This video gives 23 minutes of interviews and images to more fully describe the early recovery stage through April 2019.
Upon arrival at the University of Utah Hospital, spent the entire night in surgery. As doctors scrambled to save my right hand and left food, family and friends from around Utah, Wyoming and Boston flooded in to town to support Kelly and our scared children. My head was shaved, my trach was secured, and there were long days of painful waiting and no answers.
Two surgical teams worked on my foot and hand. Miraculously, a vascular surgeon, who was not on duty at the time, was on-site and joined the other surgeons. She was able to repair blood vessels to my foot and thumb that were essential to saving both.
When all assessments were complete, they found no damage to my internal organs, (heart, lungs, brain, liver, kidney, spleen.) Another surgeon (a personal friend of my dad) reported that it was extremely rare to suffer this kind of horrific trauma without damage to internal organs or internal bleeding.
I began to gain consciousness, little by little. I will never forget what it felt like to start to hear the beeping of machines and the mumble of voices. I had no memory of the accident, no knowledge of any injuries. But what I did have was an overpowering feeling of comfort and peace, and the instant knowledge that everything was going to be just fine, and that I didn't need to worry. The gift of these feelings I credit to my loving Heavenly Father, and very likely the attending presence of my mother who had passed away 10 months before.
I couldn't speak, so it was difficult to communicate with my sweet husband as he told bits of the story to me. I could only mouth "really? Really?!" in disbelief as he shared what had happened, how long I had been in the hospital, and that my injuries were serious enough to keep us there at the hospital for a couple of months.
I was passed a wipe-board to try to write in response. I had questions, but writing was difficult with severe double vision, and limited dexterity. My first three questions were: "Who saved me? Who else was in the house? What day is it - they are expecting me to do singing time?" (I teach gospel songs along with short lessons to the young children of my church congregation each Sunday)
I was transferred out of ICU into Acute Care, where I would be given specialized care for the extensive burns, and the ability to receive a visitor or two. It was during my stay here that I received the first priesthood blessing since the accident that I was conscious for. The words of the blessing are personal and special to me, and let me know that not only would I be able to survive this, but I could thrive off of it and become more than I was before.
I spent the longest stretch of time in a rehabilitation center re-learning how to do all the most basic things. I had to learn to swallow, talk and chew with my new mouth. I had to learn how to use an adapted set of crutches and a walker (the wheelchair was easy).
It felt wonderful to be able to have the kids visit. It lifted me so high to see them, ‘hug’ them, and tell them each how much I love them. The thought I can’t shake from this time is a scripture from the Bible I have loved for decades. Phillipeans 4:11 says something like, ‘ for I have learned, in whatsoever state I am in, there with to be content.” I think of it and remember one of my most favorite mottos: I can choose to be happy.
It felt wonderful to finally leave rehab and be home with my family full-time!
KELLY is a professional care-giver now. He wakes up in the middle of the night to get me medicine. He blends my food and funnels it into squeeze bottles. He carries me up and down stairs. I really love this man.
PHYSICAL HEALTH: (head, shoulders, knees, and toes!) Head- My hair really is growing back! And I can see better than ever all those pesky gray hairs that have been hiding - ha, ha! I had a surgery last week to lift the right side of my face hopefully back to where it matches the left side of my face. Would you believe they went in through my eye for the surgery?! So crazy. I have quite a bit of swelling in my face still, especially around the eye, but it is just a matter of time before that goes away. The metal screws and bars have been removed from my teeth and I am learning to use my jaw and teeth again. They do not feel like my teeth. The bone structure, the teeth themselves...they feel borrowed from someone else. Nothing is exactly how it’s supposed to look or feel. But I am mastering them nonetheless. I have taught this mouth so far to eat a pancake doused in butter, some super soft pasta, and a few rice and beans. Those little morsels were heavenly. The pancake, made by Alyssa, made me cry as it was the first solid food in my mouth in 44 days. Oh, THANK YOU, ALYSSA!! As of last week I could honestly say I had not cried tears of anything but joy since the accident. In full disclosure, I cried a little last week as we visited with an oral surgeon. He brought me back to earth for a moment and explained that it will take at least a year to have a full set of teeth permanently in my mouth. The smiling, the talking, the eating...I will miss the normalcy of those things this coming year. I let myself have a sad moment, and now it’s time to look ahead. Every time our family learns about a setback that’s purely cosmetic, we shrug our shoulders and say, “whose even cay-oh-s (cares)?” - (an old joke)
Shoulders- The shoulders work great, but it’s the left hand we are working on. It’s in a light-weight removable cast that allows me to exercise my fingers (well, not my thumb- the bone that’s supposed to be in my thumb is still back at the explosion site) and try to get them wiggling again. We don’t have strong hope my left hand will ever work the way my right hand does, but you better believe I have ambitions to try! Every time I look at my piano it makes me work harder on those fingers.
Knees & Toes - My right leg has been a little stubborn. To avoid medical jargon, the top of my foot nearest the ankles took quite a beating in the blast and the skin won’t heal over well enough that the doctors consider my foot healthy for surgery. We have hopes that perhaps next week, or the week after, we will get the repairs going on the surgery table. We got incredible news(incredible!) last week when the doctors were able to say with certainty that the tendons were in tact! WHAT?! How do you have a foot in such bad shape it ready for AMPUTATION (47 days ago, that is), but have all the tendons healthy and well?! We’re amazed, and very excited for the type of motion it may allow me to have in the future. (*sigh of relief*)
MENTAL HEALTH/EMOTIONAL HEALTH -
Most of us are healing well emotionally, but one of my children is exhibiting classic PTSD symptoms. It’s so difficult to watch your child be afraid. We are getting them professional help and taking the effects of this tragedy very seriously. We hope to see results as quickly as possible, recognizing of course that these deep emotional wounds will likely take the most time to heal. Our house has been almost entirely a joyful one, though. We’re getting fun visits from friends, and beautiful notes with words that uplift and encourage. I wish I could keep up with it and return all the many kindnesses. I have been inspired by the creative and loving ways we have been served as a family. Thank you, thank you, THANK YOU for the prayers, the love, the help of every kind...we need and appreciate it ALL!
SPIRITUAL HEALTH I really can’t explain my well being without gratitude for a few things that the world regards as spiritual in nature, but I simply regard as true. I am doing as well as I am because I feel peace, joy, sunshine, and LOVE coming to me through the Holy Ghost. I can feel Heavenly Father’s loving reassurance that all will be well, and I trust it. I don’t mean to say that everything that is broken will be perfect once again, but I do mean that however much I heal, I believe I will feel okay about, and I will feel good about the new me. I know I have everything I need to do the Lord’s will for me, even if I don’t heal any more, just as all of us do.
I began using this "torture" device to help crank my wrist back. It wouldn't bend past this point.
Surgery to repair my talus, ankle ligaments and achilles was further complicated by a stubborn open wound that we couldn't get to close.
I went in for surgery on a short list of things around my ankle (broken talus to be repaired, shrunken Achilles to stretch, ligaments to repair around the ankle) and went home from the hospital after just a one-night stay. Four days later I was in a great deal of pain. I was already being careful to elevate my foot, but then it began to get ridiculous.
For the last two weeks I have kept my foot elevated above my hips at ALL times, by necessity. If my foot dropped lower than that, the pain was intolerable and I would shout in agony. Now imagine for just a moment all the scenarios in which not being able to move your ankle below waist-height would be awkward: trying to get into a car, attending to “business” in the restroom, attempting to wear a dress to church services, showering, and dozens of others. If anyone out there would like to take a 24 hour challenge to attempt life like this, there is a king-sized candy bar in it for you.
Doctors (both my surgeon and a specialized wound care doctor) were amazed by the pain I was in, and perhaps even wondered if I was putting on a show for more pain meds (I have video evidence from High School that, in reality, I’m a terrible actress and this ploy would have never worked). More pain meds didn’t help anyway.
Two days ago it was decided by my orthopedic surgeon that something wasn’t right, and he needed to get me back in to surgery to fix what must be an infection.
So here I am, post-surgery, hanging out in a hospital room and waiting to find out what color my germs turn in a petri-dish so the doctors can know what to treat me with.
(*Sigh*) Additionally, if the wi-fi was working it would really help out the cell-phone bill.
I will say that I’m very grateful the problem is being fixed. It feels wonderful to be out of pain. But I hate being away from my family over-night. I really want to squeeze them all right now.
The diagnosis: Staphylococcus aureus
Translation: A staph infection of the easiest sort to fix. “Easy” meaning 6 weeks of PICC line antibiotics and bucket loads of pills. Plus a hospital stay until Monday 👎🏼. Pain level is tolerable. I’ll be very excited to go home on Monday.
It was VERY exciting to have all my wounds closed just in the nick of time to have clearance to swim on vacation! It was amazing to snorkel and feel weightless.
Two more of my teeth had to be removed, darn it. Don't worry, they gave me some fake ones. They're a bit of a pain, but it's better to have something than nothing! And we began the process of bone grafting. The recovery from that surgery was harder than expected, but now that it has been a little more than a week, I'm feeling much better and I can tell the stitches and sores in my mouth have begun to heal. Next step will be posts (6 months from now) and then permanent teeth (like around summer 2020). Be patient, Lori...
It seems I need to treat my health like my full-time job for awhile. I have plans to begin strengthening...well, ALL of me. I need to work on my right calf in particular, which has become this skinny little thing. I need to get it ready so when my doctor tells me I'm able, I'll be prepared to begin trying to walk on it. I also continue to work on strength and flexibility in my left hand, and re-mobilizing my left shoulder which got injured after a fall in May (I'm such a klutz). I also need to spend time rubbing at my scar tissue and trying to get that skin healthy and pliable again.
My right calf has prety much ZERO muscle in it, I can't feel or move my toes, and none of the joints in my foot work (including a very needed ankle)...this should be interesting.
Oh, how I miss working out. It felt great to cycle on a stationary bike and sweat for the first time on months. I learned that I can rotate my foot around fairly comfortably on the pedals, but standing on the pedals and trying to bike is not going to happen.
Ever heard of the Epley Vaneuver? I sure hadn't. It's a strange series of head tilts and quick motions to fix vertigo issues. I was lucky enough to have someone very skilled help relieve me of periodic dizziness and nausea from the blast in February. It was wonderful to feel relief.
I'm thankful for my sweet friend, Misti, who says she thinks she can keep me looking decent through MOST stages of growing out this shaved head. ;) She has even come to my house for several trims just to be extra kind.
My new favorite kind of therapy is pool therapy. It's amazing to have all the weight taken off my injured foot and walk almost normally under water. We do lots of walking and also a variety of lifts and squats to try to rebuild strength in my right leg.
I now wear a compression knee-high compression sock on my leg always, an effort to reduce the swelling that pools from my ankle down. They are a pain to put on with only one good hand, but they do seem to help.
Therapy is my new norm. I feel I'm becoming close friends with my team of therapists, whom I see several times a week now. I'm constantly stretching and pulling on my stiff left hand and my stubborn right foot.
I conducted a choir of about 120 children for a 45 minute presentation of gospel-themed songs for our church congregation. It was an emotional and beautiful occasion to listen to these children, whom I love so dearly, sing words that are close to my heart. As I mouthed the words dramatically to remind them of tricky parts, I found myself worried that my false teeth were going to pop out! I was so worried that all these kids would ever remember of me from that point on was that I was the song leader whose teeth fell out during the primary program!
I love birthdays. I wake up and do WHATEVER I want all day. Two desserts? Yes, please. Exercise extra long while watching a movie I've always wanted to make time for? Yup. Lunch with friends? Absolutely. Messy house? Not going to worry about that today. I love birthdays and I feel especially grateful for this beautiful life I'm privileged to still participate in.
My favorite part of the day was delivering L.I.G.H.T. Award invitations. Every year each member of my family chooses someone who has most positively influenced them during the year and we thank them with an award ceremony. It's so touching to hear my kids talk about who they've learned from and who they admire. Being a parent is such a hard job. I'm so glad my kids are being influenced by such wonderful people.
In a walking boot and with the occasional help of crutches I managed a really great vacation to the San Juan Islands with my cute family to see some good friends. I even did some short hikes. I've always loved to travel and I'm glad I can still do these trips and make these fun memories.
My most recent hand x-rays show that my thumb is trying to repair itself by regrowing bone. It's not growing it in a manner that looks anything like it SHOULD, but it's fascinating what the human body does to try to heal itself. My surgeon and I laughed and laughed when we looked at the x-rays.
Playing the piano was something I hated to do until I was in 9th grade. Once I quit lessons, I started to love singing along with simple tunes and choosing my own sheet music. Now, playing the piano is one of my favorite ways to relax and enjoy myself - especially if I can convince my daughter, Brianne, to sing along. She agreed to do a musical number in our church congregation ("I Stand All Amazed") with my accompanying on the piano. What only a few short months before had felt impossible, was now happening. It felt wonderful to play for her, even though my left hand can't play chords and could only hit half the notes.
It is always the highlight of my year! I make too much food and we celebrate the people who have taught us the most or inspired us in that year. I'm so glad I can still cook for large crowds.
Okay, let me be completely honest now. I ran a 5k IN THE POOL, at therapy. But it was the first time in a long time that I sustained 30 minutes of exercise and actually got my heart rate up. I was so excited to sweat! It was a big day. I was so happy.
I've been asked to speak a few places now. It's a little strange how almost dying can somehow qualify you to be a guest speaker at things? I always get so very nervous, and hope that what I've prepared will be of some value. The part I always enjoying is sharing my testimony about how real my Heavenly Father and the Holy Ghost have been in my life, and how reliant I feel on Jesus Christ. Life feels very sincere to me, now more than ever, and it does feel good to share things that I feel are true and important.
I really don't remember anything about the accident back in February. Nothing. I remember the first part of the drive to the cabin and then I remember waking up in a hospital after having been sedated for 5 days. But I had the strangest thing happen to me this month. I took my kids to go see "Frozen 2," which we really enjoyed. At one point in the film, the forest is on fire. There are crackling and popping sounds, and flashing light. All of the sudden my heart started racing and I couldn't quite catch my breath. I was sweating a little. When the scene passed, the feeling subsided and it wasn't long before I was enjoying myself once again. That was the first and only time I think my body was reminded of a previous trauma and had a reaction to it. The human body is so fascinating. I'm amazed that my brain has willfully forgotten the events I was completely conscious for, and amazed that it is still repairing itself from the trauma. I consider myself extremely fortunate to not recall anything and hope that these waves of PTSD? will be few and far between.
My left thumb has had minimal movement. It is generally tucked under my hand into my palm and doesn't have the ability to lift. My hand surgeon had the most remarkable idea. She moved a tendon from my left pointer finger and sewed it on to my thumb. Guess what? It LIFTS now! My thumb is still "handicapped" as it is an inch shorter than it used to be and doesn't have full strength and has limited motion - but it can LIFT! That means I can hold my phone in my left hand, pinch objects off a table, hold a bowl steady while my right hand stirs it...This is a game changer. Way to go, Dr Wong! As an added bonus, the meds from the surgery had me feeling fiiiiiine. I had so much energy and wasn't experiencing any pain in my always-hurting right foot. It was an amazing 10 hours post-surgery. It was sad to wake up the next morning morning unable to walk with ease.
I haven't felt much improvement in my left hand mobility for some time now. I go to hand therapy religiously multiple times a week, but this is about what I can get out of it. I am grateful to still be able to play the piano, but I miss the big sound you can get out of a full bass clef of notes.
After several surgeries to prepare my mouth to be strong enough for teeth (bone grafting wasn't super fun), my follow-up appointment this month shows my mouth is perfect and ready for hardware.
I tripped over my wound-vac (a device attached to my foot to help the wound on my right foot close) and fell hard on my shoulder down two steps to the garage floor. Since that time I had not had full range of motion, but my physical therapist has been working on it (and so have I) and it feels almost back to full range! It's so much easier to weight lift and even just put clothing over my head now. Hooray!
We are all trying to solve the mystery of why my right foot contonues to be in so much pain and have such constant swelling. After Christmas I did a quick and easy surgery to remove the two longest screws from around my ankle. A few weeks later I'm all healed up, but...no improvement, darn it. It was worth a try.
My toes are wiggling a little better though? Weird.
The rumor on the street is that a Dynamic brace or an IDEO brace might help me walk normally - maybe even allow me to RUN. Wouldn't that be so amazing. I've got inqueries out several places and researching it out.
It felt to be surrounded by great friends on this big day back at the gym. I learned pretty quickly that while I can't do every exercise I used to, I can modify and still work out hard.. It felt terrific to sweat and work hard for an hour. I love everyone in this picture so much.
Is this picture over-sharing? Here is what all my new hardware in my mouth looks like. It doesn't hurt as long as I keep my fake teeth in. I think the denture acts like a bandage and protects it from anything that might bother it. I'm very much looking forward to the permanent teeth that I should have by the end of the summer.
Because of the COVID-19 out-break that began this month, I've had nearly every doctor's appointment cancelled. For the most part, I welcome this. I've grown pretty tired of the hour long drive to every appointment each weekday. I do miss visiting with my therapists that I've grown to care about so much, but I'm getting good work done in my home gym and I'm so happy to have a break.
Even though the Seattle area is famously the fastest growing Covid-19 area, this is where we had to fly to get my new leg brace. We packed masks, Clorox wipes, and sanitizer. We didn't go anywhere except our hotel room, the doctor's office, and for outdoor hikes.
Unfortunately, this story has a sad ending. The brace was painful to wear, and actually gave me plantar fasciitis. It was most definitely worth a try, but my hopes of walking pain-free were crushed. I CAN take a longer step than normal with it, but because it doesn't relieve any pain, that "don't impress-a-me much" (Spice Girls). Nuts.
We got updated x-rays on my bad foot this month. Bad news. The arthritis in my Talus and Talo-Novicular areas has actually worsened. It was incredibly disheartening to hear words like "never"now being used to talk about walking easily or ever regaining the ability to run or jump.
Sometimes there is discussion about ankle fusion (not really recommended), ankle replacement (very low success rate), or amputation. Amputation gets brought up the most. I'm not ready to talk about that option yet. I've felt great about every step of this journey and the medical decisions we have made, but I get very uncomfortable when that word gets used. I'm not ready.
Mild vertigo issues resurfaced this month but were fixed once again by my wonderful physical therapist whom I adore.
Cortizone injections have been tried once or twice previously, but this time they ultrasounded the area and also gave it a hefty dose of fluid to help cushion the pain in my ankle area. It worked! It felt worlds better. Not perfect, but markedly improved. I'm told I can continue to get these injections every 6-8 weeks?
The scar from the trach that was administered back in February 2019 has just been a small nuisance. Every time I swallowed, the scar would jump up my throat with me, and it made swallowing more difficult. The same doctor who reconstructed my face helped relieve me of this annoyance. Hooray!
I was so nervous for this recorded interview, but Morgan was delightful and a very skilled interviewer. I enjoyed sharing some of my journey with her and answering difficult questions like "how do you express gratitude to the men who rescued you?" I still don't know how to answer that question. Nothing seems quite enough, that's for sure.