‘Get here quick.’ My husband was sitting in a truck with a black eye swollen shut, trembling. ‘What happened to me?’: Woman recounts the lessons her farming family learned during unexpected hardships

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“A farmer’s wife. I really had no idea what that entailed when I met my farmer. I knew risks were involved since there is heavy machinery, however nothing could prepare me for the journey I’ve been on the last year. On October 6th of last year, I received a call that changed my life in an instant. My stepson called choking back the tears saying Dad has been in an accident. We don’t know what happened to him but get here quick. I hung up the phone in utter shock as the kids and I scrambled to get out of the house. The mile drive to the farm felt like an eternity. I wasn’t quite prepared for what I was about to see. My husband was sitting in the truck trembling wanting to know what had happened to him. He was severely banged up; his eye was black and swollen shut and he was unable to move the entire right side of his body. I have never been more scared in my entire life. We knew his wrist was broken but beyond that, we had no idea of what we would face. The ambulance ride from Monticello to Tallahassee Memorial HealthCare (TMH)was the fastest yet slowest ride of my life. Seeing my kids’ faces full of worry as we drove away was like a knife in my heart.

The first night in the ER was hands down the worst night of my entire life. He had amnesia so he asked the same five questions over and over the whole night with no break. At this point we still didn’t know what had happened. They told us his wrist was severely shattered and that he had amnesia. He kept complaining about his shoulder hurting to which they kept insisting was fine. After a few days of being at TMH and having many tests done, they casted him and sent us home since the hurricane was coming and they needed to free up all beds.

Have you ever seen a nurse try to cast someone who has a huge knot on their wrist that needs surgery? I have and it’s not pleasant. Since the hurricane was fast approaching, we were going to have to wait a few weeks before we could be seen at TOC to have his wrist surgery. The pain was so intense he couldn’t stand it anymore. The morning of the hurricane, I drove him to Capital Regional to the ER. So thankful for the instincts God gives us.

Once we arrived and the cast was cut off, they realized his arm had compartmentalized. If we had not gone in when we did, he would have lost his entire arm. We had to ride out Hurricane Michael in the hospital away from our two kids. The next morning, he had emergency surgery to repair his wrist. Surgery one was successful and after many screws and plates, his wrist would hopefully be somewhat normal. Before surgery, they did an MRI on his shoulder and it appeared he tore his rotator cuff. As you can imagine, getting this news of another serious surgery, being alone in the surgery waiting room, worried about my kids and the farm….it was a lot to deal with.

While he was in the hospital and recovering from this surgery, many people came to visit including his barber! The nurses had never seen someone get a haircut in the hospital before. His sweet Ms. Frances made the trek to the hospital for a visit as well. God provided for each need. We had friends from church who prepped our house for the hurricane and cleaned up after. People in our community began to show the love of Christ and this was only the beginning.

During our hospital stay, another unfortunate incident occurred. My stepson was working a lot trying to keep the farm going in his dad’s absence. He was carrying a semi load of peanuts to Boston; Georgia and he overturned the semi and peanuts went everywhere. Thankfully, he and his dog were not injured and people from the town came together and helped him clean up all the peanuts. He didn’t tell us about the accident right away and for our mental health at the time, I’m thankful he didn’t! Many of our farmer friends from Georgia went above and beyond and helped Clay harvest our crops. They worked into the hours of the night and tirelessly worked without asking for anything in return. We can never repay them for all they did for us. Just another example of God’s love being shown to our family.

Courtesy Sarah Fulford

A few weeks later, we were back, and they were going to operate on his rotator cuff. After several hours of surgery, the surgeon called me back and told me the words you never want to hear. His surgery was unsuccessful. The rotator cuff was not able to be repaired and the damage was way worse than expected. My heart sank. I felt so defeated and I was nervous to tell him the outcome. Of course, he asked me how it went, and I had to bear the bad news. We just sat and cried and wondered what God was doing. It became especially difficult because our surgeon felt he had done everything he could do for him. He even suggested that we leave him alone and see if his arm improves on its own. We knew that wasn’t an option with farming as his profession.

This is where the Shands’ referral came in. We were put with the best shoulder surgeon in the nation they said. He was going to try a new procedure called Superior Capsular Reconstruction. They said he was a perfect candidate for this procedure. So, he had his 3rd surgery and it was unsuccessful. The procedure did not work. In fact, the 4 tendons were so badly damaged that they just disintegrated. We left Shands’ that day with no rotator cuff. He knew the minute he saw me that it was another failed surgery. That was the hardest part. Surgeries are not an easy thing for him to go through. Pain meds don’t work for him like they do on a normal person. To have two failed surgeries in a row was one of the lowest points in the whole journey. So now of course it was time to heal and figure out where to go from here. Basically, there were two options left. He could have a shoulder replacement which they didn’t want to do because of his age, or they could do a tendon transfer. We opted for the latter. But before I get to that, let’s throw me into the mix.

Two weeks before his last failed surgery at Shands, I had a prophylactic double mastectomy. Sounds crazy, right?

My story starts about 12 years ago when my mom was diagnosed with breast cancer. This of course increased my surveillance and I started getting mammograms in my thirties rather than forties. I too had my own set of issues. I had very dense breasts full of cysts. So began my journey of biopsies and ultrasounds. So many scares and worries. I had lumpectomies, and they finally increased me to rotating mammograms and MRI’s every 6 months. After each one it would always wind up with me being cut on. I have been followed closely by a wonderful surgeon for years. Every time she would say that the mastectomy is an option if I choose it. In the meanwhile, I had genetic testing done which really didn’t sway me either way. My mom tested in the gray scale as did I. So, my life consisted of test after test, biopsy after biopsy and scare after scare.

This past summer, the radiologist made a mistake and didn’t compare my scans and basically stated that I had cancer. After that, I was finally ready to move forward with the surgery. I was a hundred percent scared out of my mind. I decided to go flat. With the immune issues I have, I decided it wasn’t worth the risk in getting implants. There’s always prosthetics, right? Of course, the thought of going flat was scary and an emotional ride I was about to hop on whether I was ready or not. I joined a prophylactic mastectomy page on Facebook and learned about the surgery and met many women and heard their stories.

I listened to the stories for months, what to expect and learned everything I could. My surgery was set for January 25, 2019. Leading up to my surgery, I was a ball of nerves. I don’t like surgery to begin with let alone a life changing one. The anxiety was real. I tried to stay busy. Even though women helped prep me beforehand and guide me along the way, it’s still very scary to wrap your head around what is fixing to happen to you. The night before I couldn’t sleep. The morning of, I had an unexplainable peace that came over me. I knew the Lord was with me.

My surgery went beautifully. She spent extra time sewing me up and that alone was such a blessing. I stayed one night in the hospital and each person that came to see me in the hospital, I knew God hand-picked for me. There were so many blessings along the way. I came home and the blessings continued. The pain was manageable, the drains were tough, but my husband and kids took excellent care of me. I had so many visitors, meals, messages and gifts that all meant so much to me. Two of my friends even held a jewelry fundraiser in my honor and donated a portion of the proceeds to help our family. There was a special bracelet sold in my honor that read ‘He makes me brave’. That was my mantra that helped me through some very tough moments.

I felt each prayer. The emotions came in waves and still do. I had to mourn my breasts. Sounds weird I know. The month in between the surgery and getting the prosthetics was a hard time for me. People stared. People looked at me as if something was wrong with me because I didn’t have boobs. I began to pray God would give me someone who could relate and was flat like me. I dealt with nerve pain, loss of energy, and wondered what my new normal would look like. Getting a shower and getting dressed took everything I had. My kids had to do everything for themselves.

An amazing need that God met during this time in our lives was an email we received from our school saying that someone paid our monthly tuition of $1200. $1200?? This was something I never dreamed someone would do for me. God was working in huge ways! I could sit and tell stories all night of how good God has been. In the meanwhile, I did get my results that all my tissues came back clean. What an answer to prayer and such sweet relief! I cannot tell you how wonderful it is to be on the other side of this. I knew early on in my journey that God told me I would be sharing my story through different platforms. Since then, He has laid opportunities in my lap and has equipped me in ways to help other women. Nothing short of amazing!

Okay so back to my husband’s last surgery. The tendon transfer… sounds complicated, right? Well, you’re correct! They would be taking tendons from his back along with a cadaver and makeshift a new rotator cuff. This is a very rare procedure that was brand new to Shands and he had about 25 students watching the doctors operate. Thank the Lord it was successful! After several failed surgeries, it was refreshing to get some good news! At the time we didn’t know how successful the surgery was. It was up in the air whether or not he would be able to move his arm or anything like that, but for the first time we had HOPE!

The recovery for this surgery was insane. The sling was extremely uncomfortable with his arm straight out and a lot of pressure on his neck. He couldn’t move it at all for 3 months. Like not moving it at all. Everything had to be done for him. It was very challenging to care for him when I was in recovery mode myself. The pain he experienced was the worst pain of his life. About a week after his surgery, he began to have complications. He ran fever and his surgery site looked infected. It got to where we ended up back in the ER. We consulted with our surgeon here in Tallahassee. He urged us to go to Shands’ ER immediately. He was critical and in danger of going septic.

The hospital said they could send us by ambulance, but we would have to wait about 8 hours. We were advised to sign out AMA and get to Shands’ ASAP. He was at risk for losing the tendon transfer. Of course, it was after 11 p.m. and I’m not the best night owl. But I knew this is what I had to do. So, we signed him out against medical advice, asked my prayer warriors to pray and off we went. I called Shands’ ER and gave them a heads up we were coming and that he was going septic. The ER doctor got on the phone and said you should probably come tomorrow, there is an 8 hour wait currently. I kindly but firmly told the doctor that he was in danger of going septic and that we were on the way. I believed in my heart that God would work it out. We arrived 2 hours later. When we walked in the ER, not one person was in there. Not one! We felt like we had an out of body experience. We knew God cleared that room for Ernest. It was the most miraculous thing we have ever witnessed. He indeed was septic and since the ER was empty, he received immediate care, got the medicine he needed and that was that!

You may still be wondering, what really did happen to him in his accident. Well, from everything we gathered he fell 15 ft from the top of peanut semi-trailer. He hit his eye on the way down and hit the tongue of the trailer. He completely blacked out for around 10 minutes or so.

Courtesy Sarah Fulford

When he came to, he was able to call his son who was in the next field over. He completely shattered his wrist, tore all the tendons in his shoulder which left him without a rotator cuff, had a tooth fall out which required dental surgery, injured his eye, and had amnesia which caused him to lose several months’ worth of memory. Recovery has been slow and steady, but progress is being made! He is currently at a 10lb weight limit and can move his arm slowly up to his head. This is a miracle in itself since they said he would never be able to move his arm again. Man, our God is mighty!

The other ‘wrench’ that’s been thrown in the mix is our farm. So, when Hurricane Michael hit, we were in the hospital. This was our third year in a row that we have been hit by hurricanes. We lost about half of our cotton crop. In fact, we didn’t even know if we could farm again this year. Three years of losing a significant crop has taken a huge toll. It’s been extremely difficult for him to deal with all the surgeries, handle farm stress and not being able to work like normal. It has tested every ounce of his being. We fully know and believe God has a plan for our farm.

My final thoughts…. I’m sure I’ve forgotten many things along the way. One thing I know that I will go to my grave repeating is that God wastes nothing. He uses every single hard thing we face for His glory. During this past year, we’ve wondered why, what could God be doing. Some things we’ve seen, some things we may never see this side of heaven. But we know each thing is used. He has used our situation and the way we have handled it to help others over and over again. Sometimes he brings us to absolutely nothing so He can do his best work. We must decrease so He can increase.”

Courtesy Sarah Fulford

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Sarah Fulford, 43, of Elkhart, Indiana. Follow her journey on Instagram hereDo you have a similar experience? We’d like to hear your important journey. Submit your own story here. Be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube  for our best videos.

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