Recovering from Trauma: Paul Melull’s Story

Posted on: June 14th, 2016 by Dhopkins

I turned into the development in Geneva, Illinois and drove my way through the development, past homes under construction and through mazes of trucks, cement mixers and pallets of materials. I’m headed to Paul Melull’s home to talk to him about his experience with Dr. Earhart, one of OrthoIllinois’ orthopedic trauma surgeons.

I rang the doorbell and waited, running through some of my questions in my head.

Paul opened the door and welcomed me in, and after chatting for a few minutes, we sit down to talk about Paul’s experience.

Paul’s story is both unique and familiar, in that each year, drivers in the US are involved in about 30,000 car accidents with fatalities. Yet it seems wrong to refer to Paul’s–or any other person’s–crash of this nature as familiar because it is not familiar or common to Paul.

On April 28, 2014 around 6:30PM, Paul Melull was driving home from work. It was a Monday. As Paul was driving, he blacked out and crashed into a vehicle headed the opposite direction.

Paul survived the crash.

The man driving the other vehicle did not.

During my interview with Paul, he spoke of his struggle with depression during recovery from his accident because he felt like he should have been the one who did not survive the accident. At the same time, he talked about the volunteers, clergy, physicians, nurses, and friends who helped him through his depression. He spoke of volunteers who would come in and listen–listen to him as he worked through all those “why me?” questions.

Even as we spoke in Paul’s home, he said how much he wished he could win the lottery and give it to the family of the man who passed away in the accident, and yet, he understood how no amount of money could ever replace the husband and father who never came home.

When Paul was finally aware of his surroundings after the accident, he remembers Dr. Earhart saying, “It’s not your fault. You didn’t do anything wrong. It was an accident.” The accident was related to Paul’s Type I Diabetes, which he’s had since he was four years old, but that didn’t make it easier for him to deal with.

So what can we learn from Paul’s experience?

1. Be selfish

During recovery, Paul said the only thing he could think about was getting better. That was it.

And that’s what others should do as well. You have to think about how you’re going to deal with the next surgery, how you’re going to get through any pain you feel, how you’ll adapt to any new limitations.

It’s a matter of taking one task at a time and focusing on it, until you’re able to move on to the next task.

2. Choose to survive.

Not everyone’s injuries will be as severe as Paul’s. He was told it would be easier for him to list the bones he didn’t break when people ask than the ones he did break.

But choose to keep going. Persevere.

And if you’re a family member or friend of someone recovering from a horrific accident, then help them persevere. Encourage them to choose to survive and keep going.

Paul said, “It’s not a gray area. It’s either black or white. You make a decision. ‘Yes, I’m going to survive; I’m going to beat this thing, and do everything I can to transition into your new world.”

3. Have a support network

“If I didn’t have family support to see me, encourage me, talk with me to explain how I felt, I don’t know if I would have been as far along as I was. I may have given up. Mentally and psychologically, it’s a struggle, but family and friends certainly helped me recover.”

4. Be willing to adapt

Paul said he was quite used to being active. In the past, he had done a lot of bike riding, and he was somewhat of a craftsman, having built a grandfather clock that sits in his living room.

But he also acknowledged the importance of realizing new limitations and seeking to find new ways to be active, if possible. He pointed out that he’s probably not going to climb up on a high ladder anytime soon, but he’s thankful that he can still take care of the lawn and workout with his wife.

Part of adapting is also being thankful that you survived and–therefore–being thankful for every day you’re able to wake up and continue living, even with some limitations.

“I’m very fortunate that when I was put back together, they did it the right way. As a matter of fact, one surgeon on the North Shore that saw me after I left Rockford looked at the x-rays and said, ‘Whoever did this is a master surgeon, and I never like to comment on other surgeons’ work, but in this case, it’s an impeccable job.’ So I’m lucky to be where I am, and I’m grateful that Dr. Earhart put me back together with such extraordinary skill.

I’m thankful that I don’t need a lot of help, or really any help. I think the recovery side is over now. I exercise several times a week with my wife to keep myself limber and to build up muscle tone. I could be a lot worse off, a lot worse off, but I’m not.

It’s worked out well so far.”

We’re glad it’s worked out so far as well, Paul.

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