Mike Laughlin’s Story: Give Hope for the Hurting

Mike Laughlin

As a farm boy from Joyceville I thought I was invincible. Growing up I threw hay, played every sport imaginable, and drove my dirt bike hard and fast. But I never broke a bone in my body until my first accident.

Driving my snowmobile on Loughborough Lake, one night, in the winter of 2007, my buddy and I got separated. There was a blizzard. I didn’t see the island until the moment I crashed into it. My left leg was snapped at the femur, dangling like rubber.

When I finally made it to the Emergency Department at KGH later that night, I didn’t know the hospital would be home for the next month, or that I would leave with so much metal: a titanium femur, a titanium kneecap, 33 pins and screws holding my tibia, fibula, knee and femur together, a titanium forearm and 11 screws holding that together.

Nearly ten years later, in June 2016, when I was once again fighting for my life on Loughborough Lake—this time in a ditch after a deer picked a fight with my Harley—I thought “Oh my God, I did it again.”

One minute I was cruising down North Shore road, doing sixty clicks, and the next I was facing a 90-degree turn with no time to slow down. I bent the bike hard. I remember the sound of the muffler scraping the ground, the feeling of the back tire hitting the gravel shoulder and the moment she just shot out from under me.

It’s hard to describe all the thoughts that go through your mind when you’re lying in a ditch, with a broken body.

My instincts as a firefighter took over. I flipped the Harley off of me. When I looked down, my leg was torn off. My tibia and fibula were in the ground like lawn darts. I threw my helmet up on the road so a passing car might see me. I made a tourniquet, pulled my phone out of my pocket and dialed my fire department.

I thought, “This time I am going to die.” I felt alone and helpless until a woman came down and put her arms around me. She was like an angel. She stayed with me in that ditch until the trucks came.

My fire chief rode in the ambulance with me. I was in so much pain. I remember everything until I got to the hospital and then I just threw myself in their hands and laid back and said, “I’m here, I made it.”

And I did make it. The doctors put me in an induced coma because there was no way to get on top of my pain so I don’t remember much about the Emergency Department. But I know that it was the second time they saved my life. I’m here because of the nurses and the doctors and the way they run the show.

When I opened my eyes in the ICU eight days later I remember my mom’s voice saying, “Honey, you’re alive.” She explained that I’d broken my neck and back and had been through four surgeries. (Three more would follow.) My right leg had been reattached and the man of metal inventory now included two 8-inch rods holding my spine together. In the end, the leg never did regain circulation and became so infected it had to be amputated above the knee.

I was an in-patient at KGH for a month in the summer of 2016. I didn’t sleep for ten days because of the pain. I remember the loneliness and uncertainty about what would happen next—would my career be over?

I had some very skilled doctors but the nurses really got me through it. They were like family to me through the long painful nights after my own family went home. And they were right by my side through tough surgeries and unbearable but necessary procedures. They gave me hope and a hand to hold when I was hurting.

And that’s what I try to do when I visit trauma patients in the hospital today: give them hope. I want to be there when they wake up, share my story and say, “It seems bad right now, but you can do this.”

Eight months after the second accident I returned to light duty as a firefighter for the City of Kingston and then to full duty not long after.

I still ride my Harley but playing hockey without a knee is a challenge. I’m not giving up on that dream, though, and I coach just to stay in the game.

I don’t feel sorry for myself, even when complications from my injuries send me back to the hospital. I never take it for granted that the hospital is there for me when I need it. And that trust and confidence in their ability to get me back on my feet never goes away. They do their part and I do mine: If I can get there, I will make it.

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