Miracles and Mercies: How I Survived the Neck Wreck

by Amy Martin

Sometimes gratitude is a number, the number 2 in my case, specifically 2%. That’s the fraction of people who walk away from a full C1 or C2 fracture, alive and unparalyzed, though requiring significant surgery.

On this Thanksgiving weekend, I’m left to muse about the miracles and mercies that gained me a spot in the 2%. For these I’m grateful:

The Wreck

~*~ I crashed on an interstate highway, which is required to have new-generation guardrails. These warp and buckle to absorb the impact rather than bounce the car back, in my case into the fast traffic of a curved exit-ramp on a rainy Saturday afternoon.

~*~ After slamming into the guardrail sideways at 45 mph, a concrete base of the guardrail peeled up with the metal, yet came down on my car roof and not the windshield.

~*~ The car stopped with one rear wheel dangling over a steep embankment. A couple feet more and the car would have rolled down the slope, crushing the car and me.

~*~ The car’s airbag did not deploy since I hit sideways. Had it inflated, my head would have knocked backward, crumbling the vertebra and severing my spine.

~*~ My Subaru Forester’s 5-star safety record, the highest a car can get. Steel sides, superb brakes, excellent wheel control.

~*~ A couple who stopped almost immediately. She found my phone and called Scooter. He risked his life directing cars away from the wreck until emergency vehicles came. The angel couple.

~*~ Police and fire arrived extremely quick and secured the scene, in spite of wreck-snarled traffic everywhere on a rainy weekend.

~*~ Scooter, seriously. He knew what to do. Even if I didn’t always listen. I love him.

For all these things, I am alive.

The Injury

~*~ I didn’t worsen the fracture by going home instead of directly to the hospital over his objections. A miracle. I ultimately succumbed to the pain and sought help.

~*~ My first hospital stop was a small local place called City Hospital (aka Doctors Hospital), more competent than their reputation belies. My stay at the Baylor affiliate enabled direct admission into Big Baylor, an essential help on a Saturday night.

~*~ The spinal surgeon on call at Big Baylor was Matthew Berchuck, MD, the head of the spinal surgery department. On a Saturday night! He defended me during the crisis hours, always aiming for the best, most permanent solution.

~*~ After many hours, the nick in my spinal artery healed, landing me in Berchuck’s care. He seized the challenge of fixing my fracture correctly, with confidence every step of the way.

~*~ A morphine drip and channel 3 on Big Baylor TV, an ambient music and nature video service. When you are encased in pain and afraid to move all day Sunday, you’re damn grateful for both.

~*~ A faultless surgery on Monday by Berchuck and his uber-skilled team, fusing the top three vertebra and implanting long splints from the hip bone to graft the vertebra together. I marvel: How does one just fall into the best?

~*~ Big Baylor’s trauma ward where care and encouragement were beyond expectation. They gave me the confidence to fully heal.

For all these things, I survived.

The Recovery

~*~ Family and friends whose love enriched me, who visited me in the hospital and back at home, who cooked us food and helped with even the oddest tasks. They convinced me I was worth love and affection.

~*~ An ergonomic recliner with a great view of nature. A house that I could ramble in and build strength. Cats and dogs.

~*~ The Miami-J adjustable neck brace that Berchuck insisted on. My companion for six months, it protected the bone graft and shaped the neck. I genuinely love that thing.

~*~ An osteoporosis supplement regimen that even at my age helped me grow in a bone graft like a boss.

~*~ Friends who ambled me first around the block, then twice, and to the next street, and on, in a neighborhood where it’s easy, safe and pleasant to walk.

~*~ Over 15 lost pounds. Bonus! It seems that healing the spine and growing bone matter takes a lot of calories.

~*~ Bosses who said, “When you’re ready, come back to work.”

For all these things, I thrived.

A heady mix of grace, good fortune, karma, and just so much luck. Too few have even a fraction of it. I am humbled and grateful beyond what the heart can bear. It is a gift that surpasses possibility.