Thinking Through a Physical Injury Thoroughly

Jenny Sazama, the International Liberation Reference Person for Young Adults, was hit by a taxi cab while riding her bicycle in Boston, Massachusetts. This is the story of her accident, hospitalization, and early recovery, as told to Charlotte Lowrey.

I was riding down the road, coming off a footbridge onto a dangerous street, and got hit by a taxicab. The comer of the fender hit my leg between my ankle and my knee, straight on, and shattered it into many pieces. I just remember hearing a screeching sound, then flying up into the air and hitting the ground hard. At first I didn't know that my leg had been hurt, I was sort of in "Go mode" and tried to keep going. I started to put my left leg down, and as I lifted up my knee my ankle fell to the ground. There wasn't much blood. The pointy parts of my tibia were sticking up through my leg, and very dark red pools of blood were around the pointy parts. I thought to myself, "This couldn't be my leg," like I didn't have any context for this happening - I just thought, "This could not be my leg." Now, after I've discharged enough, I can go back and remember the leg actually shattering and remember that the bone didn't go through my leg when the taxi hit me, it went through my leg when I hit the ground.

It didn't hurt all that much, but I was very scared - I didn't know whether my leg was going to make it, I didn't know whether l was going to make it. All my old chronic patterns came up. I kept asking: "I don't have time for this, I need to get out of here" which is a very old chronic. And, "If only I could get the right person here, somebody would fix it." All these chronics were running in full force, but on top of them I was able to keep thinking.

I hit on a busy street with a construction site at the corner so there were a lot of people there, so I just started to scream, but it was a very conscious decision to scream. I thought to myself, "Okay, the best thing to do here is to get some help and to scream. The healing will happen faster if I can start to get the hurt out now." So I started screaming, "Oh my God, not my leg, not my leg." Some people came running over - one man in particular came over and said "Are you okay, are you okay?", and I said, "Could you hold onto my knee and ankle, and hold my leg in as straight a line as you can while I scream for a while?" I told him I needed to scream or I'd pass out, which wasn't true,but I figured it would give him some context for my screaming.

Every few seconds I would stop and tell him "I'm really fine, I just need to keep screaming," and he'd say, "Great, go ahead." I kept screaming and reassuring the people around me that I hadn't lost my judgment but that I was also going to keep getting these feelings out. It was obvious to me that even though I was the one who was hurt, because I had discharged enough and understood about pain and fear and the difference between them, I was probably thinking better than anyone else at the scene.

So I was looking down at my leg, which was almost disconnected from my body and did not look anything like a leg. It was sort of funny - my shoe was still on; it was a white shoe. I felt like one of those puppets that has a shoe and a disconnected leg. My knapsack had been ripped right off of me. I asked somebody to go over and get my phone book out, and I looked up some phone numbers and asked them to call Sarah Marxer, who was supposed to meet me at the train station. The whole time my mind was thinking of all these details.

Then the Emergency Medical Technicians (EMTs) got there and threw me down on one of those stretchers and tied my neck and my arms down. This was to make sure I didn't have spinal damage. I appreciate that they did that. However, they were the two worst people in the whole thing, and now I realize that's because their job is to go scrape people up off sidewalks all the time. They don't have any resource for their feelings. They kept yelling, "Calm down. Say your name, what's your name, spell your name?" I said, "Ask the police officer, she's already asked me five times."

People keep asking me about the taxi driver. He got out of his car, walked around in circles, and then got back into it, but people from the construction site stopped him from leaving. I by no means blame him, but I was glad they stopped him because I have no health insurance, like fifty percent of this nation, and if they hadn't I wouldn't have had any way to pay the hospital bills.

After the EMTs got there I really needed to stop discharging because there were a lot of other things I needed to handle. There was a real silencing process going on. I thank God that I was over twenty-one years old. In this situation, if I had been under twenty-one they would have just taken all decisions away from me. They were good at moving me carefully into the ambulance, but the whole time I was looking up at the ceiling, so this was the last time that I saw my leg for two days.

I had to make sure I had all of my things with me (they first put them in the police car), including my phone book and my knapsack. No one was listening to me - I had to keep repeating things over and over, in a very firm voice. I said, "Make sure that I've got all of my stuff in the ambulance with me," and I was reaching out to people on the street that I had made a little bit of contact with before the EMTs got there, saying, "Could you make sure that this gets done?" I asked the EMTs to make sure that the phone calls had been made, and they kept saying, "It's all been taken care of, it's all been taken care of." I looked up at one EMT and said something basically like: "I don't trust you. Whenever people tell me that it's all being taken care of like that, I never trust them." And he laughed, and he said, "Oh, my wife always says the same thing." So I cracked a few jokes and got them laughing a little bit, but then repeated all the phone numbers and said, "Please make sure someone calls these people."

In the emergency room, amid all the bright lights, and again, a lot of people without much attention, I spent a lot of time cracking jokes and listening to people about their lives, all in order to make sure that the phone calls got made, that they didn't give me any drugs, and that I got taken care of well.

When it came time to set my leg, the goal was to get it into a straight line. The doctors told me that I would have to take morphine or some other kind of pain killer before they could start. I said "No, you have to do this without pain killers." I knew I had three Co-Counselors on the way to the hospital, and I didn't want to waste crucial healing time confused by drugs. The accident was enough to recover from. Five different doctors came in and argued with me. Five different doctors! They told me this was going to hurt more than anything I had ever felt, and needless to say I did start to question my judgment a little bit. But I just kept thinking of one time I heard Tim talk about pain, and he said "It's just pain." So I hung onto the fact that I know what to do with the fear, so I can handle the pain. One doctor came in and just told me they were giving me morphine. I started shouting his name until he came back and I said, "I don't think you understood me, I'm not taking pain killers. You don't have to understand why, but it's my body and you're not giving them to me. Set my leg without them." And he said "Okay." (A side note is that he got a crush on me and came up and visited me almost every day!)

Then another doctor came in who wasn't involved in the case, but he was about to go home on his bicycle. He said, "I heard about you in the hallway, not taking pain killers in this bicycle accident, and I wanted to come in and meet you. I was just about to ride my bike home, and now I'm a little nervous about it." So I said, "Go ahead and ride your bike. Be careful, wear your helmet, but don't ever give up riding your bike."

When they set my leg they splashed on this nice yellow, cold, wet antiseptic 'cause there's a very high danger of infection when the bone has gone through. They yanked and pulled, and it took about two minutes to get it straight. Then they put a warm plaster stuff around it which very quickly hardened into a splint, and it felt WONDERFUL! My leg was so much happier being in a straight line than it was being all crumpled up. It was hard, but it wasn't anything like what they told me it was going to be like. I got this one nurse, the funny one, to hold my hand. It's pretty amazing that they would have just left me. But he understood enough to hang in there and hold my hand, and he told me jokes the whole time.

Susan Lees, Chris Austill, and Sarah Marxer came and were able to see me for a little while. I was in "function" mode. I could discharge a little bit when they got there, but I'd sort of stuffed down my feelings pretty well. So I started taking care of them too. Susan told me, "Jenny, we're not here all full of feelings, we're here for you!" Also there was another wonderful woman - she was there with her mother, and she didn't speak very much English. She just came over to me and held my hand, and she sang "He's got the whole world In his hands," and she told me that God was with me, and I just started to cry - that broke it. I cried and she cried and it was really, sweet. It was one of those fleeting moments - I'll never see her again.

Then they brought me in for X-rays. They got me up on the table and again I cracked jokes and took care of those people. I very quickly figured out that if I could be really nice and ask them about their lives then I could get what I wanted. I had to win people over, and that was basically by counseling them. So I was functioning very well on top of my fear. A month later I was able to go back and look at how scared I was. But at the time I wasn't quite realizing how bad an injury this was. I saw my leg dangling from my knee, but I still didn't quite get it. I'm an active person; I've had accidents before and walked away from them many times.

I had a horribly shut-down nurse who wouldn't let Susan in, so she just snuck in. And Chris Austill came up to me and put his face right up against my face and stayed for about a minute and would not go away, and that really broke something. Like Susan insisting they were there for me and that woman singing to me. I was able to take that into surgery.

When the anesthesiologist came he'd already been warned by the other doctors that I was a stubborn case. I told him I wanted nothing that affected my head, that was the main thing. "I understand I need to be perfectly still for the surgery, but I don't want anything to affect my head." He kept giving me options and I had to say over and over "What about this, does that affect my head?" Finally we picked this certain type of spinal block, and I went into the operating room. I think this is the time that I really felt like I was going to die, more than any other time. This is the time I stopped being able to distinguish between my distress patterns and reality. The whole rest of the time my chronics were running, but I was able to still distinguish that they were chronics and that actually I was okay here.

I hadn't met my surgeon yet. I later found that she walked with a limp, and she got into the medical profession because she was a patient her whole life - she was born with a fused hip. I think it made her more aware - she was the most human doctor I had met up to that point. I think both her being a woman and the fact that she'd been on the other end of the medical system had left her in a human spot. She was wonderful - she came in and was very reassuring.

I yawned and shook through the whole surgery, except the last hour I fell asleep. I just had had too much. It felt okay to go to sleep at that point. They kept putting more towels around me and asking me if I was cold, because I was shaking, so I told them I was a little cold - scared and cold. When another person would come in and take a shift and ask why I was shaking they'd say, "Oh she's scared and cold." So people began to understand and be more relaxed with it. They put on Crosby, Stills and Nash - they did ask me if I liked that music, if I had any preferences, which was nice. Then they started talking about the Celtics game and who'd won the championships, but the doctor kept talking to me - she asked me if I had seen the championship. She was excited that I was awake during surgery, she doesn't get very many people that want to be awake. She didn't understand it exactly, but she liked that I was there. She explained things to me when I asked what she was doing. There was a water pick which I heard, and she explained to me that they clean the wound all out because they're scared of an infection. First she cut my leg open and put the plate down and had to screw everything in place. I didn't see it, but she said she was using a Black & Decker drill. It sounded like when you change your tires. The surgery took four hours. She said my leg was like a jig saw puzzle. She kept finding parts of my leg bone down near my ankle. There were parts of the bone that were so badly shattered that she had to throw them out. She kept saying every once in a while, "Oops, there goes another piece of bone, Jenny."

Then I went into the recovery room and they still hooked me up to a morphine machine! They just did not get it. Neal got them to write at the top of the chart, "Do Not Ask Her If She Wants Pain Killers," and they'd still all ask me. They'd come in and say "I saw at the top of your chart that you didn't want to be asked about pain killers, but if you want any...."

I was very tired in the recovery room. Then MY mother came in, and Becca and Lee Cooprider. This was like one o'clock in the morning. I cried when I saw my mother walk in the door. I asked the doctor what time that day I was going to get to go home. She laughed at me and said, "Oh, you'll be here for a few days." It turns out I was there for a week. My mother was wonderful through the whole thing. She knew how important it was for me to spend time with counselors, and she made me food I like to eat. Through this whole thing my mother by far has been the most consistent, best support for me.

Neal spent two weeks, day in and day out, with me, and stayed overnight in the hospital three of the seven nights. Jay Hoffer stayed over one night too, and the hospital staff let them. It was pretty amazing. Chris Austill organized people to come in and see me, and made sure I was not alone at all for the first four days. I was able to discharge really well, but people kept saying, "Scream" and "Say OW", and I didn't get that direction. The only time it worked was when Harvey screamed for me on the telephone. He was in a meeting with Katie and Ann and Ellie once, and he had them all scream going "Ow, oooh, ooh, ow" and I laughed a lot. It wasn't until I got home from the hospital and I had some space to actually scream that I got what they were saying about that direction. I didn't realize how silenced I was in the hospital, that I was still functioning under that silencing. The silencing was probably old, but it was being restimulated and added onto in the hospital.

People were wonderful. The Boston RC Community was incredible. People just came out of the woodwork and took time out of their schedules and came in. I really felt how loved I was there. Chris kept people coming, and checked in with me every morning and every night, and saw who I wanted. It was really, nice. My roommate heard me crying all the time - I just decided I was going ahead with some level of discharge there. She started explaining to her visitors about how "This is the way she's dealing with things, and she was up walking the other day, much faster than I've been able to get up." It was good. I had to graduate from crutch class - go up and down three stairs before they'd let me out. Then I went home with my mom to Connecticut.

I got a lawyer and started dealing with the taxicab's insurance company. I was just immediately ready to forgive. I drive fast sometimes too, and there was a chronic way I was ready to assume it was my fault. Things didn't change until my lawyer said to me, "I know what you're going through, my wife's a psychologist - you're blaming yourself, aren't you?" and I said, "Yeah, actually I am." He said, "I know you want to be very honest and tell the truth, Jenny. From what you've told me about this story, it wasn't your fault, and I think you have to start taking the attitude of "the jerk hit me." And that actually shifted my sessions after that. It took somebody being firm about it. I had a wonderful lawyer, a really human, wonderful guy.

I set up a lot of phone time. I discharged maybe an hour a day - some people gave me hourly sessions on the phone. I got phone calls from all over the place, which was great. My mom made me comfrey tea, and she had people do "energy work" on me. So there were some very nice women who came over to our house and touched my leg for half an hour at a time. It was really sweet having people come over and pay attention my leg. I took different vitamin supplements and ate special foods and so on. And kept discharging.

I thought if I discharged hard enough I wouldn't have to have a second surgery. People who didn't know that much about it were telling me that of course it was possible for it to heal. Maybe it is, and in some ways I think it's good to take that attitude, but in some ways it set me up to blame myself for not healing completely at once. Some of the New Age healing stuff sets you up for taking personal responsibility for it.

I had a wheelchair. Marsha Saxton told me that wheel chairs are wonderful. She said doctors will never tell you about them because they feel like they're a sign of medical failing - they failed if one of their patients is in a wheelchair. So she said "Get one." With the amount of effort it takes you to go ten steps you can go all around town if somebody pushes you. You get to be friends with all the other people in wheelchairs. I learned a lot about disability oppression - people would try not to stare, but young people would stare hard, and I'd invite them to come over and talk to me. They were scared of me, treated me oddly. It's a place that we all really need to work a lot more than we think we do. I think it's possible to have an accident like this and not notice the disability oppression, but I know I will never look at the world the same way anymore. I feel a different bond with people who have any disabilities at all.

I learned a lot about asking for help. One thing is to feel good about asking. I also think the most important part is to take a good look at people and figure out what each person will be able to help with. One person may be good at carrying things up the stairs, but may have only ten minutes of patience to help. Another person may be fun to sit and tell jokes with or help me do my laundry, but not be much help in the kitchen. It's tricky not to get discouraged about how people don't think well about helping. I found that the best thing was to stay counselor and to keep noticing how much people really did love me and let them be helpful in whatever ways we could figure out.

I think people needed to tell me, mostly for themselves, that I really was going to be okay. I know they were trying to be helpful, but I actually needed some room to admit that I had some doubts. It was good to hear someone genuinely, confidently know that I was going to be okay, but most often I think people were trying to reassure me from a not very reassuring place.

So many people stop me on the street to tell me about their own injuries. It would have been easy to resent it, but instead I found I could decide to enjoy it. I listen with great interest to what each person has to say, and use it as a chance to make nice contact and do some bonding around our injuries. It has actually been reassuring to me to see how many people have hidden disabilities.

Sometimes I make up stories about what happened to me, and say that I got in a big fight with ten people and I won. It's reached the point where it isn't really useful to me to tell the story again. It's more fun to get people laughing. It's also fun to have friends tell my story in front of me. I always like hearing other versions of it.

Often people tell me to think about all the lessons this is teaching me and how much I will grow from this experience. I have learned a lot, about people coming through for each other, about taking care of myself and struggling against chronic patterns that make me go numb around my body. I've learned a lot about other disabled people and the oppression, and about how scary snow and ice can be with crutches. It's been interesting making friends as a disabled person and continuing on with my full life while taking good time to heal. Yes, I've learned lots. This is not an experience that I would ever recommend anyone to seek out, and all of the things I've learned combined would never be worth having my leg broken. Since it did happen, however, I'm glad I have the information about pain and discharge and a wonderful group of people around me.

Jenny Sazama
Boston, Massachussetts, USA


Last modified: 2016-12-20 06:43:20-08