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Saturday, July 3, 2010

Memories - A mother's worst nightmare

It was the first weekend in July, exactly six years ago.  The weather was hot and sunny.  Hubby was playing in a baseball tournament and our then-six-year-old son, J, wanted to go, too.  He adored going to the ball field with his daddy.  He still does.  The tournament was taking place in a small community about 40 minutes outside of our town.  They left early that Saturday morning and would be gone until supper time.  I was five months pregnant with Miss M and looking forward to a day all to myself.

I waved goodbye to my boys, had breakfast and hopped in the shower.  I was going to do some serious shoe shopping!  Okay, just one pair, really.  But I was looking forward to it, nevertheless.  After browsing a few stores I returned home with a perfect pair of summer shoes.  It was hot outside and I was preggo.  I decided to take a swim in our backyard pool.  The water was cool and I enjoyed the peaceful outdoors, not a sound but the water splashing and the motor humming.  It was so relaxing.  When I was done, I threw on a button-up shirt over my bathing suit and sat out of my front step, admiring my newly-planted flower garden.  I thought I heard the phone ringing from inside the house.  I ran in to get it, but didn't make it in time.  The caller ID said "unknown caller", so I didn't worry about it much.  I brought the phone back out with me and continued to soak up the sun.  It was getting close to supper time, and I imagined that Hubby and J were on their way back home after a long day of baseball.

The phone rang again.  [Still now, as I write this, I feel shaky.  My heart is racing and the hair on my arms is standing up.]  I answered, and it was my husband on the other end.  He was crying.  I can't remember the exact words, but he told me that he and J had been in an accident and that J "wasn't okay".  They were at the town's local hospital and the doctors were with J. 

The panic, the fear and the pure helplessness I felt at that moment is inexplicable.  I hung up the phone, grabbed my keys and ran to my car.  I drove straight to the hospital, probably faster than I'd ever driven before but it felt like the longest drive I had ever taken.  All the way there, I prayed.  I am not a religious person.  Not anywhere near it.  But I had to believe something.  I had to do anything that would help my son.  I didn't know how bad things were, if he would even be alive when I got there.  I screamed out loud as I drove, Please, God.  Don't take my son.  He doesn't deserve this.  He's an innocent child.  I need my baby boy!  Please save my son, God.  I'm sorry I don't pray often, that I sometimes doubt if you even exist.  But I need you now.  I need my boy.  Please!

When I got to the hospital, they rushed me to the back where my husband was.  He didn't look good.  His leg was full of blood, he was limping and a little hunched over.  He was in pain.  Then, from the corner of my eye I could see J in another room.  He was strapped to a stretcher, wearing a neck brace.  His eyes were closed and he was surrounded by doctors and nurses.  What happened!?, I gasped.  My husband explained through tears that they were driving home from the ball field when the car coming in the opposite direction suddenly drove into their lane.  Hubby tried to swerve, but the other car did too, and hit them head-on.  The car had been crushed.  J's side of the car was hit the worst.  Hubby had to crawl out of his window to try and reach J, who was unconscious.  Ambulance workers and firefighters showed up and had to use the jaws of life to get J out.  They rushed him to the hospital in the ambulance, where (and I found this out later) they lost him and had to revive him two times.

The doctors came over to talk to us and said that J had suffered a head injury and would have to be taken to the children's hospital in the city (about an hour away).  By then, Hubby's dad was there and he drove us straight to the hospital.  We didn't talk much in the car.  I think we all silently prayed and just wanted to get there as fast as possible. 

Arriving at the hospital is a blur.  They immediately took J to get a CT scan and they brought me to the administration desk to get our insurance information.  I was still wearing a damp bathing suit with a long shirt over it, and I was shaking.  Partially from being cold, mostly from nerves.  They gave me a warm blanket to wrap myself in.  When the scan was over, a nurse came to talk to us.  J would be taken to the intensive care unit, where he (and his scan results) would be assessed.  We were brought to the waiting area.  And we waited.  Finally we got to see him.  It was a shocking sight.  He was asleep (they induced a coma because of the pain and to keep him calm), he had a ventilator and wore a neck brace.  His little hand was swollen and there was tape over the IV needle.  His knee was wrapped in a bandage and he had stains of blood all over his body.  It was hard to take.  We sat by him, just holding his hand and talking to him.  Telling him everything would be okay.  We hoped.

The neurosurgeon came to see us.  J had suffered a severe traumatic head injury. The impact of the collision had done to his brain the equivalent of Shaken Baby Syndrome.  His brain had rattled around in his skull and really took a beating.  The doctor had reviewed J's scan and found some swelling on the left side of his brain.  He said that there was hope the swelling would go down on its own, but only time would tell if there would be any permanent damage or if he would need surgery. 

That evening we raced home to get some clothes.  We brought J his favorite teddy bear and put it beside him on his hospital bed.  We were able to sleep in a nearby room for families, and took turns throughout the night sitting with him.  After four long days in ICU, the doctors felt he was improving.  The swelling seemed to have gone down, and they brought him out of the induced coma.  Seeing his eyes look at me after what had felt like eternity was amazing.   He was brought to a regular hospital room.  It had been several hours since he woke up, but he hadn't spoken a single word.  The nurses said this throat would be sore after having a breathing tube in for several days, but I was still concerned.  When we spoke to him, he would nod yes or shake his head for no, usually looking straight ahead, rather zombie-like.  We didn't know what to think.  Of course we were thrilled that he was alive and well, but now we had to deal with more unknowns.  Is this how he would be?  Would we have to teach him to talk?  Would he ever speak again?

After a painful two days of nodding and head shaking, J finally spoke. He had been refusing food and the nurses were getting concerned.  Hubby asked him if he wanted some chicken nuggets from his favorite chicken restaurant.  "Yes!" he exclaimed.  We were so relieved.  Hubby told him he'd buy nuggets for him every day for lunch if he just kept talking.  And he did.  And he also ate a lot of nuggets.

He was allowed to go home after another two days in the hospital.  He was speaking, but he still wasn't totally back to "normal".  He had speech problems, memory issues, difficulty with balance.  He went to regular speech, occupational and physiotherapy sessions.  Months later he was doing much better.  It's six years later now, and I'm proud to say that J has fully recovered.  We are so very lucky that there was no permanent damage to the brain.  I thank God every day for saving him.


  1. Shannon, I'm in tears reading this. I can't even imagine what that was like to go through as a mother.
    Thank God he's here, he made it :) Thank you for sharing this. It must be difficult to relive that time. My heart is with you and your memories tonight.

  2. Thanks, Corinne. Yes, it was the scariest thing ever.

  3. Oh Shannon. I, too, am in tears. Knowing that he is okay now, is truly a miracle.

    Just wow.

  4. Shannon, hugs my friend. Those were dark days for you I know, and as I've told you before, I thought you handled them with grace and poise. You are a strong woman! I'm so glad everything is good now, you've had your fair share of ickiness, and struggles. I wish you only happiness and healthiness from here on in!

  5. Oh my goodness! I was on the edge of my seat reading this. I am so, so glad everything turned out okay for you all. What a nightmare to have to go through.

  6. Shannon, oh what an ordeal. What terrors. I have a friend who had a terrible head trauma in college and remember the ICU, the uncertainty. But to have to got through it with your baby! Words don't come. I wish I could send a hug.
    I am so glad to know that J is okay, better then okay.

  7. Oh Shannon - what a traumatic, dreadful event. You're right - it is a mother's nightmare. I can't even imagine what I would do if it happened to me. Thank you for sharing this; I'm sure it must have been hard even trying to recall the details to put into words. I'm so glad that J fully recovered and that life is back on track for all of you. *Hugs*

  8. Thanks, everyone, for your kind words!

    Yes, it certainly was traumatic and difficult to think about even now. It was a hard time in our lives because just as J was reaching recovery, Miss M was born and there were questions about her disability (at first they thought she had a brain tumour). It was a lot to handle. But we got through and things are good now, that's the main thing!

  9. I know that I'm late reading this (it's that kind of week) but I just had to let you know what a powerful story. I too was in tears. I'm so glad J is okay.

  10. Wow, I'm crying here, too, wanting desperately to sneak in on my sleeping babies and hug them tight. I'm so glad your J recovered, and I'm so, so sorry you had to go through something like this. Oh, Shannon!