Read my story below.


The Accident


On May 24, 1999, I went with my then-boyfriend Eric and his little brother Justin to a place in Arizona called Gisela. This place is actually one of the few places in Arizona where you can cliff jump. We left early in the morning because I wanted to get home early in order to hang out with my sister. I remember that it was a good day, hot, but the water was refreshing, and the company was good. The ironic thing was as I was skipping along the Creek, wading in the cool water, I specifically remember silently thanking God for my ability to walk and enjoy nature. I think we set off for home probably 1 PM. Maybe later.

We were all kind of hungry so we decided to stop in the nearest civilized place, which is Payson. The only thing was Payson was North of where we were at, and home was South. We went to a Burger King in Payson and ate anyway. On our way back to the road leading home, we stopped off at a little thrift shop and I bought some shirts. After that mini-rendezvous, we were heading towards home. I don't think it could have been later than 3 PM.

Both Eric and I were both working at Circle K. The night before our little trip, Eric worked some crazy shift that got off at like 4 AM. I think I stayed up most of the night as well. (I really can't remember what I was doing). I was driving when we left the little thrift shop. Exhausted, we were all dozing off in the cab of the S-10 truck. I remember taking extra long blinks, and knew that I could not drive anymore. I recognized my signs of fatigue and pulled over as soon as I could. I woke up Eric and asked him if he was OK to drive, because I knew I was not. He said he was fine, and he took the wheel.

Usually, I was a real freak about wearing my seat belt and safety etc., but for some reason I did not wear my seat belt. I was sleeping with my chest to my knees in the passenger side of the truck. Eric was driving, and Justin was sitting in the middle. I fell asleep. I don't know whether I woke up right when the truck impacted the other vehicle on the road, or if it was directly after. I do remember screaming, though. I think I screamed probably four times. It was just, "Aaaaaa!" Then, without any reason for doing it, I stopped screaming and started chanting, "God will make everything OK." Over and over.

I really don't think that the circumstances of the accident were explained to me in any type of orderly manner. It was almost as if right after it happened, I just knew what had happened. Eric had fallen asleep and we had crashed head-on into another vehicle. Eric was out of the car, hysterical, trying to do something. I think he was trying to get us out of the truck because he thought the truck was on fire. When airbags deploy, chemicals are released after they have finished working, and it looks a lot like smoke.

Through my organized, logical hysteria, I knew another thing. I could not feel my body at all below my neck. Also, my body was that such a contorted angle, that there was no real comfortable place to lay my head. It was hard to hold it up, especially since I had just broken my neck. Luckily for me, three cars behind me was an off-duty paramedic/fireman, Don Rob. Since the glass was totally broken from the back window of the truck, he reached in to help me hold my neck up. Don Rob held my head for me. He kind of took charge of the situation and made sure that nothing bad happened to me. I don't remember being scared, but he talked to me and comforted me. He even sang "Give Said The Little Stream" with me.

Throughout the entire ordeal, I had this insane determination to make sure that everyone knew that I was still OK in my head. When anyone asked me questions, I had to answer them so fast or something. When someone new told me their name, I was sure to keep calling them by their name. There was some girl at the accident scene; I believe her name was Julie. And then there was Don, and more and more new people kept on getting introduced to me. I had to remember their names. For some reason, it was like the one thing gluing me to sanity. Especially since Justin, right there in the next seat kept on asking the exact same questions over and over again. He would say things like, "where are we?" or, "what is happening?" Since answering questions was very important to me at that time, I would continually answer the four or so questions he would ask. However, the questions were so perpetual that even I remember getting tired of answering them.

I don't remember feeling any real pain at the accident. I don't remember my neck hurting. I do remember that the top of my head was stinging because of how hard it hit the airbag. I remember staying in the truck for a really long time. I don't remember Eric ever being in the truck. When the helicopters arrived, they took Justin through the window. He hurt his leg because I remember him saying that he thought it was broken. They wanted to take me through the window as well, but Don would not let them do it. He knew that if I was moved too much, I could do further damage to my spinal cord. It was a while before the fire trucks got there. They had to use the Jaws of Life to get me out of that truck.

The paramedics took me and put me on a stretcher. After strapping me in, they told me to close my eyes so none of the dust would get in my eyes from the helicopter. I think I would have liked the helicopter ride if I was not so badly hurt and on the way to the hospital. It was very loud inside the helicopter. I yelled as loud as I could just to see if I could get anyone's attention, they didn't even know that I had done anything. I remember on the way to the hospital hoping that my family would be there. I really wanted to see them. I really hoped that they wouldn't overreact. I don't really think I knew how badly I was hurt. I even felt badly about missing work. In my mind, I knew that I would heal, and that I would be out of the hospital soon.

The Hospital Stays


At the hospital, they asked me all kinds of questions. I met a lot more people, and they did tons of things to me. There were x-rays, cat scans, MRIs, and a ton of more things that I can't even remember. I just asked if the family was there, and when I would get to see them. I asked that question a lot. My family later told me that they were waiting in a "special" waiting room for over an hour. It really did not seem like that much to me though. I was really happy to see my parents. I don't know if I was taking anything for the pain at that time, I probably was on morphine, but I think I was still there in my mind. When I saw my parents, I introduced them to every single doctor and nurse in the room.

After seeing my parents, they had to put the halo on me. The halo is this horrible metal thing that gets drilled into the skull in six different places. A round metal headpiece attaches to each of these screws. The round metal headpiece is attached to four different little poles that connect to a bodysuit. The bodysuit was attached to my shoulders, chest and part of my stomach. In the process of putting the halo on, they had to shave four different sections of my hair. I had been growing my hair out since I was 11 years old. My hair was down to my rear, and I was not going to part with it nicely. The guy explained that he had to shave part of my hair. I vehemently insisted that he would not do this. He had to show me that it was not a big section, only a small one. He even showed me how big with his fingers. After I agreed to go through with the shaving, I remember little else. They usually put the halo on when you are completely conscious. They give you drugs so it won't hurt, but that is it. Luckily for me, I was so incredibly worn out from the experience, that I was totally asleep for the entire procedure.

When I woke up I was in an ICU room in traction. My mom was right there by my side. My stomach felt horrible. I can't remember if I told the nurse or doctor, but I did tell someone that I was going to throw up. Fortunately, when I did yack, my mom was there to suck up the vomit with the straw sucky thing so I did not choke on it. After that, the doctors were scared that I would do it again, so they put this horrible tube down my nose and into my stomach. The tube sucked out all the contents of my stomach. I really hated the tube because it stuffed up my nose so much, and that I had to breathe through my mouth when I slept and whenever I woke up my tongue was so dry it felt like sandpaper. Also, it made me have a terrible sore throat.

During the entire week in ICU, I had many visitors. Some of them I do not remember because I was really high off morphine. I did not cry once at all when I was in the ICU. I do not know if it was the morphine, or my attitude or what, but I seriously believed that I would be out of there and back at work and doing the same things again like in a week or two. I knew what had happened to me, and I still thought that. In ICU, my mom took my hair out of the braid it had been in when I was in the accident, and combed through my extremely long thick hair and re-braided it.

Six days later, I was moved from ICU to the trauma Ward on the sixth floor of the hospital. During this entire time, I had always had a family member by my side. Twenty-four hours a day. Ever since the incident where I threw up, my mom did not trust my care to just some nurses and an occasional doctor, who most of the time won't even listen to you.

The physical therapists and nurses were beginning to teach my mom how to take care of me. I really liked the nurses on the sixth floor. I had my own room and it even had its own little bathroom. The nurses let my family stay with me around the clock. There was this chair that folded into this type of bed thing. Whoever stayed with me always slept on it at night.

It was when my mom started doing the physical therapy exercises on my arms and legs that we noticed that there was something wrong with my right wrist, and my left ankle. So, we got them re-x-rayed, and surely enough, they were broken. I had to get my wrist rebroken and set into place, and there really was nothing they could do about the three broken bones in my foot. When I found out about this, for the first time ever, I cried. I think it was because there was something wrong with my body and I couldn't even tell, and, hadn't I been broken enough?

I celebrated my 19th birthday in the hospital. They let everyone use their little rehabilitation eating room thing to set up for my party. A bunch of my friends came, and even Don Rob, the fireman who helped me at the scene, came and performed some magic tricks. It was pretty cool. I really didn't eat much of my cake, because, at that point, eating was hard. I remember it being a real accomplishment if I ate an entire saltine cracker in one day.

Four weeks later, with my halo intact, I was ready to be sent home. They lent me this nice little electric wheelchair I could control by using the sip and puff straw mechanism attached to the chair. I was home for about 4-5 days when swallowing and eating became a real trouble for me. The halo was keeping my head tilted up, so I was always looking up a little bit. This was getting really hard for my swallower. Sometimes, swallowing was just painful, other times I would gag, and not be able to swallow at all. So, we went back to the hospital.

Even though I had only had the halo on for 7 1/2 weeks, they decided that it was probably good enough for my neck, and we could take it off a little early. (The minimum time is usually eight weeks, and can get up to as much as 16 weeks.) Taking the halo off was very traumatic for me. I had six screws that went into my skull. They don't put you out, or give you any type of pain medication for the procedure. So, they just unscrewed the screws from my head while I was awake. It really didn't hurt that much, but it was just freaky, and I was having major anxiety over it. After the halo was gone, and they had me fitted into a nice sturdy neck brace, they sent me home.

I can't remember how long I was home the second time. But, I had major problems after they took the halo off. I could eat, but my neck was in so much pain that I would just cry and cry and cry. None of the pain medications were even making any type of dent in the agony I was feeling. So, we went back to the hospital. Again. I knew the doctors were going to want to do the surgery on me. I was right. But, we couldn't do the surgery right away because I was on some blood thinners. So, I stayed at the hospital for a week waiting for my blood to become less thin so they could operate. They were also giving me morphine, which didn't really lessen the pain, either.

The operation was really weird. I had two neurosurgeons that were going to be working on me. One of them was kind of older, and I forget what his name was. The other one was much, much younger. This dude looked like he was 24. I can't remember his real name because I always called him Doogie. Anyway, they took this part of someone else's hipbone and they inserted it into my vertebrae and took out my shattered neck bones, and used some nice pins and stuff to connect everything together. Sounds lovely, doesn't it? The operation was a success. However, the anesthesiologist didn't monitor me closely enough, and my lungs got filled up with fluid.

When I was recovering from the surgery, I was also fighting off a huge ugly cough. I literally could not breathe unless I was sitting up. I couldn't be laid flat for more than a couple of minutes. The cough got much worse until it developed into some type of pneumonia or bronchial thing. The next thing I know, these doctors want to put tubes down my mouth and into my throat so I can actually breathe. My dad, who was at the hospital with me at the time, agreed to the procedure, but I hadn't.

When they were trying to do this to me, I was saying, "I don't want you guys to do this." But, they didn't really pay any attention to me. Until, I started screaming, "If you do this to me, I'm going to sue you so hard, and so much. I'm legally an adult!" Then, surprisingly, they stopped. They brought my dad back in and he convinced me that it was the right thing to do. I was "intubated" for about 2-3 weeks. Then, came the lovely tracheostomy.

Because I wasn't getting any better with the intubation, they had to do the tracheostomy on me. Which sucked. Also, it hurt. They cut a hole into my neck and attached their little oxygen tank thing to it. I really hated it. When the congestion became too much, the nurses would stick this suction straw down my neck hole and suck all the mucous out. It was disgusting. I especially hated it because with a hole cut into your neck, no air goes past your vocal cords and you can't talk. And, since I obviously could not use sign language or type things out, I had to rely on people reading my lips. Which sucked. Pretty much, talking was like all I had left at that point. And it got taken away, too. If I wanted someone to pay attention to me, I had to click my tongue. Also, they put this feeding tube thing down my nose and into my stomach. It pumped this weird looking liquid green food through my nose and into my stomach. I hated that tube.

I forget why, or when, but I was transferred from Scottsdale Memorial hospital to St. Joseph's hospital. For the first time, I had to have a roommate. This old woman was my roommate and she had some type of hip problem. But, she didn't last very long because I was really, really hot and I eventually froze her out of the room. Then I had my own room again. Nice. At this time during my hospital stay, my parents sold the house in Arizona, and were moving to California. My dad finally picked out a house, and I needed to go over there.

So, I flew to California on a medical transport plane. It was pretty cool. And the flight wasn't that long, and I think I remember at least one of the people of the plane being really good looking. I was then transferred to this really horrible medical facility place. I really hated that place. It was run by one registered nurse, and like 12 certified nursing assistants. The doctor would stop by every couple of days. I got a really gross virus from this place. I feel sorry for people that have to be there. During the day, I would watch television, or my Grandma and Grandpa Stone would tell me stories or we would watch videos (which was the best part of my stay there). During the night, I watched television with my sister or my mom. KeriAnn (my sister) would always watch The Nanny. I can't stand that show.

Finally, after what seemed like an eternity, (I believe it was only a couple of weeks) I was transferred to Loma Linda University Medical Center. I had a much better time there. They finally introduced me to this nice little valve which allowed me to talk, and I finally started getting better with the whole breathing on my own thing. They had the Disney Channel, and this nice little speech therapist guy named Gary. He cracked me up. Also, I started being able to eat on my own, too. Well, I was able to eat without that stupid tube thing going down my nose.

It got to the point where I could breathe on my own without the machine. They plugged up the hole in my neck, and sent me home to my new house. From that point on, things just got better and better. After 3 weeks, I went back to the hospital to get the tracheostomy removed. The doctor just taped it up. It felt really weird. Then I went home again. I've been here, ever since. My hospital stay(s) were from May 24-September 16-ish. I lost about 35-40 pounds when I was in the hospital. Also, my fingernails grew to be really long. I was pretty happy about that.

The Aftermath


Anyway, that's the story about my accident and the following hospital stays. Of course, this version is the much abbreviated version. I really appreciated all of my visitors, and all of the people who stayed with me. I really don't know what I would have done without everyone staying by me and supporting me through this. I was exceptionally lucky. And, all of my nurses (except one at Scottsdale Memorial, and the ones at the Horrible Medical Center) and physical therapists and speech therapists and doctors and halo specialists were very, very nice to me. A lot of them gave me presents and stuff. They really inspired me to be a better person. I really was extremely fortunate.

Everyone always asks me what happened to my (former) boyfriend Eric. He wasn't injured in the accident at all, apart from a bloody nose, and probably some whiplash. He felt extremely guilty for what he had done, and he vowed to never ever leave me. The relationship wasn't good, though. I loved him only as a friend, and I had been trying to break up with him for quite some time previous to the accident. Before I left the hospital for the first time, I broke up with him. It took a while to completely forgive him. Of course, I was willing to forgive him immediately, but when your mobility and independence and way of life get taken from you by someone, it's hard not to blame them when you remember that you can't ever play the piano again, you can't even scratch an itch on your nose by yourself, or you miss dancing. It took a while, but I have forgiven him, and we are still friends to this day. After me breaking up with him, Eric was pretty depressed, but he found God and religion, and he ended up serving a full-time mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints in Anaheim, California. He is married and has two little girls.

Another question I get is how I operate my computer and wheelchair. I operate my computer using an awesome device called the Tetra Mouse, which is a mouse I operate using my mouth. It lets me click on anything I want, draw, and basically be very independent on my computer. When I write, I use voice recognition software (Dragon NaturallySpeaking). I operate my wheelchair using a sip and puff mechanism (basically a straw that I can blow and suck sip and puff into), and my headrest has buttons in it that I use to turn left and right and also click through to other functions.

Maybe I won't ever get better from being paralyzed, but I'm OK with that. I'm confident that this happened to me for a reason, and that I still have some type of purpose to fulfill here. Being like this has made me a much better person, and I know that if you let Him, God will make everything okay. My heart is larger and more caring, my mind is more inclusive and considerate, and my attitude is more selfless and understanding. God might not heal my body, but He has healed my soul.

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Kim Anderson 2013