On May 3, 2012, Magali Pijpers was driving home from work on North Lamar Boulevard when a driver coming toward her blacked out behind the wheel, careened out of his lane and slammed head-on into Pijpers’ car.
I was crushed and pinned inside my car. It took 16 firefighters 30 minutes to cut me out, during which I was conscious the entire time. But I had everything in my favor that day. I … was less than 2.5 miles away from the nearest hospital, a Level 1 trauma hospital, no less.
Too often, a seriously injured or ill patient is brought into a Seton emergency department and doctors, nurses and others work intensively, desperately – and successfully – to save their lives. Then the patient is whisked away to intensive care or elsewhere in the hospital and later return home to fully heal.
Those in the ED who saved that life often are left to wonder: how did it turn out for that patient?
No need for University Medical Center Brackenridge associates to wonder about Magali Pijpers. After departing the hospital 16 days after she arrived, she returned nearly a year later, in April 2013 – not as a patient, but as a regular volunteer.
“I wanted to give back. Everyone at UMCB took really good care of me, in ways that were clearly beyond ‘just doing their job,’” she said. “I also wanted to use what I learned from my experience to help other patients navigate the often bewildering experience of a hospital stay and the recovery time thereafter.”
She couldn’t make the recent Trauma Survivors Reunion held at UMC Brackenridge, but she sent a letter and photos about her experience.
Under the care of UMCB’s professionals, I underwent nine different surgeries to repair my injuries, which were many. I broke over 20 bones in my body, with fractures to my femur, foot, wrist, pelvis and nine ribs; a compound fracture of the tibia/fibula; a collapsed lung and flail chest; minor fractures of some lumbar transverse processes and C7 vertebrae; a lacerated spleen and liver and a crush wound to my hand that would require partial amputation of a finger.
But I was alive.
Dr. Ben Coopwood did her initial examination. She then went into surgery, with Dr. Drew Fielder and his medical team removing her spleen. Dr. Earl Kilbride stabilized her femur, tibia and fibula and stitched up some of her wounds. The next day, Dr. David Laverty operated on her pelvis, foot and wrist.
After a painful weekend in the intensive care unit, Dr. Fielder performed a rib plating procedure and Dr. James Cullington of Seton’s Institute of Reconstructive Plastic Surgery dealt with her crushed hand.
Though he kindly entertained my drug-induced claims that my destroyed finger would be oh, just fine, Dr. Cullington eventually performed what would be my final surgery (before one follow-up two months later to remove some screws from my foot).
Obviously, I was lucky, not just to survive a near-fatal accident (one firefighter later told me that, in his 19 years on the job he had never seen anyone come out of an accident like mine as I did), but to have done so with access to the highest level of medical care possible, with top-notch surgeons and competent, compassionate caregivers.
Because surgery was only the beginning—the real challenge lay in recovery.
The day before the accident, I had gone for a run. The day after, I couldn’t lift my own arms.
But what a difference it makes when the people helping you take pride and find joy in their work, and are rooting for you to pull through.
Being in the ICU is not fun, and there were many excruciating moments that I wish never to relive. But for all of the pain I endured – the unbearable process of having my broken body turned every two hours, the feeling as if my veins were full of lead, the agony of just sitting up for the first time – I was always aware of how much worse it could have been and, somehow, I also managed to have fun. I remember a lot of smiles in my various encounters with RNs, CAs, RTs, radiologists, PTs and OTs, and everyone in between.
I often miss those hospital days.
Pijpers moved from the ICU to intermediate medical care (IMC) to a room on the eighth floor. Along the way, she made many new friends and was heartbroken when she left behind Seton associates whom she considered friends.
Can you imagine any other environment where you could be so ravaged and broken, delirious on painkillers, filthy from not having showered or brushed your teeth in days, and still be so lovingly cared for?
I’m pretty sure the nurses at Brack are all saints.
With each transfer at Brack, I made new friends and was delighted when some of my nurses from the other floors came to visit and check in on me.
Now that’s caring.
Along the way, Pijpers came to understand and appreciate the inspiration and sense of community she saw among her nurses and other providers.
It’s being part of such a special world, surrounded by so many strong, incredible people, day in and day out. Because to do what they do at Brackenridge takes the kind of people you might not find in most places.
During my entire stay at Brack, I always enjoyed talking to the nurses and hearing their stories. I made sure to ask what led them to become a nurse, and was interested to hear that many of them had been sick or injured themselves, or someone close to them had been, and that they had experienced a level of care that they were inspired to pay forward.
That alone should indicate the level of compassion of the UMCB nursing staff.
It’s a good place to be. People care.
So Pijpers returned to this good place to volunteer. Once a week, she was at an information desk, on the eighth floor, in the pharmacy, with the acute care supplies group or in the UMCB volunteer office. She now is developing a Music Ministry to bring in musicians to play for UMCB patients and associates.
I’ve had the opportunity to run into many of my doctors and caregivers. But still, I’d like to say thanks, for everything, forever, for fixing me, for taking care of me and my family, for pushing my limits, and for seeing me through the drug-induced fun times of ICU psychosis.
I once tried to list every single person I encountered as a result of my accident, and I was completely blown away and humbled by the sheer number of people it took to put me back together.
The scope of incredible individuals and talent that went into my recovery is just huge, and I feel truly privileged to have met so many amazing people along the way.