Having slept nowhere but a hospital for five months isn’t putting a damper on the spirit of Pat Henman who continues to heal after a car accident took her life in a tragic direction.
“Every day progresses and I feel something new happens, more healing and feeling better, as long as I put that first foot forward,” she said.
The accident happened in June when Henman was travelling home from Calgary with her daughter Maia Vezina. Another car crossed the centre line and struck the mother and daughter’s vehicle head on near Skookumchuck.
Her life saved, finally just a week ago, Henman was told she could lose her boot and back brace giving her a little more freedom.
“When the orthopedic surgeon said ‘you can take off your boot and your brace,’ we were jumping for joy. That really opened a new independence for me because I couldn’t even get out of bed without asking for help,” she said.
Henman still feels the bolts in her left ankle and her back gets sore if she stands for too long but the woman who once battled for her life can walk short distances with a cane — and take longer trips in a wheel chair.
She’s travelled the length of Baker Street a few times since returning to Nelson in September. A stroll with her husband “took forever” because of all the people who wanted to great her, happy to see her back in the community.
There are still worries for her health, however. During the accident, her stomach was perforated and hasn’t yet healed properly. The weak spots in the lining allow food to leak, which triggers the body’s immune response. Outside a few solid meals that didn’t test well, Henman has primarily been fed “liquid food” since the accident. She misses a good meal.
“Every night my nurse and I joke about ‘what am I having for dinner.’ Last night I had roast chicken and baked potatoes. I’ve had spaghetti and meatballs in that bag. I have had lobster and steak,” she said. “I’ve got to keep my sense of humour up.”
Unfortunately, not being able to eat solid foods is more than just about savouring. It is keeping her hospitalized for the provisions needed for “total parenteral nutrition.”
She’s currently awaiting a date in Kelowna for an invasive surgery on her stomach.
“They’re going to go in there and do their very best,” she said. “It’s not that they can’t fix people’s stomachs. They do that all the time. It’s just that I had nine surgeries on my abdomen when I was first in the hospital and the surgeons didn’t want to go back there just yet.”
Henman has been spending her afternoons at home and time in her own house has been precious, “it’s beautiful,” she said. Her children Zoe and Liam are there to visit and on a recent stay, the mom did a few little things — those normal things that most people take for granted.
“This last week I felt like I just couldn’t sit around anymore. I’ve never been that kind of person — ever,” she said. “I made banana bread. I actually baked! My son helped me and I sewed buttons on my son’s coat. I felt useful.”
But she’s not there to eye up the bathroom or put the kids on dish duty.
“I’ve learned how to prioritize,” she said.
It’s hard for Henman to return to the hospital at the end of her afternoons at home but she takes comfort in the amazing care she’s gotten at Kootenay Lake.
“It’s comparable to all that money they have in Alberta. They save my life in Calgary but I just want people of Nelson to know that their hospital is one of the better care facilities I’ve been in these five months,” she said. “For a little hospital, these guys are great. If I’ve gotta be somewhere, I am glad to be here — my home town hospital.”
Her family and friends are nearby to visit, Henman has dates to play board games and takes occasional calls from her employer Selkirk College. Simply being in her community again and the connection it brings are ideal. When she arrived in Nelson in September, she “actually had excitement,” she said.
“I also felt like I was a little closer to getting better,” she said. “For me, it was a sign of success.”
Being back in Nelson also brought her closer to all those “good vibes” that had been coming her way since the accident sent shockwaves through the community. Henman could feel the energy, prayers and goodwill.
“I absolutely could,” she said. “Even when I was heavily, heavily sedated, I knew something was going on… I knew that people were rooting for me, talking about me and wanting me to get better. When that happens, that person knows it’s happening. It just took me over. I realized I had to survive… to be a mom to those kids and just to be here with all my friends and family.”
Well wishes came with financial support that was vital for husband Larry Vezina’s peace of mind. He said added stress due to money worries during this trying time would have put him over the edge of despair.
“Larry is self employed and he hasn’t been able to go back to work since this happened,” said Henman. “He’s spent every single day either with me or with Maia…That’s what his life is right now and if people hadn’t come to help financially support us, I don’t even know what we would have done.”
When Henman reflects on the incredible generosity of her community, she is overwhelmed with emotion — “I am super grateful.”
“This town has supported Maia and I so much. It’s overwhelming how much,” she said. “I had no idea I had that support. I had no idea how good people could be — I did but I didn’t. I am still getting that… I don’t know how to thank them — all the people — except to say thank you.”
Talking about her daughter’s strength fills Henman’s voice with vigor. Maia is living in residence and taking a course at the University of Calgary while continuing her physiotherapy. Steel rods in her legs and still requiring the help of a wheelchair aren’t keeping her from the life of a young student.
“She sounds so fantastic. She is committed to getting herself better,” said Henman. “She’s determined not to let this destroy her future. She’s always going to have something wrong with her physically, but she’s doing the best she can. She’s really loving being in that university atmosphere.”
Henman’s own path is still one of day-to-day determination. She would love to be home by Christmas.
“Surviving such a tragedy and my daughter surviving such a tragedy… we are very, very grateful,” she said.
Henman said she’s learned so much in the past five months — about human nature, that people are willing to give their energy to someone else’s healing process. She’s learned that “the world can get along without me for a while,” said the woman busy by nature.
“I’ve seen people step up to the bar and take responsibility. I am just so proud of my family,” she said. “The other thing I’ve learned is don’t sweat the small stuff. That’s true to me now more than ever.”