Never Take No for an Answer
by Terrie Lincoln
If my family had listened to the doctors 12 years ago, I wouldn’t be able to tell you my story.
My name is Terrie Lincoln and I am a 31 year old quadriplegic. I live in Rochester, New York and work as a Systems Advocate at the Regional Center for Independent Living. I have a degree in social services and a bachelor’s degree in public administration. I am currently working on my master’s in social work.
At the age of 19, I had an automobile accident. They had to use the Jaws of Life to free me from the wreck and rush me to the hospital. After I got there, my family and friends learned I severed my spine and broke my neck. At that moment I had no idea what was wrong with me, since I was in shock and slipping in and out of a coma.
I was air-lifted to a nearby hospital in West Virginia a few hours later. The doctors then told my parents they were going to do emergency surgery on my neck -- a neck fusion. They had to put a plate in my neck. The doctors also told my parents while I was being prepped that there was no way I could survive a broken neck. They said nobody lives with a broken neck. My Mom said: “We’ll see about that.”
The surgery turned out well and I started recuperating. While I was lying in the hospital bed that did not rotate because they did not want to injure me more, the doctors would come in and ask my mom if she was ready to pull the plug on me. “Why would I want to do that?” she would ask? The doctors answered, “What kind of life will she have--- she won’t. She won’t be able to dance, walk, work, have a social life, or be independent.”
My mom, being the strong woman she is, asked the doctor if he would pull the plug on his own son/daughter. He walked out without answering. The next day when the doctor came in my dad was there with my mom. The doctor informed us that I was going to be in a veggie state for the rest of my life. First of all, who uses the word “veggie”? Anyway, my dad asked what veggie I was going to be because I hated green beans and would be mad if I was one.
The doctor said he didn’t find that funny and felt it was inappropriate. My mom said she felt he was being inappropriate by coming in every day and telling her to pull the plug on her daughter. The doctor responded that any good mother would pull the plug instead of seeing their baby suffer. At that moment, my mom leaped over my bed and started choking and attacking the doctor.
The doctors must have known they were fighting a battle they were not going to win. They knew they were killing me slowly with the lack of care I was receiving. Within fifteen days of being there, I had no bowel movement (they were scared to roll me), aspirated, had pneumonia, and collapsed lungs which they did not want to focus on at the moment. I was life flighted out on the fifteenth day.
Once I arrived in Columbus, OH we felt I was on my way to recovery. I had a new team of doctors who specialized in spinal cord injuries. The relationships with the doctors started off more positive than the last set until the first time I died, which was about 3 weeks after I arrived. I was a code blue and they resuscitated me but didn’t offer any suggestions on how to inflate my lungs or help me breathe.
Over the weeks I got worse and worse. Pneumonia was causing my lungs to fill and I was constantly flat lining (electrical time sequence measurement that shows no heart activity). The team of doctors asked: do you want to pull the plug? They said you could take her off her feeding tube and we could induce her into a coma and she won’t suffer.
It took my mom following one of the doctors around all day and to his car at the end of his shift to get him to open up and talk. She went into his office and grabbed a picture of his family and held it up to him and asked, “What would you do? Would you let them pull the plug on the one you loved without doing everything you could?”
My mom came back to my room and I remember seeing her cry for the first time. She held my hand, said a prayer, and promised me everything would be OK. She said she would fight to the end even if she had to tear the hospital apart.
The doctors came in the next morning earlier than usual and told us they were prepping me for surgery. My mom asked what kind. He said he couldn’t sleep the night before because of her and he was going to put me on a ventilator, which would breathe for me. When I got out of surgery they had a rotating bed waiting for me. The bed helped with weight shifts and shook -- to help break up the stuff in my lungs.
After a matter of weeks, my health started improving. I had color back, no bed sores, regular bowel movements, and my pneumonia was improving. I got released after 3 months from the main hospital to a nursing home within the hospital. This section was for people who were in poor condition (not expected to make it) and those who had to live with a ventilator.
During the time I was there I shocked everyone. I refused to have my feeding tube, G-tube, and J-tube anymore. I was tired of being poked and going in and out of surgery for no reason. I felt safer and healthier having the tubes out instead of in.
We started working on goals and weaning off the ventilator. We knew my health was improving and we were thanking Jesus every day. I was spending hours a day off the ventilator and the doctors were still asking if I wanted to live the rest of my life with this condition. If I chose no, they would keep me off the ventilator and I would die. I could get injected with Morphine so I couldn’t feel it.
They’d work at my parents, saying things like: “Your daughter was so active before this accident and now she’s nothing. She’s just like Christopher Reeve, she will need help with everything, she won’t be able to push her own chair. She will have to use a sip and puff device.”
Then they’d work on me. Saying stuff like: “Are you sure this is something you can live with? Do you want to spend the rest of your life on a ventilator?”
These are all the things we heard every day even though my health was improving. What gives them the right to convince someone to end their life?
My respiratory therapist said when I get off the ventilator completely I could go to physical therapy. One Friday we did our daily disconnecting of the ventilator - but this time we never connected it back. I ended up staying off of the ventilator for good.
Weeks later I started therapy and eventually got discharged after 5 months of being in the hospital. When I returned for my follow-up appointment a year later I made it a priority to see that team of doctors. When I rolled into the offices pushing my own power chair, without a ventilator, and healthy as can be, their jaws dropped to the floor and their eyes began to fill with tears.
Through my journey, I could not have done it without my two biggest advocates—Jesus and my mommy. She never stopped fighting from day one and never took no for an answer.
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