Beyond skill — how communication, collaboration, and coordination helped save my life

162_loughridge_photo_4_6_13_72Sally Loughridge Busch is a Maine artist and author of two books that have been featured on the Catching Health blog.

An artist’s take on the frightening unfamiliar world of cancer treatments

Daniel and His Starry Night Blanket: A Story of Illness and Sibling Love

In August 2016 Sally had a stroke while driving her car. In this guest post, she describes what happened and gives thanks to the myriad people who continue to help her recover.

Guest post by Sally Loughridge Busch

What happened

On August 14, 2016, I had a hemorrhagic stroke while driving and during the subsequent car accident, almost died. I have not yet remembered what happened on that beautiful summer Sunday. Looking back from my perspective, “I” had suddenly and inexplicably “disappeared.”

With the help of my husband, police, and medical personnel, I have tried to reconstruct what happened. I learned that I am very lucky, indeed blessed, to be alive and not paralyzed.

I realize now that my injuries and prognosis would have been far worse without the communication, collaboration, and coordination among the several agencies and personnel involved in my rescue and care. My survival is not just due to the many individually skilled professionals, but their training and ability to work together efficiently and effectively.

During the accident, my car rolled several times, struck two other vehicles, and landed upside down. Fortunately, the two other drivers were not injured seriously, but I will always deeply regret the fear, pain, and trouble my accident caused them.

Extricating me after 35 minutes, first responders conducted the initial medical assessment. I was LifeFlighted from the site near Wiscasset to Central Maine Medical Center (CMMC) in Lewiston. There, a waiting and already informed trauma team further assessed my injuries and stabilized me.

In addition to suffering a bleeding stroke, I had broken my sternum, right wrist, and several other less critical bones. Most significantly, I had broken my neck at C2. I also had numerous contusions and cuts.

As a result of the left frontal stroke, I lost all movement in my right leg. Over the next few days, my C2 neck fracture worsened. Consequently, my cervical spine from C1 to C3 was fused several days later with titanium hardware.

I spent almost six weeks in the hospital, but cannot recall the initial two weeks in ICU. The stroke and use of strong painkillers led to a period of retrograde amnesia and frightening delirious fantasies.

What if …

I am humbly grateful for the collaborative working relationships among all the responding professionals that led to a positive outcome and my continuing recovery. Without such coordination, much could have gone wrong at many points.

If the first responders had not adequately protected my neck during my extrication from the car . . .

If the helicopter team, a pilot and two medics, had not arrived quickly and been less expert . . .

If the flight team had not informed the CMMC medical team ahead of my immediate needs . . .

If the hospital trauma team had not been assembled, ready and able . . .

If the doctors, surgeons, nurses, physician’s assistants, radiology technicians, therapists, and others had not each done their part and coordinated my care . . .

Profound gratitude

Once I was discharged from the hospital, my husband and sister-in-law took loving care of me. A posse of friends brought us dinner daily for weeks. I received Home Health Care from a variety of therapists for over a month. They continued to help me learn to walk again, negotiate our spiral stairs (slowly!), take a shower (carefully!), strengthen my broken wrist, and brighten my outlook.

Outpatient occupational and physical therapy for my hand and walking challenges followed. Each of these professionals empathized with my myriad needs, the discomfort of a 24/7 cervical neck collar for months, and the seeming slowness of my progress, yet kept me on task with kindness and firmness.

I knew that part of my own emotional recovery would involve thanking all those who had participated in my care. Several weeks after hospital discharge, I began to read the detailed medical records given to my husband and discovered just how many folks assisted from August 14 onward. I gathered the names of the helicopter crew, the police officers, the first responders, the trauma surgeons, the drivers whose cars I hit, the rehabilitation therapists, and others.

Writing to each of them about my gratitude felt like an inadequate token, but was still something I needed and wanted to do. After these notes were written, I realized there was a larger, almost invisible “team” — although not in the formal sense — that I wanted to recognize and thank profoundly.

This blog is meant to express my thanks and offer a tribute to the collaborative commitment by community, policing, rescue, and medical professionals that assist those in dire medical need.

Recovery from a catastrophic event is not about one hero-rescuer, one fine nurse, one surgical wizard, or one tough-love physical therapist. It is about all of them working as a team regardless of their varied employers. My spontaneously assembled “team” saved my life and set me on a path of recovery and hope. My fear, pain, and confusion have been replaced by gratitude, humility, and respect for each professional and their collective assistance.

To paraphrase Aristotle, the whole is truly greater than the sum of its parts.

Until three days ago (February 3rd) I was unable to paint due to my broken wrist which had exacerbated carpal tunnel and arthritis. Resuming my practice of oil painting has brought me both joy and hope. Before, the only paintings I did were several spontaneous and cathartic finger paintings which, not surprisingly, were about the accident. Here is one of them with the haiku I wrote about it.

Sally finger painting after stroke/accident

Bone jarred, slack jawed,
Rolling
My limbs akimbo,
Time and place suspended

Many thanks to Sally for her poignant story and words of gratitude. She is still healing from injuries to her hand and an artery in her neck but has come a long way since that fateful day in August. “I am fully on my way to being “me” again and pursuing my artistic interests,” she told me. “I do not have another book in mind, although I’ve gotten lots of urging. I just want to go back to regular life.”

Diane Atwood

About Diane Atwood

For more than 20 years, Diane was the health reporter on WCSH 6. Before that, a radiation therapist at Maine Medical Center and after, Manager of Marketing/PR at Mercy Hospital. Now she writes the award-winning blog Catching Health with Diane Atwood.