The Day That CHANGED MY LIFE

JUNE HOO was 34 and a mum of two young chil­dren, when a hor­rific road ac­ci­dent in the US left her a quad­ri­plegic. She re­counts the de­tails of the crash and how she fought for her life in hos­pi­tal.

Simply Her (Singapore) - - Beauty News -

I t was 1996 when a car ac­ci­dent in the United States, where I was based, changed my life for­ever. Within a few mo­ments, I went from be­ing a fiercely in­de­pen­dent woman with a promis­ing ca­reer in cor­po­rate com­mu­ni­ca­tions at a multi­na­tional com­pany to a bro­ken, in­con­ti­nent body re­liant on the peo­ple around me for my ev­ery need.

I was mar­ried at the time with two chil­dren aged three and one. For six months fol­low­ing the ac­ci­dent, I qui­etly en­dured the pain of not see­ing and hold­ing my pre­cious kids – ex­cept on two brief oc­ca­sions – while un­der­go­ing re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion in hos­pi­tal.

A Day Not So Or­di­nary

My rec­ol­lec­tion of the car ac­ci­dent is patchy af­ter spend­ing most of that dread­ful day drift­ing in and out of con­scious­ness. But I re­mem­ber vividly my brief time with my fam­ily be­fore driv­ing off in the rental car that ended up over­turned on the high­way.

I was cov­er­ing the du­ties of a col­league who was go­ing on ma­ter­nity leave and was driv­ing to my em­ployer’s man­u­fac­tur­ing plant in Sar­nia, Canada, to be­gin the han­dover. Here’s how the night­mare be­gan. “Mum, wait!” screamed my three­year-old daugh­ter as she bounded down the stairs af­ter me. I re­mem­ber that she was wear­ing her navy blue sailor top paired with white pedal push­ers I had picked up re­cently on a work­ing visit to Hong Kong. “I thought we were go­ing to make pan­cakes,” she wailed.

“Not to­day, Sa­man­tha,” I said as I stopped to hug her. “We’ll make pan­cakes tomorrow.”

“Prom­ise?” asked my daugh­ter as she loos­ened her grip around my neck. “Yes, prom­ise,” I said, not know­ing at the time that I was mak­ing a com­mit­ment I could not keep.

I headed out of the house to the rental car I had parked overnight on the drive­way. It was end-June, the start of sum­mer in Michi­gan when days are warm and nights cool. I

no­ticed that the warmth from the early-morn­ing sun had caused beads of con­den­sa­tion to form on the cold wind­shield. So I went back in­side the house for pa­per tow­els to wipe it off.

By then, my hus­band Sam was in the kitchen pre­par­ing for­mula milk for our one-year-old son, Jonathan. Af­ter find­ing what I needed, I said good­bye to the fam­ily and walked back out to the car.

That was the very last time I walked.

The drive from our home across the US-Cana­dian bor­der to Sar­nia would take about two hours. I was ea­ger to get the trip over with so I could spend the weekend with my fam­ily.

A Life For­ever Changed

Traf­fic was light as I cruised along the high­way. But about 40 min­utes into the drive, I heard a loud bang from the back of the car – but no one had hit me from be­hind.

It was then I re­alised the steer­ing wheel was no longer re­spond­ing; it felt like it had be­come dis­con­nected. In­stinc­tively, I tried to bring the car to a stop. I re­mem­ber fran­ti­cally step­ping on the brakes. That, investigators said later, prob­a­bly caused the car to som­er­sault across three or four lanes. Eye­wit­nesses said the car flipped three times be­fore land­ing up­side down on a field to the right of the high­way.

I was knocked un­con­scious dur­ing those few mo­ments. I’m thank­ful that I passed out, be­cause it spared me the horror and help­less­ness of be­ing trapped in a run­away car hurtling through the air. There was no time for panic or fear.

I came to when the car was in its last flip just be­fore crash­ing to the ground – roof first. I heard the sound of shat­ter­ing glass, then si­lence. I felt blood run­ning down my nose.

I can’t die – that was my first thought. I have two young chil­dren wait­ing for me at home, I said to my­self.

I wasn’t in pain, but I couldn’t move and stayed strapped into the driver’s seat, hang­ing up­side down.

To this day, no one knows for sure what caused the ac­ci­dent. I did not lose con­trol of the car. Nei­ther was I drink-driv­ing nor speed­ing.

Investigators sus­pected a tyre blowout but de­cided there was pos­si­bly some­thing wrong with the ve­hi­cle. They told me that the cus­tomer who had the rental car be­fore me had re­turned the car early, com­plain­ing that it did not drive well. Soon af­ter the car landed on its roof, a good Sa­mar­i­tan pass­ing the scene of the ac­ci­dent was by my side, talk­ing to me: “What’s your name? Where are you from? Where do you live? Don’t go to sleep. Don’t go to sleep.” I am grate­ful for his keep­ing me talk­ing and awake – that, ap­par­ently, is cru­cial in keep­ing the se­ri­ously in­jured alive.

A short while later, I heard the sound of res­cue work­ers smash­ing glass. “We’ve got you,” some­one shouted. I felt my­self be­ing pulled from the car seat, but some­thing was hold­ing me in place. “Cut the seat belt! She is still strapped in!”

Af­ter that, I was pulled from the wreck­age and placed on a stretcher. I felt some­one place a splint around my neck. But why did my legs feel like they were sus­pended in the air? I won­dered.

I passed out af­ter that. When I came to, I was in the emer­gency depart­ment at Hur­ley Med­i­cal Center in Flint, Michi­gan, about an hour’s drive from our home. I heard some­body ask­ing for a so­cial worker to help my hus­band. Then I felt some­one snip­ping the top of my pantsuit be­fore plac­ing the cold blades of the scis­sors be­tween my breasts and cut­ting my bra in half.

I blacked out again, and the next time I woke up, I was in the ra­di­ol­ogy depart­ment. “Can you lift your arms above your head?” I could barely move so the ra­dio­g­ra­pher helped to po­si­tion my limbs to do an X-ray. I felt such ex­cru­ci­at­ing pain that I let out a cry, and passed out again.

I woke up next in a dimly lit room in the in­ten­sive-care unit. I no­ticed that my left arm was in a plas­ter cast. I tried to turn and re­alised I could not move any part of my body.

Mak­ing Sense, Mak­ing Plans

My mind blank, I lay there un­til a doc­tor walked in with my hus­band. He ex­plained that I had frac­tured my spine, which was caus­ing the paral­y­sis in my arms and legs. He also told me my pelvic bone was bro­ken. My hus­band asked if I would be able to stand. The doc­tor said that de­pended on whether I could bear weight.

It struck me then that I was go­ing to be in the hos­pi­tal for a while and I be­gan to worry about my chil­dren. My hus­band as­sured me they were be­ing taken care of. I then asked if he had in­formed my par­ents, who live in Malaysia, of the ac­ci­dent. Ner­vously, he an­swered: “No.”

“Please call my par­ents,” I be­seeched him. My mum flew in with my brother and sis­ter-in-law; Sam’s par­ents also came. My aunt and un­cle, who live in Canada, drove to Michi­gan too. The doc­tors hud­dled with my fam­ily and rec­om­mended surgery to sta­bilise my frac­tured spine.

To help me hold up my head as well as pre­vent fur­ther neu­ro­log­i­cal dam­age, they fit­ted me tem­po­rar­ily with a halo – a metal ring at­tached to the head with pins drilled into the skull and held in place by four ver­ti­cal bars fas­tened to a vest.

My breath­ing was shal­low as a re­sult of the spinal in­jury, and the doc­tors rec­om­mended a tra­cheostomy. This in­volved cre­at­ing an open­ing through my neck into the wind­pipe and in­sert­ing a catheter hooked up to a res­pi­ra­tor to help me breathe.

I was ea­ger for the surgery to pro­ceed. I was hope­ful that by let­ting the doc­tors do what they rec­om­mended, I would soon be go­ing home to my chil­dren and re­sum­ing my life.

My mum had urged me from the day she ar­rived to get bet­ter and get up. I knew how much it hurt her to see my man­gled body, ly­ing im­mo­bile in that hos­pi­tal room. Yet, she kept her spir­its up through­out her month-long stay in Michi­gan and cheered me on daily when she vis­ited me.

I was de­ter­mined not to dis­ap­point her. I told my­self to take it a day at a time. My im­me­di­ate goal was set­ting aside the huge un­known ahead of me and let­ting the doc­tors fix my neck so they could put me on the road to re­cov­ery.

Cop­ing with More Tri­als

Af­ter what I had been through, I lulled my­self into think­ing I would be spared more of life’s tri­als, but that was not to be.

Some peo­ple who know me have de­scribed my life as a tragedy. I agree it has been far from rosy, but I’m not giv­ing up the fight any time soon.

Look out for the next in­stal­ment of June’s per­sonal story of sur­vival in Sim­ply Her’s Fe­bru­ary is­sue, where she shares more about her ex­tra­or­di­nary strug­gle.

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