Have you ever wondered “why me?” when faced with a tragedy? Do you find the silver lining or do you wallow in self-pity? Everyone deals with tragedy in different ways, but what if you could recognize that it happened for a reason? And that reason was a positive one?
Life never ceases to overwhelm us with something that makes us question everything and everyone around us. Each one of us has suffered some kind of tragedy and it has shaped us into who we are today. My story of tragedy is one I hope will inspire you to see that there is light after darkness and you can accomplish anything you put your mind to.
My story began on September 11, 2008 when I was involved in a small plane crash with a veterinarian that I had just started working for about a month before. Yes, you read that right. A plane crash on September 11. Never in a million years did I think I would be involved in such a life-changing event. The details are long and I won’t bore you with them but let’s just say I wouldn’t have gotten into a plane built in 1967 without a big reason.
We crashed landed at St. Pete-Clearwater International Airport right before midnight and it felt like I was dice in a Yahtzee cup. The only seatbelt available was for my lap so there was not much keeping me from going anywhere in the plane. I suffered a major concussion and my face went through the steering wheel which exposed my skull. Despite this, I was conscious enough to get out safely as well as the veterinarian who was piloting the plane. I was completely drenched in my blood and felt my entire head swelling up while my eyes were barely open. Despite this, we were able to get away from the plane for fear it would catch fire and this is when we realized that both of our cell phones were dead. The airport was closed at the time so no one knew we had crashed and I thought for a brief moment that this is where I would take my last breath. It was not how I envisioned my last moments on this earth to be.
After about 45 minutes of trying to find help, the veterinarian heard some voices and called out for help. I heard them reply back and remember thinking that I will be okay as I passed out. I was woken up by a paramedic who was asking me a million questions about my name, where I lived, what year it was, what was my pain level, etc. All I could concentrate on was how cute he was which is how I realized that I hadn’t lost ability to see. Whew!
I was taken to a hospital that had a trauma center and accepted patients without insurance. Remember, I had started this job a month before so had two more months before it would go into effect. I was taken to CT and MRI for diagnostics which came back clear except the concussion and a trauma surgeon was called in to sew my face back together. They called my dad to tell him that I was in a plane crash and I was able to speak to him briefly which was the best voice I could have heard in that moment.
The worst part was not the crash itself, but being alone afterwards. My cell phone was dead so I did not have anyone’s number memorized to call so no one close to me, including my mother, knew what had happened. It wasn’t until the next morning when the story of the crash was on the local news that my coworker found me at the hospital. I was discharged 8 hours after being brought in and was told that I could not be alone for the next 48 hours and needed someone with me at all times because of the concussion. I am very fortunate to have 3 friends who took time out of their lives to care for me and my four cats in 8-hour shifts for the next two days. They even had treatment sheets to make sure I received my medication on time. That second day was my 35th birthday and even though I was not at my best that day, I was able to spend it with people I loved.
You would think the story ends here but it was just the beginning. Six weeks after the crash, the veterinarian laid me off because of financial reasons. I was still recovering from the crash so looking for another job in the shape I was in was not an option. As a result, I could no longer afford an apartment and was faced with being homeless with four cats. My friend Rindi, who lives in South Carolina and was a classmate of mine in the veterinary technology program at SPC, offered me the apartment she had on her property attached to the dog kennel that housed her show dogs. In exchange for rent, I would take care of the dogs she did not take to shows on the weekends.
I made the very hard decision to swallow my pride and accept the offer to move to South Carolina. It was a difficult decision for so many reasons but the main one was leaving my mother who was paraplegic because of strokes she had suffered 14 years before. I was her sole caretaker but I had to get myself back together before I could continue to take care of her. My friend Shannon agreed to spend as much time with my mom as possible, which to this day, is the greatest gift I could have ever asked for.
Three months after moving, I received a call on a Thursday morning that my mother had passed away in her sleep. The guilt of not being there with my mom still haunts me, but I am so grateful I was able to speak to her the night before. Knowing the last words I said to her were, “I love you” gives me peace.
I stayed in South Carolina for a total of 8 months so I could recover emotionally and physically before I made any decisions regarding my professional career. I knew that I missed being a technician more than anything and my reason for being here on this planet was to be an advocate for animals and a voice for other technicians. I just had to figure out where and when.
The where was NYC because it was a city I had always dreamed of living in, and working in a specialty hospital was ideal for me to grow as a technician. What I had learned from my recent experiences was that life is too short to not go after what you really want. The “what if?” was worse than the knowing. If I could make it there… well, you know.
The “when” was a couple years later when I was given a platform to speak my truth about our profession. I have never been one to be silent about something I believe in and am thankful that the words I had written on that Sunday morning in a veterinary group on Facebook were read by Dr. Andy Roark. He saw something in me that I would have never seen for myself and I will forever be thankful for his encouragement and support. I continue to write hoping that it will assure others that they have a voice even if they are too scared to speak.
I truly believe that if I had not gotten in that plane on that September day, that I would not be where and who I am today. I have an amazing job that I never would have applied for. Incredible friends that I never would have met. Courage that I never would have known and an optimist attitude that I never would have recognized. Being a positive influence for others, especially in veterinary medicine, has given me a purpose I never would have thought possible before.
I decided a long time ago during my journey that I would not let tragedy define me as someone always walking around with a chip on my shoulder. I couldn’t imagine living my life mad at the world for things I had no control over. What I did have control over was how I would continue to live my life afterwards and be grateful for what I have. I found strength deep down that gives me the motivation to inspire others when they feel like there is no hope. I will always choose to get back up no matter how many times life knocks me down. I challenge you to do the same and find the silver lining in your own experiences. I promise you that it is there. You just have to be patient and believe. #choosehappy
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of the DrAndyRoark.com editorial team.