FIND­ING HOPE

JUNE HOO faced a long road to re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion af­ter a car ac­ci­dent in the US. Here, she re­counts her bat­tle with de­pres­sion and how her care­givers gave her hope.

Simply Her (Singapore) - - Help Your Hubby -

Ibecame a quad­ri­plegic af­ter frac­tur­ing my spine in a car ac­ci­dent in 1996. I was 34 at the time, mar­ried with two chil­dren aged three and one, and em­ployed at the Amer­i­can head­quar­ters of a multi­na­tional cor­po­ra­tion. Af­ter res­cuers pulled me from the wreck­age, I spent three weeks fight­ing for my life in a Michi­gan hospi­tal.

In the fourth week fol­low­ing the hor­rific crash, the med­i­cal team deemed my con­di­tion sta­ble enough for stepped-down care, and I was trans­ferred to Craig Hospi­tal in Denver, Colorado, a renowned re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion fa­cil­ity ded­i­cated to help­ing pa­tients with spinal cord and trau­matic brain in­juries re­gain func­tional in­de­pen­dence.

Panic At­tack

The morn­ing of the trans­fer, I was up­beat when the air am­bu­lance crew ar­rived. I was to fly on a Lear­jet to Denver, three hours away. But the cheer­i­ness dis­si­pated when my stretcher was slid into place on top of a plat­form flush with one side of the jet. My face and body were within 5cm of the over­head bin. I stiff­ened, and felt un­able to breathe. I closed my eyes and kept them tightly shut to deny the re­al­ity of be­ing con­fined in that tight space.

My hus­band ac­com­pa­nied me on the flight, which felt like for­ever to me. He and the crew kept up a ban­ter that I re­fused to join. They thought I was sound asleep. I was in fact try­ing to keep com­pletely still so I wouldn’t suc­cumb to a panic at­tack.

A Rocky Start

The ef­fect of the claus­tro­pho­bia-in­duc­ing flight man­i­fested it­self at Craig. I was de­liv­ered to a two-bed­der room, where a cur­tain sep­a­rated the beds – mine was closer to the door. All was fine when I faced the door. But when the nurs­ing team turned me to face the cur­tain that hung sev­eral cen­time­tres from my bed, I hy­per­ven­ti­lated.

They turned pa­tients ev­ery two hours to pre­vent pres­sure sores – and I hy­per­ven­ti­lated each time I faced the cur­tain.

That was when the nurs­ing team’s in­ge­nu­ity came into play and I got my first taste of their can-do spirit, which the hospi­tal calls “re­defin­ing pos­si­ble”. It in­flu­enced my sub­se­quent out­look on all as­pects of life.

The nurses and tech­ni­cians took to turn­ing my bed 180 de­grees each time they turned my body so I al­ways faced away from the cur­tain. They also placed me at the top of the wait list for a sin­gle room with a win­dow, to break my cy­cle of hy­per­ven­ti­lat­ing.

More Hur­dles

The day I ar­rived at Craig, the nurs­ing team dis­cov­ered pres­sure sores on my but­tocks that were very badly in­fected. They sum­moned a specialist who de­cided that the first course of ac­tion – be­fore I could even be­gin the re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion pro­gramme – was to treat the sores by sur­gi­cally re­mov­ing the dam­aged tis­sues.

Dur­ing surgery, the doc­tor dis­cov­ered that the sores were deep and had reached into mus­cle and bone, with some in­fec­tion in the lat­ter. He or­dered an ag­gres­sive an­tibi­otic treat­ment and six weeks of bed rest that fur­ther set back my re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion.

More bad news fol­lowed. Within days of my ar­rival, I de­vel­oped a blood clot in my left calf. The deep­vein throm­bo­sis may have re­sulted from my stay­ing im­mo­bile in a tight space while I was trans­ferred by air to Denver. The doc­tor or­dered the use of com­pres­sion stock­ings, a drug reg­i­men to treat the clot and bed rest.

An orthopaedic sur­geon from an area hospi­tal was also en­gaged by the Craig team to as­sess my neu­ro­log­i­cal con­di­tion. He be­lieved that fus­ing my frac­tured ver­te­brae with a ti­ta­nium plate could help me re­gain more func­tion in my limbs.

But I was re­luc­tant to go un­der the knife again. I was most wor­ried about hav­ing to be hooked up to a res­pi­ra­tor and re­quir­ing fre­quent suc­tion of fluid build-up in the chest – some­thing trau­matic that I had ex­pe­ri­enced in in­ten­sive care in Michi­gan.

The orthopaedic sur­geon even­tu­ally con­vinced me to un­dergo the surgery on my spine. By this time, I could move some of the fin­gers on my left hand and a few of my toes.

I trans­ferred to an­other hospi­tal in Denver for the surgery. My hus­band and daugh­ter were with me. I re­mem­ber watch­ing my lit­tle girl jump out the back of the am­bu­lance that fer­ried us to chase af­ter the stretcher, des­per­ately try­ing to catch up with me. It pained me to put her through the ex­pe­ri­ence of cop­ing with a par­ent’s se­ri­ous in­jury at the ten­der age of three.

When I came to af­ter the surgery, I was re­lieved that I was not teth­ered to the dreaded res­pi­ra­tor. I re­mem­ber beg­ging the nurse for wa­ter in the re­cov­ery room. Al­though I was not al­lowed to drink, she wet my parched lips with an ice cube, al­low­ing me to swal­low the liq­uid from the melt­ing ice.

It was way past my daugh­ter’s bed­time when I was wheeled out of the re­cov­ery room. I saw my hus­band rouse her from sleep on a bench out­side the op­er­at­ing theatre. Af­ter set­tling into my room, I en­treated my hus­band to leave with our lit­tle girl and get some rest at the ho­tel.

Plung­ing into De­pres­sion

With hind­sight, how I re­sponded to my sud­den loss of mo­bil­ity was just as de­picted in the Change Curve – a model de­vel­oped by Elis­a­beth KublerRoss in the 1960s to ex­plain people’s re­ac­tions to sig­nif­i­cant change.

Dur­ing the month I was in in­ten­sive care in the Michi­gan hospi­tal, I was in de­nial and ex­pected to re­turn to how things were be­fore the ac­ci­dent. Fear crept in dur­ing the last week of in­ten­sive care when I protested about be­ing moved out of sight of the nurses at their sta­tion.

I de­scended into de­pres­sion in the six weeks I was on bed rest at Craig, fol­low­ing the surg­eries to treat my pres­sure sores and fur­ther se­cure my spine.

I spent hour af­ter hour, day af­ter day, and week af­ter week alone most of the time – and a long way from home, fam­ily and friends – in a hospi­tal room.

That it hap­pened was hardly sur­pris­ing. Af­ter all, I spent hour af­ter hour, day af­ter day, and week af­ter week alone most of the time – and a long way from home, fam­ily and friends – in a hospi­tal room with the ra­dio per­ma­nently tuned to the clas­si­cal mu­sic sta­tion in Denver.

It was 1996, when the In­ter­net was a new phe­nom­e­non and there were no smart­phones and mo­bile de­vices to keep one oc­cu­pied. Even if those gad­gets had been avail­able at the time, I would not have been able to use them, as the in­jury from the car crash had caused me to lose my fine mo­tor skills.

That meant I could not open mail from well-wish­ers. I also had to be fed al­though I ate no more than three mouth­fuls of ev­ery meal. The an­tibi­otics made me nau­seous when­ever the smell of food wafted down the cor­ri­dor to my room. Be­fore long, I had dropped two cloth­ing sizes, from US12 to 8.

My nurses and techs thought it would help my men­tal state to get out of my room and at­tend the church ser­vice of­fered ev­ery Sun­day at the hospi­tal. They faith­fully trans­ferred me ev­ery week in my bed. In­vari­ably, the ser­mon would bring me to tears. I’d sob un­con­trol­lably and ask over and over again, “Why me?”.

A Lift from the Abyss

It was around this time that I was in­tro­duced to Lisa Payne, a psy­chi­a­trist at Craig. I saw her three times a week. While I was on bed rest, she saw me in my room. Af­ter I be­gan my re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion pro­gramme, our chats evolved into reg­u­lar jaunts across the sky bridge to a trendy cof­fee place for flavoured lat­tes. Our in­ter­ac­tion helped to lift me from the abyss of sad­ness I had fallen into.

In­ter­act­ing with the vol­un­teers who took on feed­ing du­ties at Craig was also a boon for my men­tal health. Many of these vol­un­teers – from high school stu­dents to re­tirees – vis­ited me reg­u­larly and pro­vided much­needed fel­low­ship that I be­lieve played a sig­nif­i­cant role in help­ing to get me back on track.

It was hard not to feel sorry for my­self when I spent so much time alone in bed in the hospi­tal, but I soon re­alised from in­ter­act­ing with the people at Craig that I could still live a good life – de­spite my in­jury – by con­sciously choos­ing that op­tion for my­self.

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

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