It's the phone call no one wants to ever get. The one that shoots fear and adrenaline through your sleepy body at 3:30 in the morning. "This is Suburban Hospital Emergency Room. Your son has been in an auto accident. He appears to have no major injuries but he is not responding the way he should so we are going to do a CAT scan."
I was up, dressed and there within minutes and spent the next 15 hours by his side. It's the same emergency room I have taken almost every one of my children to over the years for stitches or once, a broken bone. Everyone but Chris. He has gone 22.5 years without the need for an ER visit. This was the first life-threatening situation I have experienced, but even beginning with the phone call, for some reason I was calm and confident that he would be OK. I have always trusted my inner knowing and at no time did I feel despair or worry. Well, OK, for about 5 minutes I was scared, but really, even then I had to chide myself because I just knew, really knew that everything would be OK. The whole experience was very surreal - tragedy, yet not. Are we really this lucky? Why was it our turn for a miracle? I am still trying to absorb it all. This is my diary of sorts, my journal, so read along if you wish, but I write this for me, to help me sort it all out, to help me understand the last 36 hours.
My nephew got married Saturday afternoon at 3. The extended family is so large that only cousins over 21 were invited to go. Chris just made the cut-off. It was a beautiful day, beautiful bride, beautiful ceremony, a beautiful life. After the reception ended, the bride & groom and other "youngsters" continued the celebration at a nearby hotel. Chris had already planned to have a friend, his designated driver, pick him up so I went to bed tired and unworried.
When I got to the hospital he had already had his CAT scan. It showed a small concussion with a slight brain bleed. They would watch him and repeat the scan in 12 hours. Being Irish, Chris can hold a lot of alcohol. They couldn't tell whether his lack of response was due to the brain injury or his alcohol level. Not to mention that since he was a baby, he could sleep through anything. I spoke with the police officer and paramedic who responded to the accident. The driver was awake and alert as well and actually had called 911 when she saw that Chris was in trouble. The police and ambulance had arrived within 2 minutes. The officer told me they were lucky to be alive. It was the airbags and seatbelts that saved them. She had run off the road along a curve, crashing head-on into a utility pole. Her Volkswagon Jetta absorbed most of the impact. She suffered a broken nose and was able to be discharged with 3 hours. Chris escaped with just a few minor cuts but required intense monitoring for the next 12 hours. "75 of every 100 people who would have suffered a serious head injury in a crash are spared that fate because they wore seat belts and had air bags." 'Spared the fate'? I'd rather call it 'given the miracle.'
If I had seen them bring him in on the backboard, watch the trauma team surround him, watched them cut away his clothing, check his vitals and hook him up to monitors, I may have panicked. But by the time I arrived everything was under control and all we could do was wait and watch. They said that Labor Day is the busiest weekend in an ER. Because the ICU was also full as a result of the night before, Chris spent most of the day in the ER where I witnessed the ebb and flow of medical emergencies over a 12 hour period while I waited for Chris to wake up. When he finally awakened around noon the trauma nurse (angel) asked the standard questions: What's your name? What year is it? What month is it? Chris knew his name, but missed the year (2005? 2008?, ummm 2007?) and she let him slide when he said August since September had just appeared on the calendar. A couple of hours later he was fully awake and all of my fears were set aside when we talked. I told him what had happened, answered his questions, listened to him as the awareness of his situation sunk in. It was during that conversation that I realized I had my son back. That he would be whole and able and well...himself.
My children and husband came and went all afternoon. Each daughter arrived separately, tears overflowing as they saw their brother lying there so helpless and vunerable. The driver and her parents also came back later that afternoon - she needed to see and to know that her best friend was OK. I am truly thankful to the ER staff for allowing my large family unlimited access. At one point in the afternoon there were 6 of us in his small room that opened directly onto the nurses station - all 4 sisters, Dad and me.
36 hours have passed now and Chris is home here with us, sleeping peacefully. The whole right side of his body is sore, maybe there was a side airbag. The DR said he would be sore from muscles he didn't even know he had. Chris is determined to go to his classes at the University of MD School of Business tomorrow, but I will drive him until I know he is OK. He won't be waiting tables this week. He'll probably go back to his apartment tomorrow night, but maybe not, because after only living there 3 weeks, it isn't "home" yet. And you and I both know that a young man who has teetered on the edge of death or just escaped some life-altering injury needs the comfort, attention and security of home. And a mom, who once saw and heard her tiny son take his first breath, a mom who was often known to watch her sleeping infant - you know, to make sure he was still breathing - a mom who has just spent the last 36 hours watching the rise and fall of that same chest, noting every breath, needs the comfort and security that comes with having her son nearby.