As I looked at the date today, I realized that in just four days I will recognize the 6th anniversary of my accident, the day my life changed forever. Looking back through my blogs I have noticed that I have never wrote in detail of what happened that day so I thought why not now? With July 22 right around the corner, I can’t think of a better time to write about it so the next few installments of my blog will be about the chain of events that happened six long/short years ago.
You may not remember what you were doing on Saturday, July 22, 2006, but the day is just as vivid in my mind as it was that day. My cousin Jeremy and his wife Stephanie had been going on float trips with some college buddies for years – several of my other cousins, as well as my brother Scott had joined them in previous years and they always talked about how much fun it was. I had to get in on this trip so on Friday morning my cousin Jared picked Scott and I up and we headed southeast to Tahlequah, OK to meet up with everyone. As soon we got there that afternoon, we had to pay for our rafts and everything we were going to need the next day, then we quickly changed into our swimsuits and joined everyone else who were hanging out in the river. That evening, Kirk and Billy joined us and while everyone over the age of 21 went to the casino, us three hung out with the people camping next to us.
The next morning I woke up to Jeremy cooking hamburgers for breakfast. After we all ate, we went up to the office where we proceeded to get on the bus and go up the road where the float began. We all got in, three to a raft, and headed out on our 2-mile trip down the Illinois River. We were having a blast, stopping to chit-chat and swim. Some ways down the river we had stopped to take our turn jumping off of a rope swing and then even further down the river we came upon a spot where the banks were lined with rafts and canoes and everyone was hanging out. This particular spot also had a tree whose branches draped over the river and a line of people were waiting to climb and jump from it. We parked our raft, checked the depth of the river, and got in line. Scott dove first, doing a one-and-a-half, and all of the people on bank cheered. I was up next and Kirk was right behind me…as I made my way out to the end of the limb butterflies crept into my stomach and I dove, a one-and-a-half.
The next thing I remember is floating to the surface of the water, facedown. I tried turning myself over, but my arms and legs just dangled beneath me and for whatever reason, I remember telling myself to blow bubbles until Scott comes and picks me up. After flipping me over, I vividly remember him saying “Em, you’re exposing yourself!” Scott helped put my top back in place and picked me up while Kirk stabilized my neck, and they carried me to shore.
People rushed around me and luckily two women from one raft and a man from another came to my side, two nurses and a doctor. Once I was lying on the bank, they stabilized my neck and looked me all over asking the standard questions, “Can you wiggle your toes?” “What about your fingers?” “Can you feel this…what about this?” I remember asking the doctor if I was paralyzed and he answered that my body may just be in shock – who knows if he really felt that have been the case, but it made me feel better at the time. Thankfully someone had a cell phone which actually had service and was able to call 911. We waited for what seemed like forever for the ambulance, but for some odd reason I was pretty calm.
When the ambulance finally arrived, things went fairly quick, or so it seemed to me. After bracing my neck and rolling me onto the backboard, we loaded into the ambulance and all I could think about was my brother Scott. Where was he and could he ride with me? Of course, he was right by my side. My ambulance ride was pretty short as we just went to a clear spot where the helicopter had landed.
As they were transferring me into the helicopter I remember telling the pilot, “Wow, I’ve never flown in a helicopter, my boyfriend is going to be impressed.” I have no idea what I was thinking, there was no way he was going to be impressed with all that was going on. I then asked if Scott could ride with me on this leg of the trip and they told me there wasn’t any more room so he would have to meet us at the hospital. As they were getting me locked in I was giving instructions, “Scott, you need to call Mom and Dad…I’m going to St. John’s in Tulsa.” “Kirk, please call Zach and tell him what’s going on.” I can’t even imagine how those phone calls went and honestly, I’m not sure I even want to know.
We then took off – it was about a 20-30 minute flight and I remember getting sick and apologizing over and over for puking. The pilot and co-pilot kept reassuring me it was okay, but I was not to fall asleep. They tried everything to keep me awake and my eyes open. Before I knew it, the doors were opened and we were there.