Just over a year ago, Kelli Ashby began her career working in Doctors Medical Center's neurological critical care unit.
She'd completed Merced College's program to become a registered nurse. Mark Basnight, who directed the unit at the time, invited her to apply.
"I didn't know they hired straight into ICU," she said, expecting the job to require prior experience.
Yes, she was a nursing newby. But Ashby did have experience in the unit, you could say. In fact, you could even say she had an "in."
Ashby, 24, spent time there as a patient after nearly being killed in a traffic accident early one morning in May 2006. A junior at Davis High School at the time, she was on her way to work at J.C. Penney at Vintage Faire Mall. Perhaps reaching for something, she drifted across Kiernan Avenue and hit, head-on, a truck pulling a Bobcat excavation piece.
"Penney's called because she hadn't shown up for work," said her mom, Janet. "I knew she'd been on her way. I drove the route and when I came upon (the crash scene), the ambulance had already taken her away. The officer told me she was conscious."
Kelli was fortunate that a Salida fire crew headed to a training exercise needed to return to the station to pick up some forgotten gear. They were there to respond just seconds after the crash, and began stabilizing her.
At DMC, they determined Ashby had a traumatic brain injury, a broken femur, wrist, collarbone, ribs and finger, and facial cuts. She has permanent nerve damage in her feet.
She spent 12 days in a coma before finally coming out of it, but remained in a fog for many days.
"I remember when my aunt would come," Ashby said. "When my mom (Janet) was there, I'd ask her to stay. It would be 4 a.m."
She was fortunate, her mother said. She had no bleeding in or around the brain.
She was moved to Santa Clara to begin three months of rehabilitation.
"I literally had to start all over, learning to walk even to breathe," Ashby said.
She had painstaking therapy sessions six days a week, while her body and mind just wanted to rest. She often resisted, particulary when therapists wanted her to begin by stretching her aching body.
"I just wanted to walk, get out of there and go home," Ashby said.
If she only accepted then what she knows now
Her dad, Jim, could get her to do things no one else including Janet could.
"With him, she would cry and laugh at the same time," Janet said. "It would be funny, coming from dad. But I could say the same things, and she'd just cry."
When she finally came home from Santa Clara, her contractor dad had retrofitted parts of the house, turning it into a home rehab center.
Home-schooled through the early part of her senior year, Kelli returned to Davis High on Halloween and graduated on time in 2007.
She went on to Modesto Junior College with a lifelong plan to become a nurse and applied to 12 different nursing programs before the one at Merced College accepted her. She started work at DMC on July 9, 2012.
"At times, I can speak to the (patients') families," she said. "It's not that I'm overly optimistic about the patients' chances (for a complete recovery). I just don't want them to give up. They told my parents at the beginning, 'Don't count on much.' But look at me now."
She's also recommended to a couple of patients the same rehabilitation center in Santa Clara where she went after her accident. Mostly, she tells them to do what they're told as much as possible.
"They're going to tell you to stretch and do all of these things," she said. "Do them. The biggest regret I had was not listening to them and not understanding how important it will be in the future."
A year into the job, she's continually learning. Her confidence level is growing. She was there as a patient. Now she's there as a nurse.
Yes, she had an "in."
Jeff Jardine's column appears Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays in Local News. He can be reached at email@example.com, @jeffjardine57 on Twitter or at (209) 578-2383.