Life can take an unexpected turn in seconds, as Pat Silcox of Fort Oglethorpe learned a couple of weeks ago.
Silcox was outside wandering around her yard with her cat Missy, while her husband, Harold, put up Christmas decorations.
"Harold said he was going to run to Lowe’s to get a few things and asked if I wanted to come along," says Silcox. "I told him I thought I’d stay and enjoy the nice day."
The weather was warm and Silcox was wearing slip-on shoes. "My foot came out of one shoe and I was fishing around trying to slip it back in." That’s when she lost her balance and fell to the ground in her back yard, screaming in pain. She had broken her left hip and jammed her arm on the same side.
"I didn’t crumple down gracefully," Silcox laughs now. "I just felt flat on my back like a board. Missy kept walking circles around me and meowing. Somehow I managed to turn onto my stomach and started clawing my way toward the front yard with my good arm."
Silcox says she was amazed at her own strength under the circumstances. At 78 years old, she has enjoyed good health and has had an active lifestyle. "My bucket list is full every day," she says. "I keep busy and I’ve never had an accident or a broken bone before." Nevertheless, the pain was overwhelming and Silcox looks back in astonishment that she was able to drag herself as far as she did with such a serious injury.
Across the street, a neighbor had altered her routine, taking an unscheduled day off. "She told me she was pulling out of her drive but kept feeling like there was something else she needed to do," says Silcox, "so she stopped and got out of her car. That’s when she heard me screaming."
Silcox’s neighbor called for emergency help and contacted Silcox’s husband. An ambulance rushed Silcox to Memorial Hospital, where she was met with staff surprised to see her covered with leaves, dirt caked under her fingernails. "They were great," Silcox says, "but I was still screaming. Finally someone said to me, ‘Ma’am, can you be a little quieter. You’re scaring everybody.’ I tried to tone it down."
When it came time for an MRI, Silcox assured the doctor she "could not go into that tube." A little medication calmed her down and made her feel happier even than her usual upbeat self. "I didn’t realize it until they told me afterward, but I got it into my head that I was on a cruise ship eating macaroni. Later when some women from The Ladies of Catholic Charity, a group my sister works with, were visiting, they gave me a stuffed pink flamingo in memory of my cruise."
Doctors determined that Silcox needed a hip replacement. "They took a lot of x-rays," she says. "They had to create an artificial hip that matched the original one as closely as possible. It’s really an art."
Next on the agenda was learning to walk again. "During replacement surgery," says Silcox, "they have to cut into a lot of muscle. My leg felt like dead weight afterward. When I took my first step, the leg on my new hip side felt like it was a foot longer than my other leg."
Given a choice of places to regain her mobility, Silcox chose NHC Healthcare in Fort Oglethorpe. "I wanted to be close to home," she says, "and there was a nostalgic connection, too. My husband Harold oversaw the construction of the building many years ago, before it was NHC."
Silcox says she learned after arriving at NHS that it has 74 beds for patients just like her – those working to recover from injuries or illness.
Days for Silcox are filled with physical and occupational therapy and evaluations, as well as special activities.
Because replacement surgery cut into muscle, Silcox says her left leg was so weak she could barely lift it. "You don’t realize everything that’s involved, how you have to build up strength again." Therapists urge Silcox to push herself – walk a little farther, lift a little higher. In addition to regaining leg strength, Silcox is having to work on the arm she jammed.
"Recovery happens faster than you would expect when you have professionals helping you," says Silcox. Therapists had Silcox’s husband drive his car up to the doors of the facility so they could teach her how to safely get in and out of it. They’ve taught her easier ways to deal with bathing and grooming as she heals, safe ways to get in and out of bed and to navigate stairs, and how to safely use a wheelchair.
"They push you to do a bit more each session, to build up your muscles" says Silcox. "It helps with motivation, too, because when you’re injured like this, it’s easy to stop caring about little things like brushing your hair or putting on make-up."
Silcox says there’s also always some activity going on at NHC, from church groups like Parkway Baptist of Fort Oglethorpe coming in to sing to Christmas carolers, like those from Shaw Industries, going room to room, serenading patients and giving out gift bags filled with candy and no-slip socks.
"There was a silent auction in the dining room one day to raise money for Alzheimer’s research," she says. "They had Cabbage Patch dolls in costumes. At the end, just one was left, dressed in a bonnet and gown that looked like they were from the Civil War era." Silcox, who does Civil War reenacting with her husband, bought the doll.
On the home front, Silcox’s husband felt her absence keenly in more than one way. "It bothered Harold so much for me to be away that he didn’t want to sleep in our room. He moved to the guest room," Silcox says. "But Missy, who never got onto our bed, has been curling up to sleep on my side of the bed. She knows something isn’t right."
Then there are the practical issues. Silcox is the one who manages both the household and the finances in her family. "I never thought about things like Harold not knowing where the checkbook is or how to run the washer or dishwasher. I’ve just always taken care of those things."
Silcox resorted to drawing diagrams of rooms and labeling where her husband could find things. "I’ve also been giving instructions over the phone: Sit at my desk, look to the right for the pink pig, I need the papers right next to that."
When it came to finding clothes she wanted brought to NHC, Silcox finally called on her daughter to help.
"Right now, I’m worried about Christmas." Silcox says. "I have people’s presents hidden under beds and in closets and I don’t want anyone to see them before I get a chance to wrap them."
Silcox says her phone and iPad have been lifesavers at NHC. "It’s how I keep in touch with the world. I’ve even been able to find some items online to help with things like putting my socks on and off."
Having a rehab center so close to home is a huge advantage and convenience, says Silcox. "Harold comes over here three or four times a day, and when I get out, I’ll have someplace close to go for further therapy." Silcox also learned she’ll be able to get blood work done at the newly named CHI Memorial North Georgia, formerly Hutcheson Hospital.
Silcox advises others, "Never take anything for granted. Be careful! Watch where you’re going and keep your phone with you so you can call for help. And make sure other people in your house know where things are and how to manage if you’re out of commission for a while."