An Anniversary

comments: 183

Foot Today is the eighth anniversary of my accident. Exactly eight years ago I was plowed over by a garbage truck while I was crossing the street. I was in the crosswalk, crossing with the light, and the garbage truck turned into the street I was crossing and mowed me down. The guy said the sun was in his eyes and he never saw me, and didn't know that it had even happened until he heard the scream. I just said one word: "No!"

This was before September 11, or the tsunami, or Hurricane Katrina, those horrifying, unthinkable things we watched for paralyzed minutes thinking, "That can't really be happening, can it?" It's what I was thinking when I realized that the truck was accelerating and I wasn't going to make it entirely out of the way. I wish it had occurred to me just a few seconds earlier that indeed it was happening. (I'm grateful, of course, that it didn't occur to me one second later.) Sometimes I think that if I had watched those towers fall before the morning of my accident I wouldn't have wasted a single second believing that the world couldn't possibly blow apart in such a . . . prosaic . . . way as that colossal giving-over-to-gravity was. He got my ankle and foot. I hit the ground. I had what is known as a "de-gloving," and that's as literal as it sounds; the tire that ran me over stripped my ankle and foot entirely of soft tissue and skin like it was taking off a glove. Tendons and busted bones remained. It was 50/50 try to save it/amputate it. We chose try to save it, but it was a tough call. They amputated my toes, and reconstructed my foot out of a big muscle from my back, and most of the skin from my left thigh, all the way around, and butt cheek. I was 29, a newlywed, newly arrived in Portland. If you had asked me where the hospital was, I wouldn't have been able to tell you. We barely knew our way around town. I was still unpacking presents and putting them away.

I remember seeing Andy's face above me in the ER. I knew things were bad from the way the docs were acting. Everyone was moving very quickly. I truly believed that their IVs, their machines, wouldn't work on me; I wasn't like other people. All my life I had never felt like anyone else, and now that would bear out, and everyone would know what I had been trying to tell them -- instead of blood I expected to leak green slime. I had never been in a hospital before. I was shocked to wake up after -- to have survived -- the first surgery, absolutely shocked. I know it sounds bizarre, but I truly didn't think that the laws of nature applied to my physiology, and every day, as the doctors came in and said that things "looked good," I was filled with a sort of cosmic, timeless relief: I was human. My systems responded to treatment. I knew I would need every possible advantage I could get in order to recover, including professional encouragement, and regular human blood, which it turns out I do in fact have. If they said to me, as they made their rounds each morning, "You're such a good healer!" I would quiver with a sort of sobbing gratitude that was about so much more than a foot. If they forgot one morning to say it, I would ask desperately, seriously, "Am I still a good healer?" Yes, they would say, you still are. I felt entirely unequal to the situation in every possible way. Andy slept in a chair by the side of my bed every night. He met the docs at the door at sunrise each morning with a legal pad of questions. He held my hands and brushed my hair. He was not a nurse then, he was a geologist. We knew on the first day in the hospital that he would become a nurse, though. He had that look of epiphany about him. He did become one in 2003. Visitors came and went. Nurses, total strangers, cared for me so tenderly, changing my dressings and washing me, it broke my heart. I got a lot of flowers. I remember one day when I was getting a ton of them. On the fifth or so bouquet of the day, a gargantuan arrangement, I wailed, overwhelmed by the outpouring of floral support. The nurse who brought it in started to cry, too. We looked at the tag to see who the roses were from. Lo and behold, they were for someone else entirely; she had brought them to me by mistake. Oh God we laughed at that. It was the first time I'd even smiled in weeks. I don't remember many, many things about the hospital, but I remember that moment, when we laughed. I had a vision about the world when I was there. It came to me one night as if a little door opened and I looked through and eavesdropped on the truth. I saw that the world was constantly falling apart, it was always in a state of little things always falling apart, and then there were these brigades of individual human angels, with kind eyes, apples and stitches, repairing, fixing, mending, patting, bandaging the wounds of the world, and putting it back together, piece by tiny piece. I hadn't known that repair was done on a gestural level, a cellular one. It shocked me that I hadn't seen it that way before.

It was a sad, scary time. I cried constantly. I was very, very scared. I was in the hospital for a month. When I got home, it was suddenly spring and I was so grateful I hadn't missed it. I watched it roll into the yard from my bedroom window and I felt hopeful watching things bloom in slo-mo. I was in bed for months as my patchworked skin grew back, my re-routed blood vessels networked, my back muscle became foot, my bones reknitted themselves. The cat plastered herself to my side and growled if anyone got too close to me. Andy went back to work full-time, and continued to do all the cooking, shopping, laundry, and the general endless bussing and fussing required by someone who can't walk, not to mention the emotional coaching and salving of heartache, and panic. Every night he slept on the floor, next to the bed, and I woke, crying again, at 2 or 3 a.m., needing to be put on the bedpan. (Sometimes now, when I'm too lazy to get out of bed in the morning, I will say to him, "Hon, can't you just bring me the bedpan?" and he will scream, "Hon! No!" and we will think this is hilarious, the way that only people who've used bedpans in the first year of marriage do.) I don't remember him as anything other than cheerful, hopeful, confident, endlessly energized, though I'm sure that when he wasn't with me he was as scared and tired as I was. It took six surgeries over six months to fashion me a sort-of foot. I walked for the first time, unaided, almost ten months later, because I forgot my crutches at Thanksgiving. It took years before I had the wherewithal to think about other things. But I will wear this stuff forever. It protects my foot and allows me to walk. I don't take a step without all of it. Obviously I need some new stuff. I never see it from this angle.

Occasionally, I feel a weird nostalgia for my time in bed. The long quiet afternoons. The backyard cats quietly stalking each other under the bridal-veil bush. The absolute removal of all of my responsibilities. My intense focus on whatever I was embroidering. The imaginary world I created in the handwritten scrapbooks I made from my old travel diaries. The reassuring vapidity of daytime TV. The birds that came to the feeder a few feet from where I sat. Letters. No computer. The joy of short and long visits. I heard a story on This American Life several years ago about the strange longing for prison that sometimes affects ex-cons. (It's Act V of Episode 119.) It was really good. I feel that sometimes. It was an incarceration that felt a bit like childhood. You don't usually get to experience that sort of dependence, and boredom, as an adult. There was something incredibly decadent, and illicit, about it somehow.

Last week I could feel March 5th approaching. I'm not big on anniversaries in general, really, but of course, the subconscious always remembers the big ones, doesn't it. This may account for the hissy fits at home, in coffee shops, at work, and a-blog, or possibly I'm just psycho. I wasn't exactly pitch-perfect before all this happened, believe me. Nevertheless, I hope you will forgive my excessiveness lately. Posie means so much to me; it is the Second Alicia. The first one was nervous and flirty, a long-distance walker who had never owned a car, and traveled abroad by herself. This one makes gardens out of fabric, fusses about the house, and tries hard almost all the time. But you know this one. I absolutely do not believe that everything happens for a reason; I never did, and I still don't. I believe that we fashion sense out of the things that happen, and create a kind of meaning in the result. And at the end of the day, you just gotta plow on through! There is no time to waste or worry. There are so many more Alicias to be, I know.

Thank you to everyone who helped me survive, including Dr. M, my plastic surgeon, boy wonder, wherever you are. I am so happy to be alive.

183 comments

Would you believe that I was originally drawn into your wonderful blog because of your one red Dansko shoe and your nerdy left foot! I too have had 7 surgeries on my left foot and can relate to the nostalgia of just watching the tree tops sway and change. Of getting a project completely finished—or maybe more than one….of looking back on a time by what came out of it, the love of others toward one feeling so unworthy and undeserving, demanding, and helpless and not about what was suffered. Gods grace in allowing me to walk! I so enjoy peeking into your life Alicia! Thank-you for sharing so much of your talent and yourself with others.

Alicia,

I've recently had a hospitalization and felt compelled toward sewing and stitching, too. Thank you for sharing your touching, moving story. As an art therapist, I truly believe in the power of art to heal our insides while doctors work on our outsides.

Can't wait to see the book!

Bernie Shell says: January 30, 2009 at 08:27 AM

What a survivor of an incredible episode in your life!!! You and your wonderful husband have survived it - come out together closer and stronger.

Thank you for sharing that touching story with the world!

God Bless you.

Bernie

I used to believe everything happened for a reason, then some things happened that made it impossible to imagine a reason. Now I'm just not sure...but I can't help thinking that I found a link to your blog today for a reason. I've been struggling with my own anniversary, my own images of a hospital and the time after.

Sometimes reading that somebody else struggled to get beyond those points helps. Thank you for sharing....I'm going to do some more looking around on your blog - your work is gorgeous!

I am so excited to have found you! I first discovered you at the VA hospital in Dayton, Ohio. I was home on FMLA to care for my very ill father ( I call him Pops). Hallmark magazine was my get-a-way in this cold and box-check place. I ripped out your article and told my mother I wanted to make your stuff. I still have your article. I am a greater fan since reading your story. My friend, I do believe things happen for ( many of) reasons and I do believe you are the same Alicia who is being shaped by life! And... I for one, am blessed by you. In fact, I am on your site because I am will likely purchase your book- I am looking for crafts I can do with my mother and father. Their days are dire. I am looking to create. To make. To form. Memories of life shared together. Enter you. I will share your story which will bless my father who struggles to believe others have had hard days. Yes, lets plow forward and create. Let's throw off worry and look up and out. Bless you Alicia! Teresa

Wow. What an incredible story. You really make magic out of words, no matter how hard or sad. And you make magic out of colors and fabric and crafts and I love this site and I am so grateful for you!

I am reading your blog slowly, savouring every morsel. Thank you.

oh my goodness I had just no idea of your accident but wow you're amazing to just be here with us!

I agree thank you for sharing your story.
take care
Corrie:)

JoAnne Ruman says: May 17, 2010 at 08:17 AM

Wow! I googled (out of curiousity) the words - Garbage-truck-hit-girl-survived. I wanted to hear about someone else who had been through what I had been through. I was struck and drug 60 ft. by a garbage truck in Brandon, Florida in the late 70's when I was 8. Would love to chat with you, I have never spoken with someone who has had this happen to them and survived.

I've read this several times, and every time it makes me cry.

You're coming up on the anniversary- probably that's why you linked to it- isn't survival amazing? Thinking of you...

Thank you for sharing your story. I'm proud of your courageous heart for the fight that you have put up with. You won't believe how much inspiration you have passed on to me.

Hi-I'm not quite sure how I stumbled upon your blog, or this entry (from so long ago!) in particular, but I wanted to tell you that this line resonates with me so much:

"I believe that we fashion sense out of the things that happen, and create a kind of meaning in the result."

I truly believe that but never could find a way to phrase it! Thank you! Looking forward to reading more of your writing. :)

I read this before and couldn't leave a comment. Today I found it again and am still speechless. I just want to give you a big hug. I wish I could.
x

I have only just come across your blog, probably because I now have all the time in the world. It was two and a half years ago I got sceptecemia. I lost all my toes and have lots of nerve damage. Next week I go for surgery to save my foot, read leg there, you know how it is. They are planning to clean the bone and rebuild with stuff from my pelvis.
Your writing is so positive and inspiring. I keep remembering mean nurses and family who I thought were letting me down. Of course it wasn't all like that.
Since then I be been pursuing things I loved as a child and really identified with your taking time out analogy.
Thank you so much. It's wonderful to see your smiling beautiful face and creations.
It's a new life for us and I too believe we fashion what we can. I tell myself there is a reason that I am now struggling with mobility when I was a busy mother and wife but it's not an easy one to get your head round.
To life, new ones. X
Ps. If you would like to correspond I would be happy to.

I should have given you my email. It's candiceclements@ hotmail.co.uk x

Dear Alicia - I stumbled across this today. And then I shared it with a girl on Facebook. This girl is in the hospital now, because exactly a week ago she was just standing at the bus stop, waiting for a bus, when a mini van lost control and plowed into her and pinned her to a fence. She is just 20 years old and has lost numerous organs, has many broken bones, and spent last week in a coma. We are happy she is now awake, is healing, and has even laughed once. This semester of college is a wash for her. Maybe she will be out by Christmas. And then she has to heal.

I read this and I thought, this is going to be Aleks. So I posted it on her FB (which her parents and boyfriend are monitoring and posting updates on, etc). And I hope in a few weeks she will read it and maybe it will help a bit, to know someone else went down this road, and survived, and I mean emotionally.

Thanks.

catalinakel says: March 05, 2013 at 02:25 PM

Ah....now all of the beauty of your blog/pics make so much more sense. Good for you, making beauty of the ashes of destruction. I love coming here for beauty and am thankful to have found it here.

This is the first I have known of your accident . . . Since I first met you through this treasured virtual media . . . I knew there was something unique, profound, resilient "about you.". Not sure why, some things and sometimes . . . You just know.

I have never thought or believed, "everything happens for a reason . . ." the sudden death of my husband at the young age of 41, cemented my belief.

You have crystalized my belief in your words . . . " But you know this one. I absolutely do not believe that everything happens for a reason; I never did, and I still don't. I believe that we fashion sense out of the things that happen, and create a kind of meaning in the result. And at the end of the day, you just gotta plow on through! There is no time to waste or worry. There are so many more Alicias to be, I know." . . .

There are so many more Alicia's yet to be . . . thank you, thank you for your beautiful self!

Dearest Alicia. I am reading your story for the first time. Thank you so much for sharing your life with us. I wish I could put into words-without penning a book .... smile, how much it has meant to me. Sincerely. Trish

I've bee nreading your blog for several years now, but not as far back as 2006. I had no idea abouy any of this! Thank you for sharing this scary experience with us. You are very brave and strong to have put this behind you (and to use your strength to move forward). This just makes me admire you more. Wow, I'm just stunned.

Alicia, I never knew this story about you until today and I was so moved by it. You are an amazing woman. I love that I have found your blog. It looks like I have a lot of catching up to do.

Once again, amazing words Alicia, you really are gifted. I had no idea you had gone through such an horrific event You seem to have come through with amazing insights, warmth and look-at-life that is truly magnetic.

Sit back, relax and listen to some Melody Gardot. Melody also had a sort of rebirth after a terrible accident and it was through this accident that she (literally) found her voice - and what an amazing voice it is.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Melody_Gardot

Goodness, you and your family are amongst my topmost inspirational and just outright frickin' amaze-pants people in the universe! I can't even, there are no words.

So touching, so so beautiful. Thank you, Alicia!

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About Alicia Paulson

About

My name is Alicia Paulson
and I love to make things. I live with my husband and daughter in Portland, Oregon, and design sewing, embroidery, knitting, and crochet patterns. See more about me at aliciapaulson.com

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Since August of 2011 I've been using a Canon EOS 60D with an EF 18-200mm kit lens and an EF 100mm f/2.8 Macro lens.