Saturday, February 16, 2013

10 Days in Rehab and Counting

After my accident on February 1st I spent about a week at the hospital. I included many details in my last blog post about the accident and the hospital stay. On February 7th I was moved from Geisinger Hospital to Healthsouth Rehab Center. In this post I'll dive into tons of details about my rehab process from the past week or so.

Luckily my sister was in town on Feb 7th and while I laid in my hospital bed she packed up all my flowers, balloons, and personal belongings onto a cart to be transferred from the hospital to the rehab center. I remember being really nervous about moving since it would be a brand new place where I knew no one! I kept feeling like I just would rather stay at the hospital because I had started to get used to the nurses, doctors, and basic routine. Now looking back- I am so glad I am not still at the hospital- but more on that later.

Derek (friend/roommate) also came into town to visit that day just in time to use his car to transport all of my things to rehab. Gabby was especially happy she didn't have to make the long trek back to the parking lot to get her car! While Derek was busy being a great friend- Gabby was busy being a great sister riding over with me on the shuttle bus. This was my first ever experience with using one of the wheelchair lifts on a bus- and for that matter riding on a bus in a wheelchair. I had flashbacks to an episode of the IT crowd where Roy pretends to be disabled to use the handicap bathroom (funniest ever).

Once we made it over to Healthsouth Rehab Center they unloaded me from the bus and signed me in. I remember thinking mostly how cold it was outside- but also how great it was to feel the outside air. By the time I got to my new room Derek and Gabby almost had everything unpacked for me! Several doctors and nurses came in and had me answer tons of questions, explained some things to me and had me sign a bunch of papers. When I moved into my room my roommate was out of the room in therapy- I was very curious to meet her. The biggest thing that was stressed to me by multiple nurses was that I was not the typical age of most of their patients. (This was them nicely telling me everyone here is old.) I'm not talking "old" like adults around my parents age- I'm talking well into the 70's and 80's. Speaking of the older generations, my roommate's name was Dorothy. She told me she was 70 years older than me at the age of 92 (although her daughter who was visiting later told me she was 94). Dorothy was very sweet but actually checked out of rehab the very next day to head to a nursing home. Since then I have been lucky enough to have the whole room to myself!

My first 24 hours here were a lot to adjust to. I didn't know the nurses or the doctors. I did however love some of the new tasks I was able to do while I was here. Firstly I was able to use a bathroom. Now for all of you with working body parts- please take a minute to thank God right now that you can use a toilet. At the hospital I was not lucky enough to have this luxury. During my hospital stay I basically was in bed 24 hours a day and was too weak to be able to walk- so I had to use a bed pan. You are welcome in advance for not getting into the details behind using a bed pan. I promise it would only give you nightmares and bad images if I told you. (On that note if you really can't live life without a personal account of how bed pans work- talk to me privately). So at rehab I had the assistance available to me to get up and use a real toilet!! I could have cried I was so happy the first time using it (and that was even with 2 people in the room helping me). Now that I have been here awhile and am able to navigate with a walker better I have been granted bathroom privileges(BRPs) meaning I can use the bathroom by myself. (You can't even imagine how happy I was the day I found out I had BRPs). Aside from finally being able to use a real toilet- the first morning I was here I was able to take a shower!! (Again- thank God right now that you have the ability to bathe yourself). The first time showering I had to have someone with me the whole time during the shower. My occupational therapist is very nice and luckily we get along well so it wasn't so bad having her assist me in the shower. Now I am pleased to report after one week I can shower almost entirely by myself. I have mastered putting a bag over my broken leg and taping over my stitches in my hip before a shower. I have enough mobility that I can physically take the shower by myself- and just need someone to come change my hip bandage when I'm done before I can get dressed.

So long story short rehab immediately provided me with the luxury of using a real bathroom for the shower and toilet purposes. Along with these amazing new privileges- my first full day there I got to experience physical therapy and occupational therapy. (More on that in just a moment).

The second evening there Gabby was still in town because of the snow! She got to sleepover with me now that my roommate was gone! During her time here we collected up a lot of the cards and gifts I had received and decorated the room. I felt so thankful to have received so many lovely get well cards, flowers, and gifts. I even got a batch of cards from my students at the middle school where I did my student teaching. (My cooperating teacher Molly dropped them off in person when she visited me with her whole family!) I thank God everyday for the amazing support I am getting. Every single thought and prayer has gone so far in helping with my recovery- including a fast healing and helping to keep my spirits up! I really appreciate all the different visitors who have stopped by. Thanks to my mom, Gabby, Derek, Sydney, Uncle Buddy, Sara R., Sam, Erin, Sarah T., and Molly. You all have been such an important part in making my days lovely!

While Gabby was visiting aside from decorating with some cards we decided to undertake some crafting in order to really spruce the place up! I got the idea to make a paper chain (loved making those as a kid) but I didn't have any construction paper to do it- that's when we thought of using magazines. Luckily I had a bunch of magazines in my possession, so we sifted through the pages looking for any bright and colorful ads. We then cut the paper into strips and stapled them into this chain. Gabby hung up the chain over my doorway area. Since then tons of nurses and doctors have complimented me on how nice my room looks!

After a few days had passed I was feeling a lot more comfortable with everything. I started to recognize the nurses, the doctors, and my therapists. Everyone here has been very nice to me. Like I mentioned above a lot of the nurses have told me they love my room because it's so bright and cheerful- and I can sense that some of the nurses really enjoy having a younger patient to work with. As time has passed I have really been enjoying my therapy sessions- both occupational and physical. Therapy usually takes up about 3 hours of the day. I find the time extremely rewarding since I am up and moving a bit more than all the other hours of the day, and I feel really accomplished when I am done at therapy because I know it is helping me get one step closer to recovery. 

Let's talk about occupational therapy first. Occupational therapy is a very valid and needed part of a full recovery. It reteaches you how to accomplish everyday tasks while dealing with your disability. For example: showering, using the toilet, transferring into a tub, getting out of bed, using a kitchen, standing and sitting, etc. During my occupational therapy time we practice a lot of different practical things. The other day I used my walker in the kitchen to make a cup of hot cocoa. I know it sounds simple- but think about all the implications of making cocoa while using a walker. #1 you can't carry anything while you walk since both hands are on the walker. #2 you need to get a mug, water or milk, spoon, hot cocoa packet and be able to access the microwave. #3 once you have made the cocoa you need to be able to get the mug to the desired location of where you will sit and drink it. You learn tons of little tricks pretty quickly (like using the counter tops to move things around a room) that really make life a lot easier. One very interesting thing Healthsouth provides is a practice apartment. It's a little area with a bedroom, bathroom, kitchen, and washer and dryer made for the patients to practice daily tasks in. I found out from my therapist the other day that sometimes they use this apartment as a trial run location for a patient that they are on the fence about sending home. Another thing we focus on in OT is upper body strength. Arm strength is so important for me since I need to use my arms for almost everything now- including walking, sitting and standing, and not to mention all the normal tasks we use are arms for! My therapist Jamie has a whole routine worked out including free weights, stretchy bands, and an arm routine she stole from an insanity workout! 

Physical Therapy is also a very crucial part in my recovery. This therapy kind of explains itself. I work on building muscle and regaining motion and other physical tasks. Usually we start the routine on a raised mat where I work on leg exercises with my good leg. I have to strengthen this leg while laying down since I can't put any weight on my right leg. Recently we have added a few motions with my right leg on the mat. After the mat we work in the bars. They remind me of ballet bars although I'm certainly not using them like that. I stand in between the bars and can use them for balance or to workout my arms. Usually I work on right leg mobility while I'm in the bars area since gravity is helpful in getting that leg to move. We also practice walking using a walker- and increase the distance a little bit each time. Another feat I face during physical therapy is climbing the stairs. In fact my first day of therapy, my therapist, Chelsea said "we are going to try and climb the stairs." I think I almost fainted when she said that to me- and we did try that day- unsuccessfully. Chelsea seems to constantly be asking me to do the impossible in therapy. For example Day 1: climbing those stairs, Day 2: Moving my right leg, etc. One thing I really wanted to talk about is my Day 2 challenge. I stood between the bars and she said "OK, I want you to mover your right leg out to the side." I tried to move it- and nothing. This was the first time I experienced my body rejecting an instruction from my brain. I seriously tried as hard as I could to swing that right leg out using my hip muscles- but no movement came. I felt so sad and shocked. It's an incredibly frustrating experience to not be able to invoke motion in one of your limbs. This happened again when she wanted me to lift my leg forward. I explained the situation and we adapted by using my toes and foot to kind of inch my leg in either direction- but I felt totally defeated! After a few days however my hip muscles were starting to heal more and were able to lift my leg a bit. So now I can do those movements without needing my toes to come to the rescue. I did however have another frustrating experience when we added new mat exercises. She wanted me to do right leg lifts. (laying down lift my right leg up). I tried 15 times very hard to make this happen and it wouldn't budge. Again it's super frustrating but I need to trust with time my leg will heal and I will regain full muscle strength and mobility. I challenge all of you reading to really consider the frustration you might feel if you couldn't move a limb, like physically could not make it happen. I can't imagine how frustrating it would be to permanently lose mobility of a limb! I feel for all those people who have and now can understand a fraction of the frustration and sadness that comes with that limitation. Speaking of limitations I did master going up and down the stairs, unfortunately I have to do it on my bum- using the scooch method. Essentially I scooch up the steps backwards on my bum up onto a stool then a chair and finally into standing position. It's kind of silly, but at least I can do it by myself! 

Everyday I feel as though I am getting a little bit better. My knee and hip are starting to heal up pretty well, but I am sure that I will have huge battle scars from this experience. If you check out the picture above you can see the insane swelling in my right leg. It pretty much is still that swollen- and I am anxious for it to return to it's normal size (see left leg). Aside from swelling and scarring I am trying to treat the rest of my body as normally as possible. I am eating a regular-ish diet- although I am craving better foods and more fresh fruits and vegetables and coffee!!! I am showering everyday and some days I will even spend the time to blow dry my hair or put makeup on because I feel more like myself- and it takes up some of that daunting free time! My clothes here don't really feel like 'me' but at least I am comfy. My sister went out and bought me some loose shorts and comfy t-shirts to wear while I recover.

Aside from therapy and returning to normalcy, another big help in my recovery is due to me learning how to use adaptive tools. As I mentioned before I use a walker and wheelchair to get around. But so many small tasks can't be done without the help of these tools to the left. Let me break down what these tools help me do from top to bottom. The very top tool helps me put my socks on. You pull the sock over the plastic part and slip your foot in. Next you pull on the cords to yank the plastic part back leaving the sock on your foot. Using this tool is the only way I can get a sock on my right foot since I can't bend more than 90 degrees forward. The next tool down is a grabber. You might imagine a short person using one to reach a high shelf- but this tool helps for so much more. Since I can't bend over I use it to take off my right sock or put anything on my lower body (i.e. undies, shorts, pants, etc). I have to loop the grabber around the shorts then place it on my right leg first- once I manage to get the shorts up to my knee I can reach with my hands to do the rest. I also use the grabber to help me reach things that are far away- like covers at the bottom of the bed, or my book that's out of my reach. Another super useful tool is the third one down- which I affectionately call my dog leash. It actually is a leash with metal in it. The open loop at the bottom and the leash all the way up is stiff. I can use this to loop onto my right foot and pick up my leg. I have to use this tool a lot! I need it to get out of bed, out of a wheelchair, to go to the bathroom, and for so much more. The dog leash and the grabber are by far my most useful tools. And lastly we have the metal shoe horn. It works like a regular shoe horn it's just ridiculously long so I don't have to bend to reach my right foot. That concludes all my adaptive tools I have mastered using. 

One of the last things I wanted to show you was my room! Here is where I have been living since February 7th- and I'll be here until the 19th! Then I'll be packing up all my things and heading to Massachusetts to tackle my next task- living in the real world! 

Thanks for sticking it out until the end of this post. I know it was long, but now you understand so much more of what my life in rehab has been like. Obviously I didn't talk about everything that happened- I didn't even get into medications, free time, and other stories- so if you want to know more of the details just give me a call. One thing I can definitely say is that I feel this experience changing me. I have this total new perspective and I can feel it seeping into each area of my life. I thank God every day for taking care of me and having my back. Without God's love, strength, healing and support I would be no where. I pray God blesses you all as much as he's blessed me and more! 

*Stay tuned for more posts soon* 

Thursday, February 14, 2013

February 1st

The past 2 weeks have been- possibly the longest 2 weeks of my life. As I'm sure many of you have heard by now I was in a car crash on February 1st. Now I don't know how many people really know the entire true story of what happened- since usually as word gets around it's hard to keep it accurate. So I wanted to go on the record and give you a run down of my life for the past 2 weeks (this will take more than one post).

That Friday morning I was driving to work- a substitute job at a middle school about 20 minutes from my apartment. I am very familiar with the route I was driving and the roads themselves weren't even bad that day. I left as usual and drove over the mountain to get into state college. I came around a curve and noticed some ice and snow ahead so I put my breaks on. (Maybe I wasn't supposed to do that- but I can never keep it straight about how you should drive on ice). My car started to swerve out of control into the other lane. Another car was coming so I decided my only option was to try and swerve back towards my side and avoid the collision with another car. My car did avoid the other cars on the road but did not avoid hitting a tree! It's pretty thick forest along that road and going off to the side of the road means hitting trees. To this day I am still thankful that my car did not hit any other cars or injure anyone but myself- in this account I was very lucky.

The crash was bad- and the impact from it destroyed a lot of the front of the car. As you can see in these pictures the damage was pretty extensive. Derek (my roommate/friend) who went to gather my belongings from my car later on- took these pictures and told me that the engine had started to protrude up into the dash area of the front seats, especially on the passenger side.

After the crash happened I didn't really notice how bad the crash had been. I know that sounds strange, but I was in such shock and pain that most of my thoughts were focused on worrying about my own well being- not really worrying about the car. That being said- when the police officer showed up at the hospital with his report on the accident it prompted a lot more tests to be done on my body for internal and other serious injuries that may have occurred.

Now that the smoke has settled from the accident we have been able to work through all the details with my insurance company and seem to be getting back a fair amount of money for the car. In case you couldn't guess, my car (named Angie) is totaled. I was so looking forward to many more years of driving her, but I am glad that at least I should be getting enough money to get another car of somewhat similar caliber.

Enough about my car- let's talk about what happened to me. As I said earlier the crash was pretty bad- I hit a tree, head on, and the airbags did deploy. When the crash happened I was in total shock and pain. I remember crawling out of the car and onto the snowy hard ground. I wish I could say that I was fine and responded with logic and calmness- but I didn't. I basically felt like I was going crazy. I kept saying "Oh my God" over and over again while shaking and crying.

A seriously good samaritan named Nicole, stopped to help. She rushed over and started asking all the right questions. She asked about my pain, and if I had blacked out, and tons of other questions. She had another passer-by call 911 to report the accident as she helped me limp into her car. She grabbed my purse and then drove me to the hospital. In the car i called the middle school I was supposed to be subbing at and my mother. When I finally reached the E.R. I was in a lot of pain. My right knee was killing me, and skin was protruding from a hole in my jeans. My left hip and my nose also hurt a lot- and I had just about cleaned up my bloody mouth by the time we got inside.

Once i was admitted to the E.R. I felt really alone and scared. I didn't know anything about how intense these injuries were- and on top of it no one gave me any pain medicine! (for a really long time). I ended up having some X-rays and a C.T. scan done. (yes I had to drink the horrible radioactive fluid). It wasn't until after the C.T. Scan that we found out the total news of my injuries. My right patella (knee cap) was broken- with a pretty big whole in my knee down to the joint- letting air in (huge risk of infection) and my right hip was fractured. The news of a broken hip came as a huge shock since my right hip didn't even hurt at all!

All afternoon there was discussion of when and where the surgeries might take place. At this point I was at Mt. Nittany Hospital and they knew the knee would have to be operated on at least to clean it out and stitch it up. After waiting all morning and part of the afternoon they gave the word to ship me to a different hospital with doctors who specialize in hip injuries to get a more solid second opinion on the hip and the knee. I was so thankful to have my friends Sydney and Derek there for the afternoon- I am not sure if I could have done that entire morning all by myself.

Later- I took a hour and a half ride to Geisinger Hospital in Danville, PA. At this point my mom was already on her way to PA to come to the rescue.When I reached the new hospital I was notified that I would be admitted in the trauma department since my accident had been so severe. This is more urgent than an E.R. and came with some interesting details. When I got there about 10-15 doctors, nurses, and interns, poured over my body to examine every inch of it. I felt slightly humiliated when they removed my socks and hospital gown and just about everyone saw everything. I got over the physical embarrassment quickly but didn't adjust well to so many people acting crazy and running a million tests on me at one time. My knee at this point still was killing me- and had been bandaged up a little. While I was in the Trauma department my knee got a pretty good cleaning and new bandages- however it also got more painful X-rays and another C.T. scan. On top of all of this for the entire day I wasn't allowed to eat or drink anything- not even water- because of the uncertainty of when my knee would be operated on! I hated not being able to drink water and at one point my blood pressure and pulse dropped dangerously low from being dehydrated. (That's when I finally got hooked up to Saline).

That entire first day is still pretty clear in my mind- and I remember the relief I felt when I was finally in a hospital room and my mother arrived. By this point I had some pain relief, but was still dying from not being able to drink any water. I somewhat remember drifting off to sleep that first night, being totally drained and stripped of any molecule of energy I might have had left.

The next morning my knee was operated on- they cleaned it out thoroughly and stitched it up. The recovery after this surgery was rough and I had to take a lot of pain killers before it even felt muted. The weekend included some really lovely visitors and a lot of recovery- just in time for my second surgery on Monday.

Monday (Feb 4) the doctors went in and operated on my knee and hip adding a screw to my knee and plate to my hip- to hold everything together. Waking up from this surgery was brutal- and again the with-holding of water was unbearable! Most of the nurses at the hospital were wonderful and very kind during this rough recovery process. We had a horrible and very scarring experience with one nurse on a night shift that I never wish to repeat in my whole entire life. (Don't worry- Mom reported it). Other than the one nurse we had some issues with the rest were so king to me. Their gentleness and patience I would count as a major contributing factor towards my recovery.

My mother was also my rock during this whole process- she held my hand (literally) through the entire process and I certainly would not have been able to get through that first week without her help. She is the best mother in the world- and I am ready to fight anyone who would disagree.

After about 4 very intense days of recovery it was finally time for me to leave the hospital and go to rehab. (which is where I am now!) I will get into all the ins and outs of rehab another day.

But for now you should know- my knee and hip are healing well. Both have a combination of staples and stitches- which you can see in my knee pictured below!

I am not able to bend my knee at all since the surgery on the knee was so extensive. Instead of a cast the doctors put my right leg in an immobilizer. It can come off but is supposed to stay on all day and night. My hip I just have a bandage on but when leaving the hospital they gave me some hip motion limitations in order to allow for it to heal fully. I am not allowed to bend my body forward more than a 90 degree angle because of my hip (this one is the hardest rule to follow).  

Aside from my right knee and hip- my other injuries are minimal. Most just include bruising or scratches and will heal on their own. One nasty bruise that I am thankful for is on my left hip (pictured below). This bruise is the proof that I was wearing my seat belt- and the reminder that it most likely saved my life!
There are a few bruises however that I really hate- and I find totally unnecessary. During my hospital stay I was pricked in about 10 different location for IVs multiple times. I also had IVs moved and ended up having 4 IVs total- and blood drawn from my arms everyday. This resulted in a lot of pain and tons of bruising on my arms!! (the picture below doesn't even do the amount of arm bruising justice).

One totally lovely thing about this entire experience has been the amount of love and support I have felt from everyone. I feel so overwhelmed by love because I never once have experienced people from every stage of my life all supporting me in one endeavor before. People from my childhood in Utica have reached out to me- all the way up to my most recent acquaintances in State college- my students and my cast of Legally Blonde- all of them reached out to love and support me through this time. I feel so blessed to have so many amazing people thinking of me and praying for my healing. I know it is by God's glory and power that my healing has been going so well so far. And everyday I praise him for sparing my life in the car accident and thank him for placing angels in that car with me to protect my life! 
I have so much more to tell you all- but for now I'll leave it at that. Hopefully you better understand my accident- my injuries- my surgeries- and my week long hospital stay. Thank you so much if you have been thinking or praying for me at all during this time. Every single person who has reached out to me- I feel nothing but love and gratitude for them. If you have any questions about anything don't hesitate to ask! And in the mean time- I pray God will bless you and keep you safe!
P.S. Happy Valentine's Day