The First week of September in 1992 after moving in with my biological father I was involved in helping him with Civil War re-enactments. Recently, I was re-diagnosed with Chronic Fatigue – a lifetime disease that I would never be cured from. I didn't want to let my dad down, and decided to go to our next re-enactment on this day in 1992. I am a woman of my word and when I say I will do something, I do: sometimes to a fault.
Dressed in an authentic 1880's bustle dress with a real steel corset to match, I was running late. The trip to Zion from Hebron was about 35 miles. The mayor's son, Daniel, was to come with me. I picked him up and off we went. He was 12 years old. The Glass Diet Pepsi bottle was sitting between my knees and we were talking, laughing, anxious to get to the production in Zion. I was 24. Time passed slowly and I was driving the speed limit in my little blue Geo Storm that I just bought. A tiny little sports car with a wide open sunroof that day and CD player.
In front of me there were three cars doing about 35 miles an hour. Carefully, in a passing zone, I passed each car and continued on down the road. The third car was picking up speed…and they seemed to be lost. On Route 137 near Antioch, she turned her right turn signal on to turn into the State Park. At the last minute…she turned left into a blind driveway…as I was going around her; at 63 mph.
I remember the rest of this in slow motion. All this happened in milliseconds: My first mothering instinct was to "brace" Daniel. Hold him back with all my might with my right arm. My second instinct was to relax and then I screamed, "Oh my God! We are going to flip". We hit her heavy chevy and did…I felt one flip, then two, then three, then four, then five. I thought to myself, "When is this going to stop rolling". Finally we came to a rest. Daniel had blood on him. He screamed at me in horror and then scrambled out of the car. The only thing I was worried about for a moment was if he was ok. He was – thank goodness. The second thing I did, with fear in my heart, I sat up and bumped my head on the parking brake. I was sitting on the roof, the car was upside down and I thought she was "going to blow up". Scared to wiggle my legs…I held my breathe and said, "Please Lord, I didn't feel a thing when we flipped, please let me NOT be paralyzed". I wiggled my legs and wasn't paralyzed. I cried for joy. But there was an amazing amount of blood in my eyes. "Oh great, I thought, my face is cut to shreds! I'll have to wiggle out on my hands through the window". Then I saw what Daniel was screaming at; my hands. Blood was everywhere, they were numb. My right hand looked like a piece of raw meat prepared by the butcher and wrapped in twine to be cooked for a meal. My left hand was as thin as a piece of paper, disfigured into the shape of the letter "Z". I looked at my right hand and said, "Wow, I'm glad I didn't feel that." But I was more concerned about my face. I looked at my paper-thin mangled left hand and said, "didn't feel that either". I was still more worried about my face. I didn't quite see it the way it really was. I thought my hands were lacerated, nothing that a few weeks healing wouldn't take care of.
I learned later that his name was Scott. He was in a black concert tee shirt. After me saying, "Someone's gonna have to pull me out, because my butt can't fit through this window in this dress", he pulled me out. My sense of humour kicks in when I am in shock! I stood up and walked around for about 10 seconds…calling him a liar because I knew my face was torn to shreds. He got my name and said, "Megan, your face is fine…really, you just have a cut above your eye and that's all." I said, "I think I better lay down". I lay my head on his crossed legs right there on the side of the pavement. He talked to me, asked me my name over and over, wondered why I was all dressed up in costume, told me about his dog and I told him about mine, told him where I lived as the vandals stole my wallet and the $230 in it which was never recovered.
Thirty minutes later the paramedics came with their bandage scissors and ripped open the steel corset (which saved my life and my organs) and exposed me completely to the public. The leering and jeering about my upper half being naked and the cat call of "nice boobs" rang through the crowd.. the Paramedics shoed teh gawkers away and covered me as soon as they could. I felt violated and disgusted that while I lay there bleeding and in danger that some asshold had the nerve to say "nice tits!". The ride to hospital was 65 miles away.
I heard them whisper over and over again about stuff I had no idea about. They asked me, "What do you do for a living, and what do you want to become." I said, "I am a pianist who wants to teach English. Music first, English second." Pretty amazed, they were, at the coherence I had on 15 cc's of morphine. They whispered underneath their breath about, "dammit, she's a pianist…what is the best case scenario". I heard them go around and around about it until 6:30 pm that evening. They had made their decision.
The team of 12 surgeons that were the best hand surgeons in the US came to me and said, "Your left hand will heal just fine, the bones are completely crushed and some steel parts and plastic will make it all well again. Four incisions into your wrist and you will be as good as new. Your right hand, however, we will have to take your first and middle fingers"
My parents were there to hear this news. My mom was crying.
I said, "how far will you have to take them down to"
The doc said, "to the first knuckle, maybe second. I am not sure. We are hoping to the first so you can play piano again. Your thumb might have to be taken, completely, as well. But we have a new technology we would like to try through microsurgery. We would like to try it if you can have your parents sign for you. But first we have to cut those rings off your fingers, sweetie"
"of course, I said". My mom was still crying and reminded the surgeons that I was pianist.
I screamed at the top of my lungs as the pain I felt seared in my hands. They inserted blunt surgical instruments (they told me these metal forceps were called "steel deal cutters") into the bloody mess that was my right hand. The first finger was the ring that my mom gave me…was cutting more and more deeply into the wound. It has swollen around it. "Snap"! The cutters made it through the steel easily but my hands were beyond pain. Searing again, the second ring on my middle finger, my Uncle's class ring, this time…and two times in a row, tears poured down my face. The morphine didn't touch the pain. I lost my Uncle's 1939 class ring and above the pain of it all, i cried having to destroy this life momento.
Count backward from three, Neal said. "Three, two" and I was out. I was laid out on the cold surgical table with my arms outstretched to each side like Jesus on the Cross. My parents said that I looked like I was being crucified as six surgeons on one side and six surgeons on the other reconstructed what was left of my hands. They said I would be out for six hours and that I wouldn't feel a thing. I dreamt of horses and mostly birds, doves and animals, things that I have never dreamed before.
And exactly six hours to the minute, my boyfriend at the time, kissed me and I awoke from the anesthesia. Love is a powerful thing. This sounds so much like sleeping beauty that it sounds hard to believe. His name was Jerry Janik..you can ask anyone there.
Both hands were bandaged up to my elbows. Two pinkys sticking out. That' s it. I felt to see if they had taken any skin from my hip like they wanted to. They didn't have to. Another blessing and one less scar. My eye was stitched up from the airbag injury. The next 5 days, the hospital was to be my new home. I waited, thanked God I was still alive, wondered what they did to me.
The next day Dr. Matloub came in to see me.
He said, "I've been in surgery since you came in. All night I've worked and I'm extremely exhausted". He had a thick Hungarian accent.
I said, "Please Dr. Matloub, please rest. You just saved my life….stay with me awhile."
After a few stolen moments of rest for him, he explained that he "had to take my first and middle finger down to my second knuckle, through the new technology my right thumb is completely normal looking, but will have limited use, your left hand will be as good as new (they "installed" four steel rods …which stuck straight out of my flesh…kinda gross until I got use to it).
His last words fell to my ears like disharmonic wailing banshees.
"You will never play piano ever again".
He and I were alone those moments. My I.V. was in my jugular vein as these words sunk in. He came over to me and I was whimpering and crying somewhat..and he said, "I am so sorry. But you are a brave young lady and technology advances everyday. We saved your thumb and left hand. One of these days, maybe you can have your other two digits replaced." He hugged me and said he had to go and asked me if I was going to be alright. I said I would be eventually and said thanks for stopping by…and for "all your good work, Dr. Matloub. Come rest anytime you like here. You are good company"
For the next 30 minutes I was feeling disabled, disfigured, disowned, dejected, unlovable, unloved, and every other negative emotion with becoming a new "amputee". I couldn't play piano, be loved, & couldn't even go to the bathroom without someone's help. The 30 minutes ended when my new boyfriend showed up with flowers for me…after driving 110 miles to get there. I realized that the sum of my parts is not who I am as a whole. I was the same, just not able to play piano anymore. He stayed with me night and day for those 5 days. The last day, my mom took me home. Also for the first time in my life I had the awesome experience of my biological mother Paulette .. have a chance to feed me. She missed that when she gave me up for adoption. The power in those moments for us were life changing.. she had her baby back in a way that she could never have imagined.
The drive home was filled with anxiety and sadness. My mom barely spoke. I was sleepy. We pulled into the driveway and she let me out. I walked slowly to the back door. I waited for her in the back hallway by our washer and dryer. She came in and went ahead of me upstairs near the kitchen. I followed her upstairs and there was my piano. I sat down and looked at my bandaged hands with my two pinkys sticking out. Right there I cried my head off, went back downstairs into the family room and sat in my dad's fat leather chair. I stewed for a minute, the emotion was intense, I became angry, then enraged, then…..MOTIVATED. Then I said to myself, "I'm going to play the piano, I don't care what those stupid doctors say!"
I marched back upstairs sat down at the piano. I looked at my bandaged hands with my pinkys sticking out and wondered --- what can I play - I only have two fingers sticking out? I thought hard and said, "OK, Somewhere Over the Rainbow". All these thoughts were in my head. Then I said out loud to my mom, "Mom, come here, I want to play Somewhere Over the Rainbow for you. I think can play it. It might be slow, but I think I can do it."
Key of C was easiest. I started slowly with a left hand slowing plucking out the notes of the chords, one by one, with my pinky. VERY SLOW. Then I plucked out the melody with my right pinky that went something like this (imagine the tones and tempo by the spaces with the words, you know the melody, I am sure)
"Some where over the rain bow where birds fly (I concentrated harder) birds fly overtherain bow why oh why cant I"
By this time, both my mom and I were crying.
My doctors were more than wrong! They cheered when I gained full use of my right thumb, they cheered when I started to be able to turn my left hand completely over to have full range of motion and lastly, they cheered when I taped me playing the a complicated waltz by Chopin for them for my last hand therapy session. They said, "we want more!". I taped them Grieg, Beethoven, as well as the Jazz Masters and even Phil Collins! I had to be extra careful when I played now, extra concentration to not make mistakes. This made me a better player, less sloppy, more focused. After all, I was only playing with 8 fingers. Gershwin is a stretch because of the fat chords. They all cheered because so many people said, "She can't play anymore" and I proved them wrong, over and over and still do to this day.
When I was in recovery, the doctors were amazed at my attitude. They introduced me to the psychology staff and asked if I wanted to "tell my story" to help other amputees like me to get to the same emotional place that I was in. Being of kindness, I said, sure…anything that you want. That is what got me started as a therapist and from there I branched out.
I have had the best musical venues I've ever had after this car accident, played with some famous people, and have told my story a thousand times to those people who "think they can't do it…whatever 'it' is." Argue your limitations and they shall be yours…is one of my mottos that I teach to people, in my English & Psychology curriculum, out in real life, when I do speaking in front of groups, every chance that I get. I don't focus on my hands…I focus on the experience. Because of this accident, my life has been more blessed, more enriched, more EVERYTHING because I know intimately what life changing moments can mean to a person and the positive effects it can have on a soul. You are only as strong as you want to be, only as positive as you want to be, only as soulful as you want to be. I'm not sure which came first, my belief in myself or the belief other people that I loved who I had in my life. I think it really was simultaneous, actually.
I do not wish these fingers to grow back. Ever. I do not wish for replacements through prosthetics. They would only get in the way: in the way when I play piano, in the way when I teach, in the way in every aspect. If the Lord ever wills that they return somehow..then I will deal with it at that time…but until then, I tell my story, remain positive and consider this one of the best things that has ever happened to me. I am honest with myself about this reality that I have…I don't say these things because I am "faking" about how I really feel. This is who I am and have accepted myself to become in my world. I am more than ok with how I feel about myself. Argue your limitations and they shall be yours.
There is a bittersweetness to it as my hands degenerate in pain every day that I wake up to use them to do anything. My grip on things is deteriorating, my hands hurt constantly. If it weren't for the piano (and the horses) keeping them limber, I fear that they would probably shrivel up into decrepidness. I keep them busy. My hands are busy, but my heart is full.