Like most years, 2016 had its shares of ups and downs. We lost my Dad in February, yet I was blessed to be with him when he passed. The hospital that I work at had a lot of staff turn over and changes in management that required creative scheduling adapting until things returned to “normal”. The summer brought me to Iceland as an active travel guide surrounded by glaciers, mountains and waterfalls.
However, the last 10 days of 2016 have brought more drama than I care for, along with uncertainty, pain, gratitude and wonder. I met my active travel guide colleagues in St. Kitts and Nevis to explore the region to ensure a perfect vacation for the guests we would be guiding. I studied the sugar plantations, rum industry, the painful history of colonization and slavery as well as the beaches, hikes & bike routes. We were well on our way to make a perfect trip. We just had one more trail to explore.
Ten days ago, a muddy trail on St. Kitts was the doorway to my path as a trauma patient. One unfortunate step on muddy unstable terrain dropped me at least 25 ft. below into a dry riverbed. My partner, Charles was an efficient first responder and is the reason I’m alive today. My left eye and face looked like a bear attacked it. My radius bone was hijacked from its normal resting place. Because I couldn’t see my face, I was most disturbed by the possibility of losing my hand as the swelling erupted and my fingers turned blue and numb. He splinted my arm with a stick and an ace wrap, popped Advil in my mouth as he ran to get help. We were the only ones on the trail and were without cell reception. If I were hiking alone I would not have survived.
I waited alone for an hour and a half. My meditation practice provided peace and solitude while waiting for the rescue team. I focused on my breathing and contemplated losing my hand. Aron Ralston, played by James Franco in the movie 127 Hours, inspired me. I tried to get up and start walking and soon realized that was not an option. I came to the conclusion that “this body” was not a body that was walking off the trail. The eight-person rescue team arrived with two EMT’s and placed my Humpty Dumpy body on a backboard. It was a tortuous, hair raising, four hour journey; one in which I dug deep to find peace with.
To say the hospital left a lot to be desired would be a tremendous understatement. Towels, pillows and even narcotics needed to be purchased at an outside pharmacy. Pain medications required a two RN sign off, creating time-consuming barriers to alleviating my pain. My co-leader, Samantha provided most of my personal care in the hospital and served as a much needed patient advocate. With nine broken bones and inadequate pain relief, it was hard to keep a smile on my face. I was lectured by the staff for my irreverent choice of words that I resorted to in pain. My Caribbean nurse also told me that while God saved me, he also punished me with this accident. She said that I had an opportunity to get on “the right path”. Fortunately I could find humor in this and told my Nurse that while I agree God is good; My God is not a punishing God.
A Christmas miracle brought a Critical Care flight team to airlift me to NYC. I was transferred to NY Presbyterian Hospital for a full medical workup that revealed much more extensive injuries than the initial workup revealed. I was met with professionalism, warmth and compassion from everyone I encountered. The care I received at NY Presbyterian surpassed anything I could have hoped for. Prior to moving to San Francisco, I spent ten years working across the street from NY Presbyterian at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center (MSKCC). I was back in the hood. In many ways, NY will always feel like home and the medical and nursing team treated me like I was one of their own.
In the meantime, I have at least a three-month road to recovery (with five fractures of the pelvis, three rib fractures, a hand and wrist fracture) and I get to keep living this awesome life. While it is a painful time, I have a renewed appreciation for resilience and abundance of the human spirit. I’m left wondering why I got this hall pass to escape death and what will I do with this precious life. I’m grateful for my awesome family and friends I'm privileged to know that light this amazing life of mine!