Saturday, February 05, 2005

3 years, 1 day, and 21 hours -- graphic

3 years, 1 day, and 21 hours. that's how long it has been since i received the most horrible phone call of my life. i answered the phone at 5:05 am to a voice that said, "is this scott's mom?" after i answered that i was, i was given the information that he had been in a car wreck. to date, that is the most awful feeling i have ever felt -- knowing my son was hurt, not knowing how bad, and not being w/ him to take care of things.

the woman on the phone was the person who found him. scott was on his way home from town after doing his morning paper route and hit a patch of black ice on the road. he lost control of his car, went into the ditch, hit a culvert that launched him through the air, took out a no passing sign, went through an evergreen tree, tumbled end over end two times, and landed upside-down and lodged against a gas meter. the fortunate thing for him was that his wreck happened right before he was out of town, so there was someone who heard the wreck and went to help him. he had managed to get out of his seatbelt and wriggle out the broken back window of the car because his door was crushed in and wedged against the gas meter. he was hurt and bleeding badly from a head/face wound, so he lay down on the soaking wet, muddy ground of the yard where his car landed to wait on the ambulance. the woman who found him called 911 and stayed w/ him until he was loaded on the gurney and getting into the ambulance. i arrived on the scene just in time to kiss him and tell him i loved him before the ambulance left for the hospital.

after i took the call, it seemed like my world worked in slow motion. i couldn't move fast enough. even though his wreck was only about 6 miles from my house, that 10 minutes that it took me to get dressed, get in the car, out of the garage, and get to him seemed to take forever. during the drive there, i imagined all kinds of things -- but nothing prepared me for the scene that greeted me. an ambulance, 2 fire trucks, and several police cars, all with their lights flashing, marked the scene of the accident. the woman who called told me "he's hurt pretty bad. he has a bad cut on his face and he might have a broken arm or shoulder, but i don't think his injuries are too terrible. i'm not a doctor, but he crawled out of the car and has been moving around and talking. i don't think he has a broken back or neck or something like that." as i drove there, my imagination was running wild. i imagined it worse than it was, not as bad as it was -- but nothing like it truly was . . .

he was on the gurney being rolled to the ambulance as i ran up to the scene. he had a neck brace on, but it wasn't fastened on very well because of his injury, and it was hurting him terribly as it was. i kissed him on the forehead and told him i loved him as he was being loaded in the ambulance. he was being taken to the local hospital, and i had to travel separately. i think that was almost rougher than the drive to the accident because now i knew just how bad he looked. at the hospital, we greeted the usual emergency room workers that we knew from previous visits. the nurse working that morning was the same one that cleaned him up after his motorcycle wreck 6 months earlier, so they already had a "working relationship." he always did like having a male nurse take care of him, too.

when i was allowed to come back into his emergency room, he was still wearing the neck brace and the nurse was doing a thorough check over all of his injuries. when the doctor arrived, she ordered a CAT scan and total upper body x-rays. they couldn't give him pain medication until they ruled out brain trauma, so his mouth was running about how much he hurt with language that was rather colorful and inventive. the early tests showed that he didn't have any serious injury to his skull or his brain, but the cut on his face had severed the nerve and was all the way to the bone. there was one place where the cut went through his throat. it was very difficult for me to look at that as i have a tendency for a weak stomach, but he wanted me right there -- holding his hand and rubbing his forehead. i was so close to passing out that i had my head resting on the side of his bed w/ a cold cloth draped over the back of my neck. i was given the order to talk to him and try to keep him distracted as much as possible. it was very hard, though, as I could hardly keep from gagging.

the surgeons were called in and preparations were being made to begin fixing him up when the local surgeon noticed a shadow on the CAT scan, which could signal blood on the brain. this hospital is not equipped to handle a brain trauma patient and there is no neurosurgeon, so scott was loaded up in an ambulance and sent to joplin to the trauma unit. by this point, scott had already been given morphine, so his mouth was running constantly and totally uncensored. there's not much i could do w/ a young man in terrible pain and on morphine when he used language that i wished he wouldn't! anyway, he arrived at the trauma unit in joplin, where he had a trauma surgeon that checked him over from head to toe and started calling in the list of specialists that he might need. after a whole other set of tests (CAT scans, x-rays, sonogram of stomach to check for internal injuries, EKG, blood work and more) and rounds by all the specialists to check all his injuries, the neurosurgeon released him for surgery to stitch up his face, neck, and throat. the neurosurgeon was "not impressed" by the shadow on the CAT scan and thought it was probably just a slight movement as the test was done.

around 4 pm, scott headed into surgery w/ and ear/nose/throat surgeon to fix the damage to his face. later inspection of the car revealed that the rearview mirror had come off the front window and had hit scott in the side of the face. the mirror was not broken, but the force of impact is what caused the cut. his other facial injuries were from the air bag, which burned/sanded the skin off of his face/neck as it deployed. anyway, the surgeon had to sew the injury in 3 layers, deep muscle, fatty tissue, and then skin. the severed nerve endings were found and sewn back together w/ the hopes that it would grow back together and have muscle control and feeling at some points, but probably not for at least 3 months. worse case scenario, the nerve damage would not heal and he would have no feeling on one side of his face and his mouth would droop like he had suffered a stroke. after he came out of surgery to the room at about 7 pm, i was so relieved. it had been 14 hours since the wreck, and now i had been told that his injuries were a bruised shoulder and a cut on his face that required 42 surface stitches. he also had burns over most of his face and neck, but those were not serious. his eyeballs had turned red because the hit to the head had broken blood vessels in his eyes, but no permanent damage. he would survive and be able to live a productive life.

after scott was in his room, all the family went home with the knowledge that he was going to be fine. i was lying on the other bed in the room, just looking at my baby's face and crying. i felt so weak. partly from relief and partly from exhaustion. it hurt so bad to see his face/body torn up and knowing that he would never have his little pretty boy face again, but i was thankful for him to be alive and able to recover. even though he was groggy for several more hours, he would wake up every now and then and say, "mom?" and when i would answer him, he would just moan and go back to sleep. he had visitors that first night, as a man from our church came and brought his sons to see scott. it terrified the little boys to see scott looking that way, and one of them burst into tears right away. i stepped outside w/ him so his dad could talk to scott a little, but scott just couldn't stay awake for more than a couple minutes. we talked a bit, and i was feeling terribly guilty that i hadn't gone w/ scott that morning on his paper route, but i had worked later than usual the night before and just couldn't do it. i really felt like it would not have happened if i had been w/ him and that the wreck was probably my fault in some way. the friend pointed out that i might be dead if i had been w/ scott, and there was nothing my presence could've done to prevent him from losing control on an icy patch. if i look at it objectively, i could see that he was probably right -- but i just couldn't help but feel that the wreck was somehow my fault.

at about 1 am, scott suddenly woke up and said, "mom? where's summer?" i explained that she had gone home shortly after he came out of surgery because he was too groggy to see anyone or know they were there. i sent her home w/ a list of people to call and give updates. he said, "well, i want to talk to her." so we called her up in the middle of the night so he could say hi to her. it was very touching to me as a parent to see this connection between the 2 most important people in my life -- the same two people who generally want to strangle each other. even though i know they care about each other, it still felt good to see them show it! they talked for about 2 minutes before he was ready to go back to sleep. believe me when i say that talking was very difficult for him.

day 2 in the hospital was filled with a whole other bunch of problems and dilemmas. around 9 am, the nurse told me they would be releasing scott soon, so they needed to get him up and walk him around some. she tried to get him up, but she was not strong enough and he just hurt to bad to make much effort on his own. fortunately, the eye specialist was not able to see him on day 2, so they were forced to hold him over until the next day. he spent the whole day sleeping off the anesthesia and getting/sleeping off more morphine. i was still going through some very strong emotional wars, and watching him suffer didn't help me any. his face and head were now swollen to almost 2x the normal size. the color had turned to black/blue/purple except in the area where it was still burned and oozing. and then there were the areas of stitches and blood and bandages. at this point, i was so worried about his future, as i know people have an aversion to scars and deformities. it's hard to not notice something like that on someone's face and still be able to look at them and converse w/ them as if they are somewhat normal. i knew that we could probably have it all (or at least most of it) fixed over time, but i was worried about what the scars would do to him emotionally right now. he didn't know yet how bad he looked, and i intended to stall that off as long as possible.

day 3 arrived after a very long, tiring day 2 that was full of tests, checks, and doctor visits. on this day, he was to be released, and they hadn't even gotten him out of bed yet. i was extremely fearful of taking him home, because i didn't think i could care for him. after all, he was 6' tall and 200#. i knew i couldn't lift him, and he could do nothing on his own. the nurse told us at about 1 pm that scott was to be released that afternoon. at that point, i realized that the poor boy had no clothes other than the tighty-whities that he was wearing. the rest of his clothes were blood stained beyond repair when they cut him out of them and threw them in the trash can at the hospital in pittsburg. traveling in your underwear and a hospital gown is fine when you're traveling by ambulance, but it just doesn't work for loading up in mom's van! i didn't really want to go clothes shopping, but we were 45 minutes from home and i didn't want to have to run home, either. fortunately, i had a friend who lived nearby and she was married to a big man. so i called and asked her if we could borrow some of his clothes to get scott home in. she was kind enough to bring stuff to the hospital to dress the boy in to get him home. by 4 pm, 59 hours after the wreck, scott was loaded up into the car and sent home.

the journey home was a whole other dilemma, as every bump, jolt, and turn hurt him. he had to sit in the back driver's side so the seatbelt could pass over his left shoulder instead of his injured right shoulder. then i drove about 40 mph all the way to our gravel road, and from there the progress slowed to about 10 mph. chris was there, and summer and mickie, so i had help getting him into the house. i couldn't have done it on my own, so i'm glad they were there. the only time scott had been out of bed at the hospital was to get dressed and get in the car to come home. so walking, standing, and balancing were not real secure acts for him yet. as soon as he was in the house, we put him in the recliner in the front room. within 30 minutes, the house was full of people who wanted to see him and make sure he was ok. it was a scene from grand central station for the next couple of hours, but the house finally cleared out around 9 or so. after everyone left and scott was ready to go to sleep, i took some pictures of him laying there and a close-up of his face. i was so worried that after he healed he would think he looked horrible, and i wanted him to see how much better he looked than when he came home.

i had to return to work the next day, as i was almost out of sick days and i knew he would have several trips to the various doctors ahead of him still. mickie (my mother) came over to stay w/ him and take care of him while i was gone to school. it was really hard for me to leave that first day, but i knew he was in good hands. the human body is just so amazing in its ability to heal, and the change in him from 7 am to 5 pm that first day home was easily noticeable. it did my heart good to see so much improvement in him so quickly. we had our next major milestone the night of day 4, as i finally convinced him that he needed a bath. when we first got home last night, i noticed how dirty his hands were w/ dried mud and caked blood. after further inspection, i realized that he had not had a bath since he had been in the hospital and very little had been done to clean him off. his hair was filled w/ chunks of dried blood and dried mud, blood under his fingernails, and just dirty, grimy skin everywhere. i was rather shocked to see that they had just hosed off the parts they worked on at the hospital, leaving the rest of him dirty. i finally convinced him that a bath would make him feel better, or at least it would make ME feel better and make HIM smell better. and it does create an awkward situation when a mother has to help her 15 year old son take a bath. oh well, we do what we have to. he had to have help walking to the bathroom, getting undressed, and stepping down into the sunken jacuzzi tub (which just about knocked both of us in!). he griped the whole time about how much trouble this was and why he shouldn't have to do it, but when he sat down in the tub in the warm water i heard, "u-m-m-m-m. can i just sleep in here?"

if i had known the wrestling match it would take to get him up and out of the bath tub, i would've considered letting him just stay there until he shriveled up. i'm telling you we had moves even a twister champion would envy! the whole time i was so afraid that i would lose my balance and let him fall or slip out of my grasp. that would've been horrible. i was paying too much attention to getting him out of the tub and standing upright that i didn't realize that he was getting his first look at his face since the accident. suddenly he started to sway around and had to set down on the edge of the tub. i asked if he was hurting or sick, but he said, "no, i just scared me in the mirror." while he was recovering his composure, i explained some of what appeared on his face and what he could expect from it in the future. after he had a few minutes to pull himself together, he wanted to look closer in the mirror and study his face a little. i stood there w/ him and watched him as he looked at the stranger in the mirror. he could've easily beat quasimodo out of the race for ugly, but i thought he looked wonderful. after a couple minutes, he was ready to head back to the recliner.

the recliner became his prison for the next few weeks as he couldn't lie down on his bed or the floor. having his head that low gave him a pounding headache. he couldn't set up in a regular chair because it was too stiff. he needed something that would allow him to relax in his position ==> the recliner. he had reached the point now where only certain parts of his body hurt all the time instead of all of his body hurting all the time. so, he had everything he needed to survive moved near the recliner -- remote to tv/vcr/satellite, drink, tissues, play station, pencil and paper. w/ these things and a personal servant, a patient can recover quickly! grandma was doing patient care duty, and she took her job seriously. so serious that she just drove the patient nuts. she taped movies for him to watch, but she's notorious for starting the tape a few minutes early, so the viewer gets the see the end of the movie before the beginning OR gets to watch the whole movie and then get cut off 10 minutes before it's over. after 2 days, scott convinced grandma that he could stay by himself. he would go to the bathroom before everyone left the house, have a portable phone in his hand so he could call grandma if he needed anything, and agreed to just have a family member drop by to check on him during the day. he was healing very quickly, but he had so much to heal that it took quite a while.

the days were long for him and he soon became very restless. he wanted something to do other than lay in the recliner and watch tv and/or play playstation. repeated requests from school for homework and assignments brought nothing for him to do. all his teachers thought he could catch up when he got back. the bad thing was that he missed more than a month before going back. he was at school for 2 days and then had to take another week off for an infection in his throat and scar tissue. during this time, he became very irritable -- he was hurt, he was bored, he was tired, he was hurt and on and on.

up to today, scott is still working w/ a plastic surgeon on removing the scar on his face. he (they) have been working for the last 21 months on making the scar on his face look more natural. amazingly, scott is fine w/ the scar on his face. the men in our church were great to scott when he went to rehab after the accident and he was convinced that "scars are cool. they are like tattoos w/ a story." the nice thing for scott is that he has such a big personality that people often don't notice that he has this large scar running down the side of his face. i'm always amazed that someone could overlook a scar of that size, but i'm probably more sensitive to it b/c it's a constant reminder to me that i almost lost him. i don't think the scar detracts from his good looks or his personality -- it's just a part of who he is now. i've often wondered how the wreck affected him and/or if he ever thought of it anymore.

i had my answer to this recently when i borrowed his car. on the visor (where he sees it every time he gets in the car) is the picture that i took the night he came home from the hospital, a photo strip of him and his girlfriend from the mall, and his guardian angel clip that says "never drive faster than your guardian angel can fly". the angel clip was a gift that scott's great-great-aunt marge brought to him at the hospital and obviously means something to him. i felt much better when i got out of his car that day b/c i knew that he seriously understood that he could've died in that incident and he was making sure to keep in mind how quickly life can be changed, even though he was not acting reckless or careless at the time. any time i try to talk to him about the accident, he gets defensive b/c he knows it upsets me and i'm going to fuss at him to be safe because i love him more than anything in the world. right after the wreck, he went through this "superman" phase where he thought he was too big to get dead b/c he had escaped the danger on this incident. i stressed to him how dangerous his situation had been, but i didn't feel like i was getting through to him. i called the salvage yard in kansas city and explained to the man that i would like to get some digital pics of my son's car so he would understand what a lucky young man he was. the man went out into the salvage yard and took several pics of the car from many different angles and emailed them to me. when i showed scott these pictures, he quickly sat down and said, "wow, i could've died in that . . . "

i always knew it, but this incident made this concept real -- when someone you love walks out the door, that may be the last time you see him or her alive. i've never liked parting on bad terms, but i couldn't live w/ myself if my kids were hurt or killed and the last parting we had was one not filled w/ love and security.

No comments: