Pat Henman was on stage at a fundraiser at the Capitol Theater in 2016, singing How High the Moon, accompanied by the big band Playmor Junction.
There was nothing unusual about that. After all, Henman is known in Nelson as an accomplished singer, actor and director. It is a mainstay of the city’s music and theater scene.
However, this was Henman’s debut after three years of painful physical and mental recovery after a highway accident in 2013 when a car she and her daughter Maia were in was head-on by a drunk driver near Cranbrook.
Not only had much of Henman’s body been destroyed and mostly put back together, her voice had needed extensive therapy and she was told it would probably never perform again. On the way to the Capitol stage she was afraid.
“I had no idea how it was going to go,” she says. “I knew I could make noises again. But it wasn’t reliable. Did these notes want to come out? Or would the neck tighten? So in the back of my devilish little head I thought I have a great big band behind me. You will assure me if something happens. “
They would take care of her because most of them knew her. They had been members of the Nelson music community for years. They had her back, as did the audience.
For Henman, this achievement was a big step towards her goal of returning to a more or less normal life in the community she loves.
“It made me just want to be stronger and take more risks,” she says.
Henman has just published Beyond the Legal Limit: Surviving a Collision with a Drunk Driver, published by Caitlin Press, available in bookshops on February 19th. The book tells of the accident, her excruciating physical and mental recovery, the legal nightmare of negotiating between insurance companies, the criminal conviction of the driver, the need for advocacy and support for the victims, their involvement in the group Mothers Against Drunk Drivers and their re-entry into normal life in Nelson after spending nearly a year in hospital.
Henman’s memories of the accident are blotchy and terrible: stuck in the rubble, the smell of burnt rubber, broken glass splintered in her skin, seat belts cut into her upper body, not feeling her body, hearing nothing.
Pat Henman’s car after the accident. Photo: Submitted
At the Calgary Hospital, where the two were admitted because their injuries were too complicated for the Cranbrook Hospital, Henman’s family were told that they should not survive. She was in an induced coma and had 19 operations in the first week and a total of about 25. Maia was also in a coma for more than a week with multiple bones in all four limbs. In her book she describes a photo taken at the time:
In one photo, I’m lying in a small bed in the intensive care unit, surrounded by the machines that are attached to all of me: my arms, my chest, my head, down my throat. I am in an induced coma with a tent over my stomach. The rubber apparatus covers my entire torso to keep the infection from entering the sizeable opening made by the surgical team to stop the bleeding, remove the unsaved parts, and repair those that could save it. The cavity must be rinsed several times a day. The doctor, assigned to do the housework, calls my insides like a soccer ball, the organs of which are glued together in a mound of tissue and blood.
My face looks like a punched boxer’s cup: eyes black and blue, lips three times the size they usually are. My nose is huge and looks like it’s all over my face. It’s yellow and green in color, like jaundice … My son Liam got shit from the nurse for taking the picture.
We all have about seven meters of bowel. Henman has less than one. The rest was removed after being destroyed in the accident.
“And I can still walk around and I can still eat. I can’t eat all that you can possibly eat. But i can eat. And that is the power of healing, the power of today’s medical professionals. Incredible that they can actually allow me to go on living with so little digestive system. “
She can do this because she is an ostomy supply, a person who lives with an ostomy supply. This is a surgically created opening in the abdomen that allows waste to leave the body. She fought vehemently against acceptance and asked the hospital to send a psychologist to her bed.
Did I have to accept that I was an Ostomat? Did I have to accept my broken left shoulder, the 15-inch scar from my sternum to my pelvis, my collapsed lungs, or broken ribs and vertebrae? How does someone deal with it? How about being the mother of a lively young woman, lying in the hallway with four broken limbs, steel bars pushed through her hips and legs, and her ankle bruised beyond repair? I accept that too
Henman encountered many other complications, including a prolonged struggle between several doctors to stop the onset of fistulas, a type of abscess that kept breaking out on her skin. For years her life has been an endless round of nurses, doctors, specialists, surgeons, and therapists in Vancouver, Kelowna, and Calgary.
Beyond the Legal Limit will be available in bookshops on February 19th. Photo: Submitted
Beyond the Legal Limit has joyful accounts of how Henman regained her smell and taste senses and can listen to music and read books after losing all of them and not knowing if they would ever return.
“And then it comes back. And it’s like, oh my god, even an egg sandwich was so amazing. It really did. “
Shara Bakos, a drunk driver who hit Henman’s car, had blood alcohol levels twice the legal limit and was a repeat offender who drove without a license. She was charged with a crime with a maximum sentence of 10 years. The prosecutor asked for two and a half years, and that’s exactly what Bakos got to be spent at the Federal Fraser Valley Institution for Women. She ended up spending a year and six months there in a house in Calgary.
Henman talks about the unpleasant, short and unsatisfactory meetings with Bakos and delves into the ongoing process of dealing with Bakos in her own thoughts and feelings.
Maia and I had spent more than half of those eleven months in hospitals, while our perpetrator was at home and sleeping in her bed after just two weeks in the hospital. She had been drinking for over five hours before hitting us. Her blood alcohol level was 0.15 four hours after beating. She was dead drunk. I had died four times, once on the scene and three times in the hospital. Maia, 19 years old, would never run, skate, ski or dance again …
“I still think about who she is, about her life,” says Henman. “I think she has a serious illness and the system has failed her. She had four DUIs convictions for driving under the influence. You should have taken care of it a long time ago. “
An emotional civil lawsuit
In addition to the criminal charges, there was a civil lawsuit that was eventually settled out of court, in which the insurance company tried to argue on the perpetrator’s side that Henman and her daughter were not injured or were actually to blame.
My question will always be this: Why should lawyers, government and insurance specialists assume that it is okay to treat victims as if they were the perpetrator? Even if it’s just legal jargon, as we’ve been told, words matter. Those words that I read in the first few documents … that suggested that the accident didn’t happen or that Maia and I might be the culprits, those words that were cut like a knife. Why should victims of violent crime have to ask to be cared for by a system that should be their advocate?
“The civil suit lasted three years,” says Henman. “And you live that every day, so it’s very emotional. It’s just heartbreaking. It’s almost too much, but we can do it. Hopefully. “
The needs of the victims
One of the main characters in Beyond the Legal Limit is Larry Vezina, Henman’s husband, who has worked tirelessly on medical, legal and emotional issues for Henman and their daughter.
When Henman first came home from hospital in a wheelchair, she found that her friends had raised money to build a wheelchair ramp to gain access to her front door.
Later, when the ramp was no longer needed, Vezina took the materials and turned them into planters for flowers and food.
Larry made the boxes and planted dozen of living organisms to remind us what the ramp was about: to help us heal and grow. Every time we went outside after Larry made the garden boxes we would comment on how beautiful they were and how great it was to be able to reuse the gift our friends and neighbors had arranged for us to make our lives easier close.
Maia Vezina now has a blog, Living Now, where she follows the progress of her recovery, also on Instagram: @livingnowwithmaia.
Henman emerged from this experience with an awareness of the victims’ needs – their need for advocacy and support. She is the director of the MADD regional committee on the west coast. She is also a member of an advisory committee that advises the Parole Board of Canada and Corrections Canada on the treatment of victims of violent crime.
“I wrote this book for many reasons,” says Henman. “One of them is that the criminal system is reviewing their treatment of victims and loudly suggesting that lawmakers work out a plan to ensure that a repeat or first-time offender never can.” Do this to innocent people again. “
Relatives: Mother and daughter recover after a terrible head-on collision
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