to my junior year of High School. When my mom arrived back at the hospital we told my mom about the aide and joked off the situation. Quickly we came to the realization that it was a big deal and I could have really hurt my back so it was a good thing we stopped the aide when we did. After voicing her opinion to the nurses and doctors my mom decided to put together a schedule of family members to be with me around the clock. From this day on, I had a "Falls Risk" sign above my bed to prevent that same situation from happening again.

I was currently in a holding pattern until my next surgery. I still had a hematoma from my last surgery and it was taking time to heal. The surgeons wanted to do my 2nd surgery laparoscopically but in order to do that, the bleeding had to clear up. I remember the view of my hospital room that afternoon. To my left was my I.V. Stand, a wall and a window. The window seal was filled with flower arrangements, cards, treats + balloons. It was a Sunday afternoon and I had visitors the whole evening. I was grateful.

To me, it was a change, smiling faces, familiar faces and such kind words and gifts. Although it was a little much for my friends and family, I felt better when people came. The only thing about visitors is that it was so exhausting. I had to sit my bed up (not all the way straight but not flat) so it did put pressure on my back. A few girls from my young women group came to visit me and I was so glad to see them all. I remember one of the girls excusing herself to the hallway because she couldn't believe it was true and it was a lot to take in. There were so many family and friends that came to visit that day.

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My aunt wrote me a message a week or so ago telling me what she remembered from their visit to my hospital room. As I read her message it reminded me this is "My Story" but there are so many kind, emotional memories others have that I had no idea about. She said:

"As we drove we talked about our concern for you and your family. Another devastating car accident. Your Dad had lost his life in a car accident and now you are severely injured. How would your mom and family get through this? We walked in the doors of the hospital and someone met us and escorted us up to the waiting room. There were so many people there to love and support you and your family. The feeling in the room was so somber. Everyone seemed to be talking in a whisper. We all exchanged hugs and someone updated all of us on your condition. I did not go back to see you. As others came back to the waiting room after seeing you they would hug their closest loved one and sob. The look on their faces was one of shock and fear. I'm sure it was exceptionally hard to see you in that condition. What would your life be like? You were only 16 with so much life to live."

She really put into perspective for me how it felt to be a family member of mine, I had lost so much. It was emotional for me to read another view of my story. Sometimes its even hard to believe that this happened to me and this is my life. 

My mom shared a blog post for the day reporting to family and friends how my day went she wrote

"I'm having a difficult time getting Autumn into positions to really test what type of strength she has in her legs. It is also difficult to tell because when Autumn strains to move her legs, it hurts her back, therefore, her muscle movements are brief and in very short ranges. Today while she was on her side, I did ask her to try to bend her left knee - she pulled and moved the lower leg a small distance (a few inches) as I held her ankle. That is her weaker leg too. More hope. . . . "

Ahead of us is another major surgery and weeks of rehab, but on this particular Sunday, through the pain and storms, my friends and family visiting sure was a rainbow. Towards the end of the night all of the people in my room became overwhelming. My mom always could tell when I was tired and anxious from visitors so she closed things down for the night.

The waiting game began for surgery #2. The doctors planned for Wednesday and we would know for sure after my scans the next day. If the bleeding subsided enough for surgery they would be making 5 small incisions on my side to do the surgery laparoscopically This meant the doctors would have to collapse my lung to get to my spine. The alternative would be making an incision down the front of my tummy and opening me completely up again. Only time would tell.

The waiting game began. 

Reality & Hope

September 8, 2006

Along with the sunshine came the storm. I accomplished sitting up for just over an hour, but along with that came pain. The pressure on my back from sitting made me regret it the next day.

My appetite didn't bet better but I continued to try and eat. The amount of pills I had to take every morning was overwhelming. Turns out- when you're not eating and you're trying to heal there are a lot of supplements needed to give your body nutrients. Potassium, Multivitamins, a shot of protein. So many little clear cups full of pills, and it seemed like the amount of pill cups grew with the day.

Constant pain meds meant sleep was on the agenda for the day. The physical therapists, doctors, nurses and anyone else in the hospital thought otherwise. If you think a hospital stay is like a hotel, you're wrong. There is constantly people in your room taking vitals, drawing blood, replacing I.V.'s(I had to get a new I.V. every 5 days), giving shots and meds etc. This didn't stop much at night either.

For the first time my mom wrote on the blog they kept for me, to thank our family and friends for their support. She also included a few notes on my injury for her medical friends.

"In regard to Autumn, we continue to see strides each day. Today during therapy, Autumn was able to progress her quadriceps contraction from just tightening to actually getting the knee to straighten somewhat against gravity. For my therapist/medical friends - a SAQ at 2+5. Only the one foot movement (R tibialis anterior contraction) of a couple of days ago has been seen - but I'm not done trying to get more! We retested for sacral sparing today - no sensation yet, so please keep up your prayers for a miracle. If we can get sensation in those nerve distributions, I have been told there is an 87% chance of Autumn walking again. AND . . . if not, then we will work with whatever we get back and try to allow Autumn as much leg-related function as possible.

The dose of reality is that we will definitely bring Autumn home in a wheelchair. This is a hard thing to swallow, but as time passes we are learning to accept it more. "

September 9, 2006

I finally got my pain under control and was able to have some visitors. Friends and Family always put a smile on my face, although it was hard to visit for long because of pain levels and procedures. 

At physical therapy I sat up at 90 degrees for a short amount of time. My fear was always there that if I pushed myself too hard, the next day I would regret it.

My cousin had a 19 Year old friend that had sustained a spinal cord injury about a year before coming to see me. She gave me an idea on how life would be. I would have to use a wheelchair unless I used leg braces and forearm crutches or a walker. I would have to use a catheter each time I used the bathroom and learn a lot of patience. Looking back now, if you asked me to visit someone a year after my injury and tell them how their new life would be I wouldn't know where to start. Here we are 10.5 years later and I finally feel like I (sort of) got a grip on how life is for a paraplegic. This girl that came to visit me had such a positive happy vibe to her. It made me want to be like her. It also gave me the confidence, knowing there was a way to drive a car and live independently even with a permanent injury.

Throughout my hospital stay and even years after I have made promises as adversity comes my way. Promises to myself to keep my chin up and eyes forward. This day I made the promise to become independent eventually and to be bright and outgoing with a smile on my face, even though the pain and complications thrown at me. It was easier said then done but I was determined to do my best.

Dull-Sharp & Deep

 

September 7, 2006

The poking and testing continued.

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Blood tests had to be drawn straight from my vein- not through my I.V. It felt like it was a constant thing and they drew vile after vile. They administered a "dull sharp" test. The thought of this test reminds me of how much I hated it. They used a tool that had one side sharp like a needle and the other was rounded. The specialist would use this tool on every part of my body asking me if I could feel dull or sharp sensation. This test would really determine what was paralyzed and what I could feel.  It was hard for me because in my mind I could feel it. Just as i had thought I wiggled my toes for the highway patrol officer. That frustration of my body not responding like it used to started to set in for me. Every time I moved my lower body at all, I needed assistance. It was frustrating. My family members would stand at my feet and quiz me where or if  they were squeezing my feet. This was psychologically confusing for me and it frustrated me when I wouldn't give the right answer.

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The doctors took precautions for blood clots in my legs by putting these air compression wraps on my legs. They would fill with air and release, almost like a blood pressure cuff. I also had to wear boots to keep my foot and calf muscles loose that held my feet in a flexed position. Each day I had to get a shot of heparin in my tummy, this would thin my blood to prevent blood clots. I had bruising on my tummy from the shot each day. Between labs and the heparin shot and the sharp dull test, I had it. I was so tired of all of the poking.

My closest friends had started to come visit me in small groups. To them it was traumatic, but to me I was doing better than before my first surgery.

As soon as my first surgery was over and I started to recover, the doctors and surgeons focused on the next surgery. I had bleeding and a hematoma internally from my first surgery so they decided to take things day by day. Any day I could go in for my second surgery, and knowing I could be going through the same process again was scary for me.

This was the first day my "boyfriend" came to see me after my accident. He brought me my belongings from the car. My purse, deodorant, clothes etc. He stayed for a minute and talked about the accident with us and then he left. There was no connection there anymore and as much as I knew that, I didn't want to believe it. I didn't want that "I told you so" from my parents. We didn't get along the best before my accident and they didn't approve of my boyfriend. I wanted him to prove them wrong, and show up. But I knew what was going to happen and i'm pretty sure everyone around me did too. One of the benefits of my accident was rekindling that relationship with my parents that had been damaged for so long.

 

 

Dad held my hand as they set my bed up.

Dad held my hand as they set my bed up.

Madison and Malisa

Madison and Malisa

I started to feel more "myself" as the evening went on. It was a good night. I actually sat up for the first time since my accident and could manage the pain and anxiety it brought, It was so painful and uncomfortable. I was so proud of myself. My little sisters then, remind me of my daughters now. They sat on my bed with me, colored in coloring books, and I ate some snacks (this was an accomplishment considering how much my body was tolerating eating and drinking). We watched "brother bear" together, on the portible DVD player.

 

My nephew Noa- Britons oldest.

My nephew Noa- Britons oldest.

Just as a baby has to learn- rolling over, sitting up, balance, potty training etc. I had to start all over and re learn all of those things again. I had to learn how to manage this new way of life. Sitting up was my first accomplishment in my steps to recovery and I had sat up for a little over an hour.

I felt happy.

The Blur and The Blog

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I woke up in the recovery room to my Mom(Tami), Step-Dad (Vaughn) and Brother (Nate). They told me I had been in surgery for 8.5 hours and they all sat in the waiting room the whole time. I was very groggy and out of it. These next few days all come as a blur to me. As you can imagine- life for my parents was chaos. They had neighbors and church members there to care for my younger siblings and my parents and older siblings traded off shifts at the hospital.

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My mom brought up our portable DVD player for me to watch movies. Really all I wanted to do was sleep. Food didn't sound good, and any time I would eat I would immediately have stomach pain. The pain overall was just so intense that sleeping was really the only way to escape it.  There was a constant flow of doctors or nurses coming to my room, the physical therapists wanted to get started on my recovery right away. The labs would send for blood to be drawn and I was so sick of being poked and bothered. I had a wet wash cloth next to me to put on my forehead, my body would be hot one second and freezing the next. I couldn't turn over on my own and my nurses would come in to help me shift to the other side. I remember the intense pain every time I rolled to the opposite side. The nurses used a bed sheet to pull back and forth to try and ease the pain and twisting on my back.

My sister started a blog to keep family members updated. My mom's phone went off over and over and to have to explain the whole thing over and over to each family was tough for her. The blog started on September 6th. Two days after my first surgery.

I'm so excited to share with you all each post and my view from that day. The first post was an introduction post. Keep in mind while reading these posts that we had no idea what the outcome of my injury would be- other than the fact that it was permanent. My spinal cord was in "Spinal Shock" and I was paralyzed completely from the belly button down.

 

6th-Sep-2006 12:09 am - Info on Autumn's Accident

Autumn was in a car accident on Sunday, September 3rd. She was in the back middle seat of an Isuzu Trooper (correction: Isuzu Rodeo) with her lap belt on. The car went out of control which sent them off of I-80, rolling a few times. Autumn's back was broken and she has been in the hospital ever since.  

We are using my blog (I'm her big sister) to keep people posted as to how she is doing and feeling. She and the rest of the family have been grateful for all the help and support that has already been given and for the many prayers that have been said in our behalf.  

As of tonight Autumn is at the U of U Hospital and is resting from the surgery she had on Monday. She will start some physical therapy tomorrow and have another surgery some time this week or next. It seems to be too early to make any predictions as to her final condition so we are trying to stay optimistic and hopeful. Before we left tonight she was able to move her right ankle a tiny little bit and could feel us rubbing her legs and feet. Her right leg is in better condition than her left.

She is really tired and has slept a lot the past few days. Today she was awake for quite awhile and talking with family. She is able to manage her pain with a morphine pump which makes her fall asleep but she used it less today. There has been a steady stream of family visiting and it will probably be a few days before she wants to see friends but she has really appreciated the little cards and notes people have dropped by for us to take up to her. If you would like to visit just call Vaughn or Tami to make sure Autumn doesn't have a procedure going on when you come!

We will be putting up some pictures soon and just warn that she is covered in tubes and monitors! Again, thanks for caring and being so willing to help and support our family right now.

Love, 
The Reynolds/Call Family

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My mom was so kind to write down her side of the first 24 hours of my accident. She allowed me to share and I'm sure it was so hard for her. 

"9/3/06

12:30pm Sunday-

We just got home from church and the phone rings- It was the highway patrol officer. He told me my daughter had been in an accident. He'd stated she was ok and he thought she had hurt her back. I asked where she was so i could come and he said she was near Tooele. I was confused because I thought she had gone to Wyoming with a girl friends family. He told me who she was with and I had no idea who that was. He stated we should meet her at Pioneer Valley Hospital and I said I was on my way, Just before we hung up, he said " Wait- she's being life flighted to the U of U hospital" and he told me to go there. I said "Why is she being life flighted if its not serious? " and he paused and sort of hum hawed for a few seconds, then he said "She can't feel her feet." That's where I knew she had a spinal cord injury. I just didn't know if it was permanent.

We took our younger kids to the neighbors and Vaughn and I left for the ER. I remember being quite calm until we left the kids and then I started to shake. Vaughn and I talked non stop all the way to the hospital to keep our minds occupied. I knew Autumn had lied to me and I remember saying, "She may have just grounded herself for life."  Upsetting still to this day.

When we got to the hospital, the ER doc took us into room and told us "Autumn's spine has been completely bent in half and L1 vertebrae was obliterated- bending the spinal cord in half. It is unlikely she will ever walk again." I walked out of the hospital around to the back where the ac units, machinery etc. was where no one was and sat down on the curb and cried bitterly for a long time. I called my dad and he sat and cried and cried with me. I begged, pleaded and bargained with God to make it not be true. I did this many nights driving home from the hospital over the next 2 months.

They let me see her then and she said "I'm sorry mom." I just held her hand and told her everything was going to be ok. We slept on the floor of her ICU room while we waited for the specialists to come in and give us more information the next day.

9/4/06-Monday

The Neuro Surgeon came into the room and told us Autumn's injury was a complete spinal cord injury, and she would never walk again. That was my next bitter moment. It took me down to the depths of despair. I had visitors in the waiting room and I thought I was composed enough to receive them, but as soon as I had to tell them Autumns prognosis, I broke down and cried like a baby, sobbing and sobbing until I had no more emotions left."

September 3, 2006- Part 2

 

Highway Patrol Officer: "Ma'am what's your name?"

Me: "Autumn."

HP Officer: "Autumn, are you okay? Can you wiggle your toes for me?"

I thought "Of course i can wiggle my toes! Are you crazy?" as i attempted to wiggle my toes and I totally thought I had.

HP Officer: "Autumn do you have a phone number for your parents?"

As I gave him the phone number he dialed it into his phone and called my mom. My heart dropped. I lied to her. I told her I was going with my girlfriend and her family. She didn't approve of my boyfriend so that was the only way she would let me go.

I only heard the officer speaking, I couldn't hear my mom on the other end.

HP Officer:

  • "Is this Tami?"
  • "I have your daughter  Autumn here and she has been in an accident." 
  • "She is okay, I think she hurt her back."
  • "Near Tooele"

The Highway Patrol Officer then told my mom who I was with and I knew she had no clue who he was talking about because I had always called my boyfriend by a nick-name. The highway patrolman then said:

  • "Pioneer Valley Hospital" 
  • "Wait---She is being Life Flighted to the U of U hospital, meet her there."

-Long Pause-

  • "She can't feel her feet"

At the time I had no idea what "she can't feel her feet" meant but i'm positive my mom did. She was a Physical Therapist, she dealt with patients like me. I'm sure she knew right away what my injury was, she just didn't know it was permanent.

 

Photo Credit: Utah Highway Patrol

Photo Credit: Utah Highway Patrol

I am in the car at this moment. Waiting for Life Flight to arrive.

As he was getting off the phone I started to feel extremely tired. The highway patrolman kept asking me questions. If my arm hurt, not to move it... he asked about my life, where we were heading home from. Really he asked me anything to keep me talking so I didn't fall asleep.

I remember that stupid buzzing from the drivers side door. It would not stop. It was nearly torn off and I remember the firefighters trying to get the buzzing to stop. 

Photo Credit: Utah Highway Patrol

Photo Credit: Utah Highway Patrol

All I wanted to do was close my eyes and he just kept talking and asking questions. It seemed like ages that I laid there, numb. They originally sent an ambulance for me and as the ambulance arrived they decided to call life flight. After 45 minutes of laying on the roof of the car not knowing what was going to happen, a few firefighters came to the car with a backboard. They put a neck brace on my neck and slowly scooted me onto the backboard. As I write this part,  it makes me cry. I think this is when I realized that something was really wrong with me.

The firefighters pulled me out of the car and put me on a stretcher. As they rolled me across the highway to the life flight I had the nicest lady from the life flight crew that explained to me what we were doing and where we were going. She kept me calm. As we crossed the highway I remember looking to the side and seeing all of the cars lined up, they closed the highway for the life flight and it was packed full of cars. The people in these cars watched as I was loaded into life flight.

Photo Credit: Utah Highway Patrol

Photo Credit: Utah Highway Patrol

The life flight crew gave me an IV along with some medicine. I finally was able to close my eyes, take a breath and get the rest I desperately wanted, even if it was just for a minute. As we arrived to the hospital they checked me in and prepped me for x-rays and testing. That included taking scissors and cutting all of my cloths off. All of my dignity was out the window.

I'm not sure what type of room I was in because I just remember staring at the ceiling knowing I was really severely injured. The feeling of the tears rolling down my cheeks and silently crying still reminds me of how truly scared I was. As my parents arrived and walked up to me with tears in their eyes the only words I could find to say were "I'm Sorry".

From that moment on my mom and step dad didn't leave my side. Through multiple tests and x-rays they were there, including sleeping on the hard floor that night.

After the testing the doctors assessed that I had a complete spinal cord injury. My level of injury is L1. I had a morphine clicker for pain that would release medicine every 10 minutes if I felt the need. It was a Labor Day and that meant that I would have to be put on the waiting list for emergency surgery due to limited staff. It ended up being about 24 hours after my accident before it was my turn for surgery. During these 24 hours I laid in the bed with my spine in the shape of an "L".

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A spinal cord injury (SCI) is damage to the spinal cord that causes changes in its function, either temporary or permanent. These changes translate into loss of muscle function, sensation, or autonomic function in parts of the body served by the spinal cord below the level of the lesion.

 

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My L1 Vertebra was completely shattered and my spinal cord folded completely in half. My injury is a complete (permanent) injury.

September 3, 2006

 

September 3, 2006 was the day my life would change forever. Camping with friends near Stansbury Bay in Tooele, Utah. My boyfriend at the time, his brother and I were packing up camp. I was sitting in the back seat in the middle so I could communicate with them in the front seat. My boyfriend took the passenger seat and his brother was driving. We headed home, Windows down and music loud just relaxing,(you know how that drive home from camping is, thinking about that shower, cleaning up, and as tired as it gets.) As we were making our way back the driver drifted over to the left side of the highway and hit the rumble strips. That sound, the sound of the vehicle passing over those rumble strips imbedded into my brain in such a way that that sound would be with me forever. To this day that sound triggers all my sensory perceptions. I hear smell and taste the memories of that moment. The next few seconds seemed to be slow motion and will always be a constant flashback in my mind. I remember thinking "uh do I be that back seat driver (literally) and tell him to watch the road?" In the end I chose not to say anything. As he hit the rumble strips it caught him off guard and he turned the wheel too hard to the right. We started fish tailing the whole length of the 2 lane highway. Over to the right and back to the left probably 3-4 times. It all happened so fast but I remember every single thought that was going on in my mind, "What is my mom going to say?", "What is going to happen", "Brace Yourself", "Is this it? The End?", "he's turning the wheel the wrong way. You're supposed to turn it the way the back of your car is fishing!"

I had my lap seatbelt on (there was no shoulder harness on the middle seatbelt) and I had my arm wrapped around the right seat belt trying to stabilize myself more.  All of the sudden the car started to roll. I felt the brush coming through the window and just tried to hold onto that seatbelt as well as I could.  Just as I thought "relax your body, you won't get as hurt." I realized I was no longer buckled in the lap belt and I had this feeling of calm come over me.

The car came to rest after rolling 3-4 times (but who's counting anyway). It landed upside down and as we came to a stop, I was laying on the roof. We had been shooting clay pigeons the day before and the remainder of them were broken underneath me. There was a buzz from the drivers side door that wouldn't go away. My boyfriend cut his face up, so the driver helped him out of the car. As i saw them climbing out I tried to get up and get out of the car with them. As I tried to get up my legs wouldn't move and this feeling of numbness came over me. I just laid back down on the roof of the car and a witness came running down to the car. He was asking me if I was okay and I told him "I think I broke both of my legs". My arm was bleeding and pretty torn up from holding onto the seatbelt. I had this metallic taste in my mouth, this taste comes back any time I am driving in a car and I feel like a wreck might happen. I am terrified to drive in cars, especially in back seats. The witness told me the Highway Patrol was on their way and he started to ask questions.

Witness: "Whats your name?"

Me: "Autumn"

Witness: "How old are you?"

Me: "16"

Witnesss: "What Hurts?"

Me: "My Back"

I started to pull the clay pigeons out from under me and lifted up my right arm up looking at the damage. I had what looked like road rash on my shoulder. An area on the inside of my forearm the size of a 50 cent piece, it was bleeding pretty good. I had scrapes and bruising all over my arm and I broke my middle acrylic fingernail off.  This made him nervous.

Witness: Does your arm hurt? Just stay still, don't move your arm."

Me: "My arm doesn't hurt, my back really hurts"

The witness sat making sure I was ok until the Highway Patrol arrived. The next conversation I had with the Highway Patrol man I remember as if this happened yesterday, I will never forget it.

My Story

 

I've been thinking about recent conversations I have had with strangers and friends. Usually when someone approaches me and says "I'm not trying to be rude, but i'm curious what happened?"  I almost don't know where to start.

I'm in no way offended. In fact, during the summer when I was young, I would go with my mother to work. I enjoyed it, she is a physical therapist and she dealt with outpatient rehab. She dealt with spinal cord injuries, and brain injuries... people with strokes, things like that. I remember being curious myself. Wondering to myself how in the world there are injuries that can't be cured. I never thought I would be a patient years later attending the same out patient rehab center.

I may seem taken back but really I don't know what to say. Do I say what happened in the car accident? Do I tell about the hospital stay and surgeries that came along with my injury? Do they care to know the level of injury and what my functionality is? I'm taken back because there is so much that comes along with what people see as a wheelchair...

And this brings me to why I am writing now. At first thought, and something I usually say to strangers is "I've been injured for ten years but I have a wonderful husband and two daughters, I really can't complain! Life is good!" BUT if i'm being honest with myself I wish I could say "I take it day by day. Some days are good, some days are horrible. My kids run away from me, back pain is slowly getting worse, I'm starting to worry about my health and honestly i'm just trying to keep up with my injury...". 

I'm not a negative person, I truly believe a positive attitude and outlook on life is necessary to overcome the hardest trials in life. With that being said every single person is going to have bad days. Days where your schedule is jam packed to meet deadlines for work, and your paralyzed bladder decides to spasm causing you to pee your pants at the most inconvenient times. But thats life, and there is nothing you can do about it.  (Lets be honest, we'll leave my movement and what i can and can't feel for another post- because that's a whole other story)

With this blog I am going to explain my Spinal Cord Injury to you. Share with you my trials, My hospital experience, being a mother and carrying 2 full term pregnancies while paralyzed and the list goes on.

Life is hard. I'm hoping my experiences out there for me to have, reread and reflect on... and take you all through the triumphs and trials I have and will experience because #thatshowiroll 

xoxo

Autumn VK