Judy Meadows keeps positive despite accident

Wednesday, March 28, 2012
Judy Meadows

Students and faculty at the Verona School District recognized something extraordinary in their midst for the last few weeks when school librarian Judy Meadows returned to work on Valentine's Day after losing her arm in a farming accident six weeks earlier.

Even though she is still recovering from the injury, Judy wanted to return to work. She had already planned to retire at the end of the school year having reached 65. Now, she wants to finish the year on her terms.

"I'm getting to feel like a whole person again, not just someone with one arm," Judy said.

The accident came after Judy and her husband, Mark, had spent the day taking out fence posts with their 1941 John Deere tractor on their farm near the old Victory Schoolhouse. They put the chain from the draw bar on the hydraulic lift. Somehow the loose sleeve on the oversized coat Judy was wearing got caught in the chain in the power take-off for pulling the last post, wrenching her arm behind her and into the equipment.

Judy cried out, "I'm dead! I'm dead!," not expecting to survive as the machine pulled on her. Her husband managed to stop it and Judy laid on the ground with her arm lying on top of her, without any feeling in it.

She was airlifted to Cox Hospital South in Springfield, where a surgeon with Air Force experience determined the arm was too badly twisted to save. Fortunately the artery had not been severed, or Judy would have bled to death quickly.

Since then, Judy said life has been a learning experience. She still has swelling and wears a "stump shrinker" bandage over what remains of her upper arm.

Rather than wait for all the tenderness to leave, when she can be fit with an artificial arm, Judy decided it was time to put the arm to use. A new strength training class for staff had been introduced through the University of Missouri, and Judy jumped right in.

"It's tailor-made for me," Judy said. "There are strength exercises and range-of-motion activities."

Beside the obvious issues of a right-handed person learning to write with the left hand, many daily living activities have become hard. Judy said putting on clothes, opening a letter and pulling up a zipper require serious adjustments.

"Even in the hospital, I prayed for patience," Judy said. "I know things take longer. Little jobs require lateral thinking, outside the box."

In her recovery, Judy has been researching prosthetics.

"Women often choose not to get them. And most people who lose an arm are under age 45," said Judy. "Most prosthetic companies deal with leg replacements."

Judy's situation is more complicated because she lost her elbow. Her options will be limited to a device with a pincher on the end.

Using the Internet, Judy has discovered intersting information about artificial arms. She describes how J.E. Hanger, a Confederate Civil War soldier, replaced his own shattered leg with barrel staves and went on to establish the first artificial limb manufacturing firm that remains an industry leader today. Judy is leaning toward a more light-weight model attached by a harness and manipulated with the scapula.

For some people, the artificial arm is only cosmetic and carries little function. Judy expects to be fully active. She has communicated with a member of the Amputee Coalition of America and studied the book "One Handed in a Two Handed World," recommended by her therapist for ways to solve problems.

"I tell myself I've got a perfectly good, under-used arm," Judy said. "People are as handicapped as they think they are. I can't swat a fly, though."

Judy admits she has yet to seriously modify her home. She expects to get more clothing items with Velcro. Her husband already did much of the cooking and now does almost all of it. Judy insists on still feeding her horses daily, with the help of a wagon her sons acquired. She decided to take them two bales of hay in the evening instead of hauling hay twice a day, treating the horses to grain in the morning.

At work, Judy has helpers who shelve books. She can type what she needs on her computer, but like other tasks, it takes a little longer. Students and faculty alike have been amazed at how well she has done, calling her "an inspiration."

"It's obvious I have a lot of friends," Judy said. "I've been amazed to find out how many, from all over the country. I've had so many letters and so much support."

The experience has even helped bring Judy's family closer together. Her sister, with whom she had spent little time in the past 20 years, stayed with Judy for several weeks. Her brother, who had not visited her in 25 years, is coming to see her this week.

"People are amazed I'm so positive," Judy said. "How could I not be, when I see so many people who are worse off?"

Her colleagues at the school don't take that point of view for granted.

"We're glad to have her back," said Superintendent William Sweet. "She has always done a good job. They'll be big shoes to fill. Her glass is always half full."

When Judy was injured, she had the district's credit card to buy supplies for a faculty activity. According to Kristy Madewell, the superintendent's secretary, Judy was calling in the day after the accident making sure someone else could cover for her. Madewell said that was typical for Judy and had to urge her to focus on getting better.

Judy said she still has a "phantom arm" where the missing arm had been. She can open and close the fingers, but in her mind the arm is permanently bent, like it is asleep.

"I always prayed that when adversity came, I'd have the strength to handle it," Judy said. "Through all of this, I've been calm. Prayers are being answered."

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