What a difference a year makes!

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Just over a year ago we welcomed a new puppy to our home (see my first dog blog here). Rio, a Portuguese Water Dog, has been an interesting addition to our family. I’d forgotten how much work a puppy was (maybe because the last time I had a new puppy, I was 10 and my parents did most of the work). I could have sworn he was part Cayman with those sharp teeth of his! Despite his incessant snapping, we all fell in love, especially my son. Since he is an only child, it’s been wonderful to see them bond.

I thought it would be fun to recreate some of the images I took a year ago (including a bad iPad pic from our first visit to the breeder’s) and compare them to today. He definitely has grown! He is still full of puppy energy but luckily, doesn’t bite like before (or at least not hard or with teeth that are as sharp).

RioJames-3-14

RioBen-3-14

RioVanessa

The accident

This first year with our dog has not been without incident, including a bad bite on his ear after he didn’t get the message that a big dog was not all that friendly. But the scariest happened 6 months ago, on October 8 2013, just after I returned from teaching a workshop at the Bayfield Foto Festival. It was a warm, sunny day and I decided to take Rio for a walk down to the river and back just before lunch. To get there, we have to cross a major road but it has clearly marked intersections and the pedestrian light only comes on when you hit the button to request it.

On our way back, I pressed the button and waited patiently for the light to change. When it did, we started crossing but we only got about halfway across the 3 southbound lanes when I saw a grey car heading straight for us. I didn’t even have time to formulate a certain four-letter word before I was struck.

I’m not sure what happened to my body but I opened my eyes on the pavement and felt pain in my left knee and my head. I turned it to relieve the pain but someone was yelling at me not to move. I could hear sirens in the distance. My first thought was “boy, everyone must be annoyed that I’m blocking traffic on such a busy road”. My second thought was “who will pick up my son at his bus stop?”. It was only noon but I knew I wouldn’t be going home in the next few hours. I asked a bystander to call my husband. I’m so glad I was able to remember his work number as well as who I was and what had happened to me. I only had my house keys on me – no ID. My third thought was “where is my dog?” and I was told he had run off. By this point, the ambulance had arrived and I started to really feel the pain of my injuries. They put a cervical collar on and strapped me onto a spinal board. The part of my skull that hurt the most was directly on the hard wooden board and I felt every bump on the way to the General Hospital. According to the news, I was in serious but stable condition.

Once there, I had a CT scan of my head and an Xray on my knee. Both sustained fractures. I also had a small brain bleed. This meant I would need to be transferred to the trauma unit of the Civic Hospital. Before taking my second ambulance ride (in a much more comfortable gurney), I remember giving the police my statement and my husband James coming to see me. The good news was that Rio was found and there were lots of witnesses. The bad news was that my injuries were pretty serious. I needed surgery on my knee but it took three more days before I got it. I ended up staying in the hospital for 12 days. My sodium levels also crashed which left me feeling horribly ill (this is also called water poisoning and can happen to elite athletes who drink too much water and don’t replace the lost sodium). Not sure why that happened to me but perhaps not eating while waiting for my surgery and feeling nauseous and eating very little after my surgery were factors.

While in the hospital, as horrible as it was, there were some silver linings. I had tremendous care and now see nurses and hospital staff in a whole new light. To know that there are people who care for complete strangers in such a respectful and loving way, moved me so much. It’s more than just a job to them. And it wasn’t just the staff that impressed me, my roommate was a musician who played his guitar and sang every day. He was really good and it was so uplifting. He had been hit by a bus a week before me and his leg went under the wheel. He was in much worse shape than me (minus the head injury) yet was so positive. I took a lesson on how to be strong from him and realize that you can still feel joy in the midst of a terrible ordeal and music and art are powerful healers.

Once home, since I couldn’t go up or down stairs, I had a hospital bed set up in our living room. I slept there until just before Christmas. I spent over 6 weeks using a walker, wheelchair or crutches to get around without putting any weight on my left leg. Then the next 8 weeks I could only put 50% weight on my leg. I had dizzy spells and concussion symptoms so I couldn’t read or sit in front of a screen for long periods so I learned to knit. I became slightly obsessed but it was good therapy and allowed me to feel productive when I otherwise had to depend on others for help. I often felt like I was watching my life happening from the sidelines. My Mom, Dad and stepmother each taking turns to stay with us and help my husband take care of the house and my son.

In January, just when I started feeling really low, I got the ok to put full weight on my leg and learn to walk again. My mood turned around as I was able to be more independent and help take care of my son a few things around the house. That was three months ago. While I continue to progress, I still have rough days. My knee doesn’t bend as much as the surgeon had hoped it would by now so I’m off to get another CT scan to see what’s going on. I’m worried I might need more surgery. I’ve seen a neuropsychologist who has shown that my working memory has been affected. Now that it’s been 6 months, I had figured I’d have bounced back by now even though I was told it would take longer. I had hoped to be the one that amazes everyone with how fast they recover – like the figure skater who broke his leg last summer and was competing at the Olympics. But alas…

On the bright side, I have started working again. Being self-employed, I used to joke that if ever I got hit by a bus, there would go my business. Well, a car is close enough! While it’s definitely affected my business, I’m pleased to be able to take on some contracts since January. I’ve been shooting portrait sessions, teaching photography at the Ottawa School of Art, designing logos and working on websites. I’ve had to cancel a photo tour to San Francisco and Yosemite that was supposed to take place later this month and I’m only booking weddings for August/September and beyond to try to give myself more time to heal. I can’t wait to really be back on my feet and do all that I used to but am grateful that I’m able to do as much as I can now. I appreciate all the support, encouragement and new business coming my way!

All this to say that getting Rio has changed my life! Of course, I don’t blame him in the least (that sits squarely on the driver’s shoulders). I’m just so very grateful that he was uninjured and that I survived! He’s a great dog (most of the time) and I look forward to being able to walk with him again soon. It’s been a long winter but spring is definitely here now and lots of brighter days ahead! Life is precious and I plan to continue to live it to the fullest. I hope you do too.

Finally, an outtake for your enjoyment! A special thanks to my husband James for taking the pictures of me with him.

2 Replies to “What a difference a year makes!”

  1. I have no idea how I found your blog, but I sure am glad I did. Your optimism and selflessness are truly inspiring. Despite encountering a life changing circumstance, you remain positive and look incredibly happy in your photos. Not to mention — you’re a fantastic writer. I hope to cross paths with people like you 🙂 Keep up the good work!

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