Community – Courtney’s Story

   “Get it off of me!” I said to my mom as she began to cry.

My right arm, which I was referring to, was not on me, though I thought it was. I was in a hospital for who knows what and I couldn’t feel my arm! There were monitors and lines running everywhere! I had blood under my nails, a neck brace on and this painful arm. What was going on!! Let me back track for you..

It had been a crazy week, I had turned 21, was working crazy amounts of hours, and volunteered to stay late on that Easter eve 2001. After getting out of work 5 hours later, I had dinner with a friend and headed for my parents houses about a hundred miles away. I remember calling mom as I was about 30 miles from there and asking her to talk to me because I was REALLY tired. She did for a few and when I thought I was good I told her I would crank the radio and put the window down and smoke a cigarette. “I can do this,” I told myself. The next thing I remember was about for or five days later in the hospital.

To make a long story short, I fell asleep driving, about 80 mph on the freeway in my little Geo Metro, went in the ditch, bounced off of the cement rail on the south bound side of the free way and then flew back on to the north bound freeway. Luckily there were very few cars on the road at 1:15 am; thank GOD there was one who did call 911 for me. When the ambulance got there, I gave them my dad’s phone number, told them to call him and have him call my mom, as she would freak out (which I would have done had I known what I was saying). So instead of getting up and ready for Easter church service, they got up and went to the hospital about 45 miles away. This is what I was told, I remember nothing!!!

My injuries included a huge cut on my index finger, broken vertebras in my neck, and this thing called traumatic Brachial Plexus Injury (TBPI). The doctors were unsure if I would walk again. Much to their surprise, about a week later I did! I thought that was great! This arm will get better soon, too. After almost a week in Neuro-trauma ICU and a week on a regular floor, I was going home; to my dad’s house, not mine and my arm wasn’t any better. There I stayed for about three months and began my physical therapy. After that I bought a new car and moved back in to my house with my two roommates. I think that was when it hit me that this was going to be a long process!

I kept seeing the neurologist who initially saw me in the hospital, but that did not last long. It was a rough 45 minute car ride to see him every two weeks for him to say “squeeze my hand” with my reply of ” I can’t!” He told me that it would never get any better so I should just amputate it. I was not ready for all of that. After moving back in with my roommates and starting physical therapy with a new therapist, I was finding more options. If only I would have had a proper diagnosis in the beginning and known the extent of damage. My new therapist, Andrzej, had another patient who was seeing a Dr. Wolff in Kentucky who had put his arm back together after a motorcycle accident when his doctor here in Michigan had told him to amputate his as well. I was excited! After arguing with the insurance company I was ok’d to go for a consult appointment. Upon leaving this appointment I was scheduled for surgery just a few weeks later. At nine months post crash, as I say, I had an exploratory surgery done, to see the extent of the damage to my Brachial Plexus. After nine and a half hours of surgery, I was told that I had avulsed C5 & C6 roots, ruptured C7, and stretched C8 & T1, where tons of scar tissue were found and removed. He also took about nine inches of my nerve in my left leg and went to work repairing the nerves where he could. This surgery helped me to get feeling and sensation back in my arm and hand. I went back to see Dr. Wolff about every six months to check the prognosis.

One day in early June I was very frustrated with my arm and started searching the internet. This was where I found the UBPN and found out about camp over Labor Day weekend. Shortly after that I came in contact with Liz and Jen and visited this site as well. I had contacted a few other doctors, having found them through UBPN and was waiting to hear back when I met Dr. Nath at camp. He gave me a few options yet for surgery and I was ready! Dr. Wolff was saying “Let’s wait and see,” and I was getting tired of waiting to “see” about the other options out there. I wanted to “try” the other options out there. So in September of 2003 off I went to Houston to have a nerve transfer done. I have pretty good hand function, so Dr. Nath took about 15% of my median nerve and plugged it into the musculocutaneous nerve, to try and regain biceps function. Usually nerve transfers are not done after about 18 months as the muscle has atrophied, but after an internal EMG Dr. Nath saw that I did have some innervations to the biceps, as he thought, so he was going to give it more.
I also have a doctor that I see up near my parents’ houses, Dr. Duffy. He is a physiatrist who I can see more locally, being that my surgeons are both out of state. Dr. Duffy keeps “dibs” on me here in Michigan and runs EMGs when they are needed. He keeps in touch with my surgeons and has been very supportive of my surgeries, therapies, and any new things I am interested in trying. I am now about four months post my second surgery, almost three years post crash and doing quite well. I live with my same roommates and am a full time student, again. I have gotten rid of my sling, thanks Marc for your input, and am on my way to getting back to my old self. I do see a shrink when I feel like I am getting overwhelmed with things too. She has been great! I am still doing Physio three days a week and getting to the gym four days a week to do my own things.

There are many emotions that are involved with a TBPI. For me, I never really went through a grieving process until two years later. I was pretending everything would just get better. It is natural to be depressed about it and I am learning that it really is ok to be. Then you may go through the questioning stage; was it was my fault, was it was the other vehicle, why me, what if I had done something different? This, as well, is a natural process to go through, especially for those of us who don’t remember the accident. I have no idea what happened, only what I am told. I have found it very therapeutic to meet and or talk with others who have the same injury and compare notes.

Being that nerves only grow or regenerate about an inch a month, the recovery is a long process. I am learning to be patient with life in the meantime. Some days are up and I get right out of bed and start my day. Some days are down and when I realize its morning and time to get up, I pull the covers over my head and go back to sleep. I keep telling myself that this is all a normal reaction. I give myself permission to feel bad for a while and then I have to get back on the straight and narrow. That is how I graduated with my Associate’s degree in December and am continuing on with my Bachelor’s. The days are full of challenges sometimes, but that’s the way life is. I’m learning to pick up the pieces and move on, being thankful that I’m not in a worse position. I could have died; I really should be in a wheel chair. When I went in for surgery with Dr. Nath, he told my mom it would either be ten minutes or three hours. When an hour had passed, she knew that there was hope and he was doing what he could. Another step of recovery was conquered and I am anxiously awaiting more.

Courtney (right) with Amy