Wednesday, February 13, 2013

3 Seconds Later....

There are many times in life as we grow up and get older that are game changers. Some of the normal ones that come to mind are 5years old. When you turn 5 you feel you have arrived your a BIG kid now. Age 13 you have hit the teenage years officially. Age 16 you get your drivers license.... and so on, you get the point. Unlike age however there are other milestones that are not driven by age necessarily but by the seasons of your life.  Marriage, the Birth of a child, Divorce, the Loss of a Loved one, or a life changing accident.  Mine fell into the latter category on December 12, 2012. For those who don't know me, I am a typical woman with a full time job, 12 year old daughter, and a horse farm. Horses are my passion. I have spent the last 28+ of my 41 years soaking up all the knowledge of owning, training, caring for, and riding horses that I possibly could. Many of those years especially the last 20 or so I have shared this knowledge with others young and old.  Horses are large majestic creatures that certainly have a mind of there own. In the horse world there are two types of people: Those who have had an accident around horses and those who will eventually have an accident around horses. If all of a sudden you have puffed out your chest in indignation while reading this and say "I've never had an accident around my horse and I don't intend to start now", I hope for your sake that is true. I can say however with uncanny certainty, the level of your accident will be in direct relation to not only YOUR horse knowledge but the LACK of knowledge of those around you. Any knowledge I share relating to horses is because they are my passion, life blood, and addiction. I have this silly notion that everyone should experience the pure joy and love of horses the way I do. On that note my accident story I want to share for two reasons: #1 If this story makes you shudder and think twice while backing your horse off a trailer I may just have saved you from an accident. #2 It is my duty as a horse professional to bring to light a true safety issue many of us horse people never thought about.

NOTE: This is NOT the actual trailer or horse(s) but it was
this type of configuration.

December 12th was a normal day on the farm. We had an overnight boarder coming in on their way to Florida. We have many snowbirds as I call them that live in the great cold northern region the US and head south to Florida for the winter months. Lovely couple with their husband's horse. A large draft/qtr cross mare brought in with a general 3 horse slant load gooseneck trailer with the fold down windows. I have watched people unload horses off these types of trailers thousands of times. Open the window hook the lead rope to the halter unhook the trailer tie, the person in back unhooks the slant divider and off the horse backs. No problem... Never once have I thought about the person hooking the lead rope on or the fact that 90% of them, including myself at 5'9 are too short to reach the halter without hanging off the side of the trailer holding on with one hand while feeding the rope through with the other. I bet if you are a horse person reading this you have NEVER once thought about this or how unsafe it is. This is where my injury takes place. I first have to say the horse did NOTHING wrong. Not acting up, she was a perfect mare. ( I do realize mare and perfect are two words are rarely in a sentence together.) In this instance however it is true. I offered to hook the lead rope on the horse since this gentleman's wife was about 5 foot tall and she couldn't even reach the horse. He handed me a rope with a clip (this should have been my first red flag) this was not a standard cotton lead rope, it was just a rope much like a rappelling rope or rock climbing rope with a horse snap attached. It was about 12ft or so and tangled at the end. #1 RULE of HORSEMANSHIP -NEVER GET IN A HURRY. I wasn't in a hurry but I did think, "HMMMMMM that is not a real lead rope". In that moment had I stopped retrieved one of my lead ropes the accident would have never happened. The horse industry has millions of types of lead ropes for every purpose in the book. I prefer the braided cotton with a good sturdy snap on the end. 8-10 feet no longer for leading or unloading and made of a material that will not readily tangle or knot back on itself. Hindsight being 20/20 and many weeks of recovery replaying the scene in my mind of shoulda, woulda, coulda I have come to the conclusion this would have been best way to have avoided what happened next.  I stepped up on the sideboard of the trailer, snapped the rope to the mares halter, untied her trailer tie and called for him to undo the butt bar. Holding on the trailer with one hand I was feeding the rope through with the other as every other horse person in the world has done at least once. 2# RULE Put the lead rope around the horses neck and let them back themselves off. Do NOT feed the lead rope through the window as the horse backs off.  (Slant load trailers with rear tack do not allow for you to get in the trailer with a large horse if they are loaded in the slant closest to the door) I have an open stock trailer for this very reason.  As the mare started back and stepped off the trailer she popped her head up to catch her balance for the step down. In that very moment the rope flipped up out of my hand and curled back on itself around my 3 middle fingers. The rope then got hung on the open window and the loop closed around my fingers as she backed the last two steps off the trailer. At first it felt like just a bad rope burn, the loop closed and then straighted out as the tension increased. I jumped off the trailer and grabbed at my hand closing it into a fist. Several cuss words and stomping my foot later, because stomping your feet always helps the pain, I figured some peroxide, neosporin and vet wrap would fix it, until I opened my hand. In less than 3 seconds the loop in that rope had stripped my fingertips down to the bone.  There I am standing with a woman I have known less than 20 minutes missing the tips of my fingers down to the first knuckle and my first thought was, "Vet wrap isn't going to fix this", my second thought "Find Don I need to go to the hospital," my third thought was "This hurts like a SOB!".  The next 5 minutes were a blur of telling the overnighters to make themselves at home, Don tucking me into the car and the fastest drive to the ER in the HISTORY of MAN. Don could drive Formula One cars or at the very least road courses.

Being the eternal optimist that I am, a flaw I am told by some, this is where the Power of Prayer, Faith, and Family come into play. You see I live in a very rural country part of NC. The nearest major hospital is an hour away. There is a hospital close to the farm but I never in a million years thought they would be able to take care of an injury such as mine. Fingers with bone exposed, tendons, nerves and muscles all mangled and a hand with multiple cuts, it was truly a scene out of a bad slasher movie. I have always heard that when you have a horrific injury that your body will numb the pain, endorphins and adrenalin will kick in so the pain is minimized.... This my friends is a BLOODY lie!!! I hurt like hell at that moment all I wanted was to be out of pain. I would have gone to my veterinarian at that point if I had thought they were closer but I digress. Hugh Chatham was where we went. Five minutes from the farm, well the way Don was driving anyway. :)  As luck would have it not only did they have an orthopedist on call but Dr. Johnson was a hand surgeon specialist. That was BLESSING # 2 for the day, BLESSING #1 was that Don was still at the farm and had not yet left to run his errands.

The next few days were a blur of hospital, surgery, what ifs, what can I expect, and reassuring those closest to me that I was going to be just fine. Some members of my family and in my closest circle of friends don't deal with accidents well. I understand this and I never intended my passion for horses to be a constant source of worry for my loved ones. If you are a horse person you get this. Everything we do revolves around our passion for horses. Right or wrong it just simply is this way. I would be lying if I said that I wasn't worried, or that I didn't have my breakdown and have my pity party.  "Pity table for one please". I waited until I was alone. They had rolled me down to surgery prep getting me ready, there I was alone in the silence of my own thoughts. The tears, fears, and the stress all came out. Bless the hearts of those poor nurses that had to deal with me the blubbering fool. The last thing I remember was a nurse handing me a tissue and me telling her "Don't mind me I will be the blubbering idiot in the corner". She smiled eyes full of compassion, winked and said, "Go right ahead we won't tell a soul". For the most part I am not a vain person. I don't fuss so much over hair, makeup, and the like before I leave the house. The people at WalMart, Lowes Home Improvement, Food Lion, and Tractor Supply probably think I own nothing but boots and riding pants and live in a ponytail or baseball hat. I am forever going there straight after riding. My injury however did give me pause. I had no idea what the future for my hand held. How much would they be able to save, what was it going to look like, would people notice? I think the worst part was not knowing and not being able to see my hand after the surgery. The Surgeon and all of the staff were wonderful. I had an amazing medical team on my side.

A picture of me and Indie with the boxing glove chilling on the couch.
 Post surgery and the following weeks are where the REAL fun began. (There is complete and udder sarcasm dripping out of every word of that sentence.) Not one single part of this recovery was fun. Not fun for me, not fun for those close too me, and especially suck suck sucky for Don and Genna who had to live with me. Here I was hand wrapped in what I can only describe as a boxing glove. Dr. Johnson left me with specific instructions "You may NOT do anything around the horses with this injury. If a germ, spore, or anything causes infection to these fingers you will lose your hand".  Guys let me tell you this one sentence hit home. Over the coming days I had come to terms with my fingers. Even making jokes, much to the dismay of some of my family. Being called Stubby I could deal with, I had no desire to be called Stumpy because of a stupid infection. I am a HORRIBLE patient, I don't mean to be but I am. Depending on others kills me. This injury humbled me more than I can begin to describe in words. I was determined to make the best of it but until you lose the use of a hand, even the non-dominate hand you have no idea how much you use it. I won't go into detail but suffice to say you use it ALL THE TIME.

The Moment of Truth

The next several weeks were pure torture for me. Five days after my surgery it was time for the first wrap change. The moment of truth.... I was going to see for the first time a glimpse into what my new normal was going to be.   To be honest I didn't know what to expect. Taking off the wraps was just about worse than the injury when it happened. Bandages stick to open wounds. My nurse was amazing! She was as gentle as she could be but the reality of it was, It was just going to hurt and there was nothing she could do about it. Dr Johnson was pleased with the progress, and off I went with a new wrap. Wrap number two came 5 days after the first with some new instructions, " I want you to unwrap this everyday and soak your hand in salt water for as long as you can stand it but no less than 3 minutes.WHAT????  Have you ever gotten a paper cut? Forgotten about it and then headed to your favorite fast food restaurant and ordered french fries. Not thinking you picked up the first fry with your cut finger. Remember the burn, the stinging?  Now take that moment and multiply it by a cup of Epsom salt in 4cups of water in the open wound on three fingers. On a pain scale of 0-10, (10 being the worst pain you have ever felt) that feeling is around 212. It did get easier and the soaks did help. They were not fun but they did help. Each Dr's visit I asked the same thing when can I resume my horsey activities? Answer: When your fingers totally heal. By this time it had been weeks since I had lead, touched, or even smelled a horse. Torture in it's purest sense is for a horse person being told you may not get within touching distance of a horse. . I was trapped looking out the bay window while the horsey activities went on around me.

Getting used to my "New Normal"
This story does have a happy ending. My family, friends, co-coworkers, even people I have never met rallied around me. Donations of meals, offers to help with the farm, donations of clothes I could actually get on over my boxing glove, all helped ease the stress of one of the most difficult seasons of my life. Don and Genna were AWESOME! Taking over all the chores I normally do and helping me with everything. What amazed me the most were the prayers. Tons and tons of prayers. Prayers from people I have never met. Prayers from people who I never thought were praying kind of people. My story is not unusual, people get injured all the time. Injuries much worse than what I have sustained. I can name multiples instances off the top of my head. What is unusual is my healing process. My injury was very graphic. Not even the Dr. thought I would heal the way I have. He has commented several times during the course of my healing process that he is amazed at how quickly and well my fingers have healed. I can only take what he says at face value. He had very little to work with really no tissue left to use to graph. There was nothing to sew back together. He amputated the bone almost down to the first joint leaving what was left of that joint and tendon in tact. He had no expectations that it would be a cosmetically pretty or even how functional it would be. He certainly never expected for me to grow any type of finger nail or nail bed back.

New nail starting to grow

Everyone has their beliefs. I will not fault another human for believing in something or someone other than God and Jesus. That is not my call to question, judge or belittle. I can tell you over the years I have had my doubts, questions and received judgement from people of faith.  I only had half hearted faith in what I didn't understand. In this instance I can tell you I firmly believe in the power of prayer and faith. A dear dear friend of mine called to check on me many many times over the course of this accident like so many others that I hold close to my heart. Her words were of great comfort to me. "Nicole ", she said, "We may never know why this accident occurred, but there is a reason for everything that he (meaning God) allows to happen. God will never set you up to fail. Tomorrow or the next day even years down the road what has happened to you may have meaning, or you may never know at all, but it will have purpose, we just have to have faith that something positive will happen out of your misfortune and I will continue to pray for you to be blessed by his grace".  Those are powerful words coming from a woman truly entrenched in her faith. From that conversation, well really before but our conversation certainly sealed the deal, I wanted to turn my accident into as positive an experience as I could. This story may never help anyone or prevent this type of accident from happening to someone else, but if it does then I am glad I wrote it. On a side note 9 weeks after my accident, I am typing this story with my new to me healed fingers.
Back in the Saddle

I am back to riding (exactly 57 days after my injury), typing and all my normal activities. The strength is still somewhat limited but it is getting better everyday.

 Many people have asked to see a picture timeline of my injury and recovery. I will post the link below.



Unknown said...

I am so sorry that you had to undergo this accident. Yes, I know what you mean, I thought the same thing about pain too. You are to be commended to be such a trooper. Thanks for posting and giving all of us who are not as brave inspiration. Andrea

Nicole Huttar said...

Andrea thank you for the lovely compliment. It means a lot to me.

Evie Good said...

Nicole, I read your story with my mouth hanging open. I am so sorry the stars misaligned long enough for this freak accident to occur. Very grateful they rearranged themselves in your favor so that you had Dr. Johnson (I have been his patient also) to help you through this medical ordeal. Wishing you continued progress,
Evie Good

Nicole Huttar said...

Thank you Evie, He is a wonderful surgeon and his whole staff is incredible. It truly is a testiment to how much they love their work. I get a little better every day and my strength is coming back. I am now able to grab mane with my left hand and mount my 17+ hand thoroughbred Murder :)

Evie Good said...

Did you know Dr Johnson's wife is, or was, a dressage rider?

Nicole Huttar said...

Evie, He mentioned during my last visit that she used to ride but I didn't ask if she was still active I will have to do that during my next visit. :)