We’ve reached #50. Fifty Sundays of stories, a milestone on this blog and hopefully for how the world is affected by stories of courage, hope and inspiration.
I thank you for the opportunity. I love to write, I love to blog, and I love to share stories which connect us all in this human experience. Sunday belongs to you.
The Sunday Series (50): The Rain, The Pain… The Gain
They say in the world of real estate it’s all about location, location, location. For realtor Tim Kenney, the place where his crash happened saved his life.
It was raining so hard, just so hard on that Friday night, December 6th, 2013. When Tim completed his real estate settlement with his client at a Remax Real Estate office in Arbutus, Maryland, the two said a quick goodbye and then ran to their cars. The heavens had opened, the rain was coming down in buckets, and Tim’s wipers were on high, as he struggled to see out of the windshield of his car. He pulled out of the parking lot and drove up a short hill, where he could see the blinking light. Tim had one desire on this Friday evening, he wanted to get home to his wife and two young children. But sometimes your greatest desire is thwarted by fate.
The flashing light at the top of the hill blinked red for Tim, and apparently yellow, as a caution light for cars coming from a different direction. That light is the last thing Tim Kenney remembers. The next details are those that have been told to him by family and the firefighters on the scene. No one still knows who was really at fault on that rain-drenched December night, but the reality of physics cannot be denied – a woman driving a Chevy Malibu, and traveling at a speed in excess of 50 mph plowed into Tim’s BMW. In that single moment his life changed forever.
The location of Tim’s accident most assuredly saved his life. The crash happened within 400 feet of the Arbutus Volunteer Fire Department. Several firefighters heard the crash and ran to assist. The firefighters were at the scene within minutes of impact and within 15 minutes they used the jaws of life to extract Tim through the roof of his car. Within 45 minutes he was at University of Maryland Shock Trauma.
From the picture above the next details I’m about to list for Tim’s injuries almost make sense, the fact that he’s even alive doesn’t… it’s nothing short of a miracle.
Tim’s list of injuries: his left femur completely snapped in half, his pelvis broken on both sides, all of his ribs, crushed, the vertebrae in his back, broken, his left lung completely collapsed, his right lung at half its capacity, both kidneys failed, and the most serious injury – which a CAT scan confirmed at the hospital – the path to Tim’s heart, his aorta, was torn and he was bleeding internally. From impact to Shock Trauma it had been a less than an hour, the next few hours would decide Tim’s fate.
Tim’s wife Paige was contacted by police, yet all they knew at the time was that her husband had a broken leg. But when she arrived the tests had been completed and the doctors shared the news. They told her Tim’s condition was critical, they needed to arrange for emergency surgery to get a stint where the tear was in the aorta valve and stop the bleeding. Paige nearly passed out. The couple had two children at home, 3-year-old Taylor and 1-year-old Eloise. When news of the accident broke, Paige’s mom rushed over to watch her grandchildren. Now Paige was at Shock Trauma and there lie her husband, basically on life support and the doctors telling her they “expected” he’d pull through. But they told Paige to go home to her young children, the team was being prepared and surgery wouldn’t be until very early in the morning. When she arrived back home it was her son Taylor, for some reason standing at the top of the stairs. In her mind Paige was thinking the worst, there was a possibility Taylor and Eloise might grow up without their daddy, that’s when she broke down.
Back at the hospital it was now early morning and the surgeons were busy. Two operations at the same time – one to get the stint into Tim’s aorta, the other to put his left leg back together. The heart surgery was a success, the bleeding stopped and at the same time the doctors inserted a 22-inch rod into Tim’s left leg. His femur had broken perfectly into two pieces, so the rod would do the trick. Every other part of his body, the kidneys, the pelvis, the lungs, they would all have to heal on their own.
Tim’s next memory is about a day later when he awoke in the hospital and saw Paige. He was still intubated, unable to talk or breathe on his own, but his arms and hands had been spared and with the dry erase board the nurses had given him he wrote down three letters and showed them to his wife: WTF.
Paige was just happy to see Tim’s brain and hands working. In fact all of his motor functions and brain functions were in good order, the doctors determined there was no paralysis. Later that same evening the tube was removed from Tim’s throat and he was able to breathe on his own, an early celebration in what would be a long recovery. Tim was now stable, and although badly hurt, his mind was in good shape – he was aware. As he would soon learn it was a blessing…and a curse.
Tim’s body was simply crushed by the accident. “The first week in Shock Trauma it was all about the pain”, says Tim. “I don’t think anyone has experienced pain at this level. My whole body was broken, and when the nurses would come into to move me, to clean me, or to change clothes, I had to stick a towel between my teeth so I could scream at the top of my lungs every time they turned me. Even with the morphine and the Oxycontin they gave me 15-to-20 minutes before they came back to change the dressing, the pain was so extreme. The next five or six days it was all about trying to get through the pain.”
There was a clock with a second-hand on the wall that Tim could see and it marked the excruciatingly slow passage of time. They say that time heals all wounds, but in this case time was Tim’s greatest enemy. Medication to fight the pain could only be given every three hours. The vicious cycle, repeated over and over, went something like this: the nurses would give Tim his pain meds and he would fall asleep, more like a drug-induced coma, for about an hour. He would awake in the second hour as the pain returned, in a pool of sweat and desperately wanting more meds. By the third hour the pain became so intense Tim would just stare at the clock, the second-hand ticking every so slowly, until he could push the call button and at exactly the third hour, and not one minute later, to receive his medication.
Then the cycle would begin again.
After about a week in Shock Trauma, the physical therapist arrived. It was time to get out of bed. Just six months prior to this moment Tim Kenney had finished a 600 mile trip on his road bike, The Ride the Rockies Bike Tour. Climbing the mountains on his road bike he thought there is no way a human can do this, ride uphill for three hours at a clip. For Tim that feeling was about to be surpassed by somehow getting his crushed body into an upright position and out of bed to walk, with the aid of a walker, over to a chair in the room. Tim says he first thought, “there is now way I can do this, it’s going to hurt so bad.” But he quickly used the mind over matter lessons he had learned in his ride through the Rockies – “you can do this, you have to do this. If you don’t stand up today when are you going to stand? If the doctor says you can, then you must.”
Tim did what he had to do. As a matter of fact he kept working at it and within another week he was out of Shock Trauma and transferred to the Kernan Rehab Hospital. Tim says the pain was still a “10 out of 10”, but he was so determined to get out and get back home to his family that in a three-day period of time – doing hours of rehab on his own, outside of what was required by the physical therapist – he accomplished the three goals which could secure his release: walk the 150 foot track at the rehab hospital three times, lift his damaged leg 6 inches off the ground and walk a set of stairs with his walker. Tim remembers calling Paige when the nurse signed off for him to go home. “I passed the test, I was crying, I called my wife and I could barely talk because I was so filled with emotion. It was December 18th, I thought I would be here through Christmas, but I was getting out!” With nearly a week to go before Christmas, Tim was back home.
“I don’t know if I realized what was coming in terms of the real recovery”, says Tim. “You go from trauma center, to surgery to post-surgery and a little bit of rehab progress to get home, then realize you still have a long way to go to be pain-free.” While being home helped with the emotional pain of being away from his young family, the physical pain continued in its intensity. Tim could not sleep in his bed, the pain from his still-broken body was just too much. So for weeks the only place he could bear to sit was on a love seat in his home, as the cycle of excruciating pain, pills, drug-filled sleep, (maybe 90 minutes at a clip), and more pain continued. Eventually by mid January Tim says he started to feel better. The watershed moment came later that month when the doctor told Tim he could now use a cane and put 70% pressure on his left leg, and even drive.
… The Gain
Tim said he threw away the powerful pain pills, he didn’t want to deal with them anymore. The day he got home from the doctor he told Paige he was heading out. She couldn’t believe it. It had been snowing that day, so Tim switched from his cane to his snow shoes, even though it took him 40 minutes to get them on and even longer to stand up… and he headed out to go snowshoeing. “I was never so empowered”, says Tim. “I felt like Superman. It was a turning point, the one where I knew I was in the process of healing and I can walk again. It made me feel like I was going to be OK.”
Prior to that moment Tim had proven himself to his family and friends by attending his kids Christmas show at their school, albeit with his walker, and even attended the holiday work party for his real estate team. At every event those in attendance who had heard about the accident were astonished to see him out and about. But that’s Tim Kenney – going above and beyond.
Tim says his goal for this summer is to heal to the point he can Ride the Rockies once again, 600 miles in seven days. Few doubt he won’t make it there, certainly not his wife Paige. Tim says the support from his wife has been unbelievable. The couple has been married for eight years, but been together for nearly a decade-and-a-half. “She’s my best friend”, says Tim. “She is my everything. She is my partner, the mother of my children, she is incredible.” He also says his parents, his family, aunts, uncles and the support of his closest friends has been amazing. Day after day during his 14-day stay at Shock Trauma, those who know him the best and love him the most would come by to see him. When a “bring a meal” opportunity was announced on social media, within the first hour the two-month calendar was completely filled.
Tim says he exercises and does rehab seven days a week now, trying to get all his body strength to return. He had lost 35 pounds after the accident but he is doing a lot of strength training, cross training, hiking, cycling, snowshoeing and his goal is to be in the best shape of his life. Tim says he realized that exercise also helps his mind to heal. “I’m really focused on thinking”, says Tim. “I think when I hike and I think about building up my business too. My real estate business actually grew while I was out of work. I have really good people working with me and we are preparing to have astronomical growth in 2015. Resiliency is one thing I really learned about myself. I don’t know if I was ever really tested. I don’t know in life if people really want to be tested.”
Tim continues, “the one thing I learned is life throws you curves, you never know what is going to happen. You’ve got to pick yourself back up and get yourself back together, brush yourself off and do everything you can to get back to normal.”
Words to live by, especially when you are simply grateful to live another day.
Until next time, thanks for taking the time.
Mark Brodinsky, Author, Blogger, Speaker
Author & Publisher of the #1 Amazon Best-Seller: It Takes 2. Surviving Breast Cancer: A Spouse’s Story
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