Copper Canyon mayor on the long road to recovery after accident

Copper Canyon Mayor Sue Tejml suffered a fractured pelvis due to an accident on Aug. 12 and is undergoing physical therapy at a local rehabilitation facility.  Here is her story in her own words from the September issue of The Cross Timbers Gazette:

Grateful For My Life After Vehicle Accident Crushes My Right Pelvis

I had been working in the yard all that hot August day. I drove to Town Hall to pick up some missing pages in my council packet.  On the way home I noticed a red pickup pulled just off Orchid Hill and onto our vacant lot next to our 10 acre home site.  The truck had been there quite a while.  I pulled my Lincoln Town Car in behind the truck and noted that there were silver “CC” bumper stickers on the dual tool boxes.  Those stickers usually identify a Copper Canyon resident.  So, I decided to get out and write down the license plate number and have our Town deputies run it.

So, I put my car in Park, but did not turn off the engine or set the parking brake, as I routinely do. My husband Emil kids me, because when I turn into our driveway and stop to get the mail from our curbside mailbox, I ALWAYS turn off the engine and set the parking brake.  I tell him it’s my old fashioned “belt and suspenders” approach to safety. (Actually, I’ve never forgotten a case in Bay City, Texas where a local woman got out of her truck and walked in front of the truck to open her ranch gate, and the truck vibrated out of park and ran over her and killed her.)  But this time I only put my Lincoln Town Car in Park, but did not turn off the engine or set the parking brake.  (The gear was still in Park when my husband backed the Town Car away from the red pickup after the accident.)

I walked in front of my town car, stooped down to read the license plate, and stood up to write the first few numbers.  It was then that I realized that there was a huge mounting pressure on my right hip.  I looked over my shoulder and realized that I was pinned between the two vehicles; the Town car was rolling forward on a gently downward slope.  My cell phone and OnStar were unreachable inside my car.  No one was around to help.  And no 911 emergency call for help could reach me in time anyway.

In that split second I knew my only hope was to muster all my strength and push against the pickup in hopes of moving my Town Car back a fraction of an inch to allow me to slip sideways from between their crushing grip.  I took a huge breath and PUSHED as if my life depended on it – and it did.  Nothing moved – and then something “gave,” just a little.  Just enough to let me slide out from between the grinding pressure.  To my surprise, my right leg was useless.  It could not bear my weight.  (The fracture damage to my pelvic bones had evidently already been done.)  So I stood on my left leg only and leaned on the very hot Town Car hood.  Fortunately I had not fallen behind the two vehicles or no one could have seen me.

Two cars came down Orchid Hill headed into the “S” curve, but they could not see me for the trees screening the road.  Our Town Secretary Sheila Morales had given me a stack of bright gold letter size dividers for the Council packet.  I fanned them out and desperately waved them over my head and shouted at the next car to pass.  The driver’s windows were up to keep air conditioning inside his truck, so he couldn’t have heard me.  But some movement must have caught his eye. I frantically beckoned to him!  He slowed down, backed up, lowered his window and asked “Can I help you?”   I replied “Call 911”.  He did.  I relayed the address to him “835 Orchid Hill Road, Copper Canyon.”  Then the Denco 911 Dispatcher wanted him to spell my last name. (Nothing like trying to spell “Tejml” phonetically to a stranger while you are standing on one leg in pain from a fractured pelvis!)   I finally asked the driver to please bring his cell phone to me and I would directly answer the Dispatcher’s questions.

When the Dispatcher asked me to spell my last name again, I just said “Say Mayor Sue, Town of Copper Canyon.”  Argyle Fire Chief Mac Hohenberger is my long time neighbor and so is Denton County Sheriff Will Travis. Bless both my compassionate neighbors; Mac and Will came immediately.  (Oddly enough, I am currently a nominee for one of the two municipal positions on Denco 911’s Board.  I can now answer from firsthand experience what a swift, fine job the 911 Dispatchers do!)

As did the Argyle Fire District paramedics.  I was so relieved that traffic on the one open lane on Copper Canyon Road was northbound only that day.  That alone helped speed the response time from Fire Station 13 on Copper Canyon Road.  The paramedics did not have to come the long way around through Lantana – or the alternate long route east on FM 407 and then north on Chinn Chapel Road.  Those two routes would have easily added 15 to 20 minutes extra driving time to reach the accident scene.  (And thank goodness the ambulance did not meet head on one of the thoughtless drivers who decides to go the wrong way on a one way road under construction!) 

While the ambulance was in route, my next door neighbor Kaye Hill had seen me and gone to get my husband Emil.  Kaye and Emil tried to lift my body weight off my exhausted and trembling left leg, but no one knew how to touch me, because we didn’t know exactly which bones had been broken and if there were any extensive internal injuries. The hood of the Town Car was too high for me to lean on and the metal hood heated by the broiling summer sun too hot to even touch.  Fortunately the ambulance arrived and my heart leaped with hope at the flashing lights and sirens. 

The AFD paramedics immediately laid me over backwards on a flat board.  They took my vitals and started examining me for any obvious bone breaks or blood leaks.  None were apparent.  It was so reassuring to see these familiar faces. (I’ve also served on the Fire Board for the 8 years since being elected mayor of Copper Canyon.)  Mike Lugo does all the gas well inspections for our town and area.  Chad McInis lives in Copper Canyon, as does his dad Willie McInis who is a Captain in Coppell’s Fire Department.  I reminded Chad that I had been trying to get recipes for our Copper Canyon Cookbook, which funds college scholarships for our Town’s graduating seniors.  (Firefighters are notorious for being superb cooks!  Maybe Chad and his dad Willie will still donate a recipe or two?!?  We’d treasure them!)

Then came the humorous part of my unplanned accident.  My attire.  Since I had planned to work in the yard for many hot, sweaty hours – I decided that morning to wear my favorite old maternity jump suit.  It has paint stains, rips under the arms and around the well-used pockets, a commercial sized metal zipper, and holes worn in the seat where the color of my current underwear peaks through.  It’s my favorite outfit for yard work because it is so comfy, and baggy, and nothing binds me anywhere.  The paramedics were apologizing for needing to cut it off.  At which point my husband Emil leaned over my shoulder and said, “OH PLEASE DO CUT IT OFF!  And give me the remnants for a ceremonial burning!  Our family has been trying for decades to get Sue to throw away that old jumpsuit!”

Next the paramedics were apologizing needing to cut off my underwear.  I told them to please go ahead.  This underwear was so old, so faded, so raggedy and torn that I would not even insult Christian Community Action by donating it.  (Ladies:  Remember your mother and grandmother’s old adage to always wear nice underwear, because you never know when you’ll be in an accident???  Believe me.  That is still timely, sound advice even now!)

And, I only have one favorite bra that fits well.  So, I decided that morning to save it for the Council Meeting that night, and just go braless to w
ork in the yard in the searing heat.  At my age (70’s), “topless” is NOT an engaging sight.  But I might be a perfect topic for a joke by Jeff Foxworthy in one of his “You might be a Redneck” comedy skits.

In short, my sincerest thanks to Argyle Fire District First Responders David Boucher, Mike Lugo, Chad McInis, David Parker and Parker Thompson for their inherent professionalism in handling my accident, for their incredible kindness to me in preserving my modesty under challenging even humorous circumstances, and for their swift administration of effective pain killers as soon as medically possible.  And to whichever one of you drove the ambulance, thank you so much for the minimal swings and sways that put very little pressure on my fractured bones.  And if there is ever a next time, I’ll try to get showered and shampooed before my ambulance ride – instead of leaving you to tend a very sweaty, stinky me.

HCA Denton Regional Medical Center

The doctor who received me at the Emergency Room that afternoon was Dr. Travis Lilly.  The name sounded familiar.  Actually, Dr. Lilly lives in Copper Canyon, alongside Orchid Hill and about 3 short blocks from my home.  Dr. Jason West was the Trauma Surgeon who reviewed my x-rays.  In layman’s terms, I had four bone breaks in my right pelvic area.  Internal bleeding was also possible in that area, so my blood volume and hemoglobin were monitored.  Blood clots were also a possibility, so I wore pressure cuffs on my legs 24/7. Dr. West explained to my family that the preferred treatment was to avoid surgery, if possible.  If I would “move” and allow the broken bones to rub against each other, the bones would mend.  The problem with movement was that it was inevitably painful.  So, some kind of pain management regimen was also necessary.  My family and I really appreciated the time Dr. West took to help us all understand what I would need to do to heal.

The Nurses and Techs at Denton Regional are some of the Best!

I spent 3 days in ER (the Emergency Room), two days in ICU (Intensive Care Unit), and 2 days in a regular room.  The nurses and Techs in ER and ICU are very knowledgeable, very skilled, and very experienced.  As a patient, they care for you when you are most vulnerable.  You’re in pain, sometimes it seems almost unremittingly so.  And you are very anxious, because you do not know the extent of your injuries.  These nurses have a “sixth sense” as to how best to help you.  And they go that extra mile to alleviate your suffering and to try and make you comfortable.  And their genuinely encouraging words made me want to try harder and “move” despite the pain.

One of the nurses paid Dr. Jason West the finest compliment.  She said “Many nurses and techs are intimidated by physicians and their power in the structured hospital hierarchy.  But Dr. West encourages us to ask questions, any questions.  And then he tries to explain fully, clarifying what we don’t quite understand.”  That is a wonderful tribute to Dr. West, who appears to be a natural teacher.  He is the kind of gifted teacher who melds a hospital staff into an effective healing team.

Some Observations on Accidents that Change your Life; Pain in General, and the Invaluable Support & Kindness of Family, Friends, and even Strangers

When the paramedics and ambulance arrived at the scene, I always blithely assumed that the emergency was over and the medical problem was solved.  Something like the naïve fairy tale assumption that Cinderella (the Patient) arrived at the Ball (the Hospital) and she and her Prince (the Doctor) lived “happily ever after!”  (I.e. the medical problem vanished.)

I now know firsthand that the end of that ambulance ride is often only the beginning of a new life’s journey for the person injured.  And that journey may, or may not, have a successful ending.  And, sometimes only partial success is wonderful enough.

The second night after my accident I lay awake contemplating the “what ifs”.  I   realized that if I had not stood up after jotting down the first part of that pickup license plate that my head might have been crushed or my chest crushed.  I could have been blinded, a paraplegic, or simply died.  I realized how little I understood my injury when I asked the trauma surgeon if I would dance or swing a golf club again.  I first needed to learn to walk all over again.

I am now two weeks from the accident.  My body “moves” more each day.  I am getting in and out of the bed, but always with assistance and always with some degree of pain.  I have stood on one leg between the parallel bars, but have yet to take a step.  But I will.  I know that now.  I have learned how valuable a good physical therapist is.  They encourage you with their words.  They teach you how to strengthen your muscles and flex your joints. Their personal strength reassures you when you are afraid of falling and reinjuring your fragile body.

But the Gold Standard of Emotional Support is your Family, Friends, and even Strangers

The husband and adult children who stay with you long hours in the hospital – and then come back again – and again –and again.  The friends who run the tedious errand for you – or drop everything to take care of an immediate concern.  The home cooked meals my very weary husband has so appreciated.  I have treasured each phone call, email, card with a personal note. And the flowers.  You open the door to my hospital room and you immediately smell the gentle fragrance of the blooms.  It is a healing tonic for whatever problem you might have.  It is the smell of love.  It is the smell of hope.


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