When Piazza woke up on that bright September morning, there was nothing around to give the slightest clue that her life was about to change forever. Though it was not just another day, it was meant to be a joyous one. She was meant to celebrate one-month of getting into law school. But unknown to her, it was about to become the beginning of the rest of her life. The day when her life was going to be divided into “before and after”.
Driving home from work with the bottle of wine she had just purchased to celebrate with, she watched helplessly as the drunk driver ran into her car. But it was not just her car he ran into. He ran into her life, almost shattering her dreams and taking away the very breath off her nostrils within just a split-second.
Although she was fully aware as everything unfolded- even till the few seconds after- she was just not in a position to stop him. She was a spectator of her own misfortune.
Telling her story to HuffPost, Piazza said,
“I felt the other vehicle as it smashed into my driver’s side door and pushed my car down the road. I heard the resounding BANG of the impact, then everything went still.”
As a result of the accident, almost everything that could go wrong had already done. She broke her skull, clavicle, left hip, sacrum, 2 pubic bones and 8 ribs. Her diaphragm tore, her spleen removed, her lung collapsed and her arteries were mangled. She had a pseudo aneurysm, brain hemorrhaging and frontal lobe damage. She had even stopped breathing, so she needed an emergency tracheal intubation and ventilator to keep her alive.
In what looked to her as just the space of a day, she opened her eyes to find herself on an uncomfortable bed, in between white walls and beeping machines. Her arms had been tied down. Her brain too was hugely incapacitated; she could not even tell the time correctly. But the whiteboard beside the hospital clock told her it was September 22. That was when she knew that 12 days had passed.
For the first 2 weeks after that, she faded in and out of consciousness. Fear, excruciating pain and hallucinations were the things most common to her.
“On the outside, I just appeared to be sleeping, but my mind kept going as if I was ambulatory — I thought I was literally running around the hospital raging, fighting and screaming — trying to break free from my prison”
Whenever she was conscious, she often talked about circuses, travel and magic potions. To her hallucinating mind, those experiences were as real as the hospital but no one knew what she was talking about. Piazza now says those active dreams and hallucinations were actually what kept her focused on fighting to live.
Piazza began to have more conscious moments after about 2 weeks. Though she really made progress, she claimed her lucid hours in the ICU were not pleasant experiences. She described them as “maddening”.
She often had panic attacks that came at night when her family was away. Then she became terrified of falling asleep, accidentally detaching a tube and never waking up again. But she was at the same time, frustrated because the tubes limited her movement and the ventilator prevented her from calling out for help.
However slowly, Piazza’s mind and body began to heal. Each morning, her mom would ask her if she knew where she was and what happened to her. Her mum would help out with the parts she missed out but she always started by assuring her that she was going to heal. After a while, Piazza started to believe her.
As she was improving, a therapist came to work with her every day. He made her do things she felt were uncomfortable, just to help her get better. She had to learn to walk and do many of the basic things of life again but at that point, she was ready to do anything just to get better.
“I hated that thing! I just wanted to lie down and sleep away my misery. But I did as I was told. I did everything so I could to improve.”
Within 19 days after the crash, she had made noticeable improvements. She had learnt to read the clock again and hold limited conversations with the whiteboard. But when everything seemed like they could only get better, that was when trouble struck again.
Piazza’s heart rate suddenly was hitting the roof and it became almost impossible for her to breathe. Pain lanced through her body. Amidst noisy machines, her consciousness eroded her and she got back to hallucinating.
She had been hit by life-threatening bacterial pneumonia. So, like bees making honey together, her bed was swarmed by a group of medics; fighting hard to save her life.
In the midst of all that, her parents were told to leave the ICU. Probably trying to make them feel better, one of the nurses told her parents, “we’re doing everything we can, We really liked her,” as they were guided to the door.
The word “liked” almost threw her mother off balance, as it seemed to depict death. But she kept hope alive anyway.
All of her mother’s hope paid off eventually. Piazza’s body eventually responded positively, during the medic’s last attempts to save her life.
She was given antibiotics and some other kind of drugs. Her health was began to improve and she went back to therapy. Relearning almost every basic thing in life was not a funny experience but she had to do it anyway.
“My mind and body had to relearn everything: how to brush my hair, put on socks and take a sit-down shower. Although it was frustrating to struggle so hard to do the things I gave little thought to a mere five weeks earlier, I didn’t complain much. I was so happy to have a second chance at life.”
After that, Piazza went on to rehab and spent the 2 weeks her health insurance could accommodate, she went back to law school and became a lawyer. Now she practices in the US as a legal journalist.
Though Piazza’s body is still not perfect and she has pains here and there once in a while, she says she wants to live her life to the fullest, travel the world with the ones she loves and bask in the joy of being alive.
Have you or someone you know ever been in a situation where they absolutely had to fight for their lives? How did you handle it?