Tuesday, February 10, 2009

 

Seeing is Believing

I'm not sure if I've ever talked about this, but if I have, I apologize for repeating myself. After I woke up in the hospital, and all of the heroine based drugs had worked their way out of my system, I finally had some understanding of what had happened to me. However, I still found it difficult to accept why my legs had to be amputated.

I felt like some kind of mistake had been made. That if I had been awake, perhaps they might have been able to save my legs. There was no logical reason for me to feel this way, but I had no comprehension of how bad the damage truly was.

People who saw me in the first few days after the accident would describe what I looked like. Even now, when I talk to someone who I haven't spoken with for a while they will reminisce about how unrecognizable I was. Most people focus on my head and face. I know it's hard to believe (because I'm still so damn good looking! :) ) but the damage to my face was severe. People say that my head had swelled up to the size of a beach ball and that my face, quite literally, had no features. Even my Mom said that she wouldn't have known that it was me in the hospital bed if the doctors hadn't told her.

People also would describe the appearance of my hospital room. How it was hard to see me in the bed because of all of the bags of medicine and other equipment that was surrounding me. Dad said that when I was on dialysis it looked like something out of a science fiction movie. I was so intrigued by all of this that I asked if anyone had taken pictures. Unfortunately no one had.

I know it's morbid to think of taking pictures of someone while they are in such a horrible condition, but I really wanted to understand what everyone else around me had seen and dealt with while I was in the coma. Also, I needed some tangible evidence that there was no alternative to the amputations. When the damage to my head and face was described to me I couldn't believe it. Sure, when I woke up my jaw was wired shut, but other than that I looked fine and my face was one of the few parts of my body that didn't hurt! (With the exception of my jaw, which only hurt when I would try to yawn. That was unbearable!)

You may be wondering why I keep talking about the damage to my face when I opened up talking about how I found it difficult to accept why my legs had to be amputated. I promise, that will become clear in a moment. The damage to my face healed on it's own. Some might say that this was miraculous. The damage was so severe that facial reconstruction surgery was planned. As it was described to me, I would have received the surgery that can be seen in the movie Face Off.

They were going to peel my face back and implant metal plates to hold my skull together. Then the plastic surgeons, who had studied my family's facial structures would do there best to make me look something like myself again. (I can't imagine what the scars would have looked like!) However, because I was so sick with infection the doctors could not safely perform the surgery when planned. When I was finally healthy enough for the surgery the doctors discovered that all of the bones had stayed exactly where they were supposed to and had healed perfectly! No facial reconstruction was needed.

I learned of this while I was still in the burn unit. While I was happy that I had been spared the horrible surgery described above, I was angered that my legs had been amputated. I wanted to believe that I had some supernatural healing ability and that, had the doctors left my legs alone, they too would have healed perfectly. I had all of these descriptions of the damage to my face. The descriptions of my external appearance that I mentioned above, and the descriptions of the x-rays which showed a spider web of fractures across my skull that I was told looked like a broken windshield! I had hardly any description of the damage to my legs.

Very few people saw how badly I had been burned, as my legs were already bandaged by the time visitors were allowed to see me. To the best of my knowledge my Sister is the only person (other than medical staff) who truly saw the horror that the fire had wrought upon my body. The burns were somehow limited to my lower legs and right thigh. As I said, I was convinced that if they hadn't done anything to my legs they would have healed on their own. My Sister's description of the damage, while disturbing, was still not gruesome enough for me to understand. Overtime I came to accept that the amputations were medically necessary, but I still needed some tangible proof to put my lingering doubts to rest.

I knew that the hospital had taken pictures and I had asked my Physical Therapist if I could see them on several occasions. Of course, she did not have immediate access to them so that wasn't a very easy request for her to fulfill. About six months ago she did finally get access to two pictures and let me see them. These pictures were difficult to look at, and they did put my doubts to rest, but they really didn't show much. Last week I found myself presented with the opportunity to see more. These new pictures showed the damage in far more detail than what I had previously seen. (I would post them here, but I don't want to be responsible for people vomiting on their keyboards!) There is now no doubt in my mind that, even if I had the Cheerleader from Heroes power of regeneration, my legs would never have been functional again.

The fire wrecked my legs so completely that, had they been left alone, they would have hung lifeless from my body for the rest of my days. (Which would have probably been very short due to infection from the dead limbs.) Given the choice between spending my life in a wheelchair with useless legs, or spending some of my time in a wheelchair and having detachable legs (prosthetics)to escape the wheelchair, I would have chosen the latter. Of course, I was not able to make that decision because I was in a medically-induced coma at the time. Mom and Dad were faced with that horrible choice. Thank God they made the right decision!

Comments:
I didn't know that you ever saw pictures-yes, it was awful. I can still picture it vividly when I close my eyes. I'm very sorry that you had to see it too. You are right-there was really no choice yet it was difficult to make. I'm glad we made the right decision and that you are here with us still.
Love you!
 
Jeremy,
We, your family, will forever remember learning of the accident and the injuries that you had. We prayed for your survival and were thankful for all decisions made by parents and medical staff to sustain life. We can understand that,even after this long, your mind might question whether all decisions on your behalf were the proper ones for your best interests. It is a very couregeous act to pursue the truth yourself. We are so grateful that you have resolved that uncertainty for yourself. I know your grandfather would be very proud of such a brave action and even more proud of your conclusions.

We love you,

Lilla and Harry
 
I don't think you remember any of this as far as I recall because, for one thing, they subsequently knocked you silly, but in addition to this amazing post about what you thought during the time following this, really special stuff- I am going to have to meditate about these thoughts coupled with what happened right after the crash- the fact that I was absolutely, completely, dumbfounded/shocked to learn that you literally clearly and calmly answered all questions to EMS staff in the worst moments (bringing me the most- ironically- amazingly positive and hopeful feeling) in the moments after your ordeal- (prior to them knocking you silly)- I'm thinking something about the human spirit- Stuff I just plain can't totally know and comprehend, but certainly gives me hope to wonder at- Matt
 
Jeremy,

I am glad you resolved this issue in your own way and on your own terms. You have been through the most amazing jouney and faced all of the steps with such great courage. We are all blessed to have you still here with us. Take care friend. Jennie, Jim and Anna
 
Jeremy,
I really enjoyed this post. Thank you for being so candid and honest and for being such a real person.
I had no idea you'd had such damage done to your face/head etc.
Thank you for sharing this...and glad you got closure on the subject.
You're blessed with an amazing family to be sure.
~Violet
 
I'm sure it must have been very hard to deal with such a major decision being made without your input. But it makes me think of several patients that I've taken care of who have been alert and able to refuse amputations when there was really no hope of healing from their injuries or disease processes, and they all suffered tremendously for months, and then ended up giving in to the amputations -at which point several of them were in worse shape, making the surgery and recovery even more difficult. So with as much as you went through, I'm glad you didnt go through extra suffering like that, that ultimately resulted in the same outcome anyway. and I'm glad you got to see the pictures for your own satisfaction, it sounds like that was good for you.
-and you're right, it is hard to believe that the damage to your face was so severe since you are still so damn good looking! :)
 
Hugs
 
Burns are some of the most horrific injuries we deal with; having dealt with the results of car fires on the human body I have a pretty good idea of what you saw in the pictures. Sarah, I am so sorry you had to see that but I am glad you and your folks were able to make the decision to go ahead and take care of what had to be done so that Jeremy could make the great recovery he did. God was with all of you during that time.
Florence
 
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