a year ago today.

September 17, 2010

can i tell you a story?

it’s a pretty good story.

a year ago today, i was in a car accident that resulted in the loss of two fingers on my left hand. (this of course is not the good part of the story, but all good stories must have some sort of conflict.) a year ago today, i was running late and got in my van and crossed a busy street. a year ago today, i didn’t see him coming. a year ago today i found myself being carried out of a broken car window. a year ago today i was waiting for an ambulance on a curb shouting out to God.

this was thursday, september 17th, 2009 around 6pm, around 15th and wedgewood.

yesterday, thursday around 2:30, i was dancing in my room trying to loosen up after i accidentally locked myself out of my apartment while taking out the trash. me, being the athletic champion that i am, fell on my left arm, spraining my elbow. i had to go to class, but about an hour later, i could no longer straighten my arm or bend it very far due to swelling. my pain level was pretty high, and everything was feeling pretty ironic. i was worried that i had fractured something, because i’ve never broken a bone, and around 6:00, i found myself contemplating the E.R.

now you can imagine why this might be a problem for me. (by the way, it is extremely ridiculous that this happened to me, and it’s okay to laugh!) but at the time, it wasn’t feeling very funny. amazingly enough, someone from belmont’s athletic training center was available to check out my arm. after finding the center, there just so happened to be a doctor from vanderbilt hospital in the office at belmont. this doctor also happened to know my wonderful surgeon. after examining my arm, he confirmed that i had only sprained it, and now i’m on ice and anti-inflamitories.

so the moral of this story?

well, me being me, i fell on my left arm on the eve of my wreck anniversary. God took the opportunity to remind me, “hey, remember how you are weak and I am strong?” then i was able to avoid the E.R. “hey kristen? remember how I provide for you?”

after twelve months, it can be really easy to forget what it is like to be physically in need, but that was a good portion of my year. so many of my loved ones encouraged me to look on this day with celebration. it is good to remember how far i’ve come.

i’ve waited for this day all year, and it has been quite a year. it has been amazing to see how the events of this past year are lining up in different ways this week. i can say that i am relieved, and extremely thankful. i am overwhelmed by the support, love, and prayers that have been showered in my direction. you all mean so much to me, and even if we do not know each other, thank you for the honor of having you read my story. stick around! i have a feeling that God is only getting warmed up.

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two months.

November 20, 2009

two days ago marked two months since the day of my accident. people have asked me if the time has flown by. in a way it has, but it also seems like that day was so long ago. isn’t that how it always is? time does seem to move a lot faster when life isn’t all consumed the way mine used to be. i feel like a kid on summer vacation. yet so much has happened in the past two months, i feel like that day was a year ago. i guess it is good to report that my days are not dragging along. but the 17th of the month always seems a little longer.

the past month has thankfully been a little quieter. more physical therapy, no surgery. it’s strange looking back on the challenges from the past two months. the day of my wreck. losing one finger. the week at the hospital. living with my hand attached to my hip. losing another finger. going home to heal. getting acquainted with a new hand. teaching that new hand old tricks…and those are only physical challenges. there have been several mornings i have woke up to look at my hand, only to realize that my fingers are not coming back, and the challenges are not going away. when i dream, i have two whole, healthy hands. i guess there’s a part of me that is under the impression that my body is just going through a phase, like a fractured wrist, and i will heal and go back to the way things were.

i’m slowly learning to see my hand as my hand. i know one day it will feel natural and all, but i also know i’ll look back on this moment and be glad i left it behind. the past two months have been a sequence of events i never want to live again. i never want to go back to the days i had my flap. i never want to go back to the day i saw my hand in the mirror for the first time. i’m sure i will not want to go back to this moment, but i’ve learned we must live in the difficult moments we are in until we can look back and see how far we’ve come.

playing left-handed.

November 8, 2009

i’ve really been struggling with the loss of my music lately. now that i’m over the largest part of my immediate health struggle, i ache to do things i cannot.

my right hand doesn’t understand. i was listening to a new song by jason reeves with a beautiful guitar picking line. all i wanted to do at that moment was grab my guitar and pick the strings. (jason has this effect…check him out if you’re unfamiliar.) i miss playing my music. i took it for granted before all of this happened. it’s strange. i was never a singer-songwriter who constantly lived their instrument. it was my passion but it wasn’t ever something that i couldn’t go a while without. i could always go to it, and it would still be there. i rarely picked up my guitar just to play it. now it’s all i want to do.

for those of you who do not know, a wonderful friend blessed me with a left-handed guitar three days after my accident, while i was in the hospital. it has given me a lot of hope for my playing, but it frustrates me to know i will have to start over again after seven or so years of playing right-handed. the callouses that had formed on the fingertips of my left hand have softened to new skin. my right hand struggles to remember the form of the simplest chords. i wonder if i will get the fast-twitch muscle memory back in my left hand so i can pick the strings the way i used to.

i’ve been reading about other guitarists who suffer from hand disabilities and i came across an article on a guitarist with focal dystonia. apparently his ring and little finger are frozen, curled inward, without function. he switched to left-handed guitar, which is apparently about as easy as, ‘trying to breathe through your feet.’ i think this is hilarious, haha! but i am encouraged from the article. the man says you have to be willing to sound awful. this is huge for me, because i often get frustrated when i’m not picking up a skill immediately. (for my fellow music majors – case in point: ear training.) but i think this is good advice, especially for me. one thing that assures me is my constant desire to play now. i think it will get the guitar in my hands until it works. i hope it does…please pray for my patience.

moving forward.

November 5, 2009

i am happy to report i am healing very well. much has changed since my last post. i’m sorry it has been so long…see now how much i procrastinated as a student?

my last post (three weeks ago) had me in a soft cast the week after my second amputation. the soft cast served to keep my hand immobilized to protect my new skin graft. i went back down to vanderbilt on october 20th for my post op. they removed the cast, revealing my new hand to me for the first time. the medical technician told me i handled the situation better than ninety percent of his patients. this may be true, but after dealing with a groin flap every night for two and a half weeks, i feel like i’ve seen it all. and there is a lot of truth there. i had been preparing for that day for a long time. in all honesty, the most prominent emotion i was feeling at that moment was relief. my skin graft looked healthy. i was done with surgery for a while. i made the right decision for stage #6. i could move on.

one particular new struggle of the day was the ‘go go go’ my surgeon kept speaking of. translation: physical therapy. my middle and ring finger had essentially been immobilized for a month. they were stuck in a slightly bent curve. i could neither extend nor touch my thumb to my finger tips. my surgeon prescribed six weeks of PT, three times a week. fortunately i have been able to carry out the doctor’s orders here in columbus.

two weeks later i am not only touching my fingertips with my thumb but i am also gripping things, such as: a glass of water, my contact case, my hair (to tie it back), etc. this has been one of my greatest victories. it has been a challenge to be so completely one-handed. i’ve gotten extremely creative. i use the crook of my left elbow to grip bottles while my right hand twists off the cap. if that doesn’t work, i’ll try squeezing it between my knees or feet. haha! i have become much more independent, which is particularly exciting for me. although, the forced dependance i have endured this past month and a half has probably been a once in a lifetime experience.

i spent the entire past week in nashville as my roommate’s guest so i could sing with session and chorale in their fall concerts. (if you are not belmont savvy, session is an all women’s a cappella group that arranges all of their own music…we also happen to be amazing. chorale is a classical mixed ensemble. also amazing.) both groups have been so generous to keep me involved and it was so wonderful to be on stage again making music. it was a little strange being back at first. i had been separated from the campus for so long, i felt like a high school senior on a college visit. however, everyone was so welcoming and i am so blessed to be a part of such a wonderful place.

i still have a long way to go. the grip i have is often too weak. i still cannot make a fist. i still cannot straighten my fingers. but physical therapy has been going extremely well and i am eager to see how i will progress. in addition to soreness in my stiff fingers, i have been struggling from phantom pains (pain in my amputated fingers despite their absence.) it’s a very strange sensation, but overall my pain has been very tollerable. the spreading incision line i complained of in my last post is almost completely healed. all of my stitches have been removed and all the scabbing is gone. i still have some bandaging, but i have come so far. each new menial task i am able to complete on my own is a huge victory.

again, i am so grateful for the continual prayers.

it’s okay.

October 15, 2009

this morning i woke up to get the dressing changed on my graft site (which happens to be right underneath my flap incision…also in need of gauze and tape). my incision line is splitting. it’s not bleeding, but scar tissue is visible. common sense told my parents and i splitting incision lines weren’t good, so we took a few photos and sent them to my surgeon. i laid in bed all day waiting to hear back from him, worried i would split in two. i did absolutely nothing all day. well, i watched cory and topanga get married on youtube, but i did nothing. turns out, when someone gets this much of a nip and tuck, splitting incision lines are normal…a part of the healing process.

crazy isn’t it? somehow, the exact opposite of what i thought was healing for my body…is okay.

two days from now marks one month since the accident. i’m not really sure where i am. some days i am great. some days i am not. some days i’m going to wake up feeling pulled together. some days i’m going to feel ripped apart. i’ve come to learn that nothing in this healing process is certain. i went through a groin flap procedure and all i have to show for it is a splitting scar on my body. however, because the flap failed, i may gain more function in my hand. i have no idea how splitting equals healing. we’ll see.

sometimes the exact opposite of what we think we need…is okay.

six stages.

October 11, 2009

my next entry was going to be an account of my week at the hospital after the accident. i was at the hospital for an exact week (september 17th-24th) and i may or may not still post some sort of an account; however, i have had six surgeries since the accident and far too much has changed within the past two. therefore, the priority now lies in updating this blog fully so that my current situation can be known. i have dubbed each surgery as a “stage” in this healing process. for example, surgery #1 was “stage #1,” and so forth. to catch you all up to speed on what has happened to me within the past three weeks, i will give my account based off of each stage…

stage #1 – my first surgery after i made it to the ER the night of the accident (september 17th). after a CAT scan, some x-rays, and a phone call to my parents i was put under for an irrigational procedure and an amputation. my little finger was beyond saving. it was so mangled it wasn’t even a finger anymore. that night he amputated my little finger and spent most of six hours cleaning my hand of any debris from the accident. also, he did a minor skin graft with the original skin from the back of my hand. the skin had been pushed back. he reset the skin in hopes that it would save itself.

stage #2 – my second morning at the hospital (september 19th). the skin from the back of my hand was successfully grafted. my surgeon re-irrigated my hand, clearing out the last of the debris, and observed my index finger to determine a course of action to try and save it. my index finger had been stripped of all skin and tissue down to the bone below my finger tip. my finger tip and finger nail remained intact, but was only being fed by one artery. a simple skin graft would not create a finger after all the tissue had been lost…the skin would have nothing to attach to. this surgery helped determine stage #3.

stage #3 – my third morning at the hospital (september 20th). my surgeon performed a “groin flap” procedure to try and save my index finger. basically, he cut and peeled back a long flap of skin and fatty tissue from my hip above my left leg and laid it over and around my index finger. the “flap” remained attached to my body at one end while my index finger pointed into the other. yes, it is a very strange procedure. and yes, my hand was attached to my body through a tube of skin. the idea, was for the tissue and skin to grow around my finger, forming (and later to become) my new finger. because the flap was attached to my body through this process, it remained alive. and i was to remain uncomfortable for two and a half weeks until the flap could be detached and shaped. (the flap would be swollen and shapeless. my finger would endure more surgery before it would look anything like a finger again.) in addition to forming the flap on my finger, my surgeon also performed a nerve and tendon transplant. because my little finger had been lost, he was able to take from that area of my hand to give to my index finger. i left the hospital on september 24th, headed home to indiana, to wait out the two and a half weeks that had to happen before stage #4. it was uncomfortable to have my hand tied down to my side, but i managed to find ways to arrange pillows around me to fit a level of comfort. at night, my mom would help me get through a shower and my dad would redress my hand. redressing was an arduous process. the seepage from the tissue in the flap gave off a horrible smell and the flap got weaker every night. however, my dad did a phenomenal job with my bandages and i don’t know what i would have done without my wonderful parents in all of this.

stage #4 – my separation, out-patient at the surgery center (october 7th). after two and a half weeks i was busting down the doors of the surgery center, eager to get my hand separated from my side. in all honesty, the flap wasn’t going to remain attached to my body for much longer. the point of connection to my body grew weaker everyday. i have never been more excited to go under the knife. the separation went really well. my surgeon cut away all the excess tissue and sewed up my side where the flap had been. he was pleased to see “back flow” in my finger, meaning my hand was now feeding the flap with blood rather than my side. later, i would undergo two procedures to take away extra tissue and make the flap look more like an index finger. he did find that some of the flap, acting as a skin graft for the back of my hand, did not survive. also, my index finger had a dislocated joint due to tendon loss. he scraped away the dead skin on the back of my hand and suggested we come back in two days for a skin graft and a pin to be put in my finger for the joint.

stage #5 – the graft and pin at vanderbilt med. (october 9th). i went under for a skin graft on top of my hand and a pin for my dislocated joint. at this point, i was eager to be done with surgery for a while. i have plenty of IV scars on the top of my hand to prove it. about thirty minutes into the surgery, my surgeon left the OR to talk to my parents in the waiting room. the flap we had nursed for two and a half weeks was not going to make it. it didn’t have enough blood supply to keep it alive. he did not find any infection in the flap, but it was clear the procedure had been unsuccessful. he removed the flap and i awoke from surgery finding myself back where i started on september 17th. it was devastating. we had been so hopeful and we had worked so hard, with only a long scar (stretching around the side of my body) to show for it. i had two options…both of them sucked. option #1: i could try another flap, except this time take it from my waist. there was a chance this flap would fail as well, even during the shaping procedures (which could be up to six months in the making). option #2: i could have my index finger amputated, leaving my left hand with a thumb, a middle, and a ring finger. i had the 9th and the 10th to deliberate over my options. i chose option #2 – amputation. option #1 was a gamble without a very decent prize. had that flap been successful, i would gain an index finger, but its only function would be to take up space on my hand. the only benefit was appearance. i would have little to no function in the finger (due to the dislocated joint). additionally, my other two fingers (middle and ring) would have to wait on the flap procedure’s success before they could start rehabilitation. the longer the wait before movement is encouraged the more movement is lost. essentially, option #1 gave me an index finger, but those three fingers would have limited function. option #2 (amputation) gave me function. once my index finger would be out of the way, i would be able to start rehabilitating my fingers, improving the chances of complete function. it made sense and i had a lot of peace about it. i didn’t want to lose my index finger, but in reality, i lost my finger on september 17th. i don’t think i gave up on my finger, we tried really hard with the first flap. i’ve come to accept it all now. with my index finger gone, i can move forward and move on with my life. and maybe, i’ll grip a guitar pick again. i chose function over appearance and this morning, i moved on to stage #6.

stage #6 – amputation, my third morning at vanderbilt (today, october 11th). i don’t have an index finger anymore. my parents and i deliberated all day yesterday at the hospital. i’ve never been so sure of anything in my whole life. i’m ready to move on. my surgeon amputated my index finger and took a skin graft from my thigh for the top of my hand. i’m done with the OR for a while. he sent me home. i’ll go back to the hand clinic on the 20th for a post op check, but for now…all i have to do is heal.

thank you all for your continual prayers. i know this post has been a long time coming. i get behind and one handed typing is a slow process. i intend to keep my posts up to date from now on so you all can follow my progress better. most importantly, i apologize. such news should not be discovered for the first time from a blog; however, this is a much easier way for me to communicate this particular story and there was a lot to say. again, thank you for your prayers. more to come soon!

the accident.

September 28, 2009

sophomore year was so good. it was a lot of good and often too much good to maintain any level of sanity…but it was good. i had a lot of commitments, but each one was important to me. for those of you who do not know, i was attending ten hours of ensemble rehearsals each week. all of which added up to one hour of credit out of my seventeen. i was actively participating in my church’s events along with various requirements from the school of music, being a spiritual life assistant to over ninety specific freshman girls through university ministries, being involved in the belmont university songwriter’s association, and attempting to maintain somewhat of a social life. these activities plus practicing, homework, preparing for seminar performances, etc. kept me going a thousand miles per hour every day between 7am to 1am and i found myself struggling to maintain the pace.

the week before my accident was particularly exhausting. thursday, september 17th, i was on my way to an off campus assignment after classes. i remember climbing the steps of the parking garage thinking to myself, ‘kristen, you are so stressed.’ i rarely allow myself to get to this point. i always try to keep the insanity at bay. i’m a bit of a control freak…so it was at this point that i was admitting to myself that i was losing it. i was late. i found myself in my 1995 blue astro van at 15th and wedgewood trying to find a way across traffic to 15th avenue (traveling north) on the other side. there is something about nashville traffic (especially rush hour, which seems to run from 4:30 to 7:30) and this particular intersection that had me getting more and more anxious.

for those of you who are not familiar with this intersection, 15th is a small two way street and wedgewood is a heavily trafficked two way street with two lanes per direction. the street dips into a valley at 15th and it is often difficult to see when traffic is coming over both hills. traffic on wedgewood was trying to turn left from both directions onto 15th. in nashville, if you’re driving in the left lane and you get stuck behind a left turner, you’re stuck. nashville drivers in the right lane never let the left laners over. thus, i watched as traffic began to pile up behind both left turners. somehow, the left turner turning north was able to go and the traffic headed east behind him cleared out enough so that the left turner turning south was able to go. by the time the south turner was making his turn, the left lane traffic that had filed behind him had cleared. he was making the turn, which means that traffic traveling east was clear. i looked quickly to see how much traffic was traveling west and only saw a couple of cars back far enough that i thought i could make it. it wasn’t an irrational driving choice, but a risky one. while the south turner was turning i moved with him driving straight across quickly, so i could get off the road and out of the way. by the time i made it to the fourth lane, a truck smacked into my passenger side.

where the van was hit on the passenger side.

the truck had the right-of-way. i don’t know if i just didn’t see him in the blind spot of the south turner or if he was just moving faster than i had anticipated, but i got in his way before he had time to react. he didn’t even get to honk his horn. i saw him a split second before we collided in my peripheral vision and thought that we both still had time to swerve out of the way; however, that was not the case. the force of the collision knocked my huge boxy van to the driver’s side as my original motion took me into 15th avenue. thankfully, no one was traveling south on 15th avenue at that moment and there were no cars parallel parked on that curb. once the van was knocked on its side, the windows broke. i don’t know how my left hand ended up out the window. some have theorized that i was trying to catch myself and others have said that my body was thrown in that direction. i had my seatbelt on; a nonnegotiable for me. it may have saved me from going out the window completely. as the van skidded along my left hand grated, for a moment, against the ground.

somehow, by the grace of God, my vehicle ended up on all four wheels at the end of its motion. i originally thought that the vehicle had traveled up onto the lawn of the first house enough to tip it back over, but the lawn didn’t have a steep enough hill and the curb was small. i’d like to think God’s hand uprighted my van again. all laws of physics would have kept the van on its side. it was a miracle. i was not trapped inside a turned ton of metal.

when the motion had ceased, i looked down at my hand. it was crumpled, bruised-grey, and bleeding a little. (this is the part where comic relief takes place). my first reaction upon seeing my hand was to hold my hand out the window to keep blood from dripping on my good jeans. it didn’t take long before i realized how stupid that was and the condition i was in. i pulled my hand in and started to call for help. a good handful of people from the residential area heard the crash of metal and came out to see what was going on. the landlord if the house i was in front of came to me first.

amazingly enough, my engine was still running. the landlord, kelly, told me to turn my engine off and asked me if i could unbuckle my seatbelt and get over to where he was at the passenger door. he took me over his shoulder and helped me sit down on the curb. i was amazingly lucid and never fainted. kelly took the shirt off his back and wrapped my hand in it. he knelt beside me and held my hand up to encourage the bleeding to slow. i am forever indebted to the care and love he showed me. he wouldn’t have even been there that day, but the tenants of the house there called him about a leak in the roof. God was so in this. a woman named debbie was also there to hold my right hand. she was a nurse and was able to check my neck for any damage and ask me questions to keep my mind off of my injury. others were making phone calls and retrieving items from my vehicle. my laptop was lying in the passenger seat and survived without a scratch. it wasn’t long and the ambulance was taking me to vanderbilt on a stretcher.

the truck that hit me busted up the front grill and headlights. apparently the vehicle was pretty new. fortunately, both the driver and his son weren’t injured. i’m so thankful that no one else was hurt in all this. also, it is a miracle that i was not hurt any more than i was…but i’ll touch on that more in another post.

once we made it to the E.R., i was given a social worker for my case who was able to contact my roommate and my parents. i’ll explain more about the hospital stay in my next entry, but i will conclude by saying that through this whole experience, God was by my side. and for the first time, i gave Him control over my very out of control life. thank you all for your prayers and support. my life has come to a complete stop. i knew it would never be the same when i saw my hand for the first time. i cannot thank you all enough for your love. you have made this time of healing much easier and i know that God has a lot in mind for me in the coming days.