Once more with thankfulness and an abundance of words…

Writing is a form of therapy; sometimes I wonder how all those, who do not write, compose, or paint can manage to escape the madness, the melancholia, the panic fear, which is inherent in a human condition~ Graham Greene

Over the past six months I’ve learned an abundance of lessons. One thing I know for certain is that, for me, writing and sharing are exceptionally therapeutic. Though knowing my words have meaning to others is encouraging, the writing itself—the words that come from my heart, the healing that happens in the sharing, the blessings in the lessons learned, the thankfulness expressed—is an exercise in coming to terms with the reality that in one moment my life changed forever. So, whether these five thousand words are buried in a blog post virtually unread or find a willing audience, they have been well worth the time it’s taken to me to write them. They are a mixture of even the smallest details of a huge struggle and my thoughts during and after the darkest days.

I believe in looking for the good, in focusing on the learning, in seizing the days—weary and golden—yet, I also believe in openly sharing and looking honestly at situations. It is in a deep and honest analysis that one often finds the beauty from the ashes. In a world full of evil, there is still good. In a world full of suffering, there is still joy. In a world full of despair, there is still hope. I believe in acknowledging the negative and then digging deep for the positive. This past year has been full of digging. We faced difficulty and sadness, to include the loss of Jonathan’s mother, the illnesses of both of my parents and several other burdens. Each moment of bad news, each new difficulty had us wondering when the next blow might hit. Still, in everything taken away, much has been given. When we felt that one more thing might be too much, God provided what we needed to bear the next burden.

Thus it was that September 24th began: a beautiful day, excitement for a competition in Norcross, Georgia, an early morning, a full day of great competitors working hard, and a quick bite to eat before hitting the road. Coffee, music, and naps for the competitors during the two hour drive home, things seemed so normal. In one instant, one moment without warning, almost to the state line, and it was blank. With my day lost forever in the recesses of my mind, I piece together the evening hours of that day, my favorite time of day—twilight. I was driving in the right lane, cruise control at 70 mph, and out of nowhere a car came speeding up, weaving in and out of traffic, hitting us in the rear driver’s side. The impact woke Jonathan up, he noticed that I was not holding the steering wheel (it’s possible that I was unconscious already, but no one knows whether the initial impact, the rolls, or the final impact knocked me out)… he grabbed the steering wheel and turned to avoid the traffic on the left—keeping the car from going into the interstate and guiding it in the best way he could to a stop—he successfully got us off the interstate, but we were still moving, rolling three to five times, going over a cement gutter, and landing in the dirt. “The beast,” our old suburban, took the hit for us. She was hit hard and fast and no one who saw the aftermath could believe that we survived. Truly, we believe it was God’s hand…had we landed differently we may have landed in the ravine just before or hit the guard rail just after and landed on the interstate. We choose to give God the glory. We are so thankful and credit God fully for His care of us.

In spite of the extent of the accident, three walked away nearly unscathed—cuts, bruises and emotional trauma but not incapacitated completely. However strong the suburban was, the airbags didn’t deploy and Julia and I took hard hits knocking us unconscious: Julia’s head was smashed into her window, causing a concussion, ripping some of her hair out and deep lacerations on her head. Her shoulder suffered damage to her ACL joint that would require months of physical therapy, but thankfully would heal without surgery. She woke nearly immediately and began vomiting. Our friend, John Franklin, with some instructions from Jonathan, held his shirt on her head to stop the bleeding. Simultaneously, Josh had cuts on his hand from the smashed window which he wiped with his shirt from USANKF nationals. After that, he immediately climbed out of his shattered window, I wonder what he looked like in his plain white undershirt, wanting to go to me, though Jonathan wanted him to remain seated he knew that Josh would be calmer near me. Jonathan took one look at my damaged face (At some point I regained a semblance of consciousness) and covered it immediately with his shirt. He is not fond of describing it to me. Once I regained consciousness, I kept muttering, “My mug broke.” As I was muttering about my Florida Starbucks mug with concern and oblivious to all else, all Jonathan could think was, “Your face is broken.” No one knows for certain, but the most likely culprit was the door frame. My face was sliced to my cranium from about a half inch above my eye to the top of my forehead and then ripped in a half circle to above my ear—called degloving for obvious reasons. Much like scalping, it is a ripping away of the flesh from the bone and it is fairly uncommon. It was a horrible thing to see, but I neither saw it nor remember it. Jonathan doesn’t wish to recall it and is thankful that he immediately covered me before Josh was able to get a good look. Good Samaritans stopped, called 911, told Jonathan to turn off the engine (we’d later realize that the car was crushed just inches from the gas tank), prayed with Joshua while we waited, gave witness testimony to the state troopers, and stayed with us. Those moments were the beginning of many beautiful and kind deeds done for our family.

We’d also later find out that several people we knew were held up in the traffic for hours and found out that it was our family while sitting in traffic. I can’t even imagine how I would feel if that had been me waiting and knowing a friend was in an accident. During the moments afterward, Jonathan apparently went into his best military commanding voice and barked instructions to help things go smoothly while waiting on the first responders. When they arrived, they braced us, used the jaws of life to cut us out of the car, hooked us up to all sorts of things, and drove us to meet the helicopter. Julia and I were life-flighted separately to Grady, because they have a fabulous trauma unit. Jonathan, John and Joshua were taken by ambulance all the way to Grady Memorial, after Jonathan demanded that we not be separated when they wanted to take them to a local hospital. I still can’t imagine my husband and our little boy watching all of this happen and knowing the fear and helplessness they felt. I also can’t help but notice every little blessing every step of the way. Every kind deed, every helpful person, every caring word–these small acts make huge impacts in our lives. God was with us every moment, of that I am certain.

Julia remembers tiny bits and pieces of everything, but my brain was basically shut down. While I was semi-conscious, I formed no memories during those fateful hours and only know what I was told about the entire day (and what I can see in pictures and videos of the competition) from others. The brain is a wonderful thing and, while it can function, it takes a bit more functioning to actually make and store memories. I have been told that I am unlikely to regain my memories of the hours preceding the accident – and that from the point of traumatic brain injury the memories from the accident never stored permanently. Amnesia is a real thing, albeit uncommon. I have what is called retrograde amnesia, the hours preceding the accident from the morning until the evening are lost forever. I was in shock and incapacitated—not in any shape to communicate well. Though suffering a bad concussion and head wound, I apparently still spoke and responded enough to answer simple questions. We are fearfully and wonderfully made. While a part of me hates that I lost a day and cannot remember the accident, another part of me is thankful that God, in His infinite mercy, designed our brains to work in a way that keeps us from storing memories during a time of shock and trauma.

We were flown to Grady and arrived to a wonderful friend already there for Jonathan. I would find out later that our dear friend Tim stayed by Julia’s side and sang hymns to her. “Remembering” this (term used loosely) still makes me cry. Many more acts of kindness would follow. Jonathan made calls and posted on FB from the ambulance while Josh was being tended to…that began a status that was shared hundreds of times. The amount of prayers going to God on our behalf was wonderful beyond belief. We had immediate calls offering help. We actually had so many offers and contacts, Jonathan couldn’t handle them all. Jonathan called a friend to go to our home to be with the girls, Leah and Simon came immediately from UAB. The girls didn’t know what to do so they made tea. That still makes me smile. Offers of help were in such abundance they couldn’t all even be responded to in the moment. There were so many praying, so many concerned, so many willing to do whatever we needed. When I heard the details, when I knew all that was done for us, I cried and cried and cried. As I write, I still cry. The kids all wanted to come right away, but Jonathan had zero desire for anyone to be on the road. He had enough to deal with at that point and wanted them to stay safely in Alabama.

Our karate instructor drove immediately to meet us at Grady and he and his wife were there with Julia, as was our dear friend, Tim. This made Jonathan able to tend to Josh (who had to be taken to a children’s hospital to be thoroughly checked) while I was in surgery. Julia was well cared for, scanned in abundance, stitched up with local anesthetic (and she remembers that!) and carefully observed. I was taken to surgery immediately where they gave me a general anesthesia, irrigated my wound (which was full of debris from the accident), and repaired my face and scalp. It took layers and layers of stitches underneath—the final top layer of stitches was 36 continuous stitches going from near my eye to the occipital area of my head. Severed nerves and a severed artery and yet they worked to make me ‘almost’ as good as new. While I’ll never be the same and never feel certain parts of my head, I am thankful that the trauma unit could sew my face back together with such skill. Thankfully, other than concussions, severe lacerations, and many many large bruises, we came through unbelievably well. No one could believe how well we had all fared, under the circumstances. Many who drove by our car doubted anyone walked away.

I woke up to Jonathan beside my bed, having no idea at all what had happened. I may not remember much, but I will never forget that moment when I opened my eyes and saw his face. That is the memory that begins the rest of my post accident memories and what a place to begin. What a wonderful picture to have in my mind, the mind that did not hold the others, instead it begins with Jonathan–the love I saw in his eyes, the deep concern. I saw Josh on the other side and didn’t see Julia. That was my first moment of terror. Then he told me. He told me about the accident. I had to ask if it was my fault. I remember the relief when he said, “No.” I can’t describe it. He told me Julia was okay, but on a different floor. Josh had cuts and bruises, but no broken bones. Jonathan, who refused to be checked out until nearly a week later, and John, our karate friend, were basically okay. There was concern about a brain bleed with Julia, but they needed some more scans, still all was under control. (Incidentally we both had every inch of our bodies scanned and checked that night—they are amazingly thorough when dealing with trauma! I remember the hustle and bustle of those first waking hours, yet even more I remember the warmth I felt when I saw dear ones by my side—the looks of concern, but also reassuring smiles. I never felt afraid. I knew God was with us. On a humorous note, one of the first questions Julia and I both asked when finding out our clothes were cut off was, “What was I wearing?” I remembered my immediate concern that Josh’s nationals’ shirt was ruined, having no idea that he’d attempted to wipep his own blood with it. He loved that shirt and it will certainly not be forgotten. Ironically, all of the iStuff survived crack free! We were amused and a bit horrified to find that Julia’s phone somehow dialed my parents during the accident when it was thrown from the vehicle. Thankfully, they couldn’t figure out how to answer the Facebook call.

I hated not to be near Julia, but was so thankful to have Jonathan and Joshua nearby, and I knew she was in good hands. We were receiving top-notch care in Grady’s trauma unit. My sister and brother-in-law drove up, after purposely sleeping for a few hours and driving from North Tampa to be at our sides on Sunday. What can I say to express how I was cared for? Jonathan, Rebecca, Rory (my sister and brother-in-law) and Joshua took turns for days at our bedsides so we wanted for nothing. They took such good care of us–helped out with our basic needs and kept our spirits high! Having them with us during our stay was a huge blessing. It meant that neither of us had to be alone, it gave Joshua a much needed distraction, and it helped my parents have some peace about our circumstances.

I continued my post concussive vomiting Sunday and Monday. They increased the anti nausea medicines and staggered two of them and by Monday I could finally hold down liquids. Incidentally, I still have zero desire to eat Moe’s (our dinner stop) and it’s been over six months. By Tuesday, my sister was able to help me sponge bathe (thanks to hospital wipes), and we tried to salvage as much of my hair as we could. It was matted with blood, dirt and tiny gravel. A bug flew out while we combed. That may have been our first big laugh. One thing they are not concerned about in the trauma unit is your hair. They simply shave what they need shaved and leave it hanging. But, when they save your life and sew your face back on, how can you complain? So, we worked through it as best as we could. When the girls realized they’d had to shave off a large portion of my hair, they remembered us recently talking about it and how I was the only one totally traumatized about having my head shaved. Funny how things work out, huh? Thankfully, a lot was salvaged. It’s growing back in silly-going-all-over curls, but I’m thankful for it all the same.

The trauma unit cared for us around the clock with the utmost care. Thanks to HIPPA, Julia got her own room. After my surgery, I had to share for a bit. The lady wasn’t a bad roommate, but she had the overhead light on and watched football, neither thing I like on a good day. So, there I lie with a wash cloth on my head to avoid the light (does anyone with a concussion and a huge head wound like bright light?). When Julia heard the circumstances, she politicked for me to have my own room. What a girl. That sure made my stay nicer. It also helped make it more comfortable for the four family members sleeping at the hospital.

The number of kindnesses done for our family were abundant! A friend went and prayed with our adult kids and brought a bag to the hospital for Jonathan and Josh, knowing our situation and going that way for a business trip. Another friend offered his apartment for Jonathan and Josh to shower in. On a normal day after a competition, my sweet boy would have been listening to me congratulate him on his wonderful day, instead my little double gold medal winner was forgotten while we all dealt with the trauma at hand. I’m so thankful that I have videos and pictures of the forgotten day. On Monday our dear friend, Nancy, dropped off food and gifts and picked up the kids from Alabama to bring them to see us for several hours. This was so good for all of us.

Julia and I were both on strong IV narcotics to control our pain. I was also on IV antibiotics because my head wound had been so dirty thanks to the dirt and debris. We were as drugged up as you can imagine. While I am not a fan of unnecessary medications or medications in place of natural remedies, I am absolutely in favor of medical treatments and medications when necessary. I can honestly say that I had no problem with being drugged under those circumstances. Julia was moderately drugged, but the extent of my facial and head injuries required double narcotics for pain relief—layers and layers of stitches, pulling and tugging and ripping, not to mention the actual concussion—I am truly thankful for strong drugs. Still, had I known what getting off of three weeks of tramadol and oxycodone was like, I might have politicked for a different mix. Unbeknownst to my fragile wounded mind, I still had to pay the piper.

So, I had three weeks of drug induced bliss. I recall a good bit of it, but some of it is hazy. We had piles of food and gifts and messages of love and concern. If I’d ever questioned how wonderful our friends and family were, this gave me answers. What I know and remember clearly is that I was overwhelmed with thankfulness and spent almost no time weeping or worrying. Perhaps this rerouting of the brain was also a blessing and helped with my healing? It’s hard to say, but I know that the drugs were needed, so I understand that they are a mixed bag of blessings. At some point during our hospital stay I remembered that our seventeenth home school camp was approaching—a camp we founded with a handful of families, a camp that was simply not optional if we could swing it in any way. So, before my release I asked the surgeon if it was safe for us to take a seven hour trip. He felt that so long as I didn’t lift a finger, kept well rested, and took my medicines that it would be okay. Of course, this wasn’t enough for Jonathan, so he dragged Julia and I to our local well-loved family doctor a few days before camp and got his opinion. He offered warnings, but gave his blessing. He also warned me to be careful with my double narcotics. I laughed and excitedly left to prepare for camp! We wouldn’t get a whole week, but we’d get a few days and that meant the world to me.

So, in spite of the timing, we headed to Indiana for camp. I remember thinking it was odd that people felt it was so strange—yet another drug induced bliss. I never had one moment of concern about driving. I felt as safe as could be in our new suburban—it replaced the old “beast” and felt like a tank! Happy and contented, we spent a few days at camp, neither of us doing our normal work…with me being pampered and tended to by a gigantic wonderful group of friends. It was a breath of fresh air and another step on my path to recovery.

The final day of camp, on Saturday morning, I took my last oxycodone. It was then that reality hit. I quietly sobbed on and off the entire way home. It was such a sudden and shocking change, just hours after my last pill. I was afraid. I jumpily stared in the rear-view mirror. I felt sick, I felt sad, and I knew that I had been living in a state of drug induced peace. My family had expected it. They reassured me, held me while I cried, took care of my needs and listened to my heart wrenching sobs for days. Incidentally, Josh left camp with a bug so while I raged on with withdrawal, Josh spent hours vomiting. We were quite a pair. Thankfully, we shut ourselves up in our room to rest—blinds keeping out the sun, just barely able to make it through each day. So, I took care of my little boy and my body continued learning to live without the drugs. Sweating, shaking, anxiety, nausea on and off throughout my days and nights. This was also accompanied by the post concussive symptoms I was already dealing with post pain killers: vertigo, headaches, thought process interrupted, pain on and around my wound. I already knew to expect sharp pains and itching in the areas of my face and head that would experience nerve healing. I had also been warned that, due to major nerves being severed in the degloving, it was unlikely that the nerves would heal completely. It’s one thing to know what to expect, but another thing entirely to experience it. Still, with all of the other issues, the nerve damage was mainly an annoyance. I finally understood why so many people were addicted to oxycodone. I even considered asking for more. Jonathan nixed that immediately. So, we struggled on. Josh began to have nightmares about losing us, he was afraid to be in different rooms or to go to the basement. This newfound fear broke my heart. My strong little boy was suffering just like the rest of us.

 

We had a checkup six weeks after the accident and had to drive all the way to Grady in Atlanta for it. Drug free driving post-accident was an entirely different story. I dreaded the trip, while simultaneously felt eager to actually see the hospital (which I barely recalled except for my room). I had researched it and found out wonderful things about it, specifically about the trauma unit (which is highly rated). I felt quite ill on the trip, still couldn’t drink coffee (I had an absurd psychological block to drinking coffee because I was associating it with something unsafe). So, off we went for our checkup—Julia would be getting referrals for physical therapy for her shoulder and a general checkup and I would be getting my outside layer of stitches out (the layers under the surface dissolved on their own). It wasn’t exactly comfortable, but after what we’d been through it wasn’t bad. I cried when I realized that the stitch scars would remain for a bit, but rejoiced that I’d been told I was healing well. We were given piles of instructions for healing for the months to come and allowed to do the rest of our follow ups locally. We were to continue taking it easy with daily activities, to begin karate slowly in a few months and absolutely avoid any head impact. I was told not to allow my forehead to get any sun at all for a year…hats and sunscreen would be necessary, though totally foreign to me. Julia required months of physical therapy, but thankfully her shoulder healed without surgery. We still had to be careful to fully heal our concussions and were only allowed Tylenol for many months (no anti-inflammatory medicines are recommended after brain injuries). We were fully released, waited for our piles of records and scans, and headed back to Alabama.

On our way back, we stopped at the accident scene and found a few more items—ear buds and a medal. Jonathan and my brother-in-law had visited the old suburban to get whatever they could find right before our initial release from Grady. He took dozens of pictures. He recovered several items—one of Josh’s trophies, several metals, the dojo bags and other items. Heads up: food left in a cooler after an accident doesn’t fare well. It was rather therapeutic to visit the site and hear some more details from Jonathan (who hasn’t been thrilled to share as much as I’d want to hear, but has shared some). Weeks later Josh’s other gold trophy would be replaced by the dojo that hosted the tournament.

We are truly fearfully and wonderfully made. I can’t say it enough. I cannot possibly complain about the drugs, the differences in my face and head, the scars, or the permanent nerve damage when I understand how very differently things could’ve been. When I see my scar and wish it wasn’t there, I am reminded that one fifth of an inch more and I would’ve lost my eye. I am reminded that excellent surgeons sewed my face up beautifully. When I feel my skull and the bumpy lines along the scar, when I wonder how all those layers healed and feel frustrated that they will never be the same, I am reminded that it was actually unbelievable that my cranium wasn’t fractured. As my hair grows out in characteristic curls in all directions, I am reminded that they only shaved what they absolutely had to shave and they couldn’t sew me up without shaving me. When I am emotionally overwhelmed, I am reminded that I am so so utterly thankful to be alive. When I mourn my lost day and our lost months, our time resting and healing, I rejoice in all that was done for us so we could take the time to truly recover. God has blessed us every moment of every day with the strength we needed to face the struggles.

While in some ways I mourn my lost day, I believe that God designed us this way to protect us. I had enough healing to do without having to also deal with the traumatic details (firsthand in my mind). I wanted to hear them, to know what had happened…I still have a desire to know more, to remember. I somehow even wish I could have seen it. Isn’t that odd? My brain protected me—is God-designed to help me—and I still want to know. So, I read fifty pages of police reports and medical records from the time of the accident, to the ambulance ride, to the helicopter landing, to the actual flight, to the surgery and recovery. I read it all and cried tears of thankfulness and joy and healing.

I’ve always been an emotional person, but the emotions that accompanied this traumatic experience were difficult even for me. Months later, I’d be in the middle of an outing, or an activity and it would hit me. It would be absolutely untriggered in some cases (no memory trigger, nothing visible to link) and I would be totally overwhelmed in tears. The odd thing was that I wasn’t sad or frustrated or upset or bitter, it was an emotional outlet…it was part of my cleansing.

Driving for the first time many weeks post-accident was so strange. I spent years of my life driving. I’ve driven more miles than I could add—from Florida to North Dakota, to South Dakota, to Wisconsin, to Colorado, to Pennsylvania—I’ve put in a whole lot of miles in my life and loved traveling. Now, feeling broken and fragile, I cried silently while I drove around the local roads. I didn’t feel afraid of driving, but I felt a mixture of thankfulness to be alive and sadness for the struggles I was facing. I’d driven for 32 years, safely and confidently. Now one woman’s moment of negligence, moment of carelessness—one accident took away my confidence. I was determined to regain it, determined to be strong, determined not to let this accident take away my love of driving. It worked. In just a few weeks, I was driving confidently once again. I started locally and then braved a long distance for a dear friend’s engagement party. It was just the incentive I needed to break free of the chains that the accident draped around my shoulders.

There are so many other things that heightened my emotions: going to the first competition and being greeted by many who told us they’d been praying for us, many who had offered to help only knowing us through karate, continuing for months afterward to receive loving notes and many lovely gifts from so many friends and family members, every first after the accident. Talking to my parents—who are no longer able to travel due to health—was so emotional. They told me how hard it was for “two old people totally helpless” to find out their daughter had been injured in a crash…they held each other and cried. So many friends contacted us, so many wonderful kind deeds done for us. I wrote “Thank You” notes for weeks and weeks, and cried. I have cried a lot of tears in my life. Frankly, I cried an awful lot of tears in 2016. My parents’ declining health, Jonathan’s mother’s death, and so many other struggles over the past year made me feel like one more thing would just put me over the edge. One more appliance breaking, one more friend suffering, one more family member ill, one more spiritual battle, one more disappointment, one more frustration—I didn’t think I had it in me. Yet, with God carrying me, with my family bearing my burdens, we got through it. We were knocked down—literally forced off our path at high speed—but we got back up again. We crashed, but now we are soaring high. We are moving past the hurt and pain of physical wounds. We are moving beyond the emotional struggles that accompany traumatic accidents. We have been uplifted and supported and God has helped us rise above it. The accident wasn’t the last hard thing we will suffer. Even since then, we’ve faced spiritual battles, ailing health, and deep disappointments. Julia and I have continued to fight fatigue and health concerns. I’ve felt like I just can’t give another thing, just can’t serve another moment, just can’t get it together. Yet, every new struggle, every concern, every fear–these have all been met with blessings from God to help us continue moving forward. No one asks for struggles, but we will certainly all face them. The accident may have only lasted a few seconds, but it caused countless moments of pain and suffering. Still, we are truly better for it, in spite of what it cost us, for what we gained is priceless.

 

 

Category: Happenings, Musings
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