I Was Internally Decapitated After a Motorcycle Crash. This Is My New Normal

"I was wearing a helmet but the wreck was so violent that it basically pulled my head off," says Christy Bullock, 39

<p>Courtesy Christy Bullock</p> Christy Bullock.

Courtesy Christy Bullock

Christy Bullock.

I survived an internal decapitation from a horrific motorcycle crash that I'm still coming to terms with.

It was Oct. 8, 2021, and I really wanted to ride the new motorcycle that my husband Lee and I just bought. But with my husband out of town camping, I didn't want to go out by myself. So I called my dad and asked if he would ride with me and he agreed.

There weren't any issues as I was following him down Cheaha Mountain in Alabama until I wanted to go left and the motorcycle wouldn't. Suddenly, I hit the guardrail.

My dad saw my motorcycle come around the curve, and then it was wobbling — like zigzagging — until it fell over. That's when he knew I was in an accident. And he said that when he turned around, there I was hanging on the guardrail, not breathing.

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Before my accident, I worked for over a decade as a paramedic. My husband still works as one today and if he had not been out of town, I'm sure he would have supervised the response. As it turned out, some of my then-coworkers were the ones who rushed to the scene.

I was wearing a helmet but the wreck was so violent that it basically pulled my head off. I experienced an internal decapitation.

The official term is an atlanto-occipital dislocation, where ligaments that connect your skull to your spine are severed. Although it's typically fatal because it usually severs the spinal cord, in my case, my spinal cord was only stretched.

<p>Courtesy Christy Bullock</p> An X-ray image showing Christy's internal decapitation.

Courtesy Christy Bullock

An X-ray image showing Christy's internal decapitation.

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My neurosurgeon, Dr. Jakub Godzik, has talked about my case all over the country and nobody has ever seen a case that was so severe but also led to the kind of recovery I've been fortunate enough to have.

But my accident caused other serious damage that complicated my recovery. I tore my carotid and vertebral arteries, I had a lot of contusions on my lungs, almost cut my left arm off and that same arm was actually paralyzed for a while due to a really bad nerve injury. Additionally, I broke my back in three places and experienced internal bleeding in my liver, spleen and adrenal glands.

I also sustained a really bad tibial plateau fracture, so my right foot was paralyzed for a long time. I even had what's called a drop foot, but that's all better now. 

After the crash, I was taken to the hospital at the University of Alabama at Birmingham and later to the neuro-ICU. I was conscious at first, and then they knocked me out and put me on the ventilator. I had surgery the next day and though I don't really know the full timeline, I was on the ventilator for about a week and a half.

<p>Courtesy Christy Bullock</p> From left: Christy Bullock and Dr. Godzik Jakub.

Courtesy Christy Bullock

From left: Christy Bullock and Dr. Godzik Jakub.

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I was eventually weaned off the ventilator and my breathing tube was removed. But within two days, I had a brain herniation.

That's when they gave me a tracheotomy and I was back on the ventilator for a long time. When I was back on it, I was in a coma, and when I was out of it, that's when the ICU delirium, a liver infection and pneumonia set in — and doctors didn't know if I was going to make it through all that.

My sister is a procurement nurse and handles organ donations with Legacy of Hope. She works at the hospital I was at and her team was following my case, expecting that I would be a potential donor. They even locked her out of the system because of the likelihood that I'd be one.

I only found out that story about a year later and it really freaked me out. It's like reading your own obituary.

Following my herniation and tracheotomy, things really began to take a toll on me. I was just a basket case, really struggling and not wanting to live anymore. I remember my main nurse told me, "I'll tell you what. If you get off this ventilator, then we're going to go up to the helipad, and we're going to watch the sunset."

<p>Courtesy Christy Bullock</p> Christy Bullock with hospital staff watching the sunset over Children's Hospital in Birmingham.

Courtesy Christy Bullock

Christy Bullock with hospital staff watching the sunset over Children's Hospital in Birmingham.

I don't know how much longer it was, but after I finally got off the ventilator, the nurses and my respiratory therapist got me into a reclining chair and we went up on the helipad to watch the sunset over Children's Hospital in Birmingham.

We weren't up there too long because it was really cold, but there was a lot of ugly crying. And getting me out of that room was so helpful to my mental health. They went above and beyond out of just kindness and trying to give me a reason I want to live again.

It would be about three months from my initial accident to rehab and recovery at home in December. I finished up with physical therapy about six months ago.

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I realize now that I took so many things for granted, like jogging or going up and down steps, as I continue to struggle with pain. I can walk well and I don't have a limp now, but my body just feels like a sack of cement. I applied for disability, but initially got rejected so I'm working with a lawyer since I can't get back to work.

Now I'm hoping to share my story and other parts of my life on my YouTube channel called LittleTraumaMama. But I still don't know what to make of my survival. Instead of thinking about why it happened, I just focus more on being so glad that I am still here and being grateful for all the people that got me through all of that.

If you or someone you know needs mental health help, text "STRENGTH" to the Crisis Text Line at 741-741 to be connected to a certified crisis counselor.

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