Now Featured in the Patheos Book Club
Fractured Not Broken: A Memoir
By Kelly Schaefer
Circular lights blared down on me. Hot searing pain stabbed my neck. I cried out, but my voice came out garbled and weak. My lips were parched.
"We're giving you something for pain right now, Kelly," the nurse said. She shot the fluid from a needle into my IV bag and the pain ebbed.
"It's all over, Kelly," the surgeon said, his blue mask resting on his forehead below his surgical cap. "You did well. I put five screws and two plates in at the back of your neck. I used bone from your hip and fused C-3 to C-4 and C-4 to C-5. Your hip and neck will be sore here." He pointed to his hip and the back of his neck. "It'll take a while to recover. The nurses will slowly elevate you to a more upright position, and eventually you'll start physical therapy, but for now, think baby steps."
Will I walk? I tried to remember if he'd told me. Maybe I missed that part of the conversation. The drugs were probably making me forget. Before I could ask him, the surgeon faded into darkness.
When I opened my eyes again, I was in a different location. They must have wheeled me somewhere else, but I didn't know where, and I didn't know how much time had passed. My head was locked in a brace, so I was unable to figure out my surroundings. Where was Mom? What day was it? Was it morning or night? Was it yesterday that Eric and I were riding horses together?
Then in a blink, everything rushed back—the accident, the surgery. Eric was still at the other hospital, recovering. Was he okay? I need you, Eric. Dear God, please make this nightmare go away. Why me? I closed my eyes, working to succumb to the drugs.
Suddenly, a glob of phlegm caught in the back of my throat. I had to cough, but I couldn't. My eyes flicked open. Fluorescent lights. Suspended ceiling. I couldn't turn my head. I was drowning! Who was there? Anyone? I needed to sit up. To cough. Choking. I can't. Breathe. Please. Someone help me. Where was the call button? There wasn't one. Even if there was, I couldn't press it. I was trapped inside my own body. No air. I couldn't even…cry… out.
I saw myself from above—outside of my body, my hair gnarled and splayed on the pillow. A silver brace encircled my neck, its appendages sitting on my shoulders, lifting my chin. Tubes sprouting like spider tentacles twisting around my body. Was this how I would die?
Two nurses rushed to my side. "We have to intubate you," one nurse said. "Stay calm."
Stay calm? I wanted to shout the worse swear word not in the dictionary. If only. I. Could. Breathe.
One nurse approached me with a long tube. "I'm going to insert this through your nose to clear your windpipe. Try to relax."
My eyes must have bulged, but after the tube was inserted, the mucous thinned, and I could finally breathe.The air filled my lungs and tears dripped down my face.
Never in my life had fear strangled and gripped my life so closely. The realization that I could no longer rely on myself for anything slammed into my chest. And even though I could finally breathe, the air in my lungs thinned. I was more alone than I'd ever been.
11/16/2015 5:00:00 AM