Having been hurt while on vacation, going home was going to come up at some point but there was a lot more to figure out than just changing my ticket. My family may have a different take on things but from my point of view, I still had no idea how severe my injury was. After I had surgery and came out of my fog from meds, I was kind of under the assumption that I broke my neck but the surgery ‘fixed’ everything. I figured I may be in the hospital for a little and then I would head home, it would be a lot of rehab and on with life. I couldn’t have been more wrong.
My stay at the hospital in San Diego was going to be short lived because they weren’t staffed or skilled in taking care of someone in my condition. They would ask me questions not understanding how hard it was for me to speak, I had passed out when they tried to prop me up with a cardiac table, I hadn’t eaten in a week, they assumed I could use the bathroom, and I had began throwing up. We were told of options in the area which were all going to be therapy only and I would have to have a caregiver and live at a hotel. With that knowledge, my family begin to explore therapy and care options.
Craig Hospital was mentioned by quite a few people in Colorado. This became our best option because of the quality of care and the proximity to family and friends. However, we were told there was a wait list, approval process, and depended on insurance. The hospital contacted Craig Hospital and arranged for someone to come out and interview me to see if I would be a good fit. The day the representative was coming out was nerve racking. I understand they have specific things they need to check and the intention is not to stress the families, but we knew that for my care and support, there was really no other good option. Once she arrived she met with doctors and nurses before meeting us. Once we got to speak with her we tried to plead our case about how hard I work, that financially we would find a way to make it work, and how being in Colorado was going to make a big difference as we lived there with young kids. We were advised that we were responsible for handling my transportation there and that I would probably be a good candidate for their program but they would have to let us know when I would be able to come.
With the stress of the interview behind us and confidence that I would be going to Craig, the research to get me home started. Medical flights are not set up or handled by either hospital so we had to look into 3rd party medical flights and justify medical need. Initially, we were told that insurance would only cover me at the nearest physical therapy location. Insurance seemed to finally understand that there was more needed than physical therapy and being from Colorado probably helped. We were cleared to finally set up my first private jet ride with a 30k price tag, painkillers included but I was disappointed there was no in-flight movie, champagne, or meal.
We got details of when we would have a bed at Craig and our flight was set for a Tuesday I believe. The day came but we were told that the flight crew was delayed out of state due to a storm. Wednesday seemed to be the day even though we heard they were behind and then sent the ambulance to pick me up at the wrong hospital. As long as it seemed to take, once they showed up it was quick. Two flight nurses and two paramedics from the hospital showed up and got my few things, signed off on some paperwork and moved me on to a stretcher with my IV still attached. Sue, my wife, was able to fly with me so they told us that we were ready and off we went. Leaving felt awful. There was no getting to go around to say thank you or goodbye. I had never been hurt, sick, or even in a hospital for longer than an hour or two in my life and here I was leaving people that took care of me and pretty much kept me alive for two weeks.
We loaded into the ambulance and made the 30-minute drive to a small nearby airport. On the way the flight nurses were constantly getting vitals and asking Sue questions as we were all crammed in the back. We arrived at a security gate only to find out there was no flight there waiting for us. There was some confusion but the ambulance drivers finally figured out that we were at the wrong airport. Off we went to the next stop. I recall thinking we were going to miss our flight and just feeling helpless. I couldn’t help look up directions, see out a window, or call to check the schedule. None of that mattered though, the beauty of paying that much for a private jet is that it leaves when you get there. We literally drove the ambulance up onto the runway and to the jet after Sue had shown them our IDs. The jet looked small and I had no idea how they were going to get me on but once they pulled the stretcher out, it unclipped from the legs and wheels and they handed me hand over hand onto the plane. What looked like a small bench inside actually locked into the bottom of the stretcher.
Sue was seated in the back of the plane with our bags just beyond my feet, one nurse next to my hip, and the second nurse near my head. It wasn’t more than a minute and we were taking off. I’m not afraid of flying but it was scary and interesting as we took off. The speed and angle from the jet is much greater than what most feel during takeoff in a normal plane and I could feel the blood in my body pool down into my legs and feet. I would later find out why all of this happens in people that are paralyzed but in the moment I was worried. My hearing faded and then went out, blackness narrowed on my vision. I was going through the stages of autonomic dysreflexia and about to pass out. I was given some painkillers and medication through my IV as the plane leveled out. I would sleep through most of the flight until being woken up just before landing. It was January 26th but having been in San Diego for weeks seeing sunshine, palm trees, and weather in the 70s, it was odd seeing snow covered Colorado. The transfer from the plane to the ambulance was fast enough to avoid any chill setting in. We landed at Centennial airport just 15min from my moms house and where I went to high school but everything seemed foreign. I could see some road signs looking up out the window but had no idea where we were headed really or where I would call home for the next 4 months. Once there, the ambulance doors opened and I saw my mom standing on the side of the street. Some doors opened at the hospital at and a muscular guy flew down the ramp in a wheelchair and up the street with headphones on as someone would going for a jog. There was no mistaking that he had been paralyzed and that I was at Craig Hospital finally but I wouldn’t fully begin to take everything in until I got settled in for my stay at Craig.