May 2nd used to be just another day, until that Tuesday in 2006. On that day, around 8 o’clock in the morning, my red Ford Mustang collided head on with an 18 wheeler. The memory of that day and that phone call still causes distressing flashbacks for my family but it is a day I have no memory of at all. I have no idea what happened to me that morning and caused me to cross center at the exact time a massive 18-wheeler was passing by. I was working as a peds nurse at the hospital at the time and was on my way home from a 12 hour night shift so many believe I must have fallen asleep. But since I have no recollection, we will never know for sure.
Even though a part of me wishes I knew what happened, I still view it as a blessing that I don’t remember. My body was so badly injured that I can only imagine how traumatized I would be if those visual images were still stuck in my head. Fortunately, all I know is what I was told: There were bones sticking out of my legs and there was a lot of blood loss. My car was on fire at one point. The road was closed for 2 hours due to the rescue efforts and clean up needed at the scene. The front end of the car was crushed pinning me in my driver’s seat. I had to be cut out of the car. One lung was collapsed. My blood pressure dropped to almost nothing as teams of medical personnel worked to keep me alive along the helicopter trip to Duke Hospital. I woke up a week later in intensive care attached to a breathing tube, a feeding tube, a chest tube, abdomen cut from top to bottom, jaw wired shut, unable to speak or move my extremities. I was a total mess. Many physicians have told me I was lucky to be alive. But I know there was a lot more than good luck going on that day.
There was the will of God, using the right people, with the right skills, at the right time, making the right decisions, to keep me alive. I have never met those people – the first responders, EMTs, firefighters, flight team, ER personnel, nurses, and doctors who God essentially used to save my life. I only know that I am eternally grateful for how hard they must have worked and fought that day to help my broken body.
It has been 10 years now since that accident that nearly took my life. The first 5 years following that day were spent working through a lot of physical pain, recovering, and rebuilding my sense of a new normal life. So much of my life seemed to revolve around the recurrent issues caused by those injuries and the need for more surgery and more therapy. It seemed like a journey that would never end. I grieved the loss of who I might have been if that moment hadn’t completely flipped our newlywed world upside down. But at the same time praised God for how he protected me and used that experience to teach me things I would have never known otherwise.
I learned how deeply my husband (of only 10 months at the time of the accident!) loved me and how committed he was to sticking by and taking care of me no matter how unattractive the circumstances.
I learned how blessed I was to have such a strong support system. My parents, sister, aunts, uncles, cousins, in-laws, and friends were by my side through it all. They provided laughter, encouragement, unconditional love, and support and never ceased to help provide whatever Nathan and I needed.
I learned that there are times when you are hit so hard that you can’t even pray. When that happens, and all you are doing is trying to survive, you let others intercede for you.
I learned that sometimes you have to let others help. Even though my nature tells me otherwise, and I prefer to do things on my own, I realized that people who love you WANT to help and they actually need to be able to do that for you.
I learned to appreciate the small things in life. When you lose so much of your ability to function and then you gain it back again, you develop a new gratitude towards every little thing.
I learned that I am strong and have a fierce fighting side that is determined to overcome hardship. I never really knew that about myself before this experience. But I also learned that my strength and resilience are God given qualities that equipped me to fight and endure that battle.
I learned that happiness is a choice. Your attitude about a situation determines how you feel. The saying, “when life hands you lemons, make lemonade” kind of sums it up. I was handed a pretty rotten lemon, and experienced life flat on my back. My independent self had my independence completely ripped away from me for a long time. The pain was hard and it was long lived. But a positive attitude, determination, and my undying faith in God, served me well and protected my heart. Despite how hard it was, I have many fond and happy memories from my recovery. I still laughed and felt great joy even through those wheelchair bound days. I have never felt so loved or cared for in my life. And I have also never felt God’s love or His presence so strongly in my life.
Most importantly, I learned that my faith and my relationship with Jesus Christ is the most crucial aspect of my life. It is with Him and by Him, that I can withstand the hardest of times. And it is because of my faith that I can look ahead to the future with hope and not fear. I know He helped me along each step of my recovery following that horrific car accident. He guided my steps, He helped me overcome, He healed my brokenness, and He molded me into a better person. His promises also reminded me that I would be ok and that His plan for my life would prevail.
In 2007, just a year after the accident, I started graduate school. In 2009, I graduated with my Masters Degree in Nursing. In 2010, I started my first PNP job, went on my first mission’s trip, and got pregnant with my first child. The chronic effects of the accident still plagued me and left big questions in our minds of “what if” and “will I be able to”. But slowly the pain subsided, the physical therapy ended, and the memories of the events following the accident fell away.
And then began the last 5 years following the accident. In 2011, just 2 months shy of the 5 year anniversary, our daughter was born. And just 2 weeks later, a new chapter of our lives began. Her CF diagnosis came flying out of nowhere, just like that tractor trailer that slammed into my driver seat just 5 years before. My suffering was no longer physical. My body had finally healed. This new hurt was different. Much different. It was something I couldn’t control. And it was threatening my most precious possession and the greatest love I had ever known.
The healing process has been ongoing this time. But still, I feel God’s presence and I feel Him reminding me that this will be ok too. What I went through in the 5 years following my accident prepared me for the road ahead grieving, accepting, and persevering through this journey as a mother to 2 children with a life-long incurable disease.
But as I learned before, happiness is a choice. I can choose to sit around and feel sorry for our circumstances or I can approach life with a happy and grateful heart. I can choose to be in a constant state of dread and fear or I can put my hope in the Lord and believe that His words are true when He says,
“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” (Jeremiah 29:11)
“So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” Isaiah 41:10
Today, I am celebrating the past 10 years. Some may read this and think, that sounds crazy considering the suffering my husband and I have been through. But I am honest when I say that these have been the best 10 years of my life. I am thankful for every single thing I endured following my accident. I am glad I experienced that loss of independence and was able to see life in a whole new light. I realize that I have been through some heavy stuff but I do not want people feeling sorry for me. I am an incredibly happy and grateful person who has been blessed beyond measure. I have two amazing little girls that are so full of joy and they make me appreciate life even more. My loving husband is still by my side. My parents are healthy, my sister is one of my best friends, and my support system is still as strong as ever. But above all, my God is still great and my faith will forever be secure in Him.