The spring season is the transition from winter into summer. It’s a time of growth and renewal of life; when plants and trees which have been dormant for a season regain life and begin to bud into a lush, green, beautiful plant. The timing is perfect for the event of our Savior’s resurrection. Springtime is usually my favorite, however in 1991, it was a lost season because Mark literally slept through it in a coma after our horrific car accident.
I was grateful Mark appeared to be in a safe and sheltered place, unaware of the hospital surroundings, while I struggled to hold myself together. Helpless to make Mark better, I sat next to his bedside in the Intensive Care Unit at MacKay Dee Hospital in Ogden, Utah. My right arm was in a sling and I wore a brace for my broken collarbone, but I hardly noticed the pain—it was nothing compared to my broken heart and worry. Mark, lying perfectly still and quiet, was unaware of the loud noises from the monitors, or the shunt inserted at the top of his head draining excessive fluid from his brain. A feeding tube entered his nose and ran down the back of his throat into his stomach, which would later be surgically placed directly in his stomach. Other tubes were placed to empty his bladder and bowels. The hardest tube for me to observe was the one located in an opening in his neck through his trachea to provide an airway and to keep his lungs clear of fluid. The vacuum sound while the secretions were sucked out through his tracheotomy made me cringe every time, but Mark laid peacefully in a coma, unaware of any of the tubes that kept him alive.
Mark was comatose for three months and most of the time I felt like it was a blessing because he had so many health issues to overcome. Besides his Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI), he had broken ribs, a collapsed lung, and infection in his liver. For circulation and to prevent blood clots, Mark laid securely strapped on a bed unlike any I’d ever seen. This bed tilted to the right side and gradually moved to the left, taking three minutes for each continuous rotation. Most of the time, Mark seemed oblivious to the fact that I was there or of any other visitors that came. It was nearly impossible for me to focus on T.V. or a book, so generally I sat by his bedside in prayer, hoping to see some improvement while watching the monitors. Time passed slowly; all I could do was watch, pray and ponder. I thought about how we met and our dates, our wedding day, our home, and the birth of our two children. I thought about our times with special friends, family members, and vacations. I relived all the fun and important events as the video recorder in my head played back the past fourteen years we’d known each other.
We lived in Sandy, Utah, which is sixty miles from Ogden. I couldn’t leave Mark alone to go home, it was too far. I imagined he’d wake up and wonder where he was and what was happening. After a couple of long weeks with no sign of improvement, my family came up with a plan. My brothers, Mick, Don, Steve and brother-in-law Klint, each picked a night which worked best for them, drove to the hospital after work and stayed with Mark until the next morning. A Ronald McDonald House close by was available where they could rest and shower before going to work the next morning. This allowed me to go home on the weeknights to be with our two children, Christopher and Katie.
During the long three months Mark was comatose I wondered, where is he? I could see his body, but often his spirit felt absent. Peace radiated from him and there was a glimpse of heaven I felt in his presence. What will he be able to tell me when he’s conscious? I was certain it would be something special. I longed to hear his voice. There were some days when I felt his company for a short time and on a few better days our spirits were able to communicate through thoughts. I would talk to him and hear his reply in my mind or feel his comfort. It was an impressive, angelic form of communication and I cherished those moments, but I had no control over when or how it would happen. It was an unforgettable experience.
Often, I wondered if Mark was uncertain in which place he belonged or if he wanted to be in heaven, but felt obligated to stay. After six weeks I was exhausted and worried he might be hanging on to life for me and the kids, so I told him it was all right, we’d be okay without him. I didn’t know how I would manage, but felt if it was his time to go I would and could accept it. It was difficult to communicate this heartfelt message, but I didn’t want him trapped here only because I couldn’t let him go. It was a turning point for both of us and I believe Mark lives because he chose to. It would have been easier for him to give up the fight, but I’m so glad that wasn’t his choice. A few days after this experience there was a slight improvement in Mark’s infection, so I arranged for an ambulance to take him from MacKay Dee Hospital to Western Rehab which was located in Sandy, Utah and close to our home.
Mark’s ability to regain consciousness was a slow and gradual process which took several more weeks. At first he would occasionally answer yes or no questions by blinking his eyes once for no and twice for yes. We tested him often with obvious questions. As he improved he would whisper a word or two. One day I showed Mark a picture of Christ and asked him if he’d seen Him. He quietly said, “Yes.” Months later when he could talk in sentences he told of his experience, which he has written down.
“Just before waking from my coma, I thought I was walking the length of a long white hallway. Standing at the far end of the hall was another man about my same height. I say this because neither of us had to look noticeably up or down to look directly into the other’s eyes. He had a full head of pure white hair longer than shoulder length, and a pure white beard that was chest length. I presumed that man to be Jesus Christ. Thinking I had died and would be in His proximity for eternity, I walked up to within a few feet of Him and stopped. I asked for the location of Heavenly Father. He then pointed up and over His shoulder with His thumb toward the door behind Him and said, ‘In the next room.’ I reached around Him and opened the door. Before seeing anything in the next room, I awakened from my coma. I wish I’d known then how short that meeting would be; I would’ve liked to have spent more time with Him.”
As Mark related this experience to me, I knew it was true. During his months of unconsciousness, I knew he was in a special place feeling peace and contentment. I believe there’s more to his experience than he remembers and appreciate the comfort this memory brings to him. It brings comfort to me also; not only does it reassure me that Christ is real and knows each one of us, but I believe that the doors were Mark’s choice and the door he chose brought him back to me. He loves to relate this experience to whoever will listen. Remarkably he tells it using the same words. Since his TBI, Mark has short term memory loss, meaning he can’t remember who he’s told or the words he used. Nevertheless, he uses nearly the same words each time. This confirms to me that Mark’s experience was real and he was given the memory of it and the words to share it, not only to bring comfort to himself, but to touch the lives of others.
By this experience and others, we know Christ lives! He is resurrected. We will return to His presence, where joy, peace and comfort will be found. We were blessed to survive the shocking car accident and we were blessed again by this marvelous experience. We share it along with a beautiful rendition of our favorite hymn in celebration of His resurrection. Happy Easter!<p><a href=”http://vimeo.com/29685920″>I Know That My Redeemer Lives</a> from <a href=”http://vimeo.com/user8691070″>INTO THE LIGHT Journal</a> on <a href=”https://vimeo.com”>Vimeo</a>.</p>
Thank you Barbara for sharing your touching story. You have been through so much and I admire your strength and what you have gleaned from your trials. Greg had similar conscienceness moments with me as did you and Mark. I was not aware of them but they are very powerful to him. I was extremely touched and overwhelmed, however, by the folks in the surrounding Coeur d’ Alene area while Greg was in the ICU. There are a lot of “born again” Christains in that area and they opened their arms to me (I had no family with me at the time) and surrounded me with love. Even the Harley Davidson mechanic who received Greg’s totaled bike wanted to pray with me over the phone for his recovery. My take away is that LOVE is a powerful gift and healer as was shown to me and to you by your family stepping in to help and by our spouses communicating to us with their great love.
Laura, I appreciated your comment and feel a kinship with you as a wife of a TBI survivor. The people that rally around us in hard times are forever appreciated! I had two families,in addition to my own, whom I met at Mackay Dee Hospital who watch over me while we were there. They also had a loved ones in ICU. It is wonderful when strangers “open their arms” to those in need. I will always be grateful for their love.