Tuesday 29 July 2014

A story of survival

After {redacted} years of practice, I've certainly seen my fair share of severely injured patients who seem incredibly lucky to have survived.  Young men with gunshot wounds to the abdomen that turn out to be graze wounds.  Stabbing victims where the knife miraculously misses every major organ.  Car accident victims where everything seems to be broken but they somehow make it out alive.

Natalie (not her real name) fits quite neatly into that last category.  She emailed me a few day ago and told me her harrowing tale.  Since she emailed me, I suppose I've already given away the ending in telling you that she survived.  But then again I've never been good at keeping spoilers to myself (take note, Whovians).

I've said repeatedly that most of what I do is fixing holes.  I'm usually not terribly interested in the exact nature of how the injury came to be - I don't care what kind of car you were driving, I don't care that the knife was 8cm long.  I only care how many holes were made and in what.  So with as many trauma patients as I've seen, seldom (if ever) have I heard the stories of their actual injuries as completely as I have this one.
Hey Doc!
I hope you don't mind me contacting you and taking up some of your time. I'm one of the many people frequently visiting your blog for the past 2 years or so.  I love the many stories of stupid people doing stupid things in this stupid (but oh-so-wonderful) world.  But I never really thought it would ever hit so close to home for me.  All it took was one stupid person to upend my world. 
I was just a normal 21-year old woman living a normal life.  I was leaving my university after a long exam and was looking forward to getting home.  I had been invited by some mates to go to the uni bar to blow off some steam after my exam but I thought of my liver - and opted to have a quiet dinner with my sister instead.  The irony of that thought still haunts me months later. 
I was crossing a pedestrian crossing on the green "walk" signal when a man in his 4-wheel-drive didn't wait for the pedestrians to finish crossing.  Maybe he just didn't see me?  Maybe he was in a rush and didn't think that he had to give way first?  I didn't see him as he came from behind me.  I didn't hear any car horns or screech of tires. He accelerated, didn't slow down, and hit me with the front of his vehicle, knocking me to the ground and then continuing to drive right over the top of me.  I remember everything: the wind being knocked from my lungs as he struck me, the world spinning as I hit the ground, the crunch of my ribs shattering beneath his tires, the crushing feeling of having a 4WD on my body.  (Later in his statement, he informed the police that he "felt he hit something, but decided to continue to move his car off the road.  That is when he felt the car drive over the top of "something".  Yeah, that something was me.  Thanks buddy.) 
I couldn't move and I couldn't breathe.  The pain was only secondary because I couldn't seem to fill my lungs with air anymore.  I was like a goldfish out of water.  I remember confessing to a bystander that I was dying.  I stayed awake until the paramedics arrived.  I unhelpfully pointed to my tummy and my chest when the paramedics asked me where I hurt the most.  I was conscious for about 5 seconds after that, finally passing out knowing that help had arrived.
While all this happened, the driver of the car sat in the gutter by his vehicle.  Not once did he bother to come and check on me. 
My injuries were as follows:
  • Multiple left and right-sided rib fractures and lung contusions

  • Pelvis broken in six separate places 

  • Multiple lumbar spine fractures 

  • Broken left humerus 

  • Bilateral pneumothoraces {collapsed lungs} 

  • Ruptured diaphragm 

  • Grade 5 liver laceration

  • Splenic lacerations 

  • Acute kidney injury

  • Pancreatic tail injury
To put it simply, I was smoodged (no, I don't care that this isn't a real word).  The docs told me they almost lost me that night.  I needed to be transfused 15 units blood.  Apparently one of the doctors had one look at me and gave up.  "Don't bother.  She is already dead.  A waste of time." he said.
The more stubborn trauma surgeons paid him no heed and kept on working.  My family was told I had a 5% chance of making it through the night, that they should come as soon as possible to say goodbye.  After the trauma surgeons fixed what they could, I was transferred to ICU where my family and friends were gathered.
But somehow, I made it through that night.  And the next day.  And the next.  The sedation was removed to see if I would wake up.  And wake up I did.  
Ever since I haven't looked back.  Yes there have been complications (clots, fluid always building up behind my lungs and on my liver, discovering a bile leak, bowel obstructions, infections . . . and plenty more) but I made it.
I have been out of hospital for just over a month now and am expected to make a full recovery. I had no brain or permanent spinal damage, my face was unscathed, and I can walk!  Unless I told them, no one would be able to tell that just a few months ago I was given up for dead.
So on behalf of the patients that you (and other trauma surgeons) treat, thank you.  I am here on this earth today because of a group of stubborn doctors I'll probably never see again.  Here on this earth to spend with my loving family because of people like yourself.  Here to enjoy another day with my friends. 
So from the bottom of my unresolved-tachycardic-heart . . Thank you.
P.S. I no longer think being "stubborn" is a bad personality trait. I now think of stubborn people as simply determined :)
P.P.S. I relish the chance to attend the court cases for the stupid driver behind the wheel of that 4WD.  He is being charged with quite a minor traffic infringement - undue care and attention where the police prosecutor thinks he will get away with just a small fine and a driving suspension.  To make it all worse, he is a barrister {that's what people in the Old Country call scum-sucking bottom dwellers.  I mean lawyers).  Immoral prick.  I hope he remembers me every time he drives over a speed bump. 
And as an added bonus (I almost felt like I won the lottery), she sent a picture of her initial chest X-ray showing just how severe her injuries were:

It doesn't take a radiologist to tell that's Natalie's X-ray on the right and a normal one for comparison on the left.  What I hope is plainly obvious is that Natalie's chest is FUBAR (yes, that's the technical, medical term for it).  I've seen many people with injuries as severe as Natalie's, and I can say quite definitively that not all of them make it.  When you have that many organ systems that severely injured, it takes a highly-skilled trauma team, a ruthlessly motivated patient, a lot of support, and a shitload of luck to come out the other side.

My heartfelt congratulations to you, Natalie.  And thanks for sharing your story with us.


  1. I'm glad "Natalie" survived and survived well!

  2. This makes me so furious that I want to cry! There is an intersection in Sandy Springs, GA that I travel through often. Because of the grade of the hill and the bent of the road you can't see someone in the cross walk until you are right up on it. I usually go into the turn and pause to make sure there is no one crossing. I have been rear ended twice because of this practice. The thought that I could do that to someone just makes me sick.

  3. Small typo "I almost felt like I wont the lottery".

  4. No idea what you're talking about.

  5. I want to say some nice, heartfelt things like, 'I'm so glad you made it!', but honestly I'm just really mad that the barrister is getting away with a minor traffic violation. I just hope he lives with guilt and shame for a very long time.

  6. Natalie, I'm so glad you made it!!! But I'm really pissed this guy is getting away with it? He should be charged with "something" b/c he almost killed you and didn't even get out to try to help you!!! Where I live there are cross walks and these idiots never stop, NEVER.... too busy texting or one the phone! If he has a trial I would go up and slap him but good but that's just me.
    I'm sure you are so happy to have survived you realize your life has very important meaning now....
    And yes, to the determined "stubborn" trauma Docs, like Doc Bastard, Thank you!!! From the survivors!
    May Karma bite that Lawyer in the ass one fateful day when he least expects it and may you go on to Wonderful and great things!!!
    I was given last rights as a preemie twice. So I know
    about the ones who don't give up! Thank You!

    1. Yes, unfortunately people get away with this stuff all of the time. A few years ago I was driving behind my fiance with my hazards on, making sure he made it safely to the gas station. It was late at night with hardly any traffic. The light turned green and we started to go. A few seconds later, I feel a smash, and my car is sandwiched between my fiance and the guy that hi me. The guy wasn't paying attention at all, was going at least 70 mph, and didn't even bother applying any pressure to his brake pedal. Thankfully nothing was broken, I just have bad back and neck pain. The guy received not a single ticket. To add insult to injury, I found out he was driving on a suspended license.

  7. We have had a few of those. our aggregate term for that severe an injury is "pour the patient onto a backboard and stuff them in the ambulance"
    my first contact with one of those patients was 2 years after I joined the department, when a previous patient came into our association meeting to thank us for saving her life. we were her first planned stop on being released from physical therapy. I had not joined the department, yet, when she ran her vehicle into a bridge. she had needed to be almost completely rebuilt.

    similarly, I had a rookie who joined the department after recovering from a similar degree of injury.

    you keep putting them back together, doc, my colleagues wherever you are will keep getting them to you.

  8. Well, gosh I was gonna fangirl over the link to River Song because I'm a Whovian; but then the whole story just...wow. Thank goodness for the stubborn asses that give their all to people like Natalie. She's alive and well because of that. That f'ing "lawyer"....there are no words. Did an apology at least ever leave his mouth?

  9. I hate people like that. Hate them. You're driving a multi-ton hunk of metal and plastic; it is ALWAYS a potential death machine, and needs to be treated as such. Heck, even when I'm just zooming around in my power chair, I'm still very aware of how much damage I could do to myself or someone else if I'm not paying attention (seriously, that chair is a beast and absolutely will mess up anyone unlucky enough to be run over by it).

    Natalie, you are a very, very lucky person. No one who hasn't risked losing their life can possibly appreciate just how much of a gift it really is to wake up in the morning.

  10. I'm so glad you made it through Natalie! I too am a bad driver survivor. The man who hit me 14 years ago was doing 65mph when he went through a red light and hit me nearly head on as I was turning left (he missed the first car in front of me). "Shattered" was the adjective they used with my injuries (left knee, both wrists, left arm, left shoulder, 2 ribs, nose and a nice quarter-sized chunk of scalp from the back of my head. I was on death watch for 2 days (diabetes complications, too) and then spent 2 months in rehab relearning how to use my arms and legs (amazingly fast, they said!) I'm full of metal, cadaver bone, constant muscle/nerve/joint pain, don't have much rotation in my wrists or shoulder, and am wheelchair bound for any walking longer than 30 seconds in duration. But I'm ALIVE and that's good enough for me! It sounds like you feel the same way. Things like this tend to put "the little things" in perspective, don't they? :)

    As for wanting punishment for your driver, please don't base your happiness on that outcome. My driver had no insurance and was given a fine for that and running the red light. That's it. When I tried to take him to court to recoup medical bills, he "disappeared" and put all his assets in his son's name. So that was that. And honestly, what I really wanted from him during the deposition was an apology (my dad decided to sue on my behalf). But I didn't get that either. Instead, he told me that *he* had to miss church the next day and then had to buy a new truck. It would be rude to put in print what I was thinking when he said that. Chuckle. But anyways, know that you can be happy even if he doesn't have to pay in any way. And maybe you being hit has now made him be more cautious. Cold comfort for sure. But you will continue to have a great life regardless! Good luck to you and thank you for sharing! :)

  11. That's a great read .... Thanks, I love it. I love it so much, that the greedy visual-data gnome in me wants more!


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