I want to be here.

It was a week ago today that I was in the ski accident. The ski accident where I lost control. Couldn’t gain control.

The ski accident where I hit a tree. With my face. Whiplash. Lost consciousness. Blood everywhere.

The ski accident when I broke my nose and cheekbone and bit through my lip.

The ski accident that gave me my first IV. My first CT scan. Two CT scans. The first when they thought there was bleeding in my brain. Where they might have to drill.

The ski accident where I was taken down on toboggan, driven in an ambulance to the hospital in Bozeman, driven in an ambulance to the airport in Bozeman, flown to Missoula, driven in an ambulance to the hospital in Missoula.

Right after the accident, there is a lot I can’t remember. There is also a lot I do not want to be reminded of about that day. That accident. The ski accident.

But there are some moments I don’t want to ever forget.

G E T T I N G   T W E N T Y   S H O T S   I N   M Y   F A C E

The pain of the actual accident was actually surmounted after the fact. After realizing what had happened to me, that it was serious, that I wasn’t going to make happy hour, that I needed to get about 40 stitches in my face; I waited for the plastic surgeon to come sew me up. A man walked in and looked at me. Just stared at me. Turned around.

– Hi, I’m Rachel. Who are you?

– I fix things like this. [stares at me again.] I think I can fix this.

And then he turns around again.

I give Evan the WTF? hands and he just shakes his head in confusion. The doctor prepares the needles and adjusts my bed so that I’m laying down flat.

– I’m going to numb up the area and then I’m going to stitch you up.

– Okay. I’m very scared of needles, but I think I’ll be okay.

I am scared of needles. When they put morphine in my IV, I asked, “Will this make me less scared of needles?” It didn’t. I don’t think it did anything, really. My adrenaline was too high.

This doctor did not care about my fear. He was so cold, he felt heartless.

He started putting the needles in my cheek. I tried to be brave; I really did, but it hurt so bad. And there were just so many needles in my face. So aggressively.

It wasn’t long before I started crying and it wasn’t long after that, when he started putting shots in my nose, that I started bawling.

He stood there silently, relentless, and stuck me over and over. It felt more aggressive with each needle.

By the time he got to my lip, I was begging. I was pleading with him to stop. It was the worst pain I’ve ever felt and it felt like an attack.

Blood and tears streamed all over my face and I begged, screamed, as I sobbed, for him to stop. And he wouldn’t. Not for a second.

– Please, No, No, No, Please stop. STOP! PLEASE! NO MORE! PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE, please, please, no, no, no, no…

As I cry now, remembering it, I try to figure out why, why exactly, I want to remember this. Why do I want to remember?

Do I want to be able to compare every little pain I complain about to it? Remember what real pain feels like?

To realize that it was all worth it? In the end, the doctor did an incredible job stitching me up. His work was beautiful and those shots were ultimately a part of that.

To find faith in compassion? As I begged, he pressed on silently. As I bawled, he didn’t flinch. A hand on the shoulder or a “there, there, I promise it will be okay” would have beamed a bright light into my life. Empathy. Compassion. Something I want to remember.

T H E   S T A R S   I N   B O Z E M A N   T H E   S T A R S   I N   M I S S O U L A

The bathtub keeps bringing me back. I can’t take showers right now, to keep my face dry. So I take baths. To wash my hair, I have to lay my body down, my head horizontal, to dip it in the water. I’m rarely ever that flat, with nowhere to look but straight up. But recently, I was like that for a very long time. And these baths bring me back to the stars.

In Bozeman, they told me that there might be some bleeding in my brain and they were going to fly me to Missoula to get checked out. I cringed as they brought the backboard in. They put a neck-brace on me, they rolled me over onto my side, slid the board under me, rolled me back, and strapped down every part of my body, including [especially] my head.

The ambulance was ready in a parking garage, so it wasn’t that cold, it was nothing to see [upwards, at least].

When we arrived at the Bozeman airport, they opened the ambulance door and the cold took me over. After wheeling me out, I could instantly see the fog of my thick breath. But beyond that were the beautiful stars. So gorgeous in their perfect, comforting placement. It was like they were the only ones really [really] looking at me, understanding. We stared at each other with a pumping vein of tenderness and then I was lifted into the small plane.

The plane ride was almost miserable. I couldn’t move any part of me and every part of me hurt. Claustrophobia set in quick. A man who was flying with me, making sure I got everywhere safe, noticed my tears and rubbed my arm. When I told him my head hurt from the board, he loosened my head-strap and massaged the back of my head. I would have never guessed that the reassuring touch of a stranger would be so comforting, but it saved me.

We landed in Missoula. As they opened the plane door, the cold consumed me again. When they lowered me down and started rolling me to the ambulance, there they were. In the same exact place, the same exact pattern, like they had waited to make sure I arrived safely, the stars were there. And I realized that this was the same sky, these were the same stars, that shine on everything, everyone that I love. Everything can look up at these stars and find the encouragement of love, hope, and beauty.

This huge world filled with so much that I love, so much that I don’t even know yet, can all be united under this gorgeous blanket of stars. As they put me in the ambulance, my third ride of the day, I realized I want to be a part of that world.

Something I’ve never had to worry about wanting before, something I’ve never had to question, something I’ve had the privilege of being a given, suddenly became a question. And I answered with a feverishly adamant, “YES.” I want to be in this world.

I want to be here.

17 thoughts on “I want to be here.”

  1. So I started reading your blog after you won the award in the Planet. Anyways, girl you’re lucky to be alive and I am glad you are because I enjoy reading what you have to write; you’re a very funny and insightful lady. So the other point of this comment, I am a nurse and as a nurse I HATE to hear from people that when they were hurt and scared that the medical staff they encountered didn’t help make them feel safe and cared for. You should forward this post on to the hospital in Missoula. When a woman comes in with a facial injury you would expect a plastic surgeon to be compassionate! Lidocaine to the face hurts! The hospital should know that your pain wasn’t controlled (which from someone as healthy as you should have been done) and your doc was a jerk; maybe they’ll make a change so no one else has to go through what you did. I am sorry you had to go through this.

  2. Hi Ray Ray-
    I love you and I love this post. Also, I agree with Christine. Never, ever should you have been ignored when you are crying in pain, flinching with pain, and especially when you verbalize that you are in pain. You are such a tough gal and I am sorry you had to endure such horrific treatment. You should send this to the Missoula hospital, stories like this are looked at very seriously.
    You’re the best and thanks for being here in this world and in my life. I am so glad you’re here!

  3. Rachel,
    Your expressed your feelings and memories of the accident so, so poignantly. You’ve been through a lot in the last week and you’re not the only one who is thankful you’re here to see the stars. Why must bad things happen for us to truly remind ourselves how precious our lives are?

    Love ya gurrrll,

  4. My sweet child, what is the name of that doctor? I have some words to share with him and the Bozeman Hospital. I am heart-broken by his cruelty towards you. I am so sorry you had to endure such a thing.

  5. christine: thank you! yeah, i’ve thought a bit about contacting them [p.s. it was the hospital in bozeman]. apparently, this guys has a bit of a reputation for being a robot.

    liz: yeah, it was a rough go. but i’m okay and my money maker is intact! i’m glad you’re here and i’m so glad we’ll both be diving and dancing at the lake house this summer!

    colleen: thank you thank you, lovely. i feel very lucky and have a buzz of energy constantly whispering, “you’re here… what are you gonna do now?” something i wish i would’ve had all the time. [p.s. bout to listen to your show! p.p.s. i’ll never be able to discipline myself when it comes to editing.]

    momma: oh, momma. please don’t be heart-broken! i promise that i am grateful for this whole experience – i’ve learned SO much. and i’m the one who wants to remember that pain… realizing now that maybe i shouldn’t have shared it with the world and especially my sweet mother. know that i am thankful for his beautiful work and steady hands… but if we ever meet in a dark alley, he’ll have to figure out how to give himself stitches in the face.

    i love you all so so! [even christine who i’ve never met. thank you so for your sweet concern and voice.]

    and i will say that i encountered about 20 care-takers that day and 2 made the situation more difficult. [i feel like these statistics apply to the people you encounter in normal life.] most everyone was amazing and even though it was a ridiculously traumatic event, i still chalk up my experience as a good one. it’s incredible to see teams of people rooting for you and caring for you in ways that you never thought you’d need. i am very thankful.

  6. The day you wrote your blog was the day after my two-year-old daughter was bitten in the face by my 12 year-old black lab (from Missoula). We live in Chicago and her story is not nearly as epic, but she literally faced some of the same music that you did. We were able to go straight to the plastic surgeon’s office and avoided the hospital. She had to endure the pain of the pain medicine and she didn’t move when she was told to stay still, even though it obviously hurt and made her lip involuntarily twitch. We were able to be there and hold her, my husband and I. I have had my fair shaire of callous doctors and surgeries, and complications. I had a good idea of what she was battling and I was just glad we could be there to be the ones to hold her.

    That was true until the doctors and nurses took our girl from us to another room to sew her up. A 2-year-old, scared and scarring, forced to leave us and go with strangers to face needles and scissors and pain on her own. She did it with strength. She wouldn’t let anyone hold her hand to walk down the hall; she walked herself and got onto the table.

    She screamed when they put in the needle for more pain meds. She told them she was fine and that they didn’t need to cut her with the scissors. They explained the scissors were only to cut the stitches, not her. She made them let her watch and she refused to have her eyes covered. Thank goodness she is a tough girl.

    Thank goodness we were all in the same world with her through it all. There are many times, Rachel, that I look at the stars and remember that all my lost loved ones and most of my friends are under those same stars. I miss many of them and those stars are also what keeps me wanting to be here. Thank you for your story and for inspiring my friend, Melissa, who shared this link with me. I can’t believe that you and my daughter were both getting facial stitches within a week of each other. May you apply much vitamin E to the scars and may you keep growing from the whole experience. My own ski accident scars continue to inform me in my life. Bless you. Namaste.

  7. oh, meg. i think your daughter is braver than me. wow.

    i hate that i failed to mention, through all of this [aside from the plane ride], my amazing partner was with me holding my hand, encouraging me with words like, “you’re doing great, rach.”

    i’ll never forget those comforting words and hands. and I will forever be grateful for his love, as I’m sure your daughter will.

  8. […] As I said before, there are moments [strong, strong moments] that I want to remember from the time surrounding my accident. The night we came home from the hospital, I don’t know if either of us thought we would ever sleep. Evan and I were both so exhausted, but as my face began to swell and blacken more and more and the adrenaline wore off and reality set in, there were questions and what-ifs and words-you-need-to-say that could have kept us up all night. […]

  9. […] As I said before, there are moments [strong, strong moments] that I want to remember from the time surrounding my accident. The night we came home from the hospital, I don’t know if either of us thought we would ever sleep. Evan and I were both so exhausted, but as my face began to swell and blacken more and more and the adrenaline wore off and reality set in, there were questions and what-ifs and words-you-need-to-say that could have kept us up all night. […]

  10. Wow, I just stumbled upon your blog. This post really gets me thinking. It’s interesting enough for me to post a comment because I was just pondering this kind of thing last night. I want to be successful at life and by that I mean doing what I ought to do and caring for those in my care. The biggest thing holding me back is how soft I can be with myself.

    So I was thinking last night that I want to find someone who will push me to be better and won’t be my friend. I don’t want them to be soft on me or give in to my complaints. (This is maybe a very masculine sentiment) I want them to see what I can be and push me to it regardless of how I feel about it.

    Now your situation is different, and harrowing – but even though you wished the doctor would connect with you, perhaps the doctor performs better by not connecting, by focussing on results. Really that’s what you want when you go into surgery. You want results, not a friend. (A smart hospital would pair up this guy with a compassionate nurse though, methinks) 😉

    I hope none of that comes across as judgement or statements of facts, just some thoughts. Great writing. Wow!

  11. hey chris!
    [sorry to take a hot second to get back to you.]

    the nurse for my plastic surgeon for follow-up appointments is amazingly sweet and nice and she said she used to be this guy’s nurse… so, I think the hospitals are on that. [and she also gave me assurance that it wasn’t just me who was taken aback by his attitude.]

    I guess I’m thankful for people who can live their lives like this… I mean, would he be able to do his job as well if he became emotionally involved? unclear.

    I think the fact that you’re paying attention to how your are towards yourself is indicative to how you treat others… it’s hard to stop caring and I can’t say that I want to wish you luck on that.

    thanks so much for stopping by and contributing!

  12. […] little spot. I was very confused. Evan then told me a bit of a story. When I was in my accident and they air-flighted me from Bozeman to Missoula, Evan drove our car back. We didn’t know if I would be okay. If I would make it. If I would […]

  13. […] Today, is the four year anniversary of my tragic ski accident. It feels like it was a lot less time ago. And in that vein, it feels as though I’ve talked about this accident a lot. I talk about it “a lot” because it changed me… a lot. It defined so much within me and made me declare, “I want to be here.” […]

  14. […] The idea of a life-flight was hard for us to swallow. It wasn’t the first life-flight of our relationship. And while we would absolutely do anything for Marcelline, we knew how expensive and taxing those […]

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