John Locher / AP
Monday, Oct. 16, 2017 | 11:30 a.m.
Diana Litzenberg doesn’t know when she’ll go home. She doesn’t know when she’ll walk. She doesn’t know when the nightmares of blood and bullets will stop, or when she’ll step into a crowd again without her breath racing and breaking down in tears.
“I just want to be happy,” says the Orange County woman, two weeks into treatment after losing feeling in her body as she dodged bullets and frantic concertgoers trampled her at the Route 91 Harvest festival. “I don’t know when that will happen.”
Doctors treated hundreds after the attack in Las Vegas. Fifty-eight died, the shooter killed himself, and tributes to the dead lead newspaper front pages. Of the more than 500 injured who were hospitalized, all but 45 had gone home by Friday. TV crews have packed their bags, and police have passed the investigation on to the FBI.
Las Vegas and the nation have slowly regained normalcy.
But among thousands of largely unknown Americans who witnessed the worst mass shooting in modern American history, lives have been turned upside down, and recovery for many is a distant reach.
For Litzenberg, it will be at least weeks in the hospital hundreds of miles from home in Lake Forest., Calif. She faces months of counseling and physical therapy, tens of thousands of dollars in medical bills without insurance, and no guarantee that she’ll ever stand up again.
A 52-year-old wife and mother, she had the weekend off from her property management job when she went to visit a friend in Palm Springs. They drove to Las Vegas to see their favorite country act, Big & Rich, a duo that performed before Jason Aldean.
As bullets sprayed across the field that night, Litzenberg ran for cover under bleachers. She darted out to grab a young woman who was shot when a man rammed into Litzenberg’s face, knocking her down as those trying to escape stomped over her.
She awoke in the hospital the next day unable to move the left half her body. Her daughter and sister drove in from Southern California, and have been at her side since. Her Palm Springs friend, Jennifer Hutchinson, got to safety without injury, as did another friend who joined them, Sue Buckley.
“My mom was always smiling. We’d go to country concerts 10 times a year. She’d take rides on Newport Beach on her bike. She was always outside, walking, exercising. She’s always been so bubbly,” says her 21-year-old daughter, Nicole Rapp. “Now, she’s a whole different person. She’s just sad and scared of everything.”
The recovery has had its share of lows, even in times when the family has tried to cheer Litzenberg up.
Last week, her daughter wheeled her to the lobby of Summerlin Hospital Medical Center to see the Stanley Cup, which was on display during a national tour. The crowd of fans gave Litzenberg flashbacks, and she started to cry.
Another day, her sister Cathy Hopkins was tapping her fingers on a wall as she passed the time in the hospital room. Litzenberg yelled at her to stop; the rhythm reminded her of bullets.
She used to love reality TV, and would binge on the “Real Housewives” series. Now she finds the plots too complicated, and her memory becomes blurry if she tries to keep up with them from her bed.
She spends four hours in physical therapy each day, usually leaning on a walker or held by a waistband as she drags her left foot behind.
But there have also been moments of progress and joy.
After a few days in the hospital, Litzenberg could move her fingers again. She got to cuddle up with a therapy dog, a black Labradoodle named Sophie. It reminded her of Beijou, her Shih Tzu back home. Nine days, she regained control of her left arm. She spent Oct. 8 watching her favorite team, the Green Bay Packers, beat the Dallas Cowboys.
She tells her daughter to play the country music station on Pandora, and she still laughs and lights up she hears Big & Rich. A stranger from Washington state saw her GoFundMe page, and sent her balloons and a teddy bear.
A nurse left the hospital one day and came back with a bundt cake. It tasted like the best cake she had ever had.
Every day, Litzenberg goes over her story with her family. The music, beer and dancing in the sun, and the blood, pain and screams at night. Doctors say talking about it will help her mind recover. They say it keeps her from hiding the memories only to have them pop up unexpected as the years ago on.
At the same time, she doesn’t want any reminders.
The city set up a center where victims could go pick up their belongings. Litzenberg had left her cowboy hat and boots behind that night along with silver Alex and Ani bracelets her daughter gave her as a birthday gift.
She ordered the family to not retrieve the items.
She tries to avoid the news. She knows a basic outline of the night. There was a man who shot from the Mandalay Bay. He killed people, he ruined lives, and nobody knows why he did it.
But sometimes, when her sister and daughter aren’t there to stop her, she can’t help tuning in for a few minutes before shutting the TV off.
“There’s so much. Everybody’s got their different opinions and their different sayings and their different, you know, versions of it. Only the people who went through it and only the people who died know what really happened,” she says. “I know what happened. I don’t need to go that way. I just need to look at myself.”