This post will be a labor of love. Today is July 19th and I am starting to compose my thoughts.
On the first anniversary of J’s accident, I thought I should share more about it than perhaps I have.
Here is the version of the story I emailed out a year ago:
Josh has been in an accident. He was riding a jet ski on Friday morning in the Colorado River with his friend Jason. One jet ski broke down and Josh left Jason with it while he went for jumper cables. The jet ski later turned up without anyone on it. Josh was missing and presumably injured for over four hours. I called every emergency group I could but they were taking a long time providing search and rescue. The key (and kill switch/bracelet) was missing from the ski and I knew it would be around his wrist and that he was most likely hurt. I think the 911 operators were fairly certain it was too late to find him alive, and I’ll admit I was thinking the same. Of course I couldn’t give up. In frustration, we found a man with a jet ski who was willing to look for him. This man (who I am unbelievably thankful for) found Josh up river, next to the missing jet ski, and rode him in. He was covered in blood all over his face and head and his face was gray. He couldn’t walk. Jason carried him out of the water. He was delirious and looked very pale. His knee was mangled and his entire joint was visible. His head had several large gashes through which I could see his skull. We laid him down in the shade while we waited for the paramedics. He was in a lot of pain. He didn’t know how badly he was injured, so we didn’t tell him. Before the paramedics could arrive, he lost consciousness. We tried yelling his name and shaking him and he wouldn’t wake. I threw water in his face and he woke with a start, confused and angry. He became more angry and combative as we waited, almost 45 minutes, for the paramedics. They patched him up and drove him by ambulance to a golf course where a helicopter picked him up and airlifted him to Desert Medical Center in Palm Springs, which had the nearest trauma center. Jason, Kate and I had to drive over 2 hours to get there. They were still working on him for a while after we arrived. The debrief from the doctor was this: the fact that he hadn’t been bleeding when he was found was bad. He had lost so much blood that he almost died. His blood pressure dropped to 40 over 20 in the helicopter. He received two blood transfusions and once he had more blood in his body they couldn’tstop the bleeding. His head was really difficult to stop from bleeding. When they had him clotting they started to patch his scalp. He had what she described as an avulsion, basically it was as though he had been scalped, but there was a portion that was attached. The injury is consistent with a severe blunt force trauma to the head, where the skin splits from pressure. There is a V-shaped laceration on his scalp; the pointed end of the “v” points at his right ear. This has received 13 staples and many stitches. Thankfully, other than a concussion, he had no brain damage: his CT was clean. They had only gotten that far at this point because they had to literally save his life, and hadn’t checked anything else.
Later they performed an X-ray of his head and shoulders to discover that his c7 vertebrae has a stable fracture. This means that there is a crack in the vertebrae. He was placed in a collar and told he will be wearing it for 4 weeks. He was placed on spinal restrictions and had to lay flat on his back and not move at all. While he’s flat he cannot have ANY liquids (no ice either) so he was miserable and his mouth was so dry. He was really uncomfortable and his knee was in a lot of pain. The strange thing to me was that they left all of the blood in his hair. It was literally stiff with blood, and ran down his face and into his ear. They came and did a test on his knee joint to see if it had been damaged. If so, he would need orthopedic surgery immediately. Thankfully it was not, They stapled and sewed his knee back together. The laceration is a big zig-zag like a thunderbolt and his knee is hugely swollen. Around 8 pm they admitted him upstairs to a real room, which was a relief. It was quiet there and he has no roommate. They were finally able to give him some morphine because his blood pressure was out of the woods. We were with him until about 11:45 pm; he was sleeping and we went to get some dinner.
This morning started well. He was looked over by the doctor and told that because the fracture in his neck is stable he could remove the collar and only wear it when he felt like it. He had more tests done. He was release from the spinal restriction and allowed to sit up and eventually drink water and eat some jello. At around 2 they finally washed the blood out of his hair (!!!) and changed his bloody linens and he felt like a human again (somewhat). I left him now to sleep. He has been given large amounts of antibiotics, which is reassuring. His head is still bleeding and may need more staples. Now that he’s clean we can see the extent of his scalp and face injuries. There are a lot of scratches and he has another spot (aside from the “v”) that is raw and open and constantly drips blood. He was able to eat a real dinner, which was great. We might be going home tomorrow, or they might keep him until Monday. He still needs his head inspected, to go to the bathroom on his own somewhat, to have his knee bound in a brace, and lastly, to walk. They are sending a physical therapist to show him how to use crutches. He is conscious and coherent, he can talk and listen, mostly he just listens with his eyes closed and says very little. He’s still in a lot of pain and not his usual sunny mood, but is he lucky!?!?! I keep reminding him of this. We still need to make sure he doesn’t get an infection; apparently the Colorado river is very dirty (according to the doctor) and it’s very common for people who sustain injuries in the Colorado to develop infections in flesh wounds.
In case you’re wondering, the hospital has a house called Hanson House for families of trauma patients, and Jeff, Linda, my mom and I have been staying here. It is beautiful and quiet, and just outside the hospital so we can walk back and forth when we want to.
If you have been calling/texting/emailing please know that Josh is VERY thankful and appreciative. He has been so grateful for the prayers he received. He received a miracle and we are all SO happy about this. He has told me that if anyone asks what they can do to be of help, to think of him and pray for him. He can’t smile well (it hurts) but he seems happy to hear about people sending their regards. I play some voicemails for him when he’s awake. Thank you to everyone who has asked about him. He, and I, are VERY lucky. I have to say that yesterday was the worst, and then the best day of my life. I am personally thankful to be at a hospital right now. It means Josh is alive, and to me, not matter what, nothing could be better.
I had written this, tears streaming down my face, when I decided I couldn’t bear to say it one more time. Of course, there is so much here that has gone unsaid.
I want to refer back to this post so that I can expand on it. The beauty, the mystery, the fragility of life is enough to think about until the end of time I suppose. I don’t imagine for a moment that I will be able to put it into words, or to do it justice. I suppose what sticks with me after my grandpa’s passing is the idea that you shouldn’t be alone. You can’t enter this world alone, and you shouldn’t leave it any other way. Not without the same ring of loving faces at your bedside. However, the burden of the experience is heavy, and shouldn’t be taken lightly.
What haunted me that morning was this idea: that J would die and I wouldn’t be there. That he would be alone. Scared. Hopeless. As much as I think it would have killed me to be there, I needed to, for him, for everything he’s meant to me.
That entire morning was a mental trip into Hell and back, and in again. Once you’ve had to allow your mind to go “there” you don’t get it back in the same condition. The burden was great. I had responsibility; I was there. I would have to inform all of our loved ones. I would have to decide what to do with the house, his things, and my life. Also: my life hung in the balance. I couldn’t imagine a day, or a world, without J in it. I couldn’t stop myself from thinking that the world would dim without his laugh, his sense of humor, his off-key singing voice. I couldn’t imagine how I could breathe, or eat, or sleep, ever again. There are physical deaths, and there are emotional deaths, and mine would be a slow one. Most of all, I felt alone. I wanted to call him and ask his advice, his opinion; “would you try to swim downstream? Would you hike up the banks?” I needed to move forward for him, to find him, to encourage others to act, and so I did. I drew breath, I spoke, at times I dry-heaved, but I continued on. Finding him, with its ultimate relief and feeling of prayers answered opened up another void of worry as I saw how badly he was injured. And then I thought I was getting my wish: the moment of his death was there, and I was at his side. But I wasn’t ready, and I already hated the feeling of being alone from the last four hours of it. His eyes rolled back in his head, his lips parted, his chest ceased to move. His already grey skin was cool to the touch. We were screaming at him, shaking him, clapping, and he didn’t move. This is when I threw water in his face, and thankfully, he woke up. But once you’ve been there, seen that, it’s burned into your memory. There is no un-seeing, no erasing. Once your soul has traveled down this road, there is no turning back. There are other paths, yes, but the one that brought you to this place is blocked forever. You are never the same.
I have more to come on this…