The Worst November Ever

November was not a good month for us.  Lynn was in a terrible automobile accident up in Maine on November 1st.  She is okay, but for a while we thought we might lose her.  She was driving back to the Ballot Box (the pre-retirement house we own in Newcastle Maine) from a visit with her sister who lives in Lincolnville Maine when she was involved in a head-on crash on Route 90, an undivided 2-lane road, in Rockport Maine.  It was after dusk and an oncoming minivan – without headlights on – swerved into oncoming traffic.  Unfortunately the only oncoming traffic was Lynn in her PT Cruiser.  The PT Cruiser did exactly what it was designed to do – it disintegrated on impact, and all the little pieces carried away some of the impact energy.  Pieces of the car were scattered over about 100 feet of the road.  The speed limit on that road is 50 mph.

Luckily an off-duty policeman/fireman/EMT and his RN nurse wife came upon the scene soon after the impact.  Lynn was unconscious and not breathing.  He cleared a piece of apple from her throat, climbed into the back seat of the wrecked PT Cruiser, and held Lynn’s head up and steady until the rescue trucks came.  His actions unobstructed her air passage and let her start breathing again, which saved her life.

She was taken to the emergency room of the Pen-Bay Medical Center in Rockport Maine, but her trauma was too severe for the little emergency room so they transported her by ambulance (the weather was too bad for a helicopter) to the Trauma Center at the Maine Medical Center in Portland Maine.  I was in Woburn and got the call from the Pen-Bay emergency room around 6:30 or 7pm.  Kelley (I believe her name was), said six words that were perfect.  After confirming my identity and identifying herself, she said; “Lynn asked me to call you.”  Six perfect words; those words told me that Lynn was alive, she was conscious, and she was lucid and thinking.  I threw some clothes in a bag and hopped in my car and headed north.  I got the call en-route that they were transferring her to Portland, so my drive got shortened by 90 minutes and I actually beat the ambulance to the Maine Medical Emergency Room.

Her right leg was a mess (open fracture and ankle dislocation) as was her left arm (suspected broken arm and dislocated wrist).  The seatbelt did its job (as did the airbags) but the seatbelt did break her clavicle and bruised her sternum.  Amazingly, there were no internal injuries.  The Maine Medical Center trauma room reset both dislocations and stabilized the broken bones late Saturday night, and she had reconstructive surgery (pins and screws) on the leg early Sunday morning.  She was heavily medicated for the pain, but when she was not sleeping she was fairly lucid and alert and cracking jokes like normal.  That’s when I knew she was going to be alright.

Lynn began healing and recovering right away.  She had – and has – no recollection of any part of the accident.  After 5 days in the trauma center in Maine she was transferred to the New England Rehabilitation Hospital about two miles from our house in Woburn.  She was there for two weeks, getting frequent Physical and Occupational Therapy; learning how to function with one leg and one arm in casts.  She learned how to “hop” on one leg using a special walker with a forearm trough and grip on one side instead of the usual hand-grip.  She learned how to manoeuver in a wheelchair, and transfer from and to the wheelchair using one good leg and one good arm; not as easy as it might sound!  Lynn’s one “good” leg had to do the work of two legs for things like standing up or sitting down, but that “good” leg also has serious arthritis in the knee, so the additional stress was sometimes excruciating.

2014-11-19 12.52.55-33pct20xAfter 14 days in the rehab center she returned home on the 19th of November.  Getting into the house was our first major challenge.  We live in a split-level-style house with the living spaces on the top floor.  There are seven steps outside, seven steps inside, and one threshold step – all 7.5” high.  The technique used to allow her to climb the stairs with the right leg and the left arm in casts and specific instructions to put NO weight or stress on either was interesting (I wish I had videotaped the process for posterity)… we used a 4-legged stool, with two short legs and two legs 7.5” longer than the short legs.  The stool straddled two steps.  Lynn sat on the stool, swung her one “good” leg (the one with arthritis in the knee) up a step, then stood up (pulling herself up on the railing with her one good arm and with additional power-lift assistance applied to the derriere by the spouse).  The stool then got moved up one step, she sat down again, and repeated… 14 times.  The first time (coming home from the rehab hospital that first day) it took us about an hour to climb the 15 steps.  Going down was faster – most of the power assistance is provided by gravity.

We had to go out the very next day (the 20th) to head up to Portland ME (~2 hr. drive) for the first follow-up with the orthopedic surgeon who rebuilt her leg.  He removed the original hard cast and the sutures, took x-rays, examined the incisions, and put her in a blue fiberglass cast.  Out again the day before Thanksgiving to visit her Primary Care Physician, and then out again on Thanksgiving to go to dinner at our oldest daughter’s house.  By Thanksgiving night we could do the 15-step climb in about 20 minutes.

UPDATE #1

We headed back up to Portland on the 8th of December for another follow-up with the orthopedic surgeon.  He removed the blue fiberglass cast, took more x-rays, put her in an incorrectly-named “walking” boot air-cast (still no walking – no pressure on the leg at all), and showed her how to do flexing exercises to start increasing the ankle’s range of motion.  She still wasn’t able to put any pressure on the leg, so the removable “walking” cast just allowed her to take it off for showering, and occasionally for sleeping.  Next follow-up was on the 9th of January, and we were hoping that she’d get the go-ahead to start using the leg lightly then.

2014-11-23 11.49.03aProgress is being made.  She eventually was able to get herself out of the wheelchair and stand up at her walker by herself.  Doesn’t sound like much but it’s a BIG deal to her as it increases her independence exponentially.  Recently she’s also cooked a few meals by herself, working in the kitchen from the wheelchair (thank goodness for our open kitchen layout), and standing up on one leg when she needed to reach something in a high cabinet.  It worked!

We were informed by the Knox County (ME) District Attorney’s office that the other driver was being charged with Aggravated Driving to Endanger and Aggravated OUI (both felonies), and maybe more based on the seriousness of Lynn’s injuries, so that part of the ordeal is just beginning.  This too shall pass.

UPDATE #2

Friday January 9th was a milestone day for Lynn – quite a long day, but productive.  Lynn had her third follow-up in Portland ME with the Orthopedic surgeon who rebuilt her right ankle.  The day started with a 7:30 am phone call from the surgeon himself, saying he was already backed up in the OR and was warning us that he probably wouldn’t be able to get to our scheduled 1:00 pm appointment and would we like to come in Tuesday instead.  Gene was in the shower at the time so Lynn had to decide! She chose to stick with Friday’s appointment which turned out to be good because Gene wasn’t able to easily take Tuesday off the next week.

As we drove up (having left a bit late to start with, and then being delayed further because of the snow showers slowing down traffic), Lynn was concerned about making our initial appointment so she called the doctor’s office to try to get a better feel for when we would actually see him. They gave us a 3:15 pm appointment instead of the original 1:00 pm, so now there was plenty of time!

We got to the doctor’s office about 2:00 pm to commence our wait, armed with books and electronic devices to keep us amused.  The doctor was tied up in the OR for a while more and arrived about 3:45 and greeted us right away. After the x-rays the doctor came in and reported that everything looked very good and the healing was progressing nicely.  Lynn could now start putting 50% of her weight on the foot using a walker or crutches to support the other 50%.  He also said that in a few weeks she can start using a shoe on the healing foot along with an ankle brace, and 3 months post-accident (1 February) she should be able to walk without a walker or crutches.  The light at the end of the tunnel is in view!

Saturday morning Gene took Lynn over to the local Masons’  H.E.L.P. (Hospital Equipment Loan Program) loan office where they have all kinds of things on loan for the disabled, everything from canes to hospital beds. We already have a walker from them which we signed out for in the beginning so she just needed crutches and a basket for the walker to carry small stuff (both hands are needed when using a walker). They had both available so she was all set for the next phase of mobility.  Onward and upward!

UPDATE #3

Lynn’s fourth orthopedic follow-up in Portland was on Friday February 27th, and once again everything was looking great.  The doctor encouraged her to spend most of her time using regular shoes with the athletic ankle brace rather than the air cast, and said that the next follow-up would be in THREE months!  After the doctor’s appointment we continued north instead of heading back south, and spent the weekend at the Ballot Box – Lynn’s first visit since the morning of the accident!  Boy was there a lot of snow up there! We had a wonderful and relaxing weekend, had a visit from Lynn’s sister and S.O., had a long-postponed dinner at our favorite restaurant on the mid-coast, and headed back south on Sunday.  In the weeks following Lynn made progress with her Physical Therapy, started researching cars in preparation for being able to drive again and needing a replacement for the PT Cruiser that was totaled.

Lynn’s started quilting again, getting back to work on a few quilts that were in-progress at the time of the accident, and finally getting back to her quilting group weekly get-togethers and monthly guild meetings.  The weekend of March 27-29 included another trip north to the Ballot Box, this time for the sole purpose of getting up there – no doctor’s appointment required!  She  attended her Maine Friday sewing group for the first time since October and they were all glad so see her!

Life is starting to resemble normality again. It’s not completely back to normal yet, but its getting there!

UPDATE #4

As many of you know, Lynn is an active quilter and actually teaches quilting to beginners occasionally.  She belongs to two quilt guilds, one in MA and one in ME, and soon after Lynn’s automobile accident one of her Maine quilt buddies (Meredith) contacted me to collect email addresses of Lynn’s quilter-friends in MA and elsewhere so she could contact them to see if anyone would be willing to make a quilt block (quilters, you know what that is) to be sewn into a commemorative thank-you quilt to be given to the Rockport Volunteer Fire and Rescue Squad (the people who rescued Lynn after the crash).  Meredith collected numerous blocks from thirteen quilters living in at least four states.  She received enough blocks to make two full quilts plus two throw pillows to go on the couch in the fire department lounge/break room.  Meredith arranged with Rockport Fire Chief Jason Peasley to present the quilts at the department’s June meeting on the afternoon of the 18th of June. This link leads to the pictures from the presentation of the quilts (click on any small picture to bring up the larger version of the picture along with the description and Exif photo details below the picture; hover to the right of the picture to make a right-arrow appear, and click it to advance to the next picture).

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This link is to the local newspaper’s report of the crash. It contains photos that may be disconcerting… Note that the report incorrectly states that she was taken to Eastern Maine Medical Center in Bangor.  She was taken to Maine Medical Center in Portland.

This link is to the Bangor Daily News’ account of the recent sentencing of the other driver (note that the web site might ask you a few marketing questions before you are allowed to see the entire article).  She was initially charged with felony driving to endanger and felony OUI, but the district attorney, after consultations with Lynn, offered a plea bargain that required loss of license for a year, 90 days in jail (actually 365 days in jail with all but 90 days suspended), a number of hours of community service, is barred from drinking, and must undergo substance abuse counseling. If she meets these requirements, then after a year the felony charges will be reduced to misdemeanor.

This link is to Bangor Daily News’ account of the re-arrest of the other driver on probation violations (note that the web site might ask you a few marketing questions before you are allowed to see the entire article).  The state plans to revoke the initial plea-bargain agreement that Lynn worked out with the District Attorney’s office that would give the other driver a way to avoid having felony convictions on her record.  It looks like Lynn’s act of compassion was for naught.

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3 Responses to The Worst November Ever

  1. Pingback: All’s Well at the Ballot Box… | The Ballot Box Blog

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