Once I was conscious of my accident and the doctors gave me the doom and gloom speech, you’re pretty much left alone to deal with all of the head games, medical terminology, round the clock poking and prodding and friends and family passing out at the sight of you. It was no picnic! But little gems have occurred at some of the darkest times that stand out in my mind like scenes of movie.
Four days into ICU, a relatively new nurse came in on her shift to rotate the Striker Frame bed I was strapped to. I had 50 pound weights attached to metal spikes forced into my skull to decompress the bones in my neck that later became the halo that stabilized my neck during rehab. The nurse pulled the wrong pin and the foot of the bed dropped out throwing my lower body to the floor. At the time, I was so drugged up that the pain didn’t even seem real. According to the doctors, there was no way of telling if the fall had caused any further damage. I was pretty certain it didn’t help. With this incident and the hospital’s lack of experience with spinal injuries, I was transferred via life flight helicopter to Presbyterian Hospital in Pittsburgh.
Late one evening I could hear the nurses in the next room talking to a new patient. They would repeatedly ask her to open her eyes. “Sandy, your Mom is here. Open your eyes.” This had gone on throughout the night. “Sandy, your Dad has some flowers for you. Open your eyes and look at them.” I asked the nurse as she checked in on me what had happened to Sandy. The nurse said she was about 17 or 18 and had been out on an errand with her boyfriend when they were involved in and car wreck. Sandy had received the blunt of the hit and was in a deep coma. Part of her skull had become dislodged and she was not in good shape. Over the next few nights when the noise levels would drop and the activity in the halls seemed nonexistent, I started talking to Sandy. Although, it was said silently, I started to urge her to open her eyes, say something, anything night after night. Her parents visited with me one evening and they seemed to be from an upscale, responsible and important family but in much grief. And there I was speechless, immobile and had no real way of easing their pain. Much like the faces of those that had visited me over the last few weeks. It had become very important to me to think and pray for her recovery and not my own. In some strange way, I believed that if she would just open her eyes that my own situation would get better.
Sandy never did come out of the coma as far as I know and I still think of her quite often. I remember the long nights in the hospital like it was a recorded movie, the smell of the sanitized Environment and the desperation and helplessness we all felt. Since my injury, there have been many times I felt like I was in an emotional coma. It’s easy to get so wrapped up in all of the things going on around us with people pulling in different directions, overwhelming tasks to be done, loneliness and not enough time to deal with our own problems. I still hear, “just open your eyes.” Even though Sandy’s situation was grim, I am thankful for having had the room next to hers and learning what it means to let go of your own problems and concentrate on others. I do not in anyway believe we should ever feel lucky or fortunate because someone else has it worse than us. I do believe that we can learn so much from even the worst of situations.