Life is full of irony. I spent last Monday night, from 6 - 11 pm, in the Emergency room of the small hospital closest to us, about 20 miles away, doing part of my EMT observation time, and Tuesday, at work, had even begun a few words of a post about that experience. It was, above all else, incredibly boring. The irony lies in the fact that less than 24 hours later I would again be in an emergency room, observing, again, but this time, in the middle of the ultimate of life and death situations, and not as a bored observer, but as an active participant, an advocate for my brother, who was strapped to the backboard in the trauma bay. I can tell you, I learned more about emergency medicine in my 8 or 9 hours there than I ever wanted to know, and there was no objectivity to it as there had been the night before when I held a three year old's legs down so he could get stitches in his cheek.
That Tuesday, after school,I was in my room, talking with a teacher briefly about joint planning for a book, trying to hurry out of there to go home and get ready for class that night. My cell buzzed in my school bag on the floor, but I didn't catch it in time. Normally I would have let it go, figuring it was one of my kids and I was on my way home anyway, but for some reason I picked it up to look at. It was the older of my two brothers, which, when I noticed that, raised an immediate red flag. We don't talk frequently, and for him to call me on my cell phone at 3:30 in the afternoon is just out of the question - he's at work, as a carpenter and job foreman, and doesn't have time to make phone calls then, much less chatty ones. I assumed that it had to be something to do with my dad, although that didn't really make sense. I didn't have to wait long to find out. Listening to my voice mail message, it was brief and to the point: "Laurie, Dave got hurt in the woods this afternoon, a tree hit him or something, he's being Mercy Flighted to Strong right now."
I had already planned to be out of school the next day, so I ran to make a few last copies for my sub and to let the teacher I share a room with know what was going on, called my son to see what the pager had said about that 911 call, let him know it was about his Uncle, flew out of there, picked him up at the bottom of the driveway, and was on my way to the hospital, an hour and a half away. In retrospect, I see that my immediate reaction to possible tragedy or shocking news must be denial, because although I drove a bit faster than normal, I didn't feel worried, or really even very nervous. I guess I must just shut out the possibility of anything bad, because I felt like I felt fine. Concerned, but not the sort of nervous that hearing "Mercy Flight" should immediately create in someone.
Oddly, it only took me about an hour to get there, so perhaps I was driving faster than I thought? I parked in the parking garage, and from there, the route to my brother was endless. It was like walking in waist-high water in slow-motion, movingmovingmoving, but not going anywhere. I walked to the information desk, walked outside, down and around to the ER, waited in line, was sent to another line, was sent back to a different information desk, was passed on to a security guard further back, and finally saw my older brother, the one who had called, sitting on a bench outside the trauma ER. He handed me his pass and said, urgently, "Get in there and see him." Suddenly, where I was, and why I was there, and the fact that my big, BIG, brother (he is 6 foot ten, or something like that, - he's a pretty big guy!) seemed pretty shaken up, started to sink in. A nurse took me back, where he was laying, backboarded and C-collared on a gurney, bleeding, swollen, broken. I stepped up, touched his cheek with a fingertip to make sure he was still breathing, made eye contact, spoke reassuringly for a few moments, and then, just like that, got a lesson in what happens to a body fueled by adrenalin when the adrenalin leaves. I couldn't breathe, I couldn't stand, I couldn't speak. I sank to the chair, head between my legs, trying to breathe in and out. It wasn't until the same exact thing happened to his girlfriend when she got there a few hours later that I realized what it was. One of the many things I learned firsthand, not from a book, in the trauma room that night.
By early in the morning, when a room in the Intensive Care Unit was finally ready for him, around 1 am? 2am?, time eventually lost any meaning, his injuries clocked in at: several skull fractures, a deep gash on his skull which needed staples to close it, facial fractures which were quickly blackening his right eye, a broken C-1 vertebrae (the first one, right under your brain), another vertebrae farther down that was a compressed fracture, broken ribs, and a slow brain bleed. A repeated brain scan, 6 hours after the initial one, showed that the bleed on his brain was not getting any bigger, a good sign. Oddly, my several months of EMT training led me to know that as long as he could wiggle fingers and toes, could feel all of his fingers and toes, and had pulses in all four extremities, that he was not in any way paralyzed, which was my biggest, biggest fear. You have to know my brother, but it is no exaggeration to say, he would rather be dead than paralyzed, and knowing his lifestyle, I get that. For his sake, and his alone, I, too, would rather he was dead than paralyzed. I thank God from the depths of my soul that neither of those very viable options were reality. That they were not is simply miraculous.Throughout the night, and the next day, his pain was ever-present and unrelenting. The worst of it was not the pain itself, but the muscle spasms in his neck by the broken vertebrae that caused the pain. Initially they could not give him strong enough pain meds, or a muscle relaxant, because they needed to continue to check the head scans, and to make sure he was not going to have to go for surgery. After about eight hours, when things became more "stable," and the necessity for surgery on anything was finally ruled out, the pain meds increased, and with the muscle relaxant, the spasms eased up a bit, and he could doze for a few minutes at a time. The night was long, one of the longest I have ever endured on anyone's behalf. How helpless you feel to watch someone you love so very much in so much pain, and not be able to do one damn thing to ease even a moment of it. Keeping vigil was all we could do, my sister, his girlfriend and I. I sent my son home, and my big brother went home for a few hours , and we stayed until after 5 am. We went to my sister's house and got two hours of sleep and a cup of coffee and then went back to spend the day, each taking our own turn with being strong or breaking down. Just out of nowhere, tears would begin to leak, then pour, out of one of us, and an hour later, it was someone else's turn. My brother was brave, and stoic, and good. He never rated his pain, his terrible terrible pain, higher than a 4 on the nurse's scale, and when I questioned that, he responded that his pain was nothing compared to someone who might have 3rd degree burns all over their body, or someone who had lost an arm or a leg. The nurses learned to interpret HIS "4"'s equal to someone else's "7"'s, God bless them.Wednesday, Thursday, Friday - fitted for a body brace to keep his spine stable, ambulance C-collar exchanged for a more sturdy and comfortable (?) hospital C-collar, out of bed, sitting in a chair, walking, using a cane, managing the headache - Saturday - discharge to home. From 2:30 Tuesday accident time to 2:30 in the afternoon on Saturday, he was whole, broken, fixed, and sent home, a living, breathing, walking miracle. I'm so glad. I kinda like my big brother. Who am I kidding? I really love my big brother a lot. My family is awesome.
There's another miracle, a big one, involved in his initial "rescue" from the woods. I'll post that story soon, too. Another story for another day.