(Paul Gates’s Chrysler Sebring, April 2010)
It happened last April in North Carolina. My husband was traveling up a mountain road behind our condominium community to look out over the valley, and whack! As he rounded the bend, he was hit, head-on, by a GMC truck.
The upshot? The man who had driven 18-wheelers 30 years (for a living), a career serviceman who supervised his National Guard unit, building roads in Guatemala (and other lands), was taken out, by a 12 year old girl wearing a Bebe shirt and crystal-studded flip-flops.
Oh, she’s adorable–all 5′ of her.
Apparently, she pleaded with her uncle to let her drive, and in a moment of supreme stupidity, he allowed it. When she headed down the mountain road, she picked up speed and panicked. And when she “couldn’t get the brakes to work” (flip-flops make that hard), she turned the truck into the one lane reserved for cars ascending.
Her intent was to stop the truck by driving it into the embankment, but my husband got in the way.
The occupants of the truck suffered minimal physical problems, while police took my husband out of his Chrysler Sebring with the jaws of life. X-rays confirmed he’d broken his neck; a bone punctured his spinal cord; no one knows how he escaped paralysis.
Doctors operated on him for 9 hours. Twenty-four hours later, he suffered a Code Blue, when his lungs and heart stopped. That event put him into ICU, under intense scrutiny for the next several days. Staff intubated him and kept him under, with propofol.
When he came out of it, he was assigned to a stepdown room, and only then, did I realize how unraveled he was. He spoke crazily, so much so I insisted on an EEG and a psych-neuro evaluation.
All the while, I worried.
Over the next weeks, he went into a rehabilitation facility that helped him do the simplest of tasks, and then he came home with me.
It’s now been 4 months since that awful time. We’ve a long road ahead, and we’ve left a great deal behind. We used to hike, bike, and canoe; we traveled, and we volunteered (he for Red Cross/I for a woman’s prison). Medical personnel believe his physical fitness (he jogged 3-4 times a week) helped him overcome immediate effects of the crash, but no one ventures long-term prognosis.
How do we spend our time now? We go to his physical therapy sessions and meet with doctors, often; we monitor medications and pick up refills continually (a man who was never on medication now takes 16).
How do we cope with the anger? He does light exercises to build muscle back and builds model planes and boats (to improve fine motor skills). He’s begun to read the classics (this week it’s James Fenimore Cooper’s Last of the Mohicans), while I started this blog. A sedentary lifestyle demands creativity.
For, we both believe: Adversity presents challenges… as well as opportunities for growth.
But, we’re still stunned by the fact the day started out “normal.”
And then, everything changed… in an instant.