Archive | August, 2015

One Year Ago Today…

30 Aug

WARNING: POST CONTAINS SOME VERY GRAPHIC MATERIAL

August 30th is & will now continue to be a very tough day for me.

A day that may seem like nothing special & will begin & end like any other, but deep in my heart today there is a tiny pang of sadness. Because on this day one year ago, I began excited & cheerful & ended in some of the most excruciating physical pain I have ever endured.

I rarely talk about this to others & have only mentioned it a few times on this blog casually but…

August 30th 2014 was the day a dog mauled & ripped my right leg open.

And I honestly cannot believe this much time has already gone by. I am in shock. A bit like the shock one endures after watching a massive German Shepard latch their jaws on to your inner thigh. Feeling their sharp teeth tear through the skin right below your athletic shorts & rip into some of the leg’s most tender flesh. Immediately covering the wound with your hands after he released & feeling the squishy matter of yellow fat, muscle & fluids seep through your fingers as it exited the deep gashes. All in a span of 3 seconds.

Thinking to yourself, “What just happened?!” As you ration breaths to remain calm & ask the stunned 2-year-old & 4-year-old you’re babysitting to kindly go inside to retrieve your phone. Knowing that children react strongly to trauma & if they witnessed you scream & panic then they would do.

Feeling your head get lighter & lighter as you try to remain standing. Knowing that sitting or falling over would only shred your thigh wide open. Trying to flight the nausea in your stomach & ignore the little white spots in your vision as you struggle to command your shaking hands to dial 9-1-1. Upon hearing your mother’s voice on the other line (she is currently working at the police department as a 911 dispatcher), listening to the terror in her tone as she recognizes your screams & begins to tone out the ambulance for her own daughter.

Feeling like 10 minutes is 10,000 as your convulsing body waits for the screeching white van.

Snapping into an adrenaline laced coma of shock as the EMTs strap you into the stretcher & quickly bandage the massive wound. Laying in the Emergency Room hallway deliriously joking about the experience to the nurses as they prepare the operating room. Squeezing your mother’s hand under bright lights as a young doctor weaves foreign material in & out of your battered leg, closing up the 3 large marks. Seven stitches later & your riding in a wheelchair to the car with all your family beside you trying to find any last ounce of courage to stay strong.

The day ends early as you gingerly wobble to bed & lay down on your back, pillows elevated under your leg. You close your eyes exhausted & in disbelief, but reassured, thinking this will only put you out of commission for a few days, then everything will be back to normal.

Looking back in bittersweet hindsight I realize just how wrong I was. 

The next week consisted of malevolent infections, overnight IVs, painful examinations, amputation discussions, learning what a ‘femoral artery’ was, removed stitches, anesthesia & an hour long surgery where all my wounds were re-opened, cleaned of dead infected matter, irrigated & then stuffed with wicks.

Wicks I didn’t realize had to be changed every single day until the wounds healed from inside out.

The next month consisted of several visits to the hospital’s Wound Clinic, being showered daily by a home visiting nurse, writhing in the most unbearable pain as she ripped the currant bandage & tape from my leg then proceeded to use giant six inch q-tips to stuff gauze into the five deep holes, only stopping when she felt the regrowing tissue deep inside.

Every day was the same routine: wake up from a restless sleep, lay on the couch all day (usually having to be ‘babysat’ by my grandparents or little brother), force myself to keep down the crackers I ate since I was so nauseous from medication, be assisted any time I had to use the bathroom/climb stairs, & watch the world move on without me. 

Some friends knew about my situation but not the severity. Soon the concerned texts & posts ended & I felt a sense of disappointment. But new friends came in the form of the hospital staff: my nurturing doctor who would always inspect gently, her assisting nurse who would try & keep my mind clear during inspections & the front desk staff who came to know my whole family & joke about the plastic patient bracelet collection that my wrist was now displaying.

But all the appreciation goes towards my amazing family & those who became like family throughout this disaster.

My incredible aunt, who actually works in the financial department of the hospital, arrived at my bedside at 5am on surgery day when her shift didn’t start until 9. My amazing grandparents who have always been a huge part of my life, running to the grocery store & CVS & sitting countless hours with me at home. My mom’s wonderful friends, who would send daily concerned texts on my updates & cared about me like they do their own children. My astounding nurse, Sheryl, (who was actually a friend of my mom’s & not assigned by the hospital) who visited me every day, showered me, gave me optimistic feedback on the wound’s healing & celebrated small victories with me like when I could wear pants again & walk without a painful limp.

But most of all, there is my mom. How can I ever thank you? I have tears in my eyes because we absolutely went through this together from the beginning. You rushed from work to sit by my side that first time in the ER & you never left my side. Your mothering instinct actually allowed you to physically feel your child’s pain. For every tear you wiped away, every time you held my clenching hand, every time you wiped the sweat from my forehead trying to calm my screams, every work day you missed to take care of me, every night we spent in the hospital joking that it was a ‘Girl’s Night’ away from the boys & all the months afterwards when you helped me deal with the aftershock.

This is why, one month from tomorrow, I am taking YOU on the European vacation of your dreams. Because isn’t it time we had some laughs?

One of the possibly only positive side effects of tragedy is realizing just how loved you truly are. & Dear readers, I am so loved.

Although the physical pain is gone, I will forever have a permanent reminder: the five pink scars on my leg. Scars that are noticeable in bathing suits & shorts & still sometimes hurt due to the hard tissue underneath. These scars will forever be a part of me & this is something that has taken all these months to come to terms with. Plastic surgeons have told me they are virtually unfixable without more invasive procedures, so they must stay.

Emotionally, there are definitely some scars as well. It’s no surprise I am not a fan of dogs now, especially certain larger breeds. This fear is difficult to deal with sometimes living in a city, but I have been attending therapy & am working on managing this in small doses.

While there is definitely some inconvenient long term effects of this experience, I always try to stay positive. And looking back on one year ago today, I remember the pain, of course, but I can also mark the progress. Look at how far I have come. The human body is an amazing thing with its healing capabilities & while I may have these scars on my leg, they symbolize so much to me. They are a representation of strength, courage & love. A time when I was at one of the lowest points of my life & was met with so many helping hands. This generosity touched me so deeply is something I will never ever forget. 

So here’s to my dog bite’s one year anniversary & instead of treating today as a miserable reminder, I am looking at it as one year ago today fate dealt me a hand that didn’t kill me, but absolutely made me stronger 

JG 🙂

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We’re Just One Big Family

16 Aug

Greetings, dear readers! Another little hiatus from blogging, but it’s such an exciting & special time for my work/personal life right now!

As you may know, I work at an awesome company called EF: Education First in the High School Exchange Year program. To basically give you the quick run down: we work with students ages 15-18 from 13 different countries in Europe & Asia who are coming over to the U.S. to study for a year. We match these students with volunteer host families based on compatibility, hobbies & interests. And we do this all by a summer deadline. Cue me having zero beach days so far & having worked 13 days in a row at one point.

Oh yes, summer is a rough time in the office. But it all paid off. We actually matched all 2,600 students with host families THREE WEEKS before the deadline. This has NEVER been done before by any company! Aka: EF is kinda the biggest (& best) exchange program you could work with 😉

Now that the students are matched the office can exhale for a bit. We met our goal & the excitement is over. But in my opinion, the best part is happening right now! The students are arriving! 

I started working at EF November 2014, which was fun but I didn’t feel too connected to the students or host families. They had been matched for a while & most families were all settled in. But NOW things feel so much different!

After months & months of calling new host families, answering their nervous questions, building their excitement & actually being the one to help them choose their student, I feel so connected to my work. I’m very big on human interactions & perspective & to think that I was the one who had a big hand in creating a new family is so so special!

(My Parisian host family who took a chance on hosting me, Spring 2012)

Because this hits so close to home for me. In college I studied abroad for a semester in Paris, lived with a French host family & had such a great time. My French improved so much & my host brother Simon & I have an incredible bond. (I am actually going to see him this fall when my mom & I head to Europe & she will meet him for the first time ever. So cute!)

Something else you should know about why I’m so happy right now is because my work life is fully intersecting with my personal life in the best way possible! A few months after I started my job, I was working to recruit international exchange coordinators, or IECs as well call them. These people are truly the backbone of our program since they are our field staff, working in their own communities to help us find wonderful host families for students.

I was telling my mom about the position & how great our IECs were & long story short, soon she decided to become one! I worked closely with her over the year hanging posters, setting up booths, & making phones calls. After about a million “no’s” she finally got her first interested host family. Then another, then another, then another! Now there are seven wonderful students who will be under my mom’s supervision for this upcoming school year! They will be living with host families that my mom found & the students are applicants I personally hand-picked after hearing the details of each family! Needless to say, we make a pretty good team!

(Airport arrivals are the absolute cutest thing ever!)

Now I cannot WAIT to meet Gary from Spain, Loredana from Italy, Tzu-Chi “Jessica” from Taiwan, David from Germany, Karlota from Spain, Philine from Germany & David from Spain!

I am so excited to mentor them over the year as if they were my own brothers & sisters. I look forward to seeing how much their English improves & how close they get with their host families. It will be amazing to watch how much their lives change this year. I also cannot wait to see how great this is for the communities since all these students are going to be in towns with very little diversity. They are going to meet people who only read about their countries in newspapers, so any new friendships truly are a form of international diplomacy.

I have said it a million times but travel is the most important thing you could ever do. You see things you never imagined, you try new things you otherwise never would have, & you meet people who you will never forget. Plus I can say from personal experience that travel takes you on a journey long after you’ve arrived back home. It’s a catalyst for more adventures & learning so much about who you are. 

The same goes with study abroad. Sure, host families may feel weird having a ‘stranger’ come to their house at first & the students have all these new cultural differences to adjust to, but once that’s aside we see just how much everyone has in common. How these teenagers coming from strange & distant lands really are just like the ones in your own town.

(Gary & my little brother, Sean, having bro time, bonding over food & sports)

Last night Gary from Spain was the first to arrive. Due to some bad weather, his flight was delayed for several hours. His dad, all the way in Madrid, called my home & spoke to my own dad who assured that Gary was in safe hands. Later when he finally arrived, my family welcomed him with open arms. Even though he is only staying for the weekend until his own host family comes back from vacation, my family just gained a brand new son, brother & friend. 

The other six students will be arriving in the upcoming weeks & I am so excited for them. They may be young but who knows where this experience will take them, what inspiration it will instill in them, or who they will be molded into in the future.

Maybe if they’re lucky they will grow up to work their absolute dream job of helping future nervous exchange students meet anxious host families, smiling fondly on their own time abroad 🙂

JG ❤

p.s. watch this & get ready to cry https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1IW-haWMEe4

p.p.s. interested in hosting an exchange student of your own? click here! http://www.efexchangeyear.org/