Be gracious to me, O Lord, for I am languishing;
heal me, O Lord, for my bones are troubled.
Fair warning: this is far too long too read (see urban dictionary entry for tl;dr) and mainly a painstaking record I’ve been picking up and putting away all week as a way to process it all, journal-style.
The gory details
The day–September 30, 2015–started off innocently enough. Sophia commented how happy I was that morning; it was my last day of work and things had fallen into place perfectly with an amazing hire who promised to be an even better fit for the work than I. The kids had just started fall break, and we were looking forward to a couple of hikes, trips to the library, and possibly a pumpkin patch/corn maze/apple picking field trip in the next few weeks while I worked to get my inbound marketing consultancy off the ground.
There wasn’t much to do that day at work, so I went in late, at 9 a.m., and set about packing my personal items that collected in drawers over the nearly two years I was there, cleaning out work folders, turning in keys and credit cards, and calling the 401K company for rollover instructions.
By 1 p.m. everything was finished except for a final 3 p.m. meeting with a client. Since my replacement hadn’t yet done a client call, I was going to sit with her and provide moral support and historical commentary as necessary.
I was tempted to just leave. Tell her she was on her own. Call in from my cell at home. Whatever–there was no super-compelling reason for me to be there, except one: duty. I’ve always wanted to go out with a clean conscience about having done everything I promised, and this meeting was on the list.
So I went on a long walk downtown to fill the time. It was a beautiful fall day, a teensy bit too humid but with a breeze blowing off the river that swept away the moisture at intervals. I started in the Old City and went all the way down Gay Street, across the Gay Street Bridge, which I’ve never walked. The walk back across the bridge is lovely, with downtown and the Sunsphere in the distance. I posted a picture on Facebook and continued on to Market Square to walk around the farmer’s market.
VG’s cookies was there, so I bought 5 for $5 as a treat for the family. We’re absolutely in love with their thick, chewy molasses cookies, and the vanilla thumbprints and iced lemons are amazing too. I sat on the Square and ate a molasses cookie, listened to the music of someone’s guitar, and people-watched for awhile, feeling a mixture of happy in the moment and nostalgic for the hours we spent at Market Square as a family back in the day.
On the way back to work I continued down Gay Street, turning right on Jackson to walk down the hill and back to work. I was just two blocks from work at the corner of Jackson and State when it happened.
As Jonathan told his version of the story later (assuming, of course, that I’d stopped at the curb and obediently looked both ways before crossing the street), all of a sudden a car just smacked into me.
It was something like that. State Street isn’t much of a street, at least not a throughfare. It’s more like an alley on that block, hemmed in by two large buildings with no fronts. I never really see cars there, and the driver was coming from a construction area on Jackson and either way had no business zooming around the corner so fast in an area chock full of pedestrians.
No one was coming. I stepped off the curb and took a couple of steps. A big SUV turned the corner at top speed, right at me. My first reaction was the righteous road rage I get every day on Alcoa Highway when someone is doing something stupid and dangerous like texting and driving. A split second later I realized he wasn’t just being a jerk and trying to grab the right-of way; he didn’t see me and I couldn’t move fast enough.
I screamed “STOP!” at the driver, who locked eyes with me and seemed not to be listening, although he was probably pushing his brake at that very moment. I tried to push off the hood–this makes no sense in retrospect; of course I’m not one of Jonathan’s superheros who could simply push the hood of the car off my body. But maybe I was able to push my body off the hood, I don’t know. It happened too fast and all of a sudden I was thrown to the ground on my right side and my left ankle was searing like a steak on a hot grill.
I did what any sensible person would do when someone’s just hit them with a car: I screamed. I don’t remember what I said beyond keening-like wailing and literally calling on God for help. I’m really strict with the kids about not taking the name of the Lord in vain, but if there’s ever a time to call upon His name, it would probably be a time like this.
People rushed over. A bunch of things happened at once, including
- The driver of the SUV began to back away. Someone yelled at him, “Oh no, you’re not leaving.” He said he was parking and then zoomed off. Someone literally chased him down. I found out he’d been caught while in the ambulance getting my pants cut off.
- My shoes came off. My gum fell out of my mouth. My water bottle and bag of VG’s cookies went flying. It’s odd that I remember those details, but my friend Marissa told me that in a trauma situation people remember weird, crazy details. For some reason I marveled that my shoes had both come off. It was so strange, so funny. At some point someone advised me not to roll in the gum that someone had callously spit into the street. I had to admit that it was me.
- A beautiful woman whom I later learned was a news anchor who happened to be there when it happened was the one who faced down the driver and called 911. She asked me questions in order to get the first responders there and was basically awesome. I think newspeople in general look like they’re glowing, but because I was lying in the dirty street looking up at her, she seemed to be glowing because she was standing over me in the sun asking me questions in order to get me help.
- Someone else who said she worked (as a nurse? not positive) on the orthopedic floor at UT asked to look at my ankle. She lifted up my pants, actually shuddered, and said I didn’t want to look.
- Another lady knew people at my workplace and went to tell them what happened. She also filled up my water bottle, except when the ambulance came it was obvious I’d have to have surgery so they wouldn’t let me drink any. Two of my coworkers brought my purse so I’d have my ID and medical info at the hospital.
- I called Derek while lying in the street. I was freaked out and in pain and shock, but when someone offered to call him for me (I think the TV anchor but am not positive), I thought he’d flip a lid if someone else called as if I were unconscious or dead. So the conversation was, ridiculously, like this: “Hi. I just got hit by a car and something’s wrong with my ankle. They’re taking me to UT Medical Center. Can you meet me there?” Derek: “I’ll be right there.” Unlike me, he doesn’t get hysterical. He’s in and out of that hospital all the time and he just came up.
- A big smiling guy working at the construction site nearby locked eyes with me and said reassuring things till the ambulance came. Stuff like, “You’re gonna be ok, you hear me?” and “Look at me. Look at me. You’re brave. The ambulance is almost here. You can do it.” At some point he said, “You gonna be just fine. I gotta get back to work, ok?” and he left. I’m hoping he’ll be out working when we go up for my 2-week appointment and to collect the rest of my work stuff, and I can thank him then.
- The fire department was the first responder, then the ambulance. The cops came next because of the hit-and-run. I answered a lot of questions and am not sure who was asking what or why. Some of it seemed to be part of the police report, some for my medical history, and some simply to keep me from going into shock. It also gave me something to do and concentrate on.
When the SUV hit me there wasn’t a literal sighting of guardian angels, fiery men glowing with power and resplendence stopping the vehicle centimeters from my chest with strong bare hands and flaming swords. But they must have been there all the same, for how else can you explain why I wasn’t crushed like a squirrel underneath the wheels?
This realization crashed upon me for the first time in the ambulance. I was strapped onto a board, not because I had head or neck injuries but because my ankle was so busted they weren’t able to splint it and the board was the best makeshift way to keep me stable. My head hung over the edge and my right knee was up, the foot lifting the weight of my body and the broken left ankle off the worst of the bumps. I could see the Western Avenue sign rolling by upside down; I could feel the turn onto Alcoa Highway and I could see the tree line change as we crossed the river. Each bump–and there were many–felt like a bomb had been laser-shot into my general ankle area, then detonated. My body was shaking uncontrollably. I began to cry. It was, if nothing else, a pressure reliever.
Then, as we hit another bump, I recalled the actual impact and realized I had been less than seconds from dead. The crying increased to sobbing, the kind of sobbing you let out when relief and gratitude are washing over you. For some reason, a requiem that we sang at Zion Lutheran in Fort Wayne, resplendent on the base line, popped into my head:
Libera me, Domine, de morte aeterna, in die illa tremenda;
Deliver me, Lord, from death eternal upon that day of terror, upon that day of trial;
quando coeli movendi sunt et terra;
then shall heaven and earth be moved, be consumed together,
dum verneris judicare saeculum per ignem.
for thou shall come upon the earth in judgment.
Here’s a good YouTube version. I know, right? I’m sure more appropriate music could have presented itself, but it didn’t.
The EMT was working on my IV, and hearing the sobs increase, said, “I’m sorry, hon, I’m working on this as fast as I can.”
“It’s not that!” I wailed. “I was just thinking about how I could have died and…and….”
She stopped working on the IV and gave my arm a squeeze. “I know, hon. That’s ok too.”
At the hospital I was surrounded by young people in scrubs doing things I didn’t understand. At some point they cut off the rest of my pants–my favorite jeans, another detail I’m still not over–and my underwear, but they spared my shirt since by then Derek was there to help me get them off and there was nothing wrong with me above the knee.
And oh! When Derek came in, I knew it was all going to be okay. I wished he could have ridden in the ambulance with me, but had no idea the time it would take to get me situated, get my info, get me on the board, in the ambulance, hooked to an IV, etc. Derek was long at the hospital before I arrived and of course they’d tell him nothing, but when he finally got back I felt this tremendous panic dissipate because he would take care of everything. So many questions, so much pain….
They knocked me out for five minutes in order to put my ankle back in place, assuring me it was still broken in a million pieces with bone sticking through the skin and actual road rash inside the wound. They wouldn’t let me look at it either.
The rest of the night was a blur of pain. I had elective surgery once, and the trepidation leading up to the anesthesia that time was completely missing this time around. It was like, “How soon can you knock me out so I can stop FEELING ANYTHING EVER AGAIN?”
The other embarrassing detail was this: if this had only happened on Tuesday, when they asked me over and over what I’d eaten for lunch, I could have said “Kale salad with chickpeas and vinaigrette and an apple.” Instead, on Wednesday, I forgot my salad and was forced to scrounge in the work cupboards, which were somewhat bare at the end of the month. I found some Cheetos and an apple and ate that, and thought on my walk I’d get a tamale from Good Golly Tamales at Market Square. Instead, I found VG’s cookies, so the lunch I had to report over and over was “Cheetos, apple, and a molasses cookie.” Some guy in the surgery center told me that was “very specific.”
Apparently you’re not supposed to anesthetize people until their lunch has had 8 hours to digest, and it was something like 5:30 p.m. and I’d eaten around 1 p.m. But my wound had road rash and they were debating between the risks of wound infection and vomit aspiration, and decided to throw me into surgery anyway.
When I came to, they were wheeling me to a hospital room. Derek was with me and had been supported by two of our church members who came up, brought me an overnight bag, sat with him, and drove my car from the Old City to our home. It felt like 7 or 8 p.m. but was surprisingly already 10:30 p.m. I was in pain and shaking and feeling a little scared and wanted him to stay forever but could tell he was tired and worn down, and he had to take Kate to Nashville in the morning for her pre-op appointment with a very busy doctor with whom it would be impossible to reschedule.
So he left, and I spent my first night.
Behind the scenes of my Instagram pictures, we go into the dark alley of nightmares and pain and scene-replaying. Saturday night, the fourth night in, was the first night I didn’t relive the accident over and over from various angles, jolting awake, jolting my casted leg with a cry, jolting back into the darkness of the hospital room or our bedroom and recovering my surroundings and sanity.
During the day no one is around much except when visitors show up, and then the nurse comes in to do something embarrassing like a stomach shot when you’re wearing nothing underneath (post-surgery anti-blood clot, they told me).
At night they seem to do all the work, and they rotate in on one-hour shifts to do blood pressure, meds, and lab draws. Between all the night work and the bed, which is this new-fangled contraption that randomly moves underneath you sort of like a cross between a massager and a waterbed, without any of the pleasant attributes of either but which apparently prevents bed sores, there is no rest for the weary in the hospital.
That said, I can’t imagine getting better care than at UT Medical Center. It’s clear how much everyone there cares about patients and doing their jobs. The whole hospital scene is just odd to me, an outsider.
Thursday my friend Melanie came and sat with me for much of the day. Besides the fact that she brought coffee, she’s one of the few people this introvert can hang out with for a whole day and not feel totally drained afterwards. I definitely needed that moral support with Derek off on the long drive to Nashville with Kate. I wished I could be providing “home support” to Derek and Kate on Thursday, but alas, they were on their own.
The only other times I’ve been in the hospital were to have babies, and the experience was somewhat similar: excruciating pain; relief; two long nights of being woken up every hour by someone doing their job and never coordinating with others doing their job; discharge home to recuperate on the couch. Only this time, a cumbersome cast instead of an adorable newborn.
Friday was going-home day, and it’s been a comfortable* routine of lay on couch, drink coffee and eat breakfast, do a few things like Facebook or call the insurance company, nap after so much effort, drink tea made by Kate and delivered to the couch, read for a bit, eat lunch, nap again, shower, nap, eat dinner delivered by an amazing member of our congregation, rest, up to bed. I hope the napping gradually decreases and the activity gradually increases, but for now with the ankle literally throbbing in time with my heart and a bruise the size of Australia on my butt where I was thrown into the street, I’m going with what the body wants. Every day I can do a little more, but for now I’m putting blinders on the sticky floor, stacks of stuff everywhere, and things I normally take care of every day. The kids literally don’t seem to see the chaos, which leaves poor Derek to sweep up the detritus of fall break every day.
*Some days are worse than others, like Sunday, when the only productive thing I did all day was “try not to throw up.” It feels like I have the flu in addition to a busted ankle. I’m longing to feel better but know that’s when the antsy/stir-crazy part begins.
Lessons, learnings & gratitude
I’ve been really thankful about discovering the Sworkit app, which Derek and I have been using for upper, core, and lower body strength training, stretching, and pilates and yoga (the non-spiritual, inauthentic American stretching/ strengthening watered-down version, the Olive Garden vs. Tuscan restaurant). We’ve been doing it for several months now and, compared to when I sprained my ankle a couple of years ago, I’m like a ninja crouching on one leg, balancing, and getting around with the walker and crutches. It’s frustrating to watch Derek work out while I lay on the couch and pop pain pills, but this, too, shall pass.
We ordered the police report, which confirmed the news stories that the driver was driving with a suspended license and no insurance in his own vehicle, so there’s no one for our health insurance to go after to cover the cost of my treatment. Melanie and I were talking about this kid–he made a bad decision to get in his car in the first place with a suspended license and no insurance. Then he was driving too fast. Then he hit a pedestrian. And finally, he fled the scene, only to get caught later. In a way, we can see this kid being immature, badly-trained, compounding stupidity. Derek disagrees. As a matter of character, he shouldn’t have fled, no matter the consequences to himself, after he hit a person with his vehicle.
There are no answers to this; we don’t know his upbringing or challenges or faith or lack thereof. He was caught, and the law will take care of him in the left-hand kingdom. I have prayed for him and forgiven him for all of those decisions; oddly, the fact that he hit me wasn’t the worst part. I think that really was an accident. It was the driving away that felt like a betrayal.
I worried a little about how small my world would become again once I wasn’t working in Knoxville any more. It was only three days a week, but the work exposed me to coworkers, to clients around the country as well as regular walks downtown to all the cool places. Soon I’d be working remotely 24/7 from home, and while there are many benefits that I’m excited about, it can get lonely, too.
But now my world is so very small. Couch. Bathroom. Bed. If I’m feeling up to it, dinner in the dining room. I suspect by the time this convalescence is over, the house will feel huge and not confining at all.
Perhaps the lesson-learning will be mostly on Derek and the kids, who have to step up to the plate and do all the things I normally do around the house for a few months. Poor Derek, as if he doesn’t have enough going on, has to come home to deal with the house stuff and me besides. I’ve been trying not to ask too much of him for myself because I see how thin he’s spread, but it’s hard. I want to cry like a baby and demand he just come and hold me. He’s been amazing, though. This morning I told him, “In the ‘for better or for worse, in sickness and in health,’ we’ve come to the ‘for worse and in sickness’ part.”
Kate, too, is an amazing child. It’s not even that she’ll respond when I need something; it’s that she anticipates and proactively provides. She heats up my rice pack to put on my aching muscles, fills my water, gets my tea and lunch, and even did all the laundry last weekend without asking. She’s a gem. You can’t have her.
God seems to enjoy teaching me lessons about dependence. Debilitating pregnancy in 2010. Pneumonia in 2012. A sprained ankle my first weeks as digital director in 2013 (going out with a bang and the opposite ankle broken in 2015). I’ve become ever-so-slightly more graceful about accepting help, but dang, it’s hard. Between being an introvert and being a type A action-taker, I am all about GETTING THINGS DONE…by myself.
I’ve been thinking a lot about how I’d use my “home” time after I finished work, and one of the things I’ve been unable to do in the past is whip up meals for people in need. I sit down every Wednesday and write cards to people on our prayer list and people I know who are having troubles of some sort, but it’s not the same as showing up with comfort food. Now, the ladies of Praise are showing up at my place with stuff galore. I’ve always said that Praise has the best cooks, and this week has proven this statement correct. We’ve been lavished with homemade baked spaghetti, Parmesan chicken, minestrone soup, chicken enchiladas, mac and cheese, and more. Real comfort food for fall and for recovering. What a gift!
Of course I’m still working on that “receiving” thing. I once read that we should work to be excellent receivers, because being an excellent receiver gives the giver a joy. I know this is true; when I give a gift to my child or to a friend and they take it with joy and gratitude, it makes me feel needed and loved. But somehow I have a hard time accepting others’ gifts…offers of hospitality, offers of help, offers of love.
Which leads me to…
It’s hard for me to think in great detail about what could have happened, for then I’m left with the fear of dying, literally, on the street and the comfort of knowing I’d die in Christ wrapped up in the devil-induced fear and disbelief that the whole grace thing will pan out for me–me! Even as a Lutheran who lives by grace alone, faith alone, scripture alone, I still at moments find it unbelievable that God would send His son for me. For me! In the abstract I know this to be true. Picturing myself being crushed under a car, my heart beats very fast because suddenly it’s not abstract and I don’t deserve this gift.
Had it gone the other way, it’s hard to think of Derek and the kids receiving the news and moving, stunned, through the first week without me and trying to process it all. It’s easier to think with gratitude that God spared me; I don’t know why, but He did. Listening to the kids sing upstairs in the shower, I am so very, very glad.
I don’t think, or at any rate, am not convinced that this event was meant to turn my life around or to get me on a new path or direct me to do Great Things. Coming so soon on the heels of the deaths of two good friends, one of whom was a mother of three, I have felt that God preserved me not necessarily for the performance of greatness but rather, in the quiet Lutheran vocational way, to do the things only I can do on this earth: to be a wife to Derek and a mother to Kate, Sophia, and Jonathan and a daughter to Alan and Patricia and sister to Sarah and Trina and so on. This is not, I hope, a cop-out, but an acknowledgement that the only unique thing about me is who I am to other people and not the things I can accomplish in this world.
And if you know me, you know that the above paragraph is not to say that I am without ambition and dreams and goals, or that there aren’t lessons I can and will take from this particular refiner’s fire. I’m only saying that I doubt God preserved my life so I could start a global charity, but I very much believe he preserved my life so I could continue to raise my children and grow in faith myself.
And how incredibly grateful I am for this gift.
Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.
1 Thessalonians 5:18
The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.