On a Saturday afternoon, my mom and I are running errands at the Montgomery Mall. As I'm strolling through Macy's housewares department, a saleswoman turns to me unexpectedly.
"What happened to you?" she says.
For a split-second, I have no idea what she's talking about. What happened to me? When? Today?
Well, this morning I was at my niece's birthday party. Oh wait! Do I have ice cream on my face? Did I get some of it on my shirt??
Then I realize what she's looking at. Of course. I'm wearing shorts.
"Oh? You mean what happened to my leg," I say.
So I tell her the story of what happened to me. (The short version, anyway.)
I guess it should have been the first thing that came to mind. But the crazy thing is, it wasn't! In this tiny random interaction, I realize how far I've come. It's taken nearly 7 years, and finally...
WHAT HAPPENED TO ME IS NOT WHO I AM.
The accident, the trauma, the recovery -- who I was before, and every step I take after -- they're all parts of me. But I'm more than the sum of those parts.
And the story is still unfolding!
At Mile Marker 5,575, I'm invited to speak at the New Waves in Trauma Conference at Jefferson Hospital. I spend weeks planning my presentation, thinking about not just what happened to me, but where I am now, and all the forces that carried me there.
That last part is nearly impossible to put into words. How the trauma team supported me through surgeries, bandage changes, and sleepless nights. How they cared for me over and over again, as we made 6 return trips to the ER, each one reopening those traumatic wounds. How they somehow made sure I came out the other side.
When Nurse Deb introduces me at the conference, she asks for a show of hands from the audience. "How many of you know Rebecca?" she asks. "How many of you took care of her while she was a patient?"
In a room of 200, maybe 20 hands go up. I feel like they all took care of me, but in reality, Jefferson is a large city trauma center. Shifts change. Staff shuffles. Seven years is a long time.
What happened to you?
For the first 10 minutes, I recount my story from November 9, 2010, the morning I landed in bed 32T of the trauma bay.
|A lot has happened since that day!|
After that, I describe what it FEELS like to be a trauma patient, and things my team said and did that helped "heal" those emotions. I even replay the video from Mile 160, our first anniversary walk on November 9, 2011.
when I was first delivered to the trauma bay. Our conversation wavers between recalling the day we met and catching up on all that's happened since!
"I remember how we brought your mom in to see you before we intubated you," Aileen says.
It's amazing what she remembers. Hearing the story from her perspective is like watching my own movie from a different camera angle.
After the conference, we gather with the Jefferson community for the Excellence in Trauma Awards. My family and I attend every year, along with other trauma patients and families who return to celebrate with the people who saved their lives.
My last hospitalization was at Mile 700, almost exactly 5 years ago, but those memories run deep...
|...deep enough to get a selfie with your surgeon!|
At this year's event, I run into Tommy, a new amputee I've been visiting the past few months as a peer mentor.
|We shared some of the same doctors and nurses!|
I also meet Calvin, a trauma survivor who nearly lost his life in a car accident 18 years ago. Now he's THRIVING, beaming proudly with his wife and children by his side. We've only just met, but we embrace in a group hug. Even as strangers, we feel like old friends.
"You're part of our family," Calvin's wife says to us. "Our trauma family."
What happened to you?
I've worked hard to move beyond the trauma of the accident, but it has lingering effects on my life. It's left me with scars: a little leg, a prosthetic leg, crutches, a rocky digestive system, and emotions that flare up when I least expect them. Yet it's also filled my world with opportunities and projects I could never have imagined.
|Like being a hospital volunteer!|
Most of all, it's connected me with people who've helped transform this tragedy into a tale that's cherished and hopeful.
|These are a few of them!|
So... What happened to you?
It's an interesting question, especially today.
I'm gonna wrap up this post because I've gotta run. (Figuratively anyway!) In a few short hours I'll be attending my 30-year high school reunion. Yep, it's been quite the week for looking back!
|Class of '87... I'm in there somewhere!|
Tonight, as I crowd into a party with some of those 300 classmates, I'm pretty sure "What happened to you?" will be a question on everyone's mind. Not what happened to me, but what happened to all of us over the last 3 decades.
I'm excited to hear the answers.
And no worries on my end.
I've got a pretty good story of my own.