Friday, February 10, 2012

What we mean by "Devil Didn't Get Ya"

For as long as I can remember, the biggest fear I'd ever had was losing a family member. As a child, it used to be the first talking point I had with God when I said my prayers before going to bed at night; I'd always silently beg Him to "keep an eye on my Mom and Dad." There were a few times I remember scaring myself out of near-slumber with the terrible thought of one (or both) of them leaving me.

Eight years ago today, that horrible thought almost became a reality.

I was living in West Lafayette, Indiana at the time, working at my first post-college "big girl" job as a reporter for a Catholic newspaper (and yes, it was as truly glamorous as it sounds). I'd NOT had a very good week to begin with; I had just found out I owed a significant amount of money on my taxes (which I did not have), and I was two days removed from getting dumped from my d-bag of a boyfriend after he returned from a year's deployment in Baghdad. So yeah, bad week. But bad things are supposed to come in threes, so I suppose I should have known something else was looming.

I got a call at lunchtime that Tuesday from my younger sister Abby back home. She was panicked, saying that Security at the branch of Ohio State she & my brother John attended had just pulled them out of class and demanded they go to the local hospital immediately; no explanation other than that. I got off the phone with her pretty quickly, and while attempting to keep my heart from dropping further into my stomach, I tried to call my folks--no answer. So I tried to call my sister Heidi who also lived in town--no answer. Then I tried to call my grandma--no answer.


At this point I was freaking out quite a bit, and pacing in the small office I worked at. I talked my other sister Megan in New York, with both of us feeling quite helpless. I called my former boss back home, told him I need to know something NOW, and he said he'd get with his connections and get back to me. Not five minutes later, he got back to me and said, "There's been a car accident. I've told a nurse to call you since they can't tell me what's wrong."

{Cue further freak-out.}

I hung up with him, and moments later a nurse called as promised. After confirming I was indeed an immediate family member, she started to go down the list of what she knew; my mom, dad, sister Heidi, and her husband Joel had been involved in a car accident. My brother-in-law had some bumps & bruises, but would be just fine. My sister Heidi had what appeared to be a broken kneecap, but she and her unborn baby were otherwise unharmed. My mom had some broken ribs and a concussion that was making her quite woozy, but otherwise they felt she'd be okay.

That's when she paused, then said, "But your dad..."

I let out a sob as she continued, "He's in bad shape. Multiple broken ribs, a crushed pelvis, and other problems. We're still checking him over, but he's hurt pretty bad." I think she continued to speak for awhile, but all I remember is her telling me my grandma was there, and I asked if I'd like to talk to her. I mumbled a yes, and listened as my grandma told me "I talked to your mother, and she said that you're not supposed to come home."

I'm pretty sure I giggled at that one; it was SO TYPICAL of my mom to not want to bother the out-of-state kids with the pressure of dropping everything to come home. But this situation was just a bit extreme.

"Uh, Grandma, I'm leaving now!" I almost spat it at her.

"Okay," said my grandma, and I could hear in her voice that's exactly what she thought I should do.

I hung up, gave my editor a brief description of what had happened, pretty much threw my apartment key at her and told her to please check on my cat for the next couple of days, then got in my car and hit the highway without giving a thought to stop at my apartment to pack a few necessities. I had to call my second job at Kohl's to explain what was going on and why I wasn't sure when I'd be in for my next shift. Luckily they were pretty understanding.

That was the longest drive of my entire life. I got a few updates from Abby & John, but mostly they didn't know much. They'd been back to see Dad, and their accounts of what they'd seen SCARED ME TO DEATH. I spent the entire four hours wondering if I'd make it back to see him in time...

Finally, I arrived at the hospital, and the minute I stepped out of the car, a calm came over me. Merely by being present at the hospital, I had this clarity and confidence that I could handle whatever was about to happen. It was one of the most lucid moments of my life to date, and it's probably why I can still remember that day as though it was yesterday.

I walked into the emergency room, and immediately saw my aunt and grandpa, who showed me to Mom's room. Mom was still lying on her side in a neck brace; I got close enough to rub her shoulder and let her know I'd arrived, and all she said was, "Bad day," then, "You NEED to go see your dad."

They let me know he'd been taking to the ICU, so after figuring out where the heck that was, I headed to the second floor. I passed a waiting room where I heard several folks call my name, so I stopped and found my dad's sister & brother as well as Heidi (in her wheelchair) and my brother-in-law Joel. They said that Abby & John were back with Dad now. Heidi & Joel gave me more details; they'd been T-boned at an intersection, and Dad had taken the brunt of the blow.

I will say that in all this nastiness, there was a glimmer of good news; Heidi had an ultrasound to find out if the baby was okay, and they found out it was a boy. They decided to name him Gerald Thomas, after both his grandfathers.

Not long after I arrived, Megan arrived with my brother-in-law Denver (who was still her fiance at this point), and we waited our turn to go back and see Dad. It wasn't a long wait. We entered that room, and there he lay, on a ventilator, surrounded by wires and tubes and all that nastiness that you see in medical dramas on TV. Completely different when you're looking down on someone you love, though. We didn't stay long; he was in a chemically-induced coma, and we just let him know we were there. Both of us told him to "wipe some dirt on it," which was something he always said to us kids when we were younger. And then we left.

We stayed at the hospital long enough to see Mom get her own room. Looking back, we laugh now because she OBVIOUSLY wasn't in her right mind; she was so excited to see a computer monitor in that room so she could check her email (!). She also kept repeating that someone needed to put the hamburger meat that she'd been thawing on the counter back into the fridge "because there'd be a lot of people coming over and she didn't want it to spoil."

Sure, Mom. Whatever you say.

We had to break one of my silly cardinal rules at this point to make a trip to Walmart because (a) it was the only store open and (b) I had nothing to wear but what I'd shown up in. After that, we headed back to my parents' house without my parents. Surreal. Abby & I ended up staying at Heidi & Joel's place instead.

No one slept much that night.
The next few weeks saw a lot of ups & downs (Mom got out of the hospital, but had to go home without Dad; I had to go "home" to Indiana & come back on the weekends; Dad had a scary surgery, stayed in the ICU for two months, then rehab for a month, and then finally came home about three weeks after I'd moved back to Columbus; my sister also ended up getting married in the hospital so Dad could be there; etc.). I'll spare you all the details, as I could write so much I would probably have to change the name of the blog. 

Ever since, though, my mom has "loving" referred to February 10th as "The Day the Devil Didn't Get Us." We typically mark the day by going out to dinner, which I know my parents are going to do today (we visited last weekend).

And there you have it. My childhood fear was nearly realized eight years ago today, and while I wouldn't EVER want to go through it again, I'm thankful for the things I learned from the experience--most importantly that my folks are the strongest people I could every hope to know, and I'm BEYOND thankful for all of these "bonus" years I have with them.

1 comment:

  1. We are still here!!!! Glad you moved back to Ohio.