Have you ever been a patient in an ambulance, before or after becoming an EMS provider? Have you witnessed a loved one become a patient? How did it alter your perception of patient care? EMS World’s newest series, “The Patient-Provider Experience,” shares the stories of both patients and providers who have been impacted by their respective experiences with EMS—on or off the cot—and how these experiences changed the way they provide care.
I wish I could tell you about the great patient care that my emergency medical teams delivered to me. I wish I could describe how the fire department extracted me from my mangled Suzuki SUV after I crashed into a tree on that cold, windy night the day after Christmas in 2013. I really wish I could paint a vivid picture of how the air medical team skillfully landed their helicopter in a nearby athletic field and flew me to a trauma hospital across state lines so I could receive the emergent and critical care I desperately needed.
But I can’t tell you about any of that. The fact is, I don’t remember anything about the car accident that night that caused my fractured skull, broken cheekbone and collarbone, and bruised lungs. That’s because the crash also injured my brain and I was in a coma for six days afterward as a result. What I can tell you is that if those emergency medical teams didn’t respond in time and I wasn’t transported to that Level 2 trauma hospital with clinical teams working to treat my injuries, I probably wouldn’t be here today.
If not for them, I wouldn’t be able to tell you about how I fought back. Through months of rehabilitation, I regained my ability to talk, walk, feed myself and do all those other little daily activities we take for granted until we can’t do them anymore. I wouldn’t be able to tell you about how I re-enrolled in college and studied to become a neurology nurse so I could care for people with injuries similar to my own.
What I am happy to tell you is that I owe my life to the emergency medical teams that responded to my accident that night. That is why I want to share my story, the parts I remember, and the events I learned later from family and doctors, as well as the heroic emergency medical professionals I got to meet during my recovery.
“I'm not going to lay here for the rest of my life.”
I love lacrosse, and I used to be pretty good at it. I received many scholarship offers from colleges around the country, eventually enrolling in State University of New York at Albany. Even though it was the off-season, I was staying in shape during holiday break at a gym near my home at the time in Corning, N.Y.
It was around 10 p.m. when I was driving on Powderhouse Road, heading down to the gym on the newly snow-covered path. From what I learned later, my SUV slid on a patch of black ice, I lost control and collided with a tree. South Corning Fire Department and Corning Advanced Life Support, who arrived first at the scene, agreed that my injuries were too severe to be treated at our local hospital. The air medical call was an immediate request, not a standby, which my flight paramedic, Sean Mitchell, would later tell me indicated how serious it was. Sean and the rest of the air medical crew from Guthrie Air with Air Methods in Sayre, Penn., were there in minutes. The Air Methods clinical team stabilized my injuries and transported me from the scene in 15 minutes back to the Level 2 trauma hospital. If we used ground transportation, that trip would have taken an hour or more and risked the safety of others due to the icy and snowy conditions on the rural roads.
On my sixth day in the coma, one of my physicians, after yet another MRI exam, urged my parents to start considering that I may not awaken, or I may have severe physical and/or cognitive limitations for the rest of my life if I did. At that same moment, my mother, Teresa, heard a nurse down the hall shout, “She’s waking up, she’s waking up!”
Although awake and conscious, I couldn’t talk, walk or even move. I was transported to a rehabilitation hospital to begin the often painful, months-long recovery involving physical and cognitive therapy. There were times during this healing process that I was so exhausted and sore from the rehabilitation that I thought, “I’m just going to lay in bed today.” But just as quickly, that notion was banished from my mind. I told myself, “No, I’m not going to lay here for the rest of my life.”
Inspired to Care
Aside from nerve damage that still affects half my face as well as hearing loss that is aided by bilateral hearing aids, I have almost fully regained all my physical and cognitive abilities. The wonderful care I received from all my providers, from the emergency medical crews to my rehabilitation therapists, inspired me. They not only inspired me to work through the frustrating and draining recovery, but to pursue a career in medicine.
I re-enrolled in college, this time at SUNY Binghamton, and even played club lacrosse wearing a helmet with my neurosurgeon’s permission. In 2017, I earned a nursing degree from the Decker School of Nursing and started my first job on the neurology floor at Winchester Medical Center in Winchester, Va. Today, I am a traveling neurology nurse that is on assignment in Dalton, Ga. My experience helps me better connect to my patients and allows me to show them how their lives can be productive after a traumatic brain injury.
During my recovery, I visited a pilot and clinician training event. I thanked them for saving my life, but also for continuing to save countless others around the country facing traumatic injuries or other emergency medical crises. It is the example they set, along with my other caregivers, that continue to inspire me today as I care for my patients. Because of them, I feel that nothing will stop me from achieving my goals, or from helping other people with traumatic brain injuries achieve theirs, too.
Whitney Corby, RN is a traveling nurse currently working at Hamilton Medical Center in Dalton, GA. She received her degree from Binghamton University and is pursuing her Master’s degree in Healthcare Policy from Chamberlain University.