I woke up to pitch black silence. I didn’t know where I was or what had happened. In those seconds that it took for me to gather that I was in a car with three other girls, the complete silence made me think that everyone else had died in some event, I didn’t know what, and that I was the only one still alive. And then the screaming began.
Surrounded by screams, I too started screaming. I reached out my arms as much as I could and felt a slimy substance. At the time I thought it was mud but after looking at pictures I realized that it was my blood.
I drifted in and out of awareness not being able to tell that I was injured. I came to with the realization that I was hanging upside down suspended only by my seatbelt. I tried to reach down and unlatch it but unbearable pain started when I tried to move and I couldn’t extend my arm.
A kind man who was driving down the street stopped and help get everyone else out of the car. Someone must have told me what was happening. That we had been in a car accident and that our car had flipped over into a ditch.
My injuries convinced him that I was better off staying where I was while he turned off the ignition until the paramedic’s could arrive. In my panicked state I would have none of that and he finally relented and somehow helped me painfully climb from under the trunk into the ditch where our car had landed. He then held me until the paramedic’s could get to me.
The paramedic’s secured me to a stretcher and put a neck brace on me because they didn’t know how serious my injuries were. I rode to the hospital with another of the girls from the car and, in my state of shock, I couldn’t quit talking about the cheerleading camp that I had just attended or the church camp that I attended the week before it. I was blissfully unaware of the pain and my body was using all of it’s resources to keep me in the dark.
Having been told that we were ok, my dad and brother drove out to try and find us in case they could get to us before the ambulance. Which left my Mom at the hospital alone as I was pulled out of the ambulance without a way to move. While she was so brave for me now, as a mother, I can only imagine her pain at seeing me so broken.
I spent the next few hours being poked and prodded while everyone tried to determine what exactly was wrong with me. After long, torturous, painful x-rays it was determined that I had severely broken one arm, badly broken the other, broken my nose, and fractured the bones in my face. Other than that I was fine and so very blessed to have escaped any further injuries.
The bright lights and loud noises of the ER didn’t help calm me down any and I continued to reside in a state of shock. The shock both heightened and subdued my fourteen year old tendencies. I constantly asked anyone I could whether or not I would be able to cheer in the Homecoming game that fall. And I lamented the fact that my favorite shirt and ring had to be cut off of me. But my parents later told me that I also kept reassuring them that I was going to be ok and that everything happened for a reason. The “Eye of the Storm” message’s that I had heard at Camp Junaluska two weeks before the wreck couldn’t have come at a better time.
Around midnight I was wheeled out of the ER and into surgery. My doctor spent the next six hours trying to put Humpty Dumpty back together again. He used all manner of metal pins, wire, screws, and a plate to try and get my arms back to an acceptable form and told us later that my left arm looked like it had two inches of Rice Krispy’s in the place where solid bone should have been.
I spent the next few days recovering in the hospital looking like a purple chipmunk at the best and something much worse at the worst. I was surrounded by family and friends wishing me well and praying for me and held numerous lengthy conversations that I didn’t remember at all an hour later. IV’s became the norm and reinserting them after they were accidentally pulled out of my neck happened more than anyone would have liked. My arms were suspended in traction confining me to the bed and the constant trips to CAT scans were enough to make a perfectly healthy person tired.
I went home and continued recovering although it was slow and hard. Both of my arms were in hard splints from my hands to my upper arm which didn’t allow me to do much of anything other than sit. My splint size was reduced a few weeks later but I still started high school in two large, white splints to immobilize my arms but still allow my incisions to heal.
The fall moved right along and going to physical therapy instead of cheerleading became the norm. I did get to cheer at the Homecoming game but my arms still weren’t anywhere near straightening again and my therapist told me to never expect it to straighten all the way again. That was the perfect thing to say to a stubborn fourteen year old and within the next few months I regained full motion and hyperextension in my arm.
Unfortunately the plate in my left arm broke causing the synthetic bone to break. Right before Christmas I had surgery again to remove the pins from my right arm and insert more synthetic bone and a stronger plate in my left arm. But within a few months the plate had broken again and we headed to UAB and a specialist to try something stronger.
In May I had my third surgery in 10 months. I had bone removed from my hip and inserted into my arm along with a titanium plate. My recovery was finally complete the next May when I had the final plate and five screws removed from my left arm and was given a pretty good bill of health.
I left the house that night an innocent fourteen year old girl. I came home a few days later forever changed by my experiences. This July will be fourteen years from the wreck. The same amount of time from time from the wreck as how old I was when it happened. And yet I can still remember it clearly. I’m still nervous far more often in a car than I should be. And I can still feel the effects of that night every time the weather changes.
Up until now every time I’ve retold the story it has been to someone new that I’ve met. But I realized a few days ago, when Charlotte noticed the scars on my arm for the first time, that soon I will have to tell the story to my children. I’ll have to explain to them why I will never allow them in the car without their seatbelt on. And why I will always be more overprotective of them in a car than a lot of mom’s.
Only by the grace of God were we all able to escape that night with only broken bones. We were not teenagers out partying or doing anything wrong. We were just girls trying to get to know each other and go to a slumber party. And yet the night ended with a six hour surgery and scars that may fade but will never go away.
I will never know this side of Heaven what the purpose of having us go through that was. But maybe the retelling of my story over the years has caused someone to wear a seatbelt that wouldn’t have otherwise. Or reminded them to slow down and be extra careful when driving. Or reminded a parent to remind their child about the basics before they leave the house. Maybe it was just so that I’m more present with my children because I know that life is out of our control.
Whatever the reason I can now look back on it and see that God was in control. If things had ended differently God would have still been in control. And maybe being able to see my scars every day in the mirror is what I need. A tangible reminder that my life is not my own, it is my Lord’s. And He had scars too. I want to look back and ahead and remember that I am not in control, but my past, present, and future are safe in the hands of one who is and that fact alone should be able to comfort me through any trials that I’ve been through or will face in the future.
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