Dr. Dale Hull Explains Life Changes In A Fraction Of A Second

Editor’s Note: As a Physician, Dr Dale Hull was used to helping patients. When his life literally turned upside down after a fall on a trampoline, Dr. Hull had to re-learn everything. After his recovery, he knew he wanted to continue helping patients, but in a different way. Part 1 of 5 part series.

I was a practicing OB/GYN and a general practitioner with a family of four boys. I was always on the go, loved my work and was very active in my church. I participated in sports and played football all the way through college as a defensive back. I also played basketball, softball and whatever sports my children enjoyed as well as boating, skiing and wakeboarding. The last thing I thought ever would happen to me was to be paralyzed from the neck down.

I grew up with trampolines and knew quite a few tricks to do on them. On this particular day, I was doing a laid out back flip, but I didn’t have enough rotation in the execution of the flip to bring me all the way around to land on my feet. I didn’t fall off the trampoline, but I landed on the mat on the back of my head and the top of my shoulders. My body was still rotating when I hit. Then, I heard and felt a pop. Just like someone had thrown a switch, my entire body went numb. I knew what had happened when I landed. When I hit the trampoline, I heard my neck crack and felt my body go limp. The first words out of my mouth were, “Oh, God, not this. Come on, God, give me some kind of injury that I’ll know how to start to fix it.”

When I realized my condition, my second thought was, “Okay, this is what I’ll be dealing with – a spinal cord injury.” I was lying on the mat by myself for awhile since my dog was the only one with me when the accident happened. My wife eventually looked out the window and realized that I was on the trampoline motionless. So, she called 911. When the paramedics arrived, I told the lead paramedic, “This is not a drill. This is the real thing. I have a spinal cord injury. I need you to do everything possible to get me off the trampoline and to the hospital without creating any more damage to my spinal cord.”

At that time, giving spinal cord injury patients steroids as soon as they arrived at the emergency room was common practice because the steroids would help reduce the swelling of the spinal cord. So, I told my wife to call the emergency room and tell them that I was coming in with a spinal cord injury and to make sure they had on hand and be ready to inject me with them. The paramedics took me to the hospital where I had been practicing medicine for 10 years. Once the doctors got me in the emergency room and found I had no sensory function below my upper shoulders, they took a quick x-ray, which showed that I had dislocated the 5th cervical vertebra over the top of the 4th cervical vertebra, and those two vertebrae remained locked. I also had a few fractures. My spinal cord was coming down and making two, different 90-degree turns. Therefore, the spinal cord was pinched by the bony dislocation. At that point in time, my prognosis was pretty grim. They didn’t believe that I would have any chance of any type of recovery.

They stabilized me and sent me to University of Utah Hospital where I had done my medical training. Plates were put in my neck to stabilize the dislocated area.

The life that I once knew was over. I was no longer going to be a doctor, a physician, a husband or a father like I once had been. I didn’t know exactly what life would be like, but I knew what it was not going to be like. Before my accident, I would have described myself as extremely independent. I really didn’t need anybody. To go from independent to totally dependent in a matter of a few seconds was one of the most difficult aspects of my injury. Becoming a patient, when you’ve been a medical caregiver, is extremely difficult – and not only due to the accident, but because you have to subordinate yourself to other people. You have to surrender one of the most important parts of your life, your independence, and become totally dependent on other people. Everything about my body from my shoulders down had to be taken care of by someone else. Surrendering my independence was terribly difficult for me. At one point, I was even concerned about being an acceptable patient to the nurses. I didn’t want to be the doctor that none of the nurses wanted as a patient. I was quite concerned about how the nurses thought of me as both a doctor and a patient. Before my injury, I was a team leader for the nurses with my patients. The ultimate decision about their care was my responsibility. Now, they were in charge. I wasn’t a doctor. I was a patient. When the nurses would come in, if they called me Dr. Hull, I would say, “No, just call me Dale.” I wanted them to take care of me as a patient, and not look on me as a doctor.

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Next: The Roller Coaster that was Rehab for Dr. Hull 

About the Author: For the last 12 years, John E. Phillips of Vestavia, Alabama, has been a professional blogger for major companies, corporations and tourism associations throughout the nation. During his 24 years as Outdoor Editor for “The Birmingham Post-Herald” newspaper, he published more than 7,000 newspaper columns and sold more than 100,000 of his photos to newspapers, magazines and internet sites. He also hosted a radio show that was syndicated at 27 radio stations; created, wrote and sold a syndicated newspaper column that ran in 38 newspapers for more than a decade; and wrote and sold more than 30 books. Learn more at http://www.nighthawkpublications.com

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