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If a tree falls...the rest of the story

Updated on January 29, 2017

In the ambulance

The EMT's were working fast. They were checking my vital signs and relaying information. They talked about what hospital to take me to and started driving.

They inserted an I.V. I didn't feel it much, probably because my arms were still numb.

The ride felt like it was taking a long time. I was in a lot of pain from my neck. I was feeling every bump in the road. I remember asking them to slow down. They said they were only doing the speed limit. I then said could you stop hitting all the holes in the road. They said they'd do their best.

They rolled me into the hospital and their job was done.

In the emergency room

Now, new people took over my treatment and care. I remember kicking off my shoes as the gurney was being wheeled to a room. I didn't want them on, because I could feel the glass in them.

Someone started cutting off my clothes. I was upset more about my favorite pair of pants being ruined than I was about being naked. They slid a hospital gown over my arms since I couldn't be moved. Then the gurney was rolled into an M.R.I. machine. Someone asked how I was feeling. I said, "like a broken doll. Are you going to fix me"? They said, "that's the plan".

After the scan was done I was rolled back into the emergency area. The curtain was pulled around, so I didn't see anyone else. I told the nurse I was cold. She got some warm blankets and a heat lamp to keep me warm.


My memories

My memory of the times between all this happening are hazy. I couldn't keep my eyes open, so I'm not sure if I fell asleep or just couldn't look at people.

The doctor

The doctor returned to tell me the results of the M.R.I. He said I had a broken neck. I started wiggling my toes and moving my fingers. I said, "doesn't that mean I'll be paralyized"? He said, "we're going to use a special device called a Halo to keep your neck stable until it heals". I noticed he was sporting a cast, so I said, "you aren't going to be putting this on me. Are you"? He did a nervous giggle and said, " no, the neurologist is on the way". He said, "you can just rest until she arrives".

Just then I felt the large barrette I had in my hair. The neck brace was pressing it into the back of my head. So I said, "before you leave could you do me a favor"? He said, " I'll try". I told him about the barrette and asked if he could pull my hair to free it. He said, " Let me look at the pictures and see where it's located then I'll let you know". I waited and the pain from everything wasn't getting any better. Focusing on the barrette was easier than thinking about my neck. He finally came back. He said, " I think I can get it loose without moving anything". I said, " great, lets do this". It took quite a bit of pulling my hair, but he did finally get it loose. I told him, "thank you". I'm sure I fell asleep after that.

The neurologist

The neurologist arrived and gently woke me. She began to explain about the halo device. How it was to be put on and that I would be returning for x-rays and to tighten the screws. I asked if putting it on would hurt. She said, "no, we'll use some pain medication to keep you from feeling it". Then I was wheeled to the operating room.

Everything was set up. Someone was by my head. I heard a buzzing sound and asked, " what is that"? They said," it's clippers, because we have to shave the hair behind your ears to place the screws." I said, "okay". and closed my eyes.

I have no idea if they moved me around while they applied the halo. I felt pressure on my head where they were inserting the screws, but nothing else.

The halo device
The halo device | Source

Waking up

I woke up in a darkened room. Out of the corner of my eye I saw the feet of someone in a bed to my left. Then someone on the right side of me said, " hello". I looked that way to see a nurse. She said, " I'm here to clean you up a little". I asked, " is something wrong"? She said, " no, just normal procedure". I said, "okay". All was fine until she began cleaning my left hand. Something hurt me when she washed the area between my thumb and pointer finger. I told her that hurt, so she put the washcloth down and pressed over the area again. I said, " that hurts". She said, "here"? I said, "yes". She rubbed it again and said, " there seems to be something in here". Then she pinched the area like she was popping a zit. The pain was gone. She said, " that should feel better". Then she showed me the square piece of glass she just took out of my hand.

Down side of useless arms

The neurologist came to check on me. I told her I felt fine. She asked if I was hungry and I told her yes. She said she'd have someone send in some food. Then she left.

Someone came in with a tray and asked me where I'd like it placed. I told them over my lap and raised a little so I could see what was on the tray. She set it up and left.

I had forgotten all the problems with my arms until I tried to eat. I couldn't lift my arms to the tray. It was torture to have that food there and not be able to eat. I don't know how long I tried, but I was worn out, so I fell asleep. When I woke up the tray was gone.

Visitors

My grandparents were in the room the next time I woke up. I asked them how long I'd been in the hospital, they said a day. They asked how I was feeling and if I needed anything. Then they told me my mom would be in the next day. I was happy to hear my mom was coming.

I asked if anyone thought my mom being there would be a problem for the other person in the room. They said they didn't think so, but they would ask about getting me a private room. I said, " thanks".

They left and I was asleep again.

Mom arrives

When I opened my eyes again I was in a new room. It was pretty. There was a recliner to my right and a t.v. on the wall. The floor had carpet too.

Then I saw my mom. I was really happy to see her. She asked a lot of questions of me. It felt like we were talking for a long time.

I got up to go to the ladies and mom followed. I was fine until I sat down. My body just started shaking. My mom got the nurse. The nurse said I seemed to be cold. They helped me back to the bed and then my mom said she'd be back soon.

I turned on the t.v., but I didn't really watch it, I just wanted the noise.

Mom came back holding a bag. I said, " what did you get"? She replied, " slipper socks". She put them on me. I had no idea how cold my feet were until she did that. It felt like she just put warm blankets on my toes.

Then mom said, " when did you eat"? I told her I hadn't eaten anything since I got to the hospital". She looked horrified. Then I explained about the tray they left and the problem with my arms. She called the nurse and asked for a tray of food to be brought in.

It didn't seem like very much time passed. I can't remember everything they brought. I do remember the chocolate pudding and my mom feeding it to me. I was surpised at how good the pudding tasted. That's when my mom told me I hadn't had food in 2 days. She asked me about drinking. I told her drinking had been easy, because they left a straw in the drink so I could get that to my mouth.

Then I asked my mom about getting a tooth brush. She said she'd see what she could do.

She returned with tooth brush and tooth paste. I went into the bathroom and started to brush my teeth. Then I couldn't open my teeth. I'm not sure how long I was in the neck brace, but it turned out that it had forced me to clinch my teeth and now, they wouldn't open. So I rinsed my mouth with a sip of water, but I told my mom my mouth didn't feel clean. She was out the door again.

She came back with a nurse. The nurse checked my mouth and said I should be able to open my mouth soon now that I was sitting up. Gravity was supposed to help the process. Then she handed me a special sponge on a stick and a cup of peroxide rinse. I dipped the sponge in the cup and then put it into my mouth. The foaming was weird, but my mouth felt a lot better.

The I.V. is removed

Now that I was eating and could finally open my mouth to swallow pills, the I.V. could be removed.

This was my 3rd day in the hospital. The I.V. was in the inside area of my left arm. I hadn't been able to straighten it since I got to the hospital. My mom had to hold my arm straight so the nurse could remove the I.V. Luckily the pain wasn't too awful. The nurse said, " now that that's gone the neurologist will check on you one more time and then you'll be released to go home".

Leaving the hospital

Finally, on the 4th day, everything was set for me to go home. I was a little worried about the drive home. I wasn't sure I could handle any bumps in the road.

The ride home was uneventful. The bumps didn't feel as awful as my trip to the hospital. The sun was out. I was happy to finally see the sky again. I'd mostly spent the last 4 days seeing bright lights and ceiling tiles.

Walking up to my own front door felt peaceful.

Home

Arriving home was great. My dogs were happy to see me. They seemed to be wondering about this new thing on my head. They waited until I sat down to actually come over and see me. Having them licking my hands and face made me realize how much I had missed them.

I had a lot to get used to. I couldn't lay flat in a bed, so a recliner was bought for me.

I hadn't really looked at myself in a mirror till I was home. I didn't think I was ugly, just strange.

Then I saw my hair. They hadn't bothered to remove the hair they had shaved. I could see what looked like a birds nest behind my neck. I mentioned it to my mom. For the next 4 hours ( we took a lot of breaks for the pain it was causing) my mom combed out my hair. When she could finally get the brush through without any snags, she braided my hair. Then I felt and looked more human.

A couple days later I told my mom I needed to get clean. She figured out a way to wrap a garbage bag around my upper half so I could wash my hair. I had a shower head that could be pulled down into the tub. I leaned over the tub so she could wash my hair. The vest of the halo wasn't allowed to get wet.

I had to settle for a washcloth for the rest of my body.

My mom helped with my back until we found out that rubbing alcohol on a towel felt a lot better than her trying to get a washcloth there. I could put the towel under the vest and move it back and forth and up and down until the itching stopped.

The funniest memory of this time is also my favorite. Mom was still with me and always worried about me going to the bathroom alone. We went into the bathroom together so I could brush my teeth. Mom put the lid of the toilet down so she could sit. I was trying to get the door of the medicine cabinet to open. I'm not sure why it seemed so hard that day. I yanked it with all my might. It swung open and smacked a bar on the halo. All I could hear was "twang" through my head like a tuning fork. I grabbed the bars to stop the ringing. My mom was laughing so hard she almost fell off the pot. That in turn made me start laughing. We were both crying tears before we finally caught our breath and I got my teeth done.

Meeting Mary Booth

Around the 3rd week after my accident I looked up Mary Booth in the phone book. (Back then computers weren't in every home.) I can't remember if I spoke with her or I left a message. A date was set for us to get together.

I was excited about getting to say, " Thank you", in person.

The anxiety hit when I saw the "tunnel of trees". I was surprised they were still there. It flashed in my head that my accident didn't mean all the trees were bad.

Across the street from Marys' was the remains of the tree. There was nothing left except a 3 foot circle of saw dust.

Now, it was time to knock on the door.

Mary was so sweet. I walked in and sat down. She showed me pictures of her family history. It was fun to see the pictures she had of the Booths through the years after Lincoln was killed. I wanted to know more just about Mary though.

Mary finally told me she was studying to be a nurse. She had just completed some of her training about accident scenes when things happened with me. I told her how lucky I was that she was the first person helping me that day. I told her how I felt someone told her to be there. She said she felt the same way.

We chatted some more and then said we'd try to keep in touch. Unfortunately, time and distance didn't allow me to meet with her again. Even though we haven't contacted each other I consider her a forever friend.


Time for Mom to leave

It was almost the end of April. Mom had to get back to work. Mom had helped me get back to mostly taking care of myself. I could cook and clean again. It was a interesting journey to learn how to do things without banging the halo.

I wasn't ready for her to go even though others could get me to my appointments and help with other stuff. No one ever takes care of you as well as your Mom.

It was good to see my Dad. He came to pick up Mom. My parents were semi truck drivers and they had a cross country run to do. So they stayed with me one more night.



Spud, my dalmaition beagle mix

I know I'm not allowed on the couch
I know I'm not allowed on the couch | Source

Gretchen, my rottweiler

Source

Getting back to walking the dogs

The dogs were so patient. Before the accident I walked to the front of the park for the mail everyday. It was about a 3 block walk. I hadn't been able to walk that far yet.

I started slow. It took nearly 2 more weeks to be able to make it all the way. Now I was feeling more human again. I worried about being out without the dogs. (I couldn't just look over my shoulder if someone called to me.)

Usually there weren't any children around when I walked. One this day I could see a group of children in a yard at the corner. Then I remembered summer vacation had just started. I wasn't sure if kids would be afraid of me or not, I hadn't been around any children. I just took a deep breath and kept walking. I was nearly in front of their yard when a little boy said, " Excuse me". I said, " Yes". (I expected him to ask about petting the dogs.) He said, " Can I ask you a question"? I said, "Yes". He said, " Are you robo woman"? ( It took everything for me not to giggle. I knew he was asking a serious question.) I said, "No". Then he said, " Why are you wearing that thing"? I told him, " It's to keep me from moving my head until my neck gets better". He said, " Cool. Can I pet your dogs"? Kids are great.


Halo screw

Source

Last day in the halo

Nearly 3 months to the day of my accident. I was finally told my bones had mended as well as they could. I was a little afraid of what would happen when the halo was removed.

The neurologist and a nurse were the only people in the room. They put a hard collar around my neck and asked if I was ready. I asked about something to numb things, but they said I shouldn't need it. ( That turned out not to be true.)

The neurologist started by removing the bars and vest. Then came the worst part. 4 screws had been holding this device to my head, now they had to be removed. I was ok with the first 2. The ones behind my ears were more painful. The right side came loose easier than the left. I remember crying a lot. The neurologist kept saying it was almost out, but the pain was horrible.

I was now a lot lighter and had to begin the process of physical therapy.

Physical therapy

Since I hadn't used the muscles in my neck for 3 months, this seemed a very slow process. I had been taking the brace off for short periods of time before the therapy started. I could hold my head up, but not for long.

Therapy was a new learning experience. I fould out that I wasn't lowering my shoulders. I had been using my shoulders to hold up the halo, but I hadn't realized it.

I started with what looked like a bow flex machine. Pulling weights from above my head down to my sides. To gain arm strength. I worked my way up to 25 pounds as the months went on.

There were a lot of slow motion exercises to build up my neck. Learning to turn my head to look over my shoulders. I also had to build up the strength to look up and down. I felt like a new born. someone had to help support my head for awhile as I began working on the muscles.

I fought through the pain of knotted muscles and kept practicing at home.

The therapist said I did really well and at the end of 3 months I didn't need to use a brace anymore. I was as well as I was going to be.

I was a little disappointed, because the full range of motion didn't come back, but I was ready to get back to working and being productive again.

Lawyers

There was a suit filed, but it didn't matter. Lawyers are all trained to be uncaring people. I thought my lawyers were fighting for me, but they weren't. This was my first experience and it was awful.

We only had one meeting. It was in a private room. Just the lawyers and me. I looked over the amount they put on the paper. It barely covered all my expences to that point. I was surprised it was so low. I guess they read the look on my face, because one spoke up. He said, " It would've been more if you died".

No one said a word, papers were signed and we all left.

Back to living

I bought a car. I went back to work. Only the scars remain over my eyebrows to even show I went through such a thing. It's easy to hide it, I wear bangs.

I feel very blessed to still be in the world. It's been an incredible journey and I'm happy to keep going everyday.

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    • Jodah profile image

      John Hansen 6 months ago from Queensland Australia

      Thank you for sharing your continuing and interesting story, Annette. You had to endure a lot. Dogs are good therapy aren't they. I thought it funny that little boy asking if you were a robot lady. Great job.