Five Guys. The burger joint, that is. One perforated girl. Me, that is. But before we get to that, a little background for you. Back in 2017, I was in a near-fatal car accident trapped inside a tiny Nissan Versa with my father and boyfriend. We were T-boned by a driver under the influence, who ran a red light and hit us at 90 miles-per-hour. Car accidents are one of those tragic things in life that you think can never possibly happen to you. You see them. You hear about them. You may know people in them. But it could never be you.
Back in 2017, it was me. I have vacillated with the idea of writing a book and telling my story to the world ever since that day. I’m a natural-born storyteller, went to college to pursue a degree in Journalism, and knew that from this accident and struggles emerged my story to tell. Not just because I want to tell it, but because I know someone out there needs to hear it.
I’ll save all the details of my story for the eventual book, but there is one story I want to tell you about.
My attitude for nearly every tragic thing that has happened to me since that almost fatal day, has been to approach it with humor. When all you can do is cry, why not at least laugh first until you cry? Oh, your mom has to trim your overgrown pubic hair because you broke nearly every bone in your body and it’s getting in the way when she tries to wipe you because you can’t wipe yourself? You can cry about what a pathetic scene at the ripe age of 27-years-old that is, or, you can remind your mom of it when she’s having a bad day and laugh until you cry.
Which brings me to the story of Five Guys and One Perforated Girl that you’ve been waiting for three paragraphs now. In total, I spent 38 days in the hospital and rehab after the car accident. Besides the places I’ve called home, I’ve never spent 38 days anywhere. The car accident just so happened to take place in the state of Florida where my boyfriend and I (who lived in New York City at the time) were visiting my father for Father’s Day. We had left New York City for a weekend trip to Florida, not knowing that we wouldn’t come back once the weekend was over.
All three of us, including the driver, survived. Despite scars, some daily aches and pains, and new hardware to set off metal detectors, we have no permanent injuries which I am forever grateful for. Now for the injuries...I suffered everything from a broken neck to a broken Tib-Fib (the shin area of your leg) to a broken ulna and radius (the bones in your forearm) to some broken bones in my back and neck, along with a brain injury. I underwent multiple surgeries to reset broken bones and I am now armed (literally) with a lot of metal: plates, screws, rods, you name it.
After undergoing back-to-back surgeries and weeks in rehab, the doctors finally thought I was stable enough to safely fly back to New Jersey where I would continue recovering at my childhood home. We had booked our flights. We were beyond ready to go. We were set to fly from the Orlando airport to Philadelphia on July 17, 2017, 29 days after the accident. We had practiced things you never thought you would have to practice. Like how to maneuver in and out of a car while still in a wheelchair with a broken leg, while wearing a neck brace and a body that can only be bent in certain ways. Or how to get from the wheelchair to the transport chair (a smaller wheelchair which can fit down the aisles of an airplane) to then be wheeled and maneuvered into my seat. We had spent hours practicing these things, and we were as ready as you really ever can be for a flight like that.
It was July 13, four days before I was supposed to fly home. My days were filled with everything from hours of grueling occupational and physical therapy to speech therapy (I also suffered a TBI, Traumatic Brain Injury, from the accident). I had just scarfed down some Five Guys. Yes, you are allowed to eat Five Guys in the hospital, so don’t let them tell you otherwise. But let me tell you, after days and days of hospital food you will do anything you can to get your broken hands on some “normal” food. After lunch, I was pushed down the hall to speech therapy. My stomach was full of beef and fries, and I was damn happy.
I was sitting in the speech therapy room with my two speech therapists. We would work on everything from memory recall of a story they just told me, to picture recognition. You wouldn’t believe how hard it is to remember the word ‘Clothespin’ when you’re staring at a picture of it trying to grasp why your brain just can’t remember what it’s called. But it’s not the pictures or the stories that I remember from that day, it was the sudden sharp pain I had in my stomach. It was almost like the worst cramp you have ever felt (ladies, you know what I’m talking about). After the first shooting pain, my therapists asked what I had eaten for lunch that day. Five Guys, of course, a very normal answer that I’m sure every hospital patient gives. They then asked if I had ever felt this type of pain before. Before I could even answer, I cried out in pain. The next few hours and days were sort of a blur.
I was pushed rather quickly back down the hall to my room, where I was met with a team of doctors. Faces I had become all too familiar with. I don’t remember much of the conversation, but I do remember begging for them to shoot me up with some sort of pain medicine because it was too much to bear. After a few X-rays and a CT scan, I was being rushed through the hospital’s back hallways to the operating room. Although there are some gaps in my memory during this time, I do have some really vivid ones. While I was in the OR waiting room with my mom, I remember the nurse asked if we wanted to take my sports bra off (the only type of bra I wore those days, and they’re lucky I even wore that) so they could save it.
I hadn’t said much up until this point, but I blurted out “Save it?! Cut this thing off me right now.”
That intense and sharp pain I felt in my stomach? I had a perforated bowel. The doctors said it was unlike anything they had ever seen, showing itself 25 days after the accident. A perforated bowel is just about as dangerous as it sounds. It’s when you have a hole or tear in your bowel. Bowel contents (aka my burger and fries feast) can leak into the abdomen through the hole which can then cause a life-threatening infection. At the time, I was extremely upset that I had to go through another surgery, pushing back my discharge date that much further. But it was all a blessing in disguise. Had I gotten on that plane and my perforated bowel decided to reveal itself, the doctors told me the plane would have had to make an emergency landing and I never would have made it to a hospital in time. I would have died.
Most people think they may die from Five Guys, but not me, I would have died without it. I guess that’s one way to almost go out. If so, I really hope someone I left behind would push for them to change their name to Five Guys and One Perforated Girl in my honor.
The doctors concluded that the perforation was from the seatbelt that I was (thank God) wearing during the accident. The perforation had just sealed itself off on my abdomen wall until then. And after a nice juicy burger, it decided to unseal itself 25 days later. Now, how’s that for greasy food?
All that’s left behind from that day is a bowel that may be a few centimeters smaller, but it can still handle all the burgers and fries I want. Originally, the surgeons thought that they would be able to go through my belly button to get the infection out, but it was worse than they thought and they had to slice me right open. I have a gnarly scar down the front of my stomach and some staple marks from the staples they used to close me up (instead of stitches) because they were afraid they may have to re-open me. These scars? Yeah, they’ve been confused as ab lines before. And that confusion is a very welcome one. But they also serve as daily reminders of what an absolute powerhouse our bodies really are and the ability that we all have to look back on hard times and see that from tragedy comes a story that’s waiting to be told.
Kelsey Lundstrom (aka KelsayItLikeItIs) is a freelance writer living in New York City. She says a lot of things, but she always says it like it is. Her goal is to inject humor into the seemingly mundane parts of life, or whatever tragedies it may throw at her. You can check out her website: www.kelseylundstrom.com.