Tuesday, January 15, 2013

High Risk Reaction: Car Accident (Winter Storm Gandalf)

In case it hasn't been clear, I live in northern Utah. In fact, we live just south of Salt Lake City. When Winter Storm Gandalf hit, we were smack in the middle of it.

Storm warnings had been all over the news for a few days: If you don't have to drive Thursday evening, DON'T! So, after spending my morning with my mother and going out to lunch, I decided I better get home before the storm hit. I left her house (a mere 20 minute drive in normal weather from my own) when the clouds started to roll in. There were a few tiny snowflakes in the air, but nothing to worry about.

About halfway home, I stopped at a red light and CRASH! - the guy behind me didn't. I took a deep breath and realized that my breathing wasn't quite right. My back began to hurt a little bit and sure enough, I had the first contraction I'd had in about a week. The other driver came up to "check on me" (aka: tell me that there wasn't any damage to our cars, so we should just pretend it never happened) and I told him that I needed to call it in because of my pregnancy. Skipping over some of the details here (I'm probably going to need a lawyer to get my bills paid and if past experience is any indicator, they won't want me to be too terribly public about the accident itself)... the police arrived, then the ambulance arrived, then a fire engine. I was able to hear the fire engine, but I never got to see it because the police and EMTs were very worried about my condition and wanted to get me on my way to the hospital as quickly as possible.

Here's where being high risk becomes something that requires diligence: The EMTs refused to take me to the only hospital equipped to handle my pregnancy. They insisted that the hospital I was requesting was past 9 other hospitals - all of which would be able to handle my situation just fine. They said they would take me to a closer, smaller clinic that was run by the same group that runs my hospital. The doctors would be the same. The records would be the same. I told them I was certain I would just be transferred to the main hospital and they gave me the standard, "yeah, yeah" response. After calling it in and nearly arriving at the clinic, they received a call from the clinic saying they could not accept me. They had pulled my chart (remember the whole shared-records thing?) and that I absolutely had to be seen at MY hospital. The "yeah, yeah" guy was frustrated and tried to tell them they would just take me to another one of the 9 options that were closer. He was told not to do that under any circumstances. They turned the ambulance around and we headed up into the Rocky Mountains to get to my hospital.

Nearly 20 minutes into the ambulance ride (have you ever ridden in one of those things? Absolutely miserable) the snow started to pick up. Gandalf had arrived. The EMTs put me on oxygen and buckled themselves in. We watched through the illuminated windows as cars slipped down canyons and twisted into awkward shapes along our path. Many drivers simply couldn't move for the ambulance. As we passed the gully (along with a popular climbing rock known as Suicide Rock), I was hit with a forceful contraction. I convinced myself it was anxiety, but I silently feared that I was going into labor - that I would have my baby without my husband by my side; and that I might bleed to death before we could even see the hospital.

The total time in the ambulance had to have been at least an hour due to the storm. When we arrived, I was wheeled into Room 1 of the E.R. The EMT who was wheeling me in saw the crowd gathered for me and his jaw dropped. He made a sound that I believe was meant to be something along the lines of "Whoa" and backed away.

The moments that passed after that are not well-organized in my mind. I was freaked out by the sheer number of people in the room. I was extremely glad that I had removed my Sundance 2012 volunteer jacket and my sweater before exiting the ambulance. Why? Because as soon as they got me in that room, doctors were yelling to be heard over other doctors. I had at least 8 people leaning over my body at all times. And the part that set my anxiety on an upward spiral: They cut off every stitch of clothing I was wearing. I asked multiple times that they stop and explain what was going on. I begged them to let me just take my clothes off by myself. I was ignored and held down. One doctor held my neck in a traction position, fearing that my neck had been broken in the low-speed, low-impact crash. An IV was started. My blood sugar was tested. My necklace (I wear a chain with my wedding rings & a pendant from my late father) was removed so they could quickly x-ray my chest and hips. When they couldn't get a clear answer regarding the condition of my back, they quickly moved me onto one side and started tapping along my spine. They tried to insert tubes EVERYWHERE. That was when I couldn't handle any more. I was sick of them ignoring my pleas for them to stop - my cries of "No Consent". I remember hearing "You're going to feel a bit of pressure, we're going to insert some tubes..." and that's when I screamed. I wanted everyone inside and outside of that room to know that if they continued, they were breaking the law. "NO CONSENT! I am a rape survivor. I will not consent." The many beeps, buzzes, and hums of the machines in the room were the only sound for a fraction of a second. The Trauma team stopped. They rolled me back onto my back and half of them started calling for the OB team. The other half tried to convince me to consent to a CT scan of my back. I refused to consent - knowing that I did not want to expose my unborn son to a direct dose of radiation. If I had been given the option, I would have refused the earlier x-ray of my hips for the same reason. The Trauma team was not happy.

While the OB team worked to secure me a Labor and Delivery room, a social worker came in and asked me who he should call and what I wanted him to say. I asked him to call my mother and my husband and to tell them that I was okay and that the baby was okay. The social worker then asked one more question: "If they want to come up here, what should I say?" I thought of all those cars slipping around, bumping into one another and into guard rails. I thought of my husband trying to keep our daughters calm while he fought to get to the hospital. I sent the social worker with the message that I would be fine and that I did not want anyone to risk the storm in order to be with me. I hadn't cried about the accident, but now the tears came with force. A young girl dabbed my cheeks with a tissue without saying a word. She then told me that my valuables would be put in the hospital safe. Several doctors told me again that my baby was looking great on the monitors, but this time they added that I would have to stay the night for observation. I had assumed as much. After all, how would I get home tonight, anyway? What I hadn't assumed was what they said next: They were ordering that I stay on my back. My back could very well be broken.

The tears came again as I realized that the shooting pains down my legs and the back pain that had started as a minor annoyance were getting significantly worse with each passing minute. I worried about the impact it would put on my baby if I were to stay on my back overnight. I felt lost and alone and trapped and violated.

I was moved to Labor and Delivery and found myself observing a confusingly friendly disagreement between the OB doctors and the Trauma doctors. OB obviously didn't want me to be stuck flat on my back all night. Trauma insisted that it was necessary. I couldn't stand being on a hard, flat, backboard any longer. I told the Trauma team that I would not be staying on my back all night and that I would leave the hospital AMA (that's "Against Medical Advice") after withdrawing all consent to treat if they did not comply. Their objections continued, but everyone in the room knew that my mind was made up. Trauma tried to order a catheter to be placed. I told them no - that I had felt extremely violated in the E.R. and that I would not be violated any further. I asked my nurse to please help me stand and I walked to the bathroom on my own.

Oddly enough, I found that once I had the weight of my belly off of my back, the pain wasn't as bad. It still hurt and I couldn't sit up or stand for more than a couple of minutes at a time, but it was something. I agreed to stay as still as possible in a reclined position as much as possible. That's how I spent the night.

OB ordered dinner for me. Along with a small vase of fake flowers, I found a greeting card on my tray. The front of the card was a simple butterfly. The handwritten words inside: "Sorry your clothes were cut off. - Labor & Delivery" I was grateful that I had been left alone to eat. I spent the next 20 minutes crying. It wasn't Labor & Delivery that had done anything wrong. They had been nothing but wonderful. Yet, in that moment, they knew that I was suffering and that any apology - even from the wrong people - was appropriate.

After eating what I could, I called my husband. We stayed on the phone together until I felt like I could sleep.

At 1:30 in the morning, I woke suddenly and found the room quite dim. I was surrounded by three tall men - doctors from the Trauma team. They were frustrated. They didn't want me to stay at an incline. They wanted me flat on my back. They wanted me to consent to the CT scan. I explained that I had already had this conversation and that it had already been decided. They told me I was not to leave my hospital bed again. They also told me I was not allowed to eat or drink anything until they said differently. I started to panic. I felt trapped again. Any sense of safety that I had mustered since leaving the ER left me. In my mind, I found my husband, found his strength, and I decided that I would be my own advocate since he couldn't be there. I repeated what I had said to the earlier Trauma doctors: I would rather sign an AMA form and withdraw consent than obey those orders. They could treat me like a human being and they could take the OB doctors' orders under advisement or I would leave the hospital immediately; even if that meant calling a cab and praying that it could make it up to the hospital to take me home. They muttered something about checking with a supervisor and left the room.

I hit the nurse call button and told my nurse that I wanted some assurance that I would not be woken up by a group of all men again. I asked that they not be allowed in my room without either my nurse or my OB doctor. She agreed to talk to everyone in Labor and Delivery and to post signs on my door. She then apologized. Again, I cried. After she left, I called my husband and asked him to write down what had happened so there would be a physical record of it. He did. I didn't sleep for the next several hours. When I did sleep, it was after receiving benedryl and percocet from my OB doctor.

In the morning, OB was ready to let me go. They had to wait for Trauma, but when Trauma arrived and I notified them that my decisions from the night before were final, they couldn't fight it any longer and agreed to discharge me, too. They insisted and I stay flat in bed at home as often as possible and that I take it easy. They said they wanted me to have that CT as soon as my baby was born. I agreed.

Abraham left work as soon as he could and came to take me home. I spent the rest of the day in bed, mostly sleeping.

I don't know if my back is broken, but I know the pain will not go away. It's constant.  Let's hope my condition improves.


  1. Tsk! That was a terrifying accident for you, knowing that you're pregnant. The at-fault party should pay for what had happened to you. Did you pursue any legal action? I hope you feel much better now and that the baby is in good condition.
    Maggie Malone @ Mastrangelo Law Offices

    1. Hi Maggie! Sorry it took so long to respond. It's been busy busy busy around here! Anyway, I did initially contact several law firms and was basically told that because it was a low-speed/low-impact case, nobody was interested. That turned out okay because I was able to work with the claims adjuster from the at-fault's insurance and they gave me a much better settlement than I could have ever expected. I think it helped that I was able to document everything that happened and that I tend to be rather articulate. But thank you for your concern!

  2. It's been nine months, Candace, and I hope you're feeling better today. It's a pretty bad accident, and I wish for your baby's safety. How are you now? Have you claimed your benefits after the accident? :)

    Tracy Pierre @ CraigSwapp.com

    1. Hi Tracy! I'm feeling much better now, thanks! I actually did claim my benefits back in May 2013. I had contacted several law offices (including Craig Swapp) and was told that the case wasn't worth taking because it was low-speed/low-impact. Luckily, the at-fault's insurance (Nationwide) was incredible! They covered everything and their offer for pain and suffering was much more than I would have even asked for. They even paid benefits on my car - which is just a 2001 Toyota Echo! I was very impressed with how they handled it. It certainly helped my mental state.

  3. What an unfortunate event you had to experience! Getting into an accident while you're pregnant is really scary. You could've given birth right then and there, and that could've put your newborn in danger too. But at least you were rushed to the hospital despite the snow storm and were attended to. How are you now? I hope that things are going just right. Stay healthy!
    Vesta Duvall @ The Zalkin Law Firm, P.C.

    1. Thanks, Vesta! I'm doing so much better. I think the hardest part was the fear of risk to my son. As it turned out, I was able to keep my volunteer job with the Sundance Film Festival (They were just spectacular about it and made it possible for me to stay in a seated position during my shifts and to have my husband with me. The Sundance Institute is a CLASS ACT!) and my son is one of the healthiest kids I have ever met. I did deliver a bit earlier than my doctor would have preferred, but my son was healthy and just over 9 lbs. I have no complaints there. The at-fault driver's insurance (Nationwide) was incredible. I've worked with other insurances before and I've had horrid experiences, but these guys stepped up. They weren't pushy and their pain & suffering settlement was significantly more than I had initially expected. I'm actually considering switching my own insurance because I was so impressed with them!