Well, it’s May now, but on January 17 around this time, I submitted an entry to my niece Lori’s blog. It was Haiku Tuesday, according to Lori – or Lorelei, as I sometimes call her. So although I am positive my entries are not worthy of the name, I was, at that time, in the habit of throwing one in on Tuesdays. I love Lori.
So I took a little break and was silent at my desk at work for a moment. What I settled on was as follows:
Ambling along my way
while caverns yawn ahead.
Claire! Take care.
“That’s odd”, I thought. But it felt right so I stopped there. “That’s the one for today.”
A couple of hours later, I received a call from my spouse, Donald James. He was calling me from the middle of a street intersection in Apex. “Claire, I’ve been in an accident. The car is totaled.” I had trouble hearing him. He said, “I’m okay. Sorry if you can’t hear me. There are fire engines.”
Don was not okay. We found out later by looking at the police report that a woman at the wheel of a Chevy Suburban lost consciousness behind the wheel, her foot slipping to rest on the gas pedal. She hit the car in front of her, which sustained minor damage and pulled her way. She hit the car making a right turn into her street, knocking it off course. Then, still picking up speed, she ran the red light and came flying at Don, going about 55 mph, and hitting the front of his car at an angle, still demolishing the vehicle. Had he come through the green light even 1/2 a second sooner, she would have crashed right into his door. She continued on at a slower pace, stopped by the low brick wall near the gas station on the other side of the intersection. From what we know so far, Don was the only one with a serious injury.
But he was able to get out of the car and only thought his shoulder really hurt. His glasses were near the car and he pointed that out to a fireman, who retrieved his glasses for him. They were okay and he put them on. He was ushered to the side of the road, which is where I found him, with a policeman handing him back his license.
He told me our 2004 Prius had entirely sheered off the two front wheels of her Chevy Suburban at the axle. It was dragged on to the tow truck. So, of course, did our car.
We eventually discovered that he was not okay. He had two complete breaks of the C7 vertebra in his spine. That was when the fun really began. This kind of injury can easily cause paralysis or death at any point from the moment it happens until it’s repair, and during the repair as well. The surgery required was, as the surgeon we eventually settled on explained to us, “massive”, “carried serious risk” and “not routine for any surgeon”.
Don is a cautious person and no gambler. He had no good options, but he chose to try hard to give the bone a chance to heal on its own. This was boring and painful for him, and nerve-wracking and stressful for those around him. But hey, it wasn’t my neck! I supported his choice 100%.
He took almost no pain medicine, because he wanted to listen closely to his body and know how he was feeling. He wore first a rigid neck brace, later a heavier brace, covering both his chest and his back. He limited his activity to 4 hours of sitting at a time in the one chair we owned that he could tolerate, alternating with 2 hours of lying flat on his back in the bed he could tolerate, which is in our guest bedroom.
We went through three surgeons, eventually finding one who remains to us, an angel from heaven. An amazing man. He listened carefully to Don’s request for alternatives and brought to his attention a cervical stimulator – an electric device that has been proven to enhance bone growth. It’s more used post-surgery, to speed up healing, but Don was turning over every stone.
Based on what the surgeon explained, he knew it was unsafe to even lift a frying pan. He could not drive. On rare occasions that he had to be in a car, he rode in the back seat with the driver driving very carefully to avoid bumps. An air bag going off could kill him. He could not really walk outside much, because outside our house is a gravel driveway and uneven land. He could only remove the brace briefly to eat.
After almost 4 months of this, there was no significant change in his cat scans and x-rays. So he gave in to the inevitable and on May 8, he trusted Dr. Moe Lim, of the UNC Spine Center, to carry out a 7-hour surgery to re-stabilize his spine. As Dr. Lim reminded him, “It’s not really an elective surgery.” It took 13 screws, 2 rods, 2 connecting rods, bone grafts from his spine and from donor bone. He is now recuperating.
The effects of this accident on his life, but also on mine, and even the ripple effect on those closest to us, have been massive. He can tell his own story and I hope he will. As for me, I am conspicuous in my absence, from the lives of my friends, and my children and my co-workers, due to both care giving, and to the ripple effect on my own health. I’ve been challenging a disease since 2005, and Don was before this, ‘the strong one’ that made it so I could mostly keep on keeping on with a busy job and a busy life.
But there have also been gifts – many I am sure are still to come and still in delivery. Most areas of life are getting a reboot. But we will save that for another day. It’s ongoing and still too soon to understand. Don is two weeks post-surgery and so far so good. He did well with it. Me: not so much. My health has taken some real hits and while I am out of work to help him, we have both needed help as, after several days of sustained high activity, I would become quite ill. I’m thankful my sister moved here a few years ago, to be close, and for my other friends. I am positive my health dips are temporary. And Don’s proving he is still his amazingly hardy self during recuperation.
I am grateful. I will always remember that haiku that came to me in that moment of reflection. “Claire, don’t slip.”
“Exams are coming. Do your best.” is how I take that now. And I have!
I find it reassuring to look back and remind myself that those words came to me as counsel. It encourages me to take what has unfolded and continues to unfold as something that I can make it through, will make it through, and above all, an event that can have a deeper significance.
I have the highest respect for the still small voice and try ever harder to hear it.