10: Feeling Like a Superhero

10: Feeling Like a Superhero

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Power of Positive

Feeling Like a Superhero

The human spirit is stronger than anything that can happen to it.

~C.C. Scott

It was a normal day. I came home from work, had a few casual words with my roommate, got the dog into her harness and leash, and headed out for a walk. I had moved to downtown San Diego just seven days ago, so Chibby, my four-pound Chihuahua, hadn’t been on a good long walk for a few weeks. I’d been focused on moving and therefore had been ignoring her a bit. Tonight was the night we were going to get her some exercise and explore the new neighborhood.

I headed towards the marina and cruise port simply because I hadn’t walked in that direction before. I made a left down Ash Street and was delighted to see the ocean and some cruise ships lined up at the pier in front of me, many adorned with lights and glimmer. Then I noticed the Star of India parked there, a historical ship and tourist attraction. I was excited to be living near such a fun place with so much going on. I mumbled half to myself and half to Chibby that we should walk over there and take a look. Then it was dark.

When I emerged from that darkness, I realized that I was looking at the inside of an ambulance. I began to scream, “What am I doing in here? What happened? Where’s my dog?” A paramedic replied, but I don’t remember what his answers were. The scissors were cold as they ran up my leg, my abdomen, my stomach, my chest, and to my neck. He was cutting my clothes off to examine the extent of my injuries. Then it went dark again.

Apparently I had been hit by a city trolley. The local news said I was chasing my dog, who had gotten loose and run across the tracks, and that I ran after her. The reporter said the trolley hurled me thirty feet, and they showed pictures of my shoes lying about fifteen feet apart from each other. I’d been knocked out of them when I was hit and thrown.

A few weeks later I obtained the police report. The picture the policeman painted still haunts me. “As I walked up,” he wrote, “she was sitting cross-legged with her dog in her lap. She was missing her front teeth and covered in blood. She was crying, and she asked me if I could help her find her teeth. I took her dog from her, and she just kept asking, ‘Where are my teeth? Can you help me find them?’” I must have been in shock.

When I got to the hospital I received emergency surgery on both wrists. Both bones in my right wrist were pulverized, and my left wrist was also broken. The surgeon and his team wrapped wire around the bones to hold the pieces together, and screwed in metal plates to hold it all in place while the bones healed.

After surgery I was wheeled into what was to be my home for the next nine days, Room 522 in the trauma unit. I was placed on a liquid diet and I was unable to move. A close friend tells me that for about four days I was a vegetable, clearly feeling defeated by my circumstances. On the fifth day however, according to him, it was apparent I had made the decision to fight for my health. My personality returned and I even got out of bed to hobble down the hallway.

Now that I had come out of shock and was able to comprehend my situation, the doctors explained to me why my teeth were jutting out and some were missing. My left eye socket, both my cheeks, my nose and my jaw were all shattered into pieces; my jaw also cracked in half. On day seven I had facial reconstruction surgery. They inserted wire mesh, eighteen metal plates, and over sixty screws to hold my face together.

Once I was released from the hospital, I went home to my new apartment, where my mother lived with my roommate and me for the next six weeks so she could take care of me. I could barely walk, and both wrists were in casts so I couldn’t do much for myself. My mother did an amazing job taking care of me, and several friends stopped in to visit or sent flowers and cards to wish me well.

I don’t know how I ended up in front of a trolley that day. Perhaps I never will. While I don’t remember anything, I can guess I simply wasn’t paying attention to my environment. I caused this accident to happen, and I will have to live with that for the rest of my life. But despite all of the unknowns, I do know this about resilience and the physical and emotional healing that comes after trauma: your attitude matters.

Less than a month after the accident I was back to work teaching at a college. It was hard and I was in pain, but I was also much farther along in the healing process than the doctors expected. In fact, after surgery the doctors told my mother that it was absolutely not possible that I would be ready to work so soon. But there I was — ready, willing and able. I hadn’t even had dental work done yet, so I taught my courses with missing teeth for several weeks, until they could get a flipper for me. I wasn’t going to let the accident get in my way.

Whenever I see my wrist surgeon for checkups he tells me I am his poster child for attitude and how it affects the healing process. He says he gets so many patients with a broken pinky finger who hate life and complain that they can’t do anything, yet here I am with two pulverized wrists and a face made of metal — happy as can be. He is absolutely convinced I have healed so miraculously because of my positive attitude.

But I don’t think positivity comes on its own; the biggest life lesson I learned in all this was gratitude. I am lucky to have a family that dropped everything to come to my rescue. I also have a lot of friends who supported me then, and persist in their support now as I continue to heal. I imagine it would have been hard to remain positive if I had felt alone.

I also kept the little things from getting the best of me. I couldn’t pour milk into my cereal bowl, I couldn’t close my bras, and I couldn’t blow dry my own hair, for example. Instead of feeling sorry for myself I found ways to get around these daily obstacles. My mom poured the milk into little containers so I could pick it up, I purchased bras that close in the front, and I bought a lightweight hair dryer. Being as normal as possible kept me from feeling defeated, and helped me remain positive.

Ultimately I realized that I am not a victim of circumstance. I see myself as a survivor rather than a victim. A 150-ton trolley going twenty miles per hour hit me and I lived. I think that makes me a superhero.

~Catherine Mattice

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