I was recently in a car accident, and by recent, I mean August 2014. I previously worked with technology startups. I had plans to move to San Francisco for personal and career reasons that same week. I played sports year-round, played the violin and piano, and I loved hosting dinners and competitive board game nights. The accident was on the morning of Aug. 4, and I broke my pelvis and upper right arm and had a major brain injury.
I spent five weeks at Vancouver General Hospital and then was admitted to GF Strong, a rehabilitation centre. I was discharged after four weeks of living there full-time. (For more details, see this post.)
Everyone has been so supportive and I thank you for that. I am grateful that you have been positive for me (even though I sometimes may not be) and I just wanted to at least share some of the struggles I've been going through.
(Photo by Hasnain Raza)
Wheelchair, walker, and bath bench
I didn't break my legs, but since I broke my pelvis and sacrum and have titanium screws drilled into my pelvis, the surgeon didn't want me walking or putting any pressure onto my pelvis. So basically, I couldn't walk until Oct. 20, 2014, when the surgeon allowed me to graduate to a walker.
Wheelchair: I had a manual wheelchair in the hospital which everyone pushed me around in daily, and I then upgraded to a electric wheelchair at GF Strong. However, there were different stages to being "approved" for driving the wheelchair on your own. Like driving, I had to go from "learners" to "with supervision" to "independent." It would take a few days or so at every stage even though I was itching to move forward! That part wasn't so great because most of the transition involved me not going anywhere unless supervised!
Walker: As soon as the surgeon approved that my right pelvis was allowed 20 percent of my body weight on my right leg, I was given a walker. I would go from sessions to sessions in my wheelchair but as soon as 3 p.m. came along, I would ditch the wheelchair for the walker. And if you were at GF Strong, you would have quickly picked up how badly I wanted to get rid of it. There was never a time any of the visitors saw me in the wheelchair.
Bath bench: I don't even know why they gave it to me. Well, I do. They said it was for my safety and to make sure that my bathtub was handicap accessible (e.g. handle bars on the wall). Did I mention how I was only allowed to shower twice a week at GF Strong? Ewwwwww.
Those who required more work or assistance during shower time, shower less. Those who required less assistance or help to shower are allowed two showers or so. I didn't need help showering but I did need assistance getting from my wheelchair to the bath bench so that meant I was only allowed two showers a week. Those who require no work at all are allowed to shower anytime they want to. Lucky them!
All activities seem new
All activities, big or small, it seems like I need to learn them again. At first, I'm not quite confident that I can do it or sure that I can. I am thankful that everyone has been supportive playing or trying a sport with me that I can't necessarily keep up with or trying an activity with me. It has been less lonely and daunting!
Sadako: Together with my friends, we folded a thousand cranes at GF Strong, the rehab centre. I have folded origami many times before but wasn't sure at first if I would remember how to. I told my friends that if they were to come visit, they're folding cranes with me. Basically, if you were coming to see me, you were joining in on the journey whether you were a good crane folder or not.
Sports: I was pretty devastated when I found out I couldn't walk. The good news: temporary. The bad news: I need to relearn most sport activities. The first time I tried tennis again was a total disaster. I definitely am weak on my serve (although precise) but I seem to have lost spacial distancing. Didn't even think that was possible! Tossing a disc seems rusty but I'm constantly hesitant to sprint for a disc which is basically a skill you need for every darn sport. Crying a little inside...
Balance: Not sure if this belonged in everyday basic self-care, because it almost feels like it does. Being in the fashion industry for six years prior, I practically grew up in heels. To give you a better idea, of the 115 pairs of shoes I have, 100 pairs are heels and maybe 15 pairs are flats, which includes runners, cleats, sandals, and basic everyday flats. I can feel bits of my heart chipping away every time I try to wear heels. The higher the worse. Ugh. I practically lived in heels!
Stairs: This was recently a pretty big achievement in my eyes. Super simple but affects you everyday. I live close to the SkyTrain (Vancouver's rapid-transit system) and there's about 150 steps up. I was pretty happy when I could walk up and down the stairs. I am able to go up now, without holding the rails and short distances going down but generally still need rails and definitely can't race for a train. Not great but oh well!
Lots of needles. If you knew me before, you knew how much I hated needles. In fact, I was so scared of needles that I didn't go to the dentist for a few years until a friend introduced me to a dentist in town that was quite good with needles. Now I go to the dentist whenever I have to versus when I need to.
Blood tests: For some darn reason, they had to take a sample of my blood every couple of days. And the worst was that they always seemed to come in the morning! Who wants to wake up to the needle guy...ever?!
Heparin: Twice a day. So, since I wasn't walking much, I had to take heparin twice a day. Heparin is a drug that thins out your blood. And of course it's administered by needles, the one thing I love the most. Yay!
Weekend passes: So at GF Strong, they had weekend passes. Unfortunately, if you were unable to be independent and had no family members, you weren't allowed to go home. You also weren't allowed to go home if you took a particular kind of drug and wasn't able to administer it yourself. Now considering the only thing stopping me from going home was this heparin shot, I had to learn to shoot myself with the needle -- twice a day. Morning and night. That's how badly I wanted to escape sleeping another night at GF Strong. Not to say I didn't love the staff there, but if I could help it, there was no way I was sleeping in the hospital bed for more nights than I had to! I gave myself two shots per weekend day and to prove it to the nurses, I had to do it at rehab too!
I really didn't know what else to call this section. Simply put, they are activities or things you would do on a day-to-day basis.
Hair: You know when you put shampoo and conditioner in your hair? You know when you have to rub it all over your head? Well, I couldn't do that with my right hand. For the longest time, I used my left hand to evenly distribute and wash my hair. My long and very unattended hair.
Bras: This is probably one of the things I was most proud of. Honestly such a simple thing but yet most rewarding activity. The day I was able to clasp my bra together from behind, was the day everyone on the fourth floor of GF Strong also knew I was able to clasp my bra together. I probably should have received an award for it. I was so happy. I am still ecstatic about it. I bet you that any woman with a broken arm would say the same. Totally stand by that.
I have three scars. Two very small scars around my pelvis, enough to fit a screw through the incision. Meanwhile, the surgeon decided to cut a six-inch scar on my arm. My biggest question till this day was why the surgeon decided that he could fit the titanium screws through small holes but yet had to cut a six-inch hole into my upper arm. I mean, there goes strapless dresses, right?
Nerves: When I saw my surgeon for the first time after the surgery, I asked him. He said that there were a lot more nerves in the arm and, in order to be precise, he decided to cut at a very specific angle in order to place and drill the titanium plate in my arm.
(Photo by Lawrence Lam, calligraphy by Tanya Truong)
First arm movement: The surgeon had talked to my friends and family about my surgery, and he said he hit a nerve so I might not ever move my right arm again. Apparently, this was difficult for my friends and family to take. This would be my right arm. The dominant arm which I write with, play tennis with, badminton, golf, and so forth. So when I threw a remote at my sister (I was horrible to her at the hospital), everyone was more in awe about me moving my arm than the actual fact of me throwing the TV remote at my sister. Anyway, so I have this six-inch scar but at least I'm mobile in my right arm, right?
There are so many more things I want to share with you but those are the ones that stood out most and I thought would be things that you would relate best to. I am continuing private rehabilitation and happy to say that even though the improvements seem minimal, my therapists and I are seeing progress all in all. Meanwhile, I have been keeping busy and I am happy to share with you a new campaign that I am working on with Brigitta Zatko.
Scars Are Beautiful is an awareness campaign to promote positive self image around scars that come from CHD, other serious medical conditions, and traumatic life events. At first, I'd been hesitant to expose my scar in public aka considering plastic surgery, but I've learnt that scars are beautiful and they represent the struggles you've had to overcome.
I would like to invite you, friends, and anyone with scars from traumatic or serious medical conditions to join me in this awareness campaign. That's also my sneaky way of figuring out which of you I can be scar buddies with.
You can join the campaign by taking a photo (it can be with any camera, nothing fancy) of you, with your scar clearly showing, and a sign that says "Scars are beautiful." It generally works best if you're standing in front of a wall so that your scar is the focus of the photo. Once you have your photo, post it on your social channels and hashtag it #scarsarebeautiful. That's it!