Karen's Story of Tragedy & Triumph
It’s a story of tragedy and triumph, a love story for the ages, a journey of being left for dead & fighting back despite the odds. It’s about starting completely over again after losing everything physically and regaining ability far beyond anyone’s expectations with strength, willpower, stubbornness, a circle of love, and hope. It’s when anything can happen when you just don’t give up. It’s why you should take care of your health, always, because you never know when you’re going to need it. It’s about self-acceptance, and learning to be proud of every scar both inside and out. It’s a story of intense physical trauma plus mental loss due to a concussion, and most importantly of all it’s a story that has lit the way and provided inspiration all over to those now going through their own traumas.
And finally, it’s about finally having the confidence to get out there and tell my story to the masses, because in our little world, it has helped so many over & over find their strength, get healthy strong again, and never ever give up!! It’s been my hope that if just one person pushes a little bit harder to overcome what they’re going through, it’s all been worth it. We’ve (my husband and I) have heard countless stories now of people all over who have been inspired, and said “After seeing what Karen has done, I can push through what I’m dealing with.”
Today I’m being brave and sharing with you. I am nervous LOL. I am also the Phoenix, and pretty sure the first item I purchased from you is the phoenix hoodie. A friend tagged me and said, you need this!! More on identifying with the brand later…
It’s been almost exactly 4 years now, and I don’t even know where to begin. I hope I don’t get too long-winded because I’m great at that!! I guess I will just start at the beginning with the accident and how it started.
On Sunday October 25, 2015 my husband and I were out enjoying a beautiful Fall afternoon on our Harleys (each of us riding our own). It had been a perfect Fall weekend day: sunny, 60-something degrees, not a cloud in the sky. We had started the day going pumpkin picking with friends. And now that it was afternoon, we were not ready to end the day. As it got towards dinner we headed home. I remember making that last turn we would make. We made a right onto one of the main local roads (we live in the suburbs), and moved over to the left lane. As we rode I noticed a car suddenly swerve out of the northbound traffic into our lane going southbound, and realized there was a car speeding towards us. It was going the wrong way at a high rate of speed. Despite our best efforts to move out of the way, the last thing I remember is this car directly in front of me, and I knew it was going to happen. I was about to get hit head on.
I blacked out and woke up flat on my back looking up at the sky – or at least trying to. My husband (then boyfriend) told me later on I looked like I had the tweety birds flying around my head like in the cartoons LOL. I knew it was BAD even though I felt no pain. I didn’t feel much at all except for a breeze that felt like it was blowing inside of my thigh. How is that even possible?????
Long story short: It turned out I had massive injuries, a head injury the severity of which I would only learn about much later on, 20 minutes to live, and the driver who hit me had sped off. Angels or God or good fortune or something were with me that day. This driver had been driving erratically, and a concerned passenger in another car was already on the phone with police calling in the concern. They were on the phone when it happened. Medical help arrived quickly. Surgery went overnight into the morning working hard to save life and limbs. At 6:30am I was moved to ICU.
*NOTE: GRAPHIC DESCRIPTION OF INJURIES NEXT*
I had broken my neck in two places, both my hip and my pelvis, all four bones in my forearms including a compound fracture which almost cost me my left hand entirely if not for the heavy leather riding jacket I was wearing which kept it from continuing all the way through, and both bones in my right calf. However that was just the beginning of my issues. My left leg was a complete mess, and there was much uncertainty if it could be saved. Nothing as bad as my injuries had been saved before, at least not here. The broken part of my hip was the left so starting at the very top there were issues. My left femur was a compound fracture, my kneecap had shattered and the patella tendon ripped off, both bones in my calf were broken and the tibia to the point there was nothing left but a small stump at the bottom and the “gravel and sand” collected around my ankle from the rest of it pulverizing.
*GRAPHIC DESCRIPTION DONE*
We’ll all have that moment (or moments) that define us. That tell us who we are and what we’re really made of. Could be mental, physical, a tough decision, maybe all of the above.
For me, the major one happened in a hospital bed at my most helpless. Both arms, both legs, hip, pelvis, and neck were broken and completely immobilized. Everyone who entered my room was instructed to announce themselves because I couldn’t turn my head the slightest bit to know what was happening. Just these sounds telling me I was no longer alone.
I felt like a torso with a brain. Images from that movie “Johnny Got His Gun” that my health teacher had us watch in high school went through my mind. I suddenly felt I have an idea of what that would feel like.
Then someone told me that I had to start moving something – anything. Lift my fingers, maybe wiggle some toes. And that’s when the reality set in. I was literally starting entirely over. Broken bones heal, however it didn’t much matter if my brain and muscles no longer knew how to move them. And they didn’t. Between nerve damage and brain damage, many of the connections were lost or criss-crossed. I’d tell Jeff to please scratch my right knee because it itched. He would, and I would feel it on the other leg. Everything was completely jacked up.
And so began the fight of my life, because I would NOT give up. The decision was simple: pain or living like this, and I was ready to fight through the pain. I moved from ICU to the Trauma ward within a week.
So here we are at ground zero. I went to lift a finger and after several attempts, my pointer DID lift. The pain coming back was off the charts, even on a cocktail of the best pain killers. GAHHHhhhhhhhhhhhhhh that HURT! However, it lifted. I had feeling there and my brain finally made the connection. Immense pain has never been a better sign – it meant hope. And so the road was laid out; if the challenge was accepted I’m gonna be going through these agonizing steps over and over, head to toe, with every little joint. Putting myself through the worst imaginable pain every single day, multiple times per day. Do I really have that in me?!?
I lifted my pointer finger again. Dear God that hurt.
I do it again. The pain is not any better.
I do it again. It hurts like hell, and I’m actually exhausted. From lifting a finger. [insert joke about people being too lazy to lift a finger - I got a story for them J ]
I do it again. I’m making myself laugh at this point because the absurdity of putting yourself through this much pain on purpose is laughable at this moment. I’m sure I look like a mad person.
I do it again. Damn, finger! Will you ever make this easier?!?
The next day I wiggle toes AND fingers.
I moved from Trauma to long-term care 3 weeks later.
There was an epic turning point in long-term care which would determine the quality of my life, for the rest of my life. Up until this time I was completely bedridden, and just elevating the head part of the bed made me dizzy. The physical therapists laid it all there: my entire body had atrophied so much that even if I were ready for a wheelchair, I couldn’t do it. My core muscles could no longer hold me up, so I would just slide out of any chair they put me in. So how on earth does someone who can’t even be propped up get to where they can sit up? I couldn’t even “find” my core muscles. My brain had lost the connection.
I am a beautiful disaster both inside and out. From a literal sense, my physical scars are numerous and not cute, however I love each and every one of them. There’s a saying about scars being proof you’ve battled some shit and walked out the other side. I wear them proudly and with confidence. I don’t hide them or mind when people stare. It’s cool. They are my tiger stripes. I’m also a beautiful disaster on the inside: daily chronic pain, mental fallout from the concussion, PTSD, anxiety, vision issues, brain fogginess and slowness, multiple medications, becoming exhausted and getting headaches from even the smallest mental output (I’m paying for this story dearly though the hope it can help someone fuel their fire keeps me going!), and it goes on. I tell my husband I’m a hot mess (yes, my boyfriend married me a few years later, knowing full well what he was getting into, and knowing I would always need help!).