Brackenridge Hospital, in downtown Austin, is the area trauma center. While I desperately wanted sympathy as they wheeled me, strapped onto a board, onto the examining room, there was none. With trauma, time is everything. The faster the doctors can make a diagnosis, they faster they can remedy a cure.
The gentle, reassuring voice of Hector in the ambulance, was replaced by the brusque, no-nonsense medical slang of two technicians (or maybe they were interns) in light blue scrubs. They asked the same questions I’d wearily responded to before – what’s my name, was I driving to work, what day is it… where does it hurt… what’s my age.
With special scissors, they cut through my favorite, orange sweater and bra strap. They offered to pull off my pants, but I screamed in protest. My pants, like my underclothes, immediately became victims of their scissors. The thick, heavy leather jacket from a friend lay beneath my crippled body. They’d thoughtful pulled my arms out of the sleeves.
I didn’t want to be difficult, but flaying my arms seemed to be the only control I had over my body besides crying and screaming. The nurses and technicians grew angry with my flaying.
I wanted to say, "Fuck you," but knew my pain wasn’t their fault. Their determination to quickly diagnose was a necessary evil before morphine could be surged through my veins and my leg propped up on a pillow.
First, the x-ray technicians needed to take pictures of my spine, leg and abdomen. Fortunately, I was on a table that enabled them to slide the film underneath me and not lift my body. The head technicians called me sweetie and apologized when he caused additional pain.
A second shot of morphine was administered and the staff grew less concerned with my condition, seeing that my spine wasn’t broken and my injuries centered on my pelvis, ribs and possibly a collapsed lung. Rich had arrived, which further eased the pain and fear. He helped pull the leather coat out from under me and showed me where the shoulder belt had cut into the leather. He also called Rebecca, the only number I had in my cell phone of someone at Dell.
The next concern was internal injuries. The board that I’d been laying on was removed and I was wheeled to the CAT scan. This technician and his helpers were very nice and sensitive to my pain. Using a sheet, they gingerly lifted me onto the half-tube that enters the circular CAT scan. I felt safe and protected in the gently curved tube that slowly moves in-and-out of the machine. They’d propped pillows around my body so it was easy to close my eyes and relax… until they injected the dye.
While not painful, it was very unnerving, thick and warmish like a spicy soup coursing through my veins. While it lasted only a few minutes, it sent me into a panic. By the time I was wheeled back to the trauma center, I was hyperventilating and hysterical. Poor Rich tried to soothe me as my blood pressure rose to 100 over 110. I tilted my head back and watched the monitor as my blood pressure escalated, but I was unable to articulate what was wrong aside from the horror of the morning coupled with the pain like a shelf of books had tumbled onto my chest. There was a book titled, "work," another labeled "home life," an encyclopedia called "hiking and biking" landed on my stomach, and finally a small tome called "meeting Rich’s needs" fell on my head.
Hearing my cries, the trauma team injected me with a more powerful painkiller and quickly inserted a catheter to drain my bladder and make me more comfortable. After I stabilized, they decided to do another CAT scan to determine if my lung had collapsed since I complained of pain on my left side and had difficulties inhaling. This scan didn’t involve injecting dye. Plus, my veins were thick with painkillers.
With all the test results in, the trauma doctor, who resembled a character from a TV show with shaggy, salt-and-pepper hair and a calm demeanor, relayed the bad news. I had fractured my pelvis in four places and had every reason to be "green" with pain.
The trauma surgeon, a short, elderly man who was attended by two perky interns, didn’t seem overly concerned. He said that they wouldn’t be "performing surgery today." He then hung out in my room and lamented over how flimsy cars are now made. In the "old days," he explained, the cars were made of steel and people didn’t get such serious injuries from accidents. I tried to appear interested as he lectured about airbags that didn’t really work and having a car crumple around a person didn’t save them from terrible injuries. While his bedside manner letf a lot to be desired, it did give me comfort. After all, if I had sustained truly crippling injuries, he wouldn’t have been so cavalier.
Around 12:30, six hours after the accident, I was transferred to the trauma ward on the eighth floor of Brackenridge. I had a private room with a view of the University of Texas. Kristin and her helper (I wish I could remember her name), removed my cut-up clothes and put me in a hospital gown. They brushed away some of the crushed glass from my body and from my hair. She examined every inch of my body, gave me some painkillers and tried to reassure me that I was going to be okay.
There is kindness in chaos. It just takes a few days to remember the good parts or as Rich keeps telling me, "find the silver lining."