In early February of 1999, I was 23 years old and in my second year of x-ray school. I was president of the Radiography class, and in addition to my school obligations, I had a job in a grocery store deli not far from home, so my schedule was pretty full. It was around 7 on a cold, crisp, sunny winter morning. I had just turned onto Route 715 not two miles from the house and started zooming down the road in my candy apple red 1993 Dodge Shadow. The roads were finally clean after a weekend snowstorm, and as I started around the curve past the the old dairy, I kicked the car into fourth gear and almost immediately regretted it.
The roads in Pennsylvania are famous for their patches of what’s called “black ice”, slippery spots of ice on the road that blend right into the black top, making travel dangerous at best, treacherous if you’re late for your Radiographic Pathology class and taking turns on a country road just a tad too fast.
I hit the ice without realizing what had happened. The car swerved into the oncoming lane. Without thinking, I wrenched the steering wheel back to the right, and the car started going off the road. I slammed on my brakes with my right foot and braced myself for impact.
And impact I did. Right into a large oak tree, down in a slight ditch off the side of the road. I don’t remember actually hitting the tree. One second the car was flying off the side of the road, and the next second I was looking at the trunk of a tree. I sat there for a second, trying to process what just happened to me, and then the panic took over. I had no idea if the car was okay, I had no idea if I was okay or what kind of injuries I had. My only thought was that I HAD TO GET THE FUCK OUT OF THE CAR, IMMEDIATELY.
I undid the seatbelt and winced as it dislodged from where it had cut my neck on the left side. I tried to open my door and it wouldn’t move. I slammed my left shoulder against it. Harder. The door didn’t budge. I was still in panic mode, still wanting to get out of the car no matter what. I leaned over and tried the passenger door, which, thankfully opened, so I had a way out. I just had to get over there. I started to push myself out of the driver’s seat and that’s when I realized there was something wrong with my right foot. It just kind of…hung there.
I pushed that fact out of my mind and focused on the task at hand, namely getting out of the car. I climbed out of the driver’s seat, over the stick shift, and across the passenger seat onto the snowy frozen ground. I pushed myself up onto my left foot, set my right leg down, and tried to put weight on my right foot. I figured out my ankle was broken by the way my lower leg folded in half.
I miraculously flagged down a passing car. I still to this day don’t know how they saw me, in a ditch, behind my car, waving my arms frantically while jumping up and down on my good leg. The good Samaritan miraculously had a cell phone (not everyone had one back then), and he called my parents at home and the local ambulance company. I sat down on the ground and waited for the ambulance to arrive.
Despite the fact that I was standing on my good leg for a while, they put me on a backboard. Then they cut my jeans up my right leg because that’s what you do in a trauma. You know, instead of asking the person who only had a damn broken leg and could do pretty much anything they’d want to roll her pant leg up. The ride to the hospital took forever, and the wait in the hallway outside the x-ray department was twice as long. Until they found out I was an x-ray student, then of COURSE they couldn’t do enough for me.
We waited a couple hours (yes, hours) for an orthopedic consult, and the surgeon said I could try to get away with just casting, but to ensure the best healing possible, surgery was the way to go. So at around 3pm (yes, eight full hours after the accident), I went into surgery for what’s called an ORIF (Open Reduction Internal Fixation) of my right ankle. It took nine screws and a plate to put my ankle back together. I spent the night in the hospital, and had a cast for six weeks. I didn’t have great health insurance at the time so physical therapy and rehab weren’t an option. About eight weeks after the injury I was allowed to go back to work at the deli and resume my clinical hours at the hospital.
The first week was excruciating to be on my feet. I’d go home after a shift and just cry, my foot hurt so bad. After two weeks or so the pain went away, and the limping decreased, but it never fully went away, and after a busy day of being on my feet it still hurts. My right ankle is scarred on both sides, and remains swollen to this day. I developed traumatic arthritis in the ankle, and at least four days out of the week I take an anti-inflammatory to help the pain.
I could get the screws and plate taken out if I wanted to, but at this point, 12 years later, it really wouldn’t make that much of a difference, besides the fact that I can’t afford to be out of work for more than two week. I’ve adjusted to life like this. I’ve learned to live with the pain and I barely notice the limp anymore, except when it rains. Something with the change in the weather really messes with the arthritis.
I hate when it rains. Almost as much as I hate black ice.