Sunday, April 24, 2011

#4 The "other" mother.

I would like to back up a bit, to the time right before the end of my last blog. 

When we got home from Fairfax I made a phone call to Hayley’s teacher.  It was very late, but I knew he would answer the call.  Hayley had become an important fixture in his life, not only in class but also at home.  She has befriended his son and my daughter spent many hours at his house prior to this accident.  He told me that he thought of her as his own and I felt the need to bring him up to speed on all that occurred.  We talked a while, telling me all that he found out, assuring me that it was okay for Hayley and me to focus on her getting better and that he would take care of some other obstacles; such as her graduating.  I was grateful to have these worries taken from me, but I was also indebted for his never-ending support and care. 

My motivation to call him was more than wanting to give him a play-by-play; I needed to get the phone number of the driver, who was also a student of his.  He had been in contact with the driver’s mother, and told me that although the driver was able to leave the hospital and go home, she was hurting emotionally as well as physically and was blaming herself for what had happened.  I decided not to disturb the family that night, that they had been through enough and I knew a call from me would only stir it all up again; they deserved some peace.

When I laid my head down that night, intending for sleep which never really came, I found myself at the scene of the accident.  My view came from somewhere behind Hayley’s head.  I could feel the carefree moments seconds before the impact.  I imagined Hayley texting, as she always does, and I could see the back of Jess’s head.  Then looking through the windshield, I saw a car…and then black; the images looped again and again. I imagined that is what Hayley saw.  It would be days later before that vision became more accurate, when I knew the color of the infamous car, the direction of travel, the exact way it all happened through Hayley’s eyes.  Before I fell to “sleep” I thought again of Jess, as well as her mother and I knew that somewhere else another mother was having the same visions, only her viewpoint was different.  I expected she was also giving thanks and praying.


Another call to Inova.  Between Jason and me, we called seven times since the time we had left there and not once did they seem put-out.  Did I mention I love Inova nurses?

My next call was to Jess’s mom; the other mother.  My formal introduction seemed very much out of place considering.  To say Stephanie was an emotional wreck is sincerely an understatement.  She displayed all the grief and hurt that I had been holding back.  I wasn’t exactly sure how much thought she had put into this meeting, because I know her mind had been occupied with things that were occurring on her end of this tragedy.  I got the impression she was glad to her from me and I was relieved she embraced me so easily.  Our initial conversation was filled with, “How’s Hayley?”, “How’s Jess?” 

Jason and I wanted to get back to Inova as quickly as we could but also wanted to retrieve Hayley’s belongings from the car.  The nurses said that music would be nice for Hayley while she was sedated, so our goal was to get her Ipod.  Stephanie and I planned to meet at the towing lot.

By the time we got there, Stephanie and Jess were already there.  I eagerly jumped out of the car and right into Stephanie’s arms.  We held each other; thanking God our children were spared.  I remember looking at her face for the first time and seeing true pain coming through eyes that had observably been crying non-stop.  I envied her that she could do that and not collapse in a pile on the ground.  I held mine in because I knew, without a doubt, that once I let it go, there would be no reigning it back in. 

Jess was in the car, once I saw her face I remembered her being in my home tagging along after Hayley up the steps to Hayley’s room.  I touched her knee, afraid of hurting her, hugged her the best that I could and told her not to blame herself anymore, “everything will be okay.”  Even though I said the words, I knew in my heart she was not going to walk away from this without deep emotional injuries.

As it turned out, we were at the wrong lot and unbelievably they were closed.   Jason made a few calls finding the right lot and the owner’s wife graciously agreed to let us in.  I entered the lot with Stephanie by my side, supporting each other  I glanced at what I knew was Jess’s car with the entire front end smashed in all the way to the firewall and my heart started hammering, but before I could get closer the owner’s wife pointed to the car at fault.  From the front the car appeared normal.  I cautiously began to walk to the passenger’s side and was floored by what I saw.   The entire passenger’s side was smashed, the door had been cut away and the seat had been compacted by half.  I heard a loud wailing and reached for Stephanie before I realized that the noise was coming from me.  We held each other and cried over and over, “oh my God, oh my God”, as the reality and the magnitude enveloped us.  I learned the true meaning of grace that day.

Stephanie, Jess, Jason and I wrapped up with the belongings business.  Before we headed back down to Inova, I hugged Jess, holding back to avoid hurting her, and then held Stephanie.  Never had I felt such an immediate connection with another human and I knew, somehow even at that point, Stephanie and I would always have a bond that it would later turn into a friendship; and it did.

Monday, April 18, 2011

#3 Facebook = Powerful Prayers

I parked the car in the grey lot and found my way to Trauma.  I was told by the doctor that the surgery should only take a few hours and according to my clock she had another hour to go.  I informed the Trauma ICU that I was here and proceeded to go wait in the waiting room, with Dani in tow. 

The room was dimly lit and that’s about all I remember about the interior.  We initially sat at the back of the room, away from the TV and the few others who were waiting as well.  It had been less than 10 minutes since I posted on FB where I was and my phone began to blow up.  I swiped through the posts mindlessly and responded to text messages to keep my mind off of the wait. Soon a family came in and sat down near Danica and I.  They talked loudly amongst their selves, but not in English.  I thought to myself, “geez, really???”  Dani and I moved closer to the TV.

I remember looking around the room at the faces of the people.  I wanted to see if they were hurting the way I did.  I would give a smile and put my arm around Dani.  I watched the clock on my phone as the two hour mark was coming and I felt a panic arise.  I went down to the Trauma door (there was an intercom, and you had to be buzzed in) and asked if there was any word. Sadly the answer was no, so back to the room I went.

 Dani sat close to me as I watched the TV, I remember there was some stupid insignificant program on with people getting caught on film doing ridiculously dangerous stuff.  I wasn’t amused, neither was Danica.  I texted to friends, who gave me support, and I waited…seemed like forever.  Danica, being the 11 year old that she is, was bored and asked me when we were leaving.  I responded by telling her we were going to be here a long while.  My little smartass comes back with, “Man, this sure isn’t like Grey’s Anatomy” Some place in my mind, I found that remarkably hilarious but without humor I replied, “This is real life Dani.” 

Real life, real hurt…this stuff only happens to “other” people.  How surreal it all was to know I am someone else’s “other” people.  This was my reality, Hayley’s reality, everyone-that-cares-for-her’s reality.  Somehow, some way, I remained calm and silently cried while I watched through that stupid show and held Dani to my side.

Three and a half hours and counting…another trip to the intercom.  This time the response was that she should be coming in to ICU in about 45 minutes and that someone would come and talk to me and then we could see her.  I took that time and ran to my car, one-to smoke, two-to charge my dying phone, and three-to call Jen.  I told her everything I knew and she was strong for me and I faked strong in return.  We talked for awhile, smoked another cigarette, made other calls, and then headed back in…holding my breath. 

When I returned to the waiting room, I found a doctor looking around.  She asked if I was Hayley’s mom, then took me in a small room.  She explained all Hayley’s injuries and what was done to repair them.  I remember gripping the chair with all my might while she talked.  She was happy to tell me no colostomy and I was more than glad to hear it.  No 17 year old wants to live that way.  She talked about many other things that she explained in more detail than I understood, but what I did get out of it was that she was not done, Hayley need another surgery and they were going to keep her highly sedated for the next two days and watch for infection before they did the final repairs.  She says to me, “Hayley is a sick little girl.”  I would hear that phrase many more times throughout that night and as optimistic as I wanted to be, I started to think that phrase was a code for something more ominous, something I didn’t want to imagine, something I couldn’t begin to comprehend.

It was awhile longer before we were able to see Hayley, by this time her father had made his way from Morgantown to Inova.  A loved family friend brought him in and planned on taking Dani home with her for the weekend.  They waited in the hall while Jason and I went to see our daughter for the first time. 

It is very overwhelming to see a child in such a helpless condition.  She had tubes and lines and wires coming from every part of her body.  The nurses were busy transitioning her from surgery and trying to get her mixture of Fentanyl and Versed to a place that would keep her under and comfortable.  My baby’s hands were strapped to the bed so she wouldn’t try to yank out her breathing tube.  She was in and out of her dream place and when she was alert she would try to get the tubes out.  At one point I saw her say, “I want my mom” and when I went closer to her head she said, “I’m gonna throw-up.”  These are the last words I would hear/see her say for another 4 days.   She quietly slipped under as she adjusted to the sedation and then I allowed myself to break down. 

I spent a long time talking to the nurses and absorbing every inch of the room and the monitors.  I held her hand and watched her vitals.  Hours later when I knew she was stable and would be sleeping, her father and I decided to go home and get clothes.  I was assured she would be alright for the night and was given a number they said I could call at any time to check on her.  I love Inova nurses.

In my car I checked my phone. On FB my friends, family, and co-workers had flooded my page with prayers and thoughts.  On the drive home, I thought about those friends and how their prayers had became something tangible to me.  You see, they held me up every second I was at Inova.  They helped me keep my head up, they helped keep the strong tone in my voice, and they helped me help others who were as scared for Hayley as I was.  They helped me and they helped Hayley in a way that spiritually I was not able to.

I’ve battled demons my whole life; self-esteem issues, alcohol, financial issues, marriage issues.  My list is much like any others.  At the very worst of times, I would bow my head, cry my heart out, and wait for an answer that never came.   I eventually lost my faith and began to doubt.  I felt that the answers were within me, not some entity that I could no longer feel like I did in my youth when I was a devout Southern Baptist.  When I began to depend on myself, my life changed.  I became happy with my life and with myself.  I felt some shame that I no longer believed.  I didn’t often discuss my new religious views.  When life would throw me a dud, I took it in stride, but I never prayed again.  However, when bad things happened to friends and prayers were asked for, I would say a prayer…but was convinced my words fell upon deaf ears.

But this, this was out of my control.  I could not fix Hayley; her life was in the hands of strangers.  So, I had reached out.  To friends who did believe, whose lives were not so filled with the sin and shame that I had rolled around in.  I counted on them to pray for Hayley, because I felt unworthy to ask for anything, let alone to let my child survive this accident with some sort of a quality of life.  I felt my prayers would be worthless, so I let my friends pray.  Until later that night, alone in bed my prayers became pleas and I knew He was waiting to hear from me.

This poem was sent to me by a friend the next morning as we were driving back to Inova.  I just wanted to share with you.

"I'm all out of words
There's nothing I could say to you
To take away the hurt
So let me pray you through
Let me pray you through
Let me pray you through"

Sunday, April 17, 2011

#2 A long hard drive....

I was closing on the Virginia state line when I got off the phone with Kim.  I wasn’t completely sure where I was going, but I had pulled up directions on Google Maps and between trying to stay within the yellow lines I was looking for my next turn-off.  The drive itself was mostly a blur.  I talked idly with Dani and took several phone calls from people who helped me to piece together what had happened.  Hayley’s teacher was one of those calls.  I remember him saying that through his resources he found out that no one had left the scene of the accident in critical condition.  This eased my mind somewhat as I scrambled to make sense of it all. 

I never really found out until days later all the details, but at this point I knew Hayley was going fishing with a classmate in Falling Waters and while driving down Route 11, someone pulled out in front of them with no warning.  She was not at fault, nor was the driver and she had told me the truth.

That information swirled around in my mind while the scenery blurred past me somewhere along Route 7.  Then I received a call from Hayley’s surgeon.  Dr. Griffith had called to tell me what was going on and to get my permissions to proceed.  She explained the extent of Hayley’s injuries and said she needed to operate immediately and that they could not wait for me to get there.  She said Hayley was alert and talking, but she needed to get into her into surgery.   She further went on to tell me that Hayley was a smart girl and that she had gotten into the backseat of the car because the safety belt in the front was not operational…a cold chill went down my spine.  I told her to take good care of my baby, do what she saw necessary and I gave my blessing, while holding my breath.  I had to talk to other people to verify I was giving permission for surgery and other things that might arise.   

Once I got off the phone, I realized that I didn’t have them tell Hayley that I love her.  How could I forget that?  Would I get the chance to tell her?  Other images played in my mind, words the doctor had said; shredded intestines, not sure about her other organs, colostomy bag, blood transfusions, infection, abdominal muscles cut from pelvis, rare injury…. But she was talking, that had to be a good sign, right?  Why didn’t I tell her I loved her?

The phone wouldn’t stop ringing, Dani was getting anxious from the long drive, my phone kept shorting out, but at least I had some distractions.  Then right before the Dulles toll, I got another call from the hospital.  It was a nurse named Michelle; she was a pediatric nurse, who was calling for my permission for anesthesia.  I had to pull over at this point, because I wasn’t sure I would make the right turns if I was talking.  She was very nice and offered to call me back to make sure I was on the right path, and I will be damned if she didn’t.  I asked her to tell Hayley I loved her and she helped me to 495.  Within 30 minutes I was in sight of the hospital.

When I got off 495, I went the wrong way, didn’t get lost and was still within sight of the hospital.  Dani was hungry, so I pulled into an Exxon.  I let her go in and get something to eat and drink, while I pulled myself together.  I was suddenly terrified, shaking again.  I was so close and so scared of what was in store.  I kept beating down the negative thoughts that kept rearing their ugly head, but it was hard to do it alone. 

I got my cell phone out, hit my facebook application and for the first time ever hit the “locations” button and checked in at Inova Fairfax Hospital with a post that said, “Please pray for Hayley.” 

Within minutes, I was struck by a wave…..

#1 The dreaded call...


It was a not-so-typical Friday. It was the last day of Spring Break from Shepherd U. and as usual I was mentally preparing myself for the long weekend ahead of me filled with 12 hour shifts at work. I had gotten up around 10am, fiddled around on the computer, and cussed myself for not being more productive with my school work over the break. Right before 12pm, just when I decided to lie back down and get more rest for work Hayley texted me and asked if she could go fishing. Hayley is my 17 year old daughter. She is reasonably responsible as teenagers go, so I told her yes, but to be home in time for her younger sister to get off the bus. She said she would be.

Little did I know less than 20 minutes later, Hayley would be in a terrible car accident that would change her life and mine.

When I stop and think about that moment, being the moment of impact, I wonder why I didn't feel it. Why my mother's intuition didn't set off alarms and make my heart beat quickly, the way it had done so many times in the past, when my children were in harm's way and not within my protection. I'm not sure of the answer to that question.

Back to the call ...Right after my conversation via-text with Hayley, I laid in bed to take a nap. Like normal, I didn't want to let myself have a full-on sleep, so I laid my phone by my head and only covered my legs with the blanket. I set my alarm on my phone for 2pm and curled into the fetal position. I felt myself start to drift somewhere around 1pm. Right at 2:02pm my phone started going off. At first, I was confused as to if it was my alarm, and then realized it was ringing. A number was calling that I didn't recognize and in between my disgust that my alarm didn't go off and the fact that a strange number was calling, I silenced the call.

Then it rang again. This time the number was different, but still not a number I knew...


"This is Tim Higgins from Inova Faifax Hospital Faifax Hospital, do you know why I am calling?"


"We have your daughter Hayley here. Do you know where we are?"


"We are about 20 minutes from Washington."

In my mind I was beginning to think, "That little shit lied to me."

Then he proceeded.

"Hayley was flown in from Berkeley County. She was in an auto accident."

"Is she okay?"

"Do you know how to get here?"

"No, is she okay?"

"We don't know. How soon can you get here?"


"She is going into CAT scan now and she is alert."

"Come to the blue parking area and into Emergency."

I hung up the phone. By this point I was shaking. I stood by my desk and just stared around my room, and shook. I didn't know what to do, so I picked up my phone and with trembling fingers dialed my dad and with two word sentences, tried to tell my father that his granddaughter was rushed to Fairfax. Amidst my ramblings, I kept repeating, "I don't know what to do" and I felt myself seconds from falling apart completely. Then my mother's voice said, "Calm down, go get Danica, drive to the hospital." That was all it took. I knew then I was not allowed to fall apart, that I had to keep it together.

I quickly got dressed, tried to do something with my unruly, dirty, hair (Danica calls it a weave) and jumped in my car. Like a maniac, I pealed out of my gravel driveway and headed for Danica's school. While I was driving, my mind was in a thousand places. I looked at other people in their cars and wondered for the first time, where they were going and if their mission was anything like mine.

Now, more than ever, I felt very alone.

Once I got Dani from school, I placed her in the backseat and calmly told her the bare minimum. She started to pucker up and I hugged her and said it was going to be okay. I didn't believe those words myself and wondered how I would back peddle from that statement and how it would affect her emotionally if I had to. I wanted to believe what I said, but in my semi-rational mind I knew that being flown from a scene of an accident was NOT a good thing. I got in the car and we were on our way.

Hayley's father had spent the week in Morgantown working. I knew calling him would consist of me having to leave a message and him calling back when he could find a signal. Somehow I managed to leave a message that was calm with a simple, "call me back." My heart was breaking and I knew his would too once he found out. He called back while we were getting on I81 S. All I could tell him is what I knew, after that nothing was certain. I didn't know how he would get to Fairfax and I didn't know what I would find myself when I got there. He had work buddies with him and I hoped they would calm his fears and get him back safely...and they did.

Being alone inside my mind is often a scary place to be, and at that moment it was the most terrifying place ever. I reached out to a friend who I work with, partially to let her know I wouldn't be to work that night, but also because I knew she was a good Christian and I needed all the support I could get. When I talked, I didn't think, and when I didn't think, I couldn't fall apart. Besides my parents, Kim was my first set of shoulders I leaned on. She said she would pray...ahhh prayer, which will be another blog.