Monday, June 13, 2011

1 Year Ago Today - Part 9: The Accident

This is the final post in the 1 Year Ago Today series.  In no way does this mean that this was the last day in the series of life events, which you will see, but it was the begining of a healing process for many.  Though it took quite a while and I'm pretty sure I'll never be the same, 1 year later I can say there were no more shoes to drop.  This was actually for Saturday, June 10th, 2010.

The day started out really, really well.  The foster kiddos had gone home which meant that we had the opportunity to sleep in - a first in a long time.  We didn't take that opportunity though.  My husband decided to wake up and mow the yard pretty early - around 7am.  Come to think of it, I had purchased him a riding lawn mower for father's day and he may have been using it the first time.  Though that wouldn't make sense because it wasn't father's day yet - he probably borrowed one.  In any case I woke up with him and sat on our back porch enjoying the quiet morning, watching him ride around on that mower.  He was so happy.  That and the peace and quiet, the nature sounds, the nature looks, my son sleeping in, all of it was such a glorious time of relaxation.  I was so grateful.

My mom had been in town for about 10 days and today was the day she was going home.  We tried the past few days to do fun things and enjoy time as a family, as if things hadn't happened the way they did, trying to recover, yet it was really hard to do that.  It was nice for her to be there though, even though the plans for her visit were changed on her. 

To celebrate her last day with us we decided to go to the movies to see the Karate Kid remake.  All the kiddos were excited (my son and my sister's 3) and truthfully we all were.  It was cool in there, I didn't have to walk around, and we were all looking forward to see how good the movie would be.  It was a good time.  At some point during the movie my mom's phone began ringing off the hook.  It was probably around 11am our time and my dad was calling.  He called not once, twice, or three times, but four different times.  He's not a big phone person, so after a few times my mom decided to head out of the theater to see what was wrong.  We all had this lingering feeling that every next phone call would bring more bad news.  As she left, I whispered "tell him we just can't handle any more bad news".

A few minutes later she came back with a smile.  I felt a good sense of relief.  He had gone riding (Harley's) up the coast of California with his brother to pass the time before my mom came home. After 10 days he was anxious. Apparently when they got to their destination they stopped at a bakery to have ssome sort of specialty food and when they got there the person who owned it was a friend they knew from way back when. My dad has a knack for finding people he knows in places no one else would find someone they knew. So, he had called to tell her the story.

The day went on as planned. We had lunch, my mom packed her things, then my sister and I packed up our kids to take my mom to the airport. I’m not entirely sure what time it was – it was probably 2-3ish. My sister drove her van because at the time I didn’t have a car that could hold all of us. It was a fine drive to the airport – about 45 minutes from our house. We dropped my mom off to catch her flight that was leaving around 6ish, then started trekking back home. We had driven about 1/3 of the way home when my cell phone rang. Honestly, I think that was probably the first time I’d answered the phone in a while without expecting bad news. I figured she’d forgotten something or her flight was delayed or she just wanted to say goodbye again. She was crying. My dad had been in an accident on the motorcycle. Very serious. Airlifted to the closest trauma center. Serious injuries. No news on whether or not he was alive. Hospital wouldn’t talk to anyone on the phone. Her plane was leaving in a few minutes and she wouldn’t know more until she got to Vegas – that was her original flight and still was the fastest to get to my dad.

My sister and I immediately stopped. We all prayed. We tried calling the hospital with the same response – can’t say anything without his permission. I asked if they could at least tell me if he was alive. They said (with kind of a little chuckle). Yes. He’s alive.

My sister turned around and drove me back to the airport. With my son, my purse, and that’s it – I was headed to fly to California on the quickest flight out. My sister was headed home to pickup her husband and pack and they would be driving out in an hour or so. When I got back to the airport, all I had was my purse and I don’t carry credit cards, so I couldn’t get anywhere. And now I was stuck at the airport with no ride. My inlaws tried their hardest to get me on a plane – for hours. They kept getting me confirmed on a flight only for me to be told at the desk that the card needed verification and the verification company hadn’t yet received it. Apparently they had a contracted service to verify the card and that took up to several days, so even though I had a ticket (several times), the flight came and went without me. I finally got out on a flight around 11:30pm. We had been at the airport for hours. We hadn’t eaten dinner (my son and I). I had stood and walked and begged for hours, me and my tearful worn face and my broken foot (I still had the full boot on). The airport staff looked at me when I talked to them like I was trying to put on a sob story and get away with something. Some of them actually told me that. When I got to the final flight (I had to switch terminals and just made it) – wouldn’t you know the ticket hadn’t gone through yet. At least this time I found a sweet soul who was willing to help. He stopped the flight for a few minutes so I could get all taken care of. I was running, the best I could with my foot and son in tow when I got through security. The gate agent at another gate said “It’s ok hun…you don’t have to run, I’ll call down for you.”. Finally someone who helped.

We got to the hospital around 2am CA time. My inlaws took my son so he could sleep and play with his cousins. What followed was about 48 more hours without sleep (or sleep in the SICU lobby). When I got to my dad, all he could say was “Ok” and “I’m listening”. That’s it. He was in extreme pain and very bad shape. He had severe head trauma, had broken his collarbone, both ear drums, and 5 ribs. The brain was swelling. He knew who people were, but either called them “my wife” (my mom), “my niece” (any other female), or “my son” (any male). You could tell he kept trying to talk but couldn’t. He just physically couldn’t get out the thoughts in his head. The area damaged in the accident was that responsible for vocalized speech. It was so hard to see him that way.

My brother and I took turns sitting with my mom at his side in the SICU. That night and over the days to come he had dozens and dozens of visitors. People really far away came to see him. Every time we rotated out there was a conversation with my brother and I (and later my sister – she arrived late the next day). Tears welled up – he was in bad, bad shape – yet there would be lots of excitement over the smallest things. He told me “you came!” kind of angry – extra words and that told us he knew who I was and that I lived far away. He recognized his grandkids. Eventually he could kind of remember people’s names but often got them mixed up. This happened over the next few days with slow but steady improvement.

After 3 days he was moved to a regular room, out of the SICU. What a glorious time. My husband arrived on Tuesday after having driven out by himself over 24 hours. That Tuesday we received a few calls for a total of 12 foster placements – we had another call on the machine at home for yet another sibling group of 3. Of course we couldn’t take them, but it was pretty exciting to get those calls in the hospital lobby as we played cards. At one point my dad (who is a bit mischievous) coerced us into taking him outside. We managed to wheel him down the elevator and out the front door. Then we found an outside spot we knew about near the SICU and stayed there for a while. He wanted to play cards with us. He was still repeating things over and over again, but it was clear he was getting better and not worse.

He went home on Wednesday. If I remember right I drove him in my aunt’s car. That was a horrible experience – any movement brought him extreme pain and it was a 2 ½ hour car ride home. But he did arrive home. He was still really bad mentally – couldn’t really communicate – but it was good for him to be home. He went back to work several (6-8? I don’t really know) weeks later. My husband and I went home that Friday by car (with our son).

My dad was really touched by all the people who called and visited him. One group in particular, Bikers for Christ I believe it was, really amazed him. They didn’t know him at all (or anyone else in our family/friends). But they had a group of bikers who raised money for downed bikers. They heard from the highway patrol or something like that about his accident. They had gone to check on his bike. They brought a $250 check, no strings attached. They just wanted to check on him and wish him well. They prayed with my sister and brother and I. My brother was touched too. Through them we actually learned a lot more about the accident that no one else knew – like at first he was transported to a different hospital but they declined him due to the severity of his injuries and transported him again to the trauma center. No one else knew that.

My dad visited over Christmas. He stopped in a town on the way here to buy a new Harley shirt from that dealer. Apparently that was the one he was wearing in the accident and they had to cut it off.

Here’s an article we found online about the accident. It’s amazing how non-chalant it sounds in the article. Obviously to us and to him it was much more severe that it sounds here. We now know that the area where his accident occurred was one of the most deadliest stretches of highway in the US. He had been on it several times. The accident happened at a very low speed. My dad was stopped and his brother wasn’t going that fast. The impact was just right though. My dad had flown over the handle bars and landed “just right” on his head to cause the injuries as they happened. My uncle later remembered that he thought my dad was just playing – immediately after the accident he had gotten up and walked over to him and then collapsed to the floor – my dad is known for practical jokes. Unfortunately this wasn’t one of them.

No comments: