By: Mary L. Collins
There’s nothing funny about thinking you may possibly be dying.
I am not a religious person, so don’t let the title of this blog fool you. I am, however, aware of things that may have special, even universal meaning; and so, let me tell you the story of waking up to an angel.
When I was 24, I was in a terrible car accident. Note to self: cute sports cars are no match for a massive SUV on icy roads. Let’s just say, if not for a seat belt, a more-than-healthy dose of luck, and a split second’s difference in where my head landed upon impact of one vehicle with another, I’d probably not be here. But my story isn’t about my accident; it’s about the relationship healthcare providers have with the person they care for after that person has suffered some kind of trauma.
Now, back to my story, my tangled car, and the gargantuan SUV that just hit me head on. Did you know that shock and trauma often catapult a person into another consciousness that is hard to explain unless you have also experienced it? I was completely unable to speak, and kind of, shall we say, “drifty”. I can recall being cold, bleeding, having trouble breathing (busted ribs) and knowing that my life was in someone else’s hands. Thankfully, I didn’t have to talk at all and was whisked off to my local hospital courtesy of the town’s volunteer EMT crew.
Upon arrival at the emergency room, I remember being surrounded by a team of doctors, nurses, x-ray technicians – you name the position, there was probably someone on the trauma team waiting to greet and care for me. However, shock really can do a number on a person. It particularly messes up one’s ability to communicate. I recall fading in and out of consciousness. I knew I was in the best possible hands. What was missing, however, was the one thing that surgery could not repair; and that was to help make a connection between my confused, semi-conscious self and someone who could tell me that I was going to be okay. All the while that doctors hovered over me assessing my external and possible internal injuries, no one talked with me. Admittedly, the ER staff had other, critical concerns to deal with. I wasn’t being ignored. Quite the contrary. There was a huge outpouring of expert medical care. Yet, during my few moments of clarity, I was desperately wondering if I was going to live or die. That level of panic made me feel strangely invisible to everyone. And, due to my traumatized state, I was not able to ask the question.
Soon thereafter, I was stabilized, wheeled out of the Emergency Room, onto an elevator, and in to surgery. “Was this it?” I thought. “Is this how life ends for me?” Dang! This wasn’t my plan at ALL!
Fast forward to the recovery room some hours later.
Groggily, I woke to soft beeping noises, low lights, a warm room and a comfortable bed. “So this is heaven?” I thought. Geez, is THIS a disappointment, or what?! You have to understand, the brain has a way of making sense of the most unbelievable things. I was sure I had died. And this was my reward: the deck of the Starship Enterprise.
And that’s when the angel appeared.
He arrived at my bedside, and whispered gently into my ear, “Mary, you are in recovery. You’re just waking up. You’re hooked to a few monitors, but you’ll be okay.”
Mind you, all this time I was convinced I had died. And so, my first thought was, “Seriously, THIS is heaven?” And this voice I was hearing, is the intake coordinator. Then he spoke again in that hushed, reassuring tone, “My name is Steve. You’ve been in an accident. I’ll be taking care of you.”
That’s it. Three sentences that sounded like a prayer. And an angel named “Steve”.
And then I realized, I hadn’t died at all. Steve was a nurse and I was in the post-operative recovery suite. That was my miracle. I had been alerted to where I was. It felt like a second chance at life – even though I was never in jeopardy of going anywhere. I was forever grateful.
What’s the lesson?
It’s this: When a person is injured or has fallen ill and is in need of medical care, it is not only important to care for the body, but to recognize that the mind and spirit of the person is very likely active and present. How you engage with that person can make all the difference in their recovery. Anyone can do this. No medical training is necessary. To say, “I’m right here by your side,” to a loved one who is in the emergency room; or, “You’ve got the very best care. Everything will be okay,” while a person you know is waiting for a prognosis, can make a huge difference in their sense of wellbeing – no matter what the outcome.
At the time of my accident I had never experienced real trauma. Afterward, I’ve made it a point to always be, whenever possible, the reassuring voice for someone at a time of need. Whether or not that person can communicate, in words, back to me or you, doesn’t matter. Just imagine what it is they NEED to hear and speak to it. “You’ll be okay.” “I’m right here with you.” “My name is Steve….I’ll be taking care of you.”
This is what our staff at Lamoille Home Health & Hospice does every day. Whether it is a nurse, a therapist, a personal care attendant or a homemaker; we let our patients know, “I’m right here with you. You’ll be okay.”
Words of an angel, indeed.
Mary L. Collins is the Marketing Director at Lamoille Home Health & Hospice. A 2014 Home Care Elite Top Agency, LHH&H is one of eleven VNAs of Vermont home health and hospice agencies serving Vermont. She also serves as Marketing Director at The Manor, a 4 star nursing home and short term rehabilitation facility in Morrisville, VT, and she chairs the Lamoille Region Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors.