This is the kitchen where we talk about food, life, and recovery—a spiritual path to healing and peace.

You are invited to keep coming back to A Cup of Kindness to share your experience, strength and hope; fears, doubts and insecurities; and to pick up information, inspiration … and have a little fun!

My story
In January 2007, at the age of 51, I joined a 12-step program and began my recovery from food addiction, losing 75 pounds in the process. Read more…

In January 2011, at the age of 55, I began my recovery from a multi-trauma accident, 36 fractures, damaged lungs, and post traumatic stress. Read more…

I am deeply grateful for all the kindnesses, large and small, offered to me in recovery. Here I am... alive… still making progress … still not perfect … finding a new way forward in a growing community of women and men who share a lot in common around food and life.

I hope you'll join me in this kitchen and let me know what's cooking with you.

A Cup of Kindness

Open Heart Project



A Cup of Kindness was going to launch in January 2011 with a focus on food addiction and recovery. Then life intervened. Now, life’s new learning has given an additional, connected slant to this blog — trauma and recovery. Here’s the story of how life happened and what it’s beginning to mean to me.

Please note, having just re-read this for the umpteenth time, I realize that there is more on trauma here than on recovery. If you believe that you are in a post traumatic stress loop yourself, and reading about trauma might trigger a PTSD reaction, take a sip from the cup of kindness and skip down the page to the small Recovery section, What I’m Doing to Get Better, and the poem So Much Happiness.

What it used to be like… b.a. – before accident

At the New Year in January 2011, I was enjoying life, feeling physically strong and graceful, brave, confident, and secure. I felt young for my 55 years. I was very health conscious, having reached a healthy weight in 2007 through a 12-step program for food addiction.

I worked hard at a job I loved for a sharp, smart, and strategic advocacy organization. I worked long, intense days, sitting at my computer, sitting talking on the phone, and sitting in meetings for many hours before taking a break.

I traveled for my job and sometimes served on campaigns where I spent weeks driving long distances in unfamiliar territory, and getting in and out of the car to knock on doors. I led teams of organizers and I always made safety the top priority for me and my team. There was no texting or talking on cell phones while driving. The last “door knock” was at a set time before sundown. Team members were to use their intuition and avoid situations that appeared risky. We were to take our breaks and stop to eat at mealtimes.

I served as a safety marshal at our headquarters. Because I’m a nurse, I was often called on to help out when an employee became suddenly ill or was injured. I was pretty sure I could get to any place in the building faster by taking the stairs rather than waiting for an elevator. When the building alarms went off, I was responsible for checking to make sure everyone on our large floor had left their offices and gone down the 7 flights of stairs before heading down myself.

Once, when I was taking a group of nurses to lobby on Capitol Hill, we were evacuated due to illegal air traffic in the vicinity. We were told to run. I was able to run up stairs with my group, out of the building and walk quickly for several blocks.

I always thought that if there was an emergency that shut down the Metro, and the traffic was at a standstill I could walk the 10 miles home. No problem.

At home, I enjoyed a fulfilling relationship with my partner, Gregory. We were friends, lovers, and confidants. We were well-matched intellectually, physically, emotionally, and spiritually. We shared household tasks equally.

I did the grocery shopping and the cooking. I took long walks with our dog, two times a day during the work week, and four times a day on weekends. I took out the trash cans and took care of the recycling. Gregory did the laundry, the vacuuming, walked the dog during daytime on the weekdays, took care of the landscape, and did the handyman work around the house.

When we had snow, I was the one who did the shoveling because Gregory had a bad hip.

During back to back blizzards in February 2010, I was featured in a Washington Post article about our neighborhood response to the weather emergency:

“In… [an] enclave of 76 homes, the neighborhood response began at dawn Saturday, when almost half of the homeowners awoke to no electricity, damaged trees and a blanket of snow.

Valerie…, a 6-foot-tall nurse with Annie Lennox-style hair, stomped through the snow with her Labradoodle, Miranda, and noted who was without power. The day before, she was working to mobilize doctors and nurses headed to Haiti. On Saturday, the effort turned to her block. Within hours, she and a bunch of neighbors had created a schematic charting everyone’s state of affairs…” In Rock Creek Woods, warm hearts beat cold homes; The Washington Post – Washington, D.C. Author: Petula Dvorak Date: Feb 12, 2010 Start Page: B.1 Section: METRO

Gregory and I loved to vacation in Maine. I did the driving and Gregory did the navigating for the 12 – 13 hour trip. We were very active – swimming, hiking, exploring small towns, visiting art galleries, book stores and craft stores, walking the carriage trails through Acadia National Park, visiting special gardens, playing with our dog, and more. I took our dog out for long walks along our gravel road every morning before the sun came up and every evening after dark.

Following a workshop a number of years ago with the late Gabrielle Roth, I began to dance according to her 5Rhythms practice. It was a spiritual practice for me. See the link to 5Rhythms on the Blogroll to the left for a video of the dance I used to do.

On Sunday, January 9, 2011 I graduated from the 10 month Newfield Network Coach Training. I chose the Newfield program because it greatly respected the body as a domain of learning. Dance was a key component of the program. During our graduation ceremony, the staff made a special point of picking out a song just for me. “She’s a brick—-house. Mighty mighty… She’s a brick—-house. She’s the one, the only one, who’s built like an Amazon.” 😉

I enjoyed a yoga practice that followed the teachings of several yoga masters, including Eric Schiffman, Angela Farmer, and Victor Van Kooten. I studied directly with Cathryn Gunnerson.

Singing was a special pleasure that I enjoyed. Family occasions have always included music. I also loved to sing in the car, go Christmas caroling, and sing in church.

Life was good. Of course, there were always challenges. My father was ill most of his life. He passed away in 2001. We went through a very scary time in 2006 – 2007 when my partner, Gregory, needed brain surgery. My mother also suffered some major health challenges in 2010. In each case I felt a special responsibility for helping since I was a nurse.

What happened

The accident

On Tuesday evening, January 18, 2011, I was invited to shift spiritually, mentally and physically in a profound way. I’ve been on quite a journey since then.

I arrived that afternoon in Puerto Rico for a conference of the organization for which I work. I checked in to the hotel, unpacked and eventually set out to take a walk to the Walgreen’s Pharmacy. As I was leaving the hotel a group of a capella singers was performing in the lobby and I stood to enjoy them for a few tunes.

It was a pleasant walk to the pharmacy. I noticed a small park-like area on the other side of the street. I planned to stop there on my way back to spend a few minutes looking at the ocean.

After making a few purchases at the pharmacy, I headed back, crossing from the Walgreen’s side to the other side of the street. A short time later, I ran into two colleagues, Diane and Carmen. We chatted for a few minutes and I walked on.

I was walking on the sidewalk in front of a hotel. I came to the driveway. I stopped and looked to my right. I saw a parked car with its headlights on, sitting on the far edge of the driveway to my right. Seeing no cars coming my way, I began walking across the driveway. I was at approximately the mid-point in the driveway when I looked to my right and noticed a car with its headlights coming directly towards me.

I knew I was about to be hit. I flung up my right arm. I was hit and went down on the ground. I remember being under the carriage of the car and wondering if I would be burned or crushed by the bottom of the car. Then I remember two tires rolling over my torso. I felt like I was being tossed from here to there. I could feel my bones being broken and crushed and I could feel my lungs being crushed.

I heard people shouting. As I was rolling under the second tire and it was rolling over me, I heard a woman scream. I felt so sad for the people who were witnessing this terrible scene. I thought, they are probably on vacation and instead they are having this horrible experience.

I ended up laying on my right side. I heard someone shout, “Call an ambulance!” People were talking excitedly among themselves. A man came over to me, bent down low and asked my name. I said and repeated several times my name and the hotel where to find leaders of my organization.

Then a man came over and spoke into my ear, “I’m the one who hit you. You’re going to be OK. You’re going to be OK.”  [I later learned that his blood alcohol level was three times the legal limit.]

I called out, “Where’s the ambulance?” I knew that I was a full trauma and there might be only about an hour to save my life. It’s called the “golden hour”.

I heard the siren of the ambulance. When the emergency workers rolled me onto the stretcher I screamed in pain. As they lifted the stretcher into the ambulance, the jostling caused me more pain.

I heard the voice of my co-worker, Tonka, in the front seat of the ambulance. I said to the paramedic, a woman, “You have to get me to the hospital. Crush injuries.” She didn’t respond. She was hanging an IV. I called out, “Tonka! Tonka! Get them to take me to the hospital.” The paramedic said, “She’s talking to you.” I could tell that Tonka was trying to get them to move. She was speaking loudly and assertively.

I felt there were huge wings above the ambulance that were slowing beating.

Centro Medico – 18 hours

In the emergency department at Centro Medico, I remember several of my RN colleagues – leaders in my organization – speaking to me at various times.

Martha asked if we should call Gregory. I said no because I didn’t think there was enough to tell him yet. I really regret this because at the time Gregory, my mother, and my sister were scrambling to get information and were terrified. [Someone had used my phone and called my friend Debby to say that I’d been in an accident, but didn’t leave any other information. Debby called Gregory and that started the ball rolling.]

Martha assessed me, asking me where I was hurt. I told her the tires rolled over my torso and I was having trouble breathing.

Toni spoke low into my ear and said everything would be alright.

Cathy and Gayle spoke to me, too.

I kept saying, “Where’s the doctor?”

At one point Martha said, “We think you might have pneumothoraces.” I said, “I think I do.”

[I later learned that Martha, formerly the head nurse for the Ryder Shock Trauma Center of Jackson Memorial Hospital in Miami, went out to talk to the other nurse leaders in the waiting room. She said that she thought that I was going to stop breathing and go into cardiac arrest. She was concerned that there was no emergency equipment nearby. Toni called Dennis, a top leader in our organization. He contacted someone who pushed the medical staff to assess me. Martha was already making arrangements for me to be airlifted to Miami.]

I remember Martha saying, “We’re taking you to CT Scan.”

Once my injuries became apparent, the staff put in chest tubes, intubated me and placed me on a ventilator.

I remember opening my eyes and looking at the ceiling lights and wondering if this was a terrible nightmare. It all felt so unreal. After a moment I knew it was real. I felt this horror that life as I knew it was over.

My injuries at the time included:

  • profound chest wall injury
  • pulmonary contusion (what just about did me in; a potentially fatal injury with possible long term ill effects on respiratory function)
  • profound hypoxia (which may be the cause of some continuing difficulties with thinking and memory)
  • flail chest
  • nondisplaced sternal fracture
  • right side ribs 1 through 8 fractured – the first right rib is also fractured at the costotransverse joint
  • all ribs fractured on the left – left ribs 1 and 2 are fractured at the costotransverse joint – left ribs 3, 5, 6, 7, and 8 are segmental fractures
  • comminution (broken into small fragments) of the bilateral sacral ala
  • fracture lines extend into the SI joints
  • SI joint widening on the right
  • fracture of the right iliac wing superiorly
  • pubic body fracture also extending through the right superior pubic ramus
  • fracture of the right inferior pubic ramus
  • fracture of the right posterior iliac wing extending to the SI joint on the right
  • fracture of the left superior and inferior pubic rami
  • left superior pubic ramus fracture also extends to the anterior column
  • thorocolumbar spine right transverse process fractures: L2, L3, and tip of the L5
  • left transverse process fractures: L4, L2, L1, T1
  • vertebral body fractures: T12 compression with mild bony retropulsion
  • spinal cord injury T7 – T 12
  • severe anemia due to multiple fracture bleeding sites – transfused twice
  • left knee degloving shear injury with hematoma (later seen on MRI as  encapsulated by fibrous capsule most compatible with a Morel-Lavallee lesion)
  • right psoas muscle hematoma
  • “road rash” left forearm and right ankle – a 1 inch abrasion on my forearm and a small bruise on my ankle were the only external signs of injury

Surgery, interventions, injuries and illnesses that developed as a result of the accident included:

  • 3 chest tubes
  • 2 “pigtail” drains upper back
  • pelvic/sacral injury surgery – posterior spinal fusion from L4 through S2 levels with paired posterior fusion rods and interlocking L4-L5 bilateral pedicular screws and bilateral iliac screws
  • 3 PICC lines – peripherally inserted central catheter IV lines
  • tracheotomy
  • ventilator support – one of the biggest challenges was weaning me off of the ventilator
  • MRSA pneumonia – heavy duty antibiotic therapy for 11 weeks
  • anascara (extreme generalized edema), ascites, pulmonary edema and bilateral pleural effusion
  • incision and debridement of posterior pelvic wounds – purulent drainage over post-surgical iliac screws, leading to sacral osteomyelitis`
  • 3 deep vein thromboses (blood clots) – left upper arm and left femoral vein – Heparin IV therapy for 6 weeks and then subcutaneous Lovanox
  • blood transfusion – 4 units at Jackson and 4 units at WHC
  • Foley catheter – removed during NRH admission; went from 5 self-catheterizations a day to urinating on my own, with occasional incontinence
  • rectal tube – during Jackson admission due to intractable diarrhea; removed on admission at the Washington Hospital Center; occasional bowel incontinence
  • allergic reaction rash – at Jackson; probably “red man syndrome” associated with rapid infusion of Vancomycin
  • thrush – yeast infection of mouth, throat and tongue
  • atrial fibrillation – with heart rate of 180
  • extreme hypertension related to autonomic dysreflexia; up to 212 systolic and 110 diastolic
  • gastroparesis with chronic nausea, vomiting, anorexia; weight loss (30 pounds); and hair loss (my hair was falling out daily until I began to gain weight back)
  • muscle atrophy
  • left knee degloving shear injury drained at NRH when inpatient through WHC Interventional Radiology; as outpatient, drained by orthopedic surgeon twice of about 100cc old blood
  • left chest wall musculo-skeletal pain as ribs remodeling post fractures
  • damage to vocal folds (from endotrach tube) – preventing vocal folds from pulling together, leading to difficulty speaking, breathy voice, and gasping for air while speaking
  • Post Traumatic Stress Disorder – including suicidal ideation, flat affect, depression, surges of adrenalin with anxiety, night terrors, flashbacks, panic attacks; feeling disconnected from loved ones, myself and the Divine; always thinking about the worst case scenario; negative thinking; difficulty concentrating; isolating

Ryder Trauma Intensive Care Unit at Jackson Memorial Hospital – 5 weeks

Some of the most painful memories at Jackson are of the times when I desperately wanted to communicate something about my care, but, because of being on the ventilator, I couldn’t speak and, as hard as I tried, I couldn’t write legibly. I would feel panic-stricken that I couldn’t communicate about basic survival needs.

Sometimes, the panic was related to an inability to get enough oxygen because my lungs were so damaged. Sometimes, the panic was due to physical surges of adrenalin. Unfortunately, medications and ventilation were not sufficient to ease the panic.

I felt disconnected… from others, from myself and from G-d. I didn’t recognize my mind, body or spirit. I was literally and figuratively shattered.

I was so distraught, that I was desperately trying to figure out how to kill myself. My hands were tied down. I was intubated. I kept trying to get out of the restraints so that I could pull the PICC line out while under the covers, hoping that I would bleed out before anyone would notice.

I begged Gregory and Martha to make sure that I was a “No Code” – that “Do Not Resuscitate” should be written at the top of my chart. Martha said, “It’s not time for that.” Thank you, Martha!

And yet there were times when my spiritual training lifted me out of fight, flight, freeze and fold. I said the Serenity Prayer and moments after wanting to kill myself a new idea presented itself. Perhaps the “reason” for the accident was to raise love, prayer and compassion among many people – my family, friends, and colleagues. That would be a good thing. The world needs more love, prayers and compassion.

At one point, I went into atrial fibrillation. My heart rate was 180. I had an “out-of-body” experience, just peacefully observing the team of doctors who were finally able to convert my heart back to normal sinus rhythm.

I wasn’t able to turn on my own. The assistants had to log roll me and pay attention to all the tubes. Sometimes something would get crimped or pulled. I had IVs, ventilator tubing, the pig tail drains in my back, a feeding tube, two chest tubes, a Foley catheter, a rectal tube, leads to monitors, etc.

For a period of time I had the illusion that the ICU was open to an outside patio where people went to smoke. It was so hot, I wanted them to close the doors to the outside and put on the air conditioning. I also was listening to a conversation between two nurses that sounded kind of crazy. One nurse was saying to the other that Atlantis was a real place; and only certain people could go there; and her boyfriend wanted her to buy property there.

Because the TICU is one big room, I was exposed to the traumatic stories that were going on around me.

I remember a young woman who ran her moped into a pole. I would turn my head and see her laying so still and looking gray. Her father was a regular visitor. I never heard her speak. (Gregory says she recovered and went home well.)

There was the family of the young girl on life support who were trying to decide about donating her organs. I think she was one of three girls who were standing on a sidewalk when they were hit by a driver who’d had a stroke. There was one member of the family who didn’t want the donation to go forward. Finally, I think there was an agreement to donate as long as this person could come in and see the girl before she died.

There were a couple of young men who had been shot. I think they were paralyzed.

There was a young man who was burned.

There was an old man who had been the victim of a hit and run driver. The staff were looking for family members, but the friends who came to visit him from his building didn’t know of any family.

I felt terrible. There was so much suffering. Too many bad things were happening. Awful things. I was unable to help in any way.

There were light moments. I liked the robot that would come around. The doctors used it to do rounds instead of going from bed to bed, to avoid spreading infection. The robot would have one of my doctors’ faces on its TV screen head. My doctor would wave at me and look at my monitors.

Nurses I knew and loved who worked at Jackson would come to visit briefly. I respected and trusted Doug, the nurse practitioner who was a leader on my care team. In general the doctors showed concern and were willing to thoroughly answer questions from Louise and Gregory.

I’ve learned from my incredibly strong and stoic sister, Louise, about some of the terrible times she had in Miami. She frequently wasn’t able to eat and lost a significant amount of weight. She was so upset that she threw up sometimes. She would call her husband on the phone and just cry.  She was terribly afraid to ask, “Is she going to die?” Eventually she did ask both Doug and Martha when the MRSA was so awful – and the answer from both was (paraphrased), “Her injuries are recoverable, but there are no guarantees.”

Gregory has just begun to talk about what this time was like for him. He used the word “brutal”. He said he spent one morning crying.

I desperately wanted to get back to my hometown. I was afraid for Louise and Gregory. I was afraid that something bad would happen to them in Miami. I wanted them to be in their own homes. I wanted to be in familiar territory, with my mom and with friends who could visit. Several times it looked like I might be well enough to travel by air ambulance back to DC and then I would take a turn for the worse.  Finally, I was flown back with Gregory at my side.

Washington Hospital Center (WHC) Trauma Intensive Care Unit – 3 weeks

It was good to get back to my home town. Instead of one big room, the Trauma ICU (which also served as the Burn ICU) had small individual rooms.

My mom was able to visit, although it was very difficult for her. She’s very nervous driving her car outside of her regular routes and she was suffering with terrible back pain and had problems with walking at the time. However, she came every day until my sister told her she needed to take better care of herself and come less often.

It was very scary for her to see me so sick. She had been terribly traumatized by the news that I’d been in an accident and then Louise and Gregory advised her to stay home instead of coming to Miami. So, she had to wait for 5 weeks before she could see me with her own eyes and do anything to help. She was very brave when she visited me and was the mother I needed.

I would often wake up and see my friend Maggie sitting at my bedside. She would come to see me, to talk, to read to me – anything to connect and show me her love. Instead she would end up just sitting and watching me sleep for a couple of hours. That was love. This happened with other friends, too.

I also had episodes of adrenalin-produced anxiety at WHC. Treatment with meds was only somewhat effective.

I had terrible continuous nausea. Only meds with serious, life-long side effects were anywhere near effective.

I was off the ventilator, but needed frequent suctioning of my tracheostomy. There were times the trach would get clogged and I was unable to breathe for long moments.

One day a physical therapist showed up. She was going to help me stand. She got me sitting on the side of the bed. I was terrified to stand. I was afraid for her – that I would pull her over and she would be injured. She basically lifted me into a standing position. I had zero muscle strength in my legs. She was holding me up. My mother says I made a sound she’ll never forget. She said it was “like an animal.”

Another time a couple of occupational therapists came to show me some aids that I might use once I went home. Since I wouldn’t be able to bend, lift or twist for several months at least, I would need these aids for putting on socks and shoes, for picking up things off the floor, etc. I thought I’ll never be able to take care of myself again.

One evening, I began to have excruciating low back pain. They took me for an MRI, but couldn’t see any changes. I was in severe pain for several days before it began to subside with meds.

I had severe episodic hypertension, with systolic readings up to 212 and diastolic up to 110. It was diagnosed as autonomic dysreflexia – a syndrome related to spinal cord injury. There was concern that I might have a stroke, retinal hemorrhage, seizure, myocardial infarction, and/or pulmonary edema.

National Rehabilitation Hospital (NRH) Spinal Cord Injury Unit – 7 weeks

I remember the excellent staff. They took great care of me. I was still unable to turn myself in the bed. They would turn me every two hours. Gradually, they encouraged me to do what I could to take care of myself, for instance to wash my own face.

I remember my own exhaustion, fear of each “new” activity, doubt of any future progress, and insecurity about my own efforts – even though the staff constantly reassured me that I was being very brave, working very hard and making good progress.

My psyche couldn’t handle the spinal cord injury diagnosis. I asked the staff to avoid talking to me in those terms. I desperately wanted to believe that my nerve damage was peripheral, not central.

The physical therapists, the nurses and the assistants were very patient with me. The PTs would ask me to try something and at first, feeling very afraid, I would say that I wasn’t sure I could do it. They would ask if I could try. I was always afraid that I would hurt them by falling on them. Then I would try the next thing.

I remember when they first hoisted me into a standing position using a standing frame. I was terrified just from the sensation of being upright.

Every time I did something new, I was afraid, but I did it. The physical therapists praised me. I begged them to always tell me the truth and not to make things out to be better than they were. They promised to tell me the truth.

I was encouraged to sit in the chair 2- 4 hours a day. I couldn’t do it. It was physically exhausting and increased the nausea that was so debilitating. I generally spent the time that I wasn’t in physical therapy, sleeping. I didn’t have any desire to watch TV, or read, or eat. I just wanted to sleep. It took concerted effort to stay awake when friends and family arrived for a visit.

As physical therapy assistants exercised my legs while I was in bed, in spite of their careful attention, a slight over-stretch of my legs would be extremely painful. I also had extremely painful neuropathy in my right foot, especially in the evening.

The physical therapists were very concerned about my depression. I would look around at other patients in the treatment area and wonder, how can they smile. My affect was flat. I was later told that I looked shell-shocked. I was a person who used to laugh easily and now no one could coax a smile out of me. Nothing gave me any pleasure. I couldn’t tell that I was making progress. Sitting in a circle of patients doing occupational therapy, I could hardly raise my arms and I couldn’t imagine that I would ever get any better. Still, I did whatever I was told to do.

It was several weeks into my NRH stay that I first looked at myself in the mirror. I hardly recognized myself. The person looking back was emaciated. My face was pale and slacked. My eyes were dark and there were deep frown lines on my forehead.

Once the Foley catheter came out, I had to learn how to catheterize myself five times a day to empty my bladder. I was incontinent of stool and had to wear a diaper. The assessment was that I might not regain control of bowel and bladder.

One day, I felt like having a bowel movement. An assistant transferred me to the bedside commode and I spontaneously peed. Hallelujah!!

The staff offered to help me use the toilet in the bathroom, but it took three strong people to transfer me from the toilet to the wheelchair. I had to stick with the bedside commode.

Gradually I regained some bowel and bladder control, but incontinence still shows up every few months.

The longer I was at NRH, the more I wanted to go home. I woke up every day staring around this institutional room, feeling very homesick.

I missed my dog, Miranda, terribly. I felt so sad that I had abandoned her.

I watched the bare trees outside of my window slowly turn green as winter turned to spring. I missed the cherry blossom trees that line the streets in my neighborhood.

As the weeks went by I made progress from the bed, to the wheelchair, to using a walker for short distances.

Towards the end of my admission, I was granted a day pass. Getting up the one step to my house took every ounce of my energy and strength and help from Gregory. I needed help to get up from the sofa. I needed help to get up from the toilet. Neighbors came over to see me and I must have smiled rather wanly. While they chatted with my family, I sat back and just listened. I didn’t have the energy to engage in the conversation.

Coming home – May 3, 2011

Coming home was terribly difficult. It didn’t feel like home. I didn’t feel like myself. There was very little that I could do that was productive. All the things I used to do to help around the house, cook, take out the trash, walk the dog were beyond me. I couldn’t work. There was no entertainment that I could enjoy. I didn’t have the concentration for reading. I had no interest in magazines or TV. All forms of entertainment seemed rife with disturbing images or sad story lines.

There was a commode next to the bed because I might not make it the 6 steps to the bathroom in time. There was a shower chair in the bathtub because I couldn’t stand up to take a shower.

I would wake up around 6am with nothing to do. I’d just stare at the ceiling and remember the accident over and over and all the things I couldn’t do anymore. It was a huge effort to get up in the morning. Taking a shower and brushing my teeth were so hard I didn’t want to do them every day. Finally, I would get up around 8am to eat breakfast; then get back in bed until it was time to go to physical therapy.

During those first weeks at home I slept about 18 hours a day. I used a walker to get around the house. I would stand in the kitchen for a few minutes at a time trying to help make a meal or feed the dog; and then feel so shaky I had to sit down. Gregory would get me out of the house for a trip to the grocery store – always a favorite – where I used the wheelchair.

I was afraid of riding in the car; afraid we would be in an accident or see an accident. I felt sick to my stomach especially in the car. I was very worried every time I heard a siren or saw emergency vehicles. I was particularly afraid in parking lots. I still have these fears at times.

One Saturday, I was with Gregory at our local Kensington Train Station farm market. I thought a train was going to collide with the one in front of it. I didn’t realize it was on a separate track. Gregory put his arms around me. It took a while for me to stop shaking.

There was a basket of medications I had to take several times a day for hypertension, heart rate, depression, anxiety, nausea, etc.

While I had many body aches and pains, the nausea and lack of appetite were the most disturbing symptoms. I struggled with it. My weight actually dropped after I got home. At 6 feet tall, I weighed only 130 pounds. I was worried that I wouldn’t gain stamina. My muscles had atrophied and I knew it would take far more nourishment and a great deal of effort to re-build muscle. But I just couldn’t manage to eat and keep down the food I needed to recover. I would lay in bed and think I can’t live like this.


In an Unspoken Voice, Peter A. Levine, PhD says, “Trauma sufferers, in their healing journeys, learn to dissolve their rigid defenses. In this surrender they move from frozen fixity to gently thawing and, finally, free flow. In healing the divided self from its habitual mode of dissociation, they move from fragmentation to wholeness. In becoming embodied they return from their long exile. They come home to their bodies and know embodied life, as though for the first time. While trauma is hell on earth, its resolution may be a gift from the gods.”

I began to thaw.

I would open my eyes to see friends and family at my bedside and feel this great joy! My heart would open and overflow. with pure, profound, and unconditional love. I was so grateful to see them alive. Their presence felt so healing to me.

This began to happen quite regularly. It never seemed to get old or familiar. Each time it was fresh and perfectly new. Each feeling of love was unique to that person.

I would see good friends, so different from each other and yet each one demonstrating the power of love and respect for human dignity.

Seeing Gregory and Louise filled me with a sense of safety as well as joy.

What a resounding sense of coming home it was to see my mom, Myra… my perfectly loving, strong and supportive mom.

When my brother-in-law Murray came to visit me, his sweetness brought tears to my eyes.

I remember the love I felt for my dear, steadfast friend Maggie who would read to me for a few minutes and then sit with me for hours as I slept. I would open my eyes briefly to see her sitting there and sigh with happiness as I fell back asleep.

Nora, another fellow nurse and F(f)riend, brought a gentle spirit that touched me deeply.

Jamie and the aptly named Joy brought Shabbat to me and I felt this great gratitude for such good friends who were bringing me their healing love.

I was so happy that Debby came to see me, undaunted by my exhaustion and my haggard appearance.

I loved seeing Betsy who exemplified courage and kindheartedness.

Other friends all nourished me with their understanding and encouragement.

I felt uplifted by the good cheer and positive expectations for my return to work by my colleagues.

I became more curious about what was happening with other people.

I learned the meaning of community.

I wondered if all of this may have something to do with Namaste — the greeting that means “The Divine Light in me greets the Divine Light in you.” Perhaps each time I saw another unique individual some wonderful aspect would awaken in me a similar quality.

I was not alone. I was no longer disconnected from myself, from other people, and from the Divine. Through my fellow human beings I could see the Divine that was also in me.

Healing is infinite 

Resolving issues and future risks

Here are the challenges that have been in process since coming home.

  • Musculo-skeletal – weakness from my left hip and down my left leg; pain, numbness, and loss of control from right buttock, around the inside of my groin to the right pubic area, down the back of right leg to ankle and foot; swelling, poor circulation, and plantar fasciitis right foot; right foot pronation; right foot drop; right toes splayed up and arch is falling; right leg now shorter than left by 2cm; left knee numbness and hematoma due to degloving shear injury; abnormal gait; low back pain and stiffness and right leg pain; limited range of motion due to rods in back; difficulty with balance; left chest wall musculo-skeletal pain as ribs remodeling post fractures
  • Respiratory – shortness of breath, decreased strength and endurance have improved greatly
  • Skin  – risk for skin impairment related to neuropathy and poor circulation right lower extremity
  • Safety – risk for falls related to spinal cord injury, unstable pelvic and core muscles, shortened right leg (2 cm) and numb right leg, decreased strength legs and hips, decreased  balance, and foot drop; loose pedicle screws which could cause serious damage if I were to fall; risk of aspiration related to difficulty swallowing post tracheostomy
  • Neurogenic Bowel and Bladder – occasional incontinence related to spinal cord injury
  • Mobility – chronic back, chest, leg and foot pain; decreased activity tolerance, and decreased functional abilities related to musculo-skeletal injuries
  • Circulation – risk for further blood clots due to poor circulation right lower extremity; possible future episode severe hypertension related to autonomic dysreflexia; possible future repeat of atrial fibrillation… none of these have occurred, so the future risks seem small to me
  • Psycho-social – reduced endurance/activity tolerance, fear of travel, difficulty concentrating, memory deficits, inability to sit at computer for long periods, lethargy, difficulty speaking, inadequate respiratory support, breathy weak vocal quality;  Post Traumatic Stress Disorder including flashbacks, nightmares, depression, anxiety, panic attacks… all are less and less problematic as time goes by
  • Quality of life – gradually returning to previous activities, such as hiking, long walks, exploring cities; challenges to spiritual practice of yoga; joy of singing

What it was like for the first several years and what it’s like now

I slept fitfully, often waking with pain in my back and legs. I trained myself not to frown at night, and not to grimace and groan every time I change position – asleep or awake. Now, I’m quite comfortable at night.

I woke up and gently moved around in the bed to get my joints moving. I got into a sitting position on the side of the bed the way that I was taught at National Rehabilitation Hospital. I still do this.

I put on shoes because walking barefoot was too painful. After standing for a moment, I began to walk to the bathroom by, as Gregory calls it, “wall surfing.” I kept a hand on a wall as my right leg begins to bear weight. I can walk barefoot comfortably, but I still wall surf.

Once I get going, every step I take still requires thought. I think about contra-lateral walking, gently holding in my abdominal muscles, keeping my hips front, walking heel-toe-heel-toe, extending my weak left leg, balancing on my numb right leg, and using the muscles that are working in my right leg to move it rather than flinging it forward from the hip.

My right leg is now shorter than my left. I wear a lift in my shoe. I pay attention to not scuff my foot when my legs gets tired.

I have impaired sensory nerve perception which messes with proprioception — my ability to know where I am in space. For instance when standing, I feel that my feet are parallel, but in fact my numb right foot is turned out and pronated in. When I’m sitting, since my right butt doesn’t feel the solidity of the chair in the same way as the left side, the position of my pelvis and hips are off kilter. I’ve learned how to compensate.

Before the accident, I easily ran up and down the stairs. After the accident, once I was able to do stairs, for a long time, I held on to the banister and the opposite wall and pulled and pushed with my whole body to go up the stairs. It’s easier now, but I still don’t run. And I still pay close attention going down the stairs so that I don’t kick out my right foot too far and miss a step. If there are more than a couple of steps without a banister, I have to have someone to assist me or go very slowly.

I’m tempted to pick up objects that are too heavy for me. When I do so, my back goes into spasm. It’s not so painful and it eventually resolves.

I weaned off anti-depressant medication. It took 8 months under the direction of a psychiatrist. Dread was a part of my withdrawal experience. Dread still shows up for about 30 seconds and then dissipates. I’m fine with it.

Before the accident I took a shower every day, brushed my teeth three times a day, wore fresh clothes every day, and wore makeup every day. I didn’t keep up with these activities of daily living for quite a while. I’m back to them now.

Rather than the intractable high anxiety that I used to have, I have mini-panic attacks, but not too often. They seem to be triggered by hearing of an accident with a pedestrian hit, seeing car headlights, walking in a parking lot, almost falling, remembering some aspect of the accident or hospitalization, and thinking about how this has all affected those close to me.

I become totally exhausted with stress that’s just over a tipping point. It can be good stress or bad stress. So, I take naps.

NRH Regional Rehabilitation physical therapists concluded my treatment in December 2011 when I reached a plateau. I started right away on a home program of exercise and connecting with community resources to continue gaining strength, balance and stamina. The very best resources I’ve found are yoga and a type of physical therapy called Gyrotonic. I work with Ellen Barlow, a senior instructor at Elements Fitness and Wellness Center in Washington, DC.

I had shortness of breath for quite a while. Pulmonary Function Tests showed reduced function. Yoga and singing have improved my lung function dramatically.

My voice was breathy and weak. I could no longer sing. According to a laryngologist, this is related to damage from the initial endotrach tube before I had a tracheostomy. As recommended, I took voice therapy for 6 weeks. The doctor also suggested that injections or a graft would be options in the future. I began taking singing lessons with my mom and have seen my breathing and my voice improve and my range expand.

Sometimes I get frustrated. I wonder will I ever take a simple walk again… without lots of effort and fear of falling? Will I always have to rush to the bathroom to avoid incontinence? Will I always have to gasp for breath as I try to participate in a conversation? Will my body always be talking to me? Well, I guess when you get run over by a Range Rover… it makes a lasting impression!

I used to get depressed. I spiraled down into feeling that I would just get worse as I age and would never recover my previous strength and stamina. I’m now a much happier and more hopeful person. I have a sense of humor about my different abilities.

My identity suffered a crisis. I struggled to build a new identity. For a long time I no longer felt accomplished, assured, and energetic; no longer in charge at work; no longer in a body that could hike, dance, do yoga, walk, and sing. Over time those feelings and abilities have returned… in different forms, but I cherish them more than ever before.

Who was I? I was unrecognizable to myself. There were dramatic changes to my personality. I went from a happy, confident, focused and optimistic person; to a suicidal, fearful, depressed, anxious, and insecure person who was doubtful about the future. I couldn’t look into the past to see how much progress I was making and I couldn’t look into the future because I didn’t believe I would make any further progress. I was stuck – frozen in the present moment without the distance to observe it. I had a lot of sadness that this event was dreadful for so many people, especially for my husband, sister, and my mother. My psychiatrist expected that I would need many more years of treatment to fully recover from PTSD.

Through psychotherapy, psychiatry, meds and EMDR I have returned to my fundamentally happy self. Thank, G-d!

Work was major in my life. It gave me so much and it was a place that I could give back. I was the primary breadwinner in our household. For a long time, I didn’t have the concentration and stamina to turn around even small projects. One day I would feel like working a few hours a week and the rest of the week I would too tired to be creative and productive. The basic ability to sit at a computer for a few hours a day was beyond me. After about 20 minutes, I would have low back pain; burning nerve pain in the back of my right thigh; and swelling, pain and discoloration of my right foot. It was distressing to admit that I was “not fit for duty” – not able to go back to work and my community of colleagues.

Even without working, I would want to do things and before they were done I’d be exhausted, my back ached and I’d collapse into bed several times throughout the day, and often take a 4-hour nap.

Now I have several volunteer roles that keep me busy… in my 12 step program, my neighborhood, and my religious community.

I was very smart and loved to learn. After the accident, I was unable to remember what I’d learned in the 10 month Newfield Network Coach Training from which I graduated just three days before the accident. And I was unable to remember what I learned in an 18 month study group in my spiritual practice. The study group was scheduled to finish the month after the accident. What did this mean for future learning? Learning is still quite a challenge. I’m willing to step into the challenge and try out new things.

A big part of my identity used to be my ability to help others. Those relationships with people changed. I was no longer the person others feel comfortable turning to for help – including my mother, my neighbors and friends. Instead, they wanted to protect me from their problems or difficulties in life. I’m back to helping and now I’m better able to receive help, too.

Grace through dancing, yoga, and sex held sacred reverence for me. I felt most like my true Self when my body was in the flow. I wondered if I’ll ever feel so lovely and in touch with the Divine in those ways again. Those feelings have returned. The forms have changed a bit. The feelings are as uplifting as ever.

Who am I as a partner to my husband? I forget whole conversations. I can’t remember plans we have made. I have a hard time concentrating on what he’s saying to me. We’re still getting used to those changes. Couples therapy and the Imago communications technique helped immeasurably.

What about our favorite things to do for fun? I’m afraid to travel any distance, leaving the safety and security of home.  I didn’t think I’d ever be able to take long walks and go hiking. Exploring NYC on the subway was out. Walking on a beach and swimming in the ocean were unlikely. I still have fear, but I can do all of these things again.

I felt so much less capable than I once was. It took a lot of determination to hold onto my positive spirit.  More than most, I always enjoyed good health.  And I was grasping to bring it back. Now, I feel capable, positive and healthy.

I’m a nurse. I have a rational fear of what the future holds for my body.  I’m not capable of brushing it off. I don’t have that coping mechanism. I know the reality of my situation and what could happen over the years.

Although I did my best to stay in an optimistic frame of mind, there were days when I collapsed into an overwhelming sense of loss and lack of hope for the future. Now I have hope. Healing is infinite!

What I’ve done to get better

  • Three weighed and measured meals a day. No flour, sugar or alcohol. Nothing in between meals. 12-step meetings, phone calls and readings.
  • 30 minutes of quiet time
  • Yoga
  • Balanced physical activity and rest
  • Gyrotonic physical therapy — the best!!
  • Writing about my fears, doubts, insecurities, experience strength and hope
  • Transformational painting practice
  • EMDR therapy for PTSD
  • Couples therapy
  • Acupuncture
  • Body-Mind Centering movement therapy
  • Cranio-sacral and zero balancing energy work
  • Voice therapy
  • Psychiatry and psychotherapy
  • Vitamins and other supplements for healing

Recovery takes a village!

And… I am happy, too.

Here’s a poem that speaks to my heart.

So Much Happiness by Naomi Shihab Nye

It is difficult to know what to do with so much happiness.
With sadness there is something to rub against,
a wound to tend with lotion and cloth.
When the world falls in around you, you have pieces to
pick up,
something to hold in your hands, like ticket stubs
or change.

But happiness floats.
It doesn’t need you to hold it down.
It doesn’t need anything.
Happiness lands on the roof of the next house, singing,
and disappears when it wants to.
You are happy either way.
Even the fact that you once lived in a peaceful tree house
and now live over a quarry of noise and dust
cannot make you unhappy.
Everything has a life of its own,
it too could wake up filled with possibilities
of coffee cakes and ripe peaches,
and love even the floor which needs to be swept,
the soiled lines and scratched records…

Since there is no place large enough
to contain so much happiness,
you shrug, you raise your hands, and it flows out of you
into everything you touch. You are not responsible.
You take no credit, as the night sky takes no credit
for the moon, but continues to hold it, and share it,
and in that way, be known.