February 23, 2011
Details, Details, Details
I see that Ken has been keeping the blog updated, so this post may be a bit redundant. But now that my fingers are almost all working again, I want to get the details of my latest adventure down while they're still fresh. I don't think this will get gory, but for those of you who read our blogposts aloud to your kids, take into account the content here.
In the three weeks I’d been riding the motorcycle to Guarani class, this past Friday was by far the clearest, sunniest morning. I’m pretty fanatical about wearing long jeans and a jeans jacket even in this ridiculous Paraguayan heat, but I’d had the beginnings of a chest cold this week. So I put on a hooded sweatshirt AND my jacket to keep my throat and chest covered. To compensate for how really hot that made me, I chose khaki crop pants.
Normally, I chat about the ride or the scenery when we slow down for turns or speed bumps, but the view was just SO clear Friday that I turned my mp3 player to some nice praise and worship music and spent the ride praying. I was in awe at the handiwork of God and amazed, once again, that He saw fit to let me be a missionary to this gorgeous country full of beautiful people. I was thanking Him and telling Him how much the opportunity to work for Him full-time meant to me.
As we slowed down to turn off the last asphalt road and begin the dirt-road part of the trip, I paused Jesus Adrian Romero from his song “Mi Universo,” and stuck the mp3 player back in the backpack wedged between Saul and me. I saw him do his usual routine—adjust the mirror, look to see that no one’s close behind, and then begin the slow turn. A slow turn isn’t necessary, but he knows I’m nervous about driving on sand (you remember those three falls I had in sand already, right?), and he always takes them slow to avoid me whining behind him.
For a fraction of a split second, I heard a very loud roar, just like the tornadoes that flew by my house all night during Hurricane Hugo. Except this tornado struck home. The next thing I heard was Saúl’s voice calling my name and saying in English, “Sorry.” Saúl very rarely speaks English, and he doesn’t remember saying this, but I heard it loud and clear and realized right away what had happened. I threw out an immediate “Gracias, Dios,” (“Thank you, God,”) and then to Saúl, “Estoy!” (“I’m here!”) He said that my first words to him were, “Go stand the moto up. The gas is leaking out and that’s dangerous!” He ran back to find that I was right, but I tell you, there was no way I could see it from there, and I certainly don’t remember saying that. Maybe I was thinking about what happens on the movies and “talking in my sleep.”
I was lying on my left side with that same leg crunched up underneath me, and through my helmet lens I saw a woman running to me. The pain in my left leg was so intense that I fully expected to look down and either see that a bone was coming out of my skin, or that I didn’t have the bottom half of my leg. I really, really expected that to be the case. I was relieved to see that although it was bloody and had parts in places that didn’t seem right, all was still attached to my body.
I couldn’t see Saúl because of my helmet, but I heard him and asked him to take my helmet off because I was feeling faint and nauseous from the heat. With the help of several people—and one guy taking pictures with his cell phone—I got down to a t-shirt with the jackets under my head. Somehow we managed to get my leg a little less underneath me, and I told Saul right away, “Something is not in its right place at my knee. If I pass out, don’t let anyone move me until an ambulance comes, and don’t let them straighten out this leg. I can’t move it, so it’ll have to be supported.”
I still didn’t know how this had all gone down, but I heard Saul asking if anyone had checked on the driver of the car. People were making motions and it seemed that some thought he must be dead. I later saw pictures and heard the eyewitness accounts. The man was driving REALLY fast, “enjoying the view of the hills,” in his words, and swerved into the oncoming lane. We happened to be there in the process of turning left. Saul saw him from the side, realized the guy was coming straight for us, and swerved the bike back toward the middle of the road. This completely saved our lives. Instead of hitting us broadside at a really high rate of speed, this Toyota Land Cruiser hit the back of my left knee and I flew off the bike. Saul fought to stay on the bike and ride it to the ground, but he rolled off before it stopped sliding, and came up running. He said I was really far from him because of how I’d been thrown from the bike, and I guess he thought I was dead. I was definitely unconscious. The truck went on to roll over several times, crash through a small brick house before landing on its roof. It was a miracle that the man who normally was in the little house had JUST walked next door.
As I lay there, I heard a man come up screaming at Saul. He was shouting things like, “How stupid are you? How could you make a turn without a signal?” Okay, the truck driver survived. One of the people who saw it all go down pointed out that we were in the opposite lane when the truck hit us, meaning he’d had to swerve out of his lane. And then someone pointed out that the left turn signal on our motorcycle was still blinking. End of argument. From then on, the driver of the truck was very subdued and helpful, and quite apologetic.
About that time a policeman walked up. Saul had been trying to call ambulances, but none of the three phones he was using would make a call. He dug mine out and called several emergency numbers, to no avail. This all felt like 2 minutes to me, but Saul said it was a LONG time. During this time, I said in no uncertain terms to Saul that this didn’t feel like a minor injury, and I needed to go straight to the major hospital in the capital. I didn’t look forward to a two-hour drive in this sort of pain, but I knew that if treatment was required, I wanted to be in a place where at least most of the universal precautions were observed, equipment and doctors were available, and cleanliness was important.
The onlookers and policeman finally decided, against Saul’s protests, to stop waiting on the ambulance and put me in the back of the policeman’s truck, to drive me about 15 minutes to the nearest public hospital.
I didn't have any control over my leg and couldn't do anything to keep it where it should be. I tried to explain in Spanish to the 10 people lifting me into the bed of the truck that someone had to support the leg and minimize the movement. Let’s just say they tried. Saul propped my backpack under the leg, sat behind me to give me somewhere to lean, and off we went. I heard him praying. I don’t remember much about the ride, except reminding Saul about 30 times that I didn't want to be treated at the public hospital. Yes, it’s practically free, but you definitely get what you pay for. The rest of the ride I fought not to pass out from the pain. I kept thanking God for the lives of all involved and asking His help to keep me conscious.
Pretty soon I was asking Him to help me pass out. I can’t describe this pain to you, except that neither of the births of my daughters compared--even Caroline’s where both of our lives were in danger and there were complications all over the place. This is pain beyond any other pain I’d ever thought I could survive.
So, we arrived at the hospital, and our protests fell on deaf ears. They insisted on giving us “first aid” before they’d send us to the other hospital. This didn't go over very well.
They began to scrub my road rash, which covered my hands, my shoulder, my elbows, and about half of my leg, including the place where the bone was obviously out of place. The red liquid felt like they’d poured gasoline on me and lit a match. I began to scream and Saul told the doctor we were leaving NOW. The doctor said he’d called an ambulance but it’d be a while, so they’d treat us while we waited.
I couldn't help writhing around and screaming with the continued scrubbing, and even though I insisted they stop, they had me fairly restrained and I couldn't do anything about it. They put an IV in my arm and told me it would have calming medicine in it. Saul and the doctor began to argue a bit strongly and he told the doctor that he wanted that very ambulance in the parking lot to come get us that instant. They continued a shouting match but Saul held his ground and in a few minutes the ambulance driver was wheeling me out on a table, into the back of a tiny ice-cream truck with a red cross painted on the side. About 30 people crowded around my rolling table, leaning over me and, I’m sure, snapping photos. They just love those cell phones here.
As we got into the ambulance, Saul mentioned that the nurse had offered him a pain injection, so I told the driver to wait and sent Saul back in for a shot. I was told later that the driver who hit us paid for our medicines. That’s how the public health system works here. The treatment is free, but any supplies and medicines have to be supplied by the patient. Thankfully, it’s all super cheap. I’m guessing the IV and the pain shot cost him about five bucks. As I thought about the little hospital we were leaving behind, I thanked God for the availability of a private hospital within the country.
While we waited for Saul to return, the ambulance driver told me he lives in our neighborhood, and that his sister lives in front of our house. Small world. I waited for a nurse or some medical person to come along in the back, but it turned out to just be Saul and me. He propped my jackets up around my leg to try to hold it in place, and then propped his foot against my jackets to give stability. I then saw the giant golfball-sized knot on his shin and the cuts and scrapes all over his legs. He’d insisted he was just fine at the scene of the wreck, but I could tell it was really painful for him to hold his foot there. I took a minute to thank God again for sending Saul to our family. Not only had he volunteered to drive me back and forth on the motorcycle for these three weeks so I wouldn’t have to cancel my Guarani class, but he was a perfectly selfless, Christian gentleman again, for the umpteenth time.
We got in touch with friends and asked if they’d go to Ken in person and explain what had happened. Taking into account his recent open-heart surgery, and the fact that we don’t have a car right now for him to drive to get to me, this seemed the only logical way to break the news to him. Ken called the Mortons, who jumped in their car to meet us at the hospital in Asuncion, while he made arrangements for a ride to the capital.
This ambulance ride was definitely one for the books. We took the long way to the hospital, avoiding the larger roads in favor of those that didn't have good pavement. I was bouncing all over the place. It was terribly hot, and the window wouldn't open (no A/C). Again I was fighting to stay conscious. The pain as I jumped all over this tiny table on wheels was just indescribable. My IV fell off its hook on one of the big bounces, and I told Saul to just leave it there because I didn’t want him to move away from propping my leg. He pointed to my arm and said, “I can’t!” My blood was backing up into the tube and getting close to the IV bag, so he shuffled around to get it back on its hook. Saul shouted to the driver several times that we’d rather arrive slowly, but as we got there, the driver beamed and announced that he’d gotten us there super fast. I just smiled and thanked him.
The emergency room staff whisked Saul off in a wheelchair while he insisted he was fine and didn't need anything. “Go! Go!” I kept saying, and they began looking at his wounds. I explained to those that came for me how I needed my leg stabilized, etc., etc. They made me slide off that table onto a stretcher, which just about did me in.
The next few hours were a blur of painful moving back and forth to various stretchers, getting torqued into crazy positions for x-rays and an MRI (with a machine that didn't want to work), and having my wounds cleaned again. I honestly thought I’d die a few of those times. Even now I can’t believe I stayed conscious for it all. Finally, someone read one of the x-rays and determined I’d broken my femur exactly where I said something was out of place, and that I should have the leg stabilized until surgery. THANK YOU!
The process of putting a temporary cast on was the absolute worst part of the day, with the nurses lifting my heel straight up in the air to extend my knee, while the doctor wrapped wet gunk around and around my leg. Sara said she knew I was beyond my limit when I stopped begging them to stop in Spanish and began to pray in English. It was awful. Just awful. I remember thanking God that this would be my worst memory of the day, and that I had no memory whatsoever of the impending impact or the actual wreck. No moment of panic. No huge fear. No noise of the crash or feel of flying through the air.
I eventually got admitted into a room, went in for surgery 12 hours after the wreck, and had a titanium pin and 7 screws put into my femur JUST above where it joins to make the knee joint. I had to thank God again, this time for keeping my joint from being involved. What a disaster that would have been!
The anesthesiologist informed me as they wheeled me into the operating room that they would not put me under, but that I’d be awake and aware the entire time. However, I fell asleep and only woke up a few times as they asked me to try to move my legs or to tell them my name. They said they’d just give me an epidural but keep me awake. My theory is that I was so exhausted from the pain, that when it was finally blocked out, I couldn't help but fall asleep. Thank God, they waited until I was out to clean the road rash and torn flesh more thoroughly, and I didn't have to endure that pain.
I came out, apparently talked with the nurses in Guarani, and then with my family and friends in Spanish. The ones waiting in the room were all Americans, but they said I refused to speak in English. Funny what a little anesthesia will do, huh? I’m told I made and received phone calls, too, including talking to my Mom and my brother. Really? I scared my girls and little Abi with my abrupt movements and slurred speech, so Sara and Shaun took them all back to their home and reassured them I’d be better the next day.
I still marvel that God spared my life, that I came out of this with no internal damage, and that Saul’s injuries were minor enough that he was alert and able to manage the events of the day. I made sure that I told each and every person I encountered that day, from the lady who ran to me on the side of the road to the medical staff to the surgeon to the onlookers, that I was so blessed that God let me live and keep my leg. There were so many opportunities to remind myself that He’s just an incredible God. I’m thankful for those that came to help us, for those that called or texted, and for all who prayed. There’s so much more to say, but I’m thinking this blog is way too long already… More later!