Feeling submissive to the doctors and nurses around me, I cooperated with everything they asked of me. I was aware my collarbone was broken, not because I felt the pain, but because my right arm hung unnaturally and wouldn’t move. So I cradled it with my left arm to support it. I was helped out of our totally wreaked car to an ambulance which rushed me to Mackay Dee Hospital. I was wheeled into an emergency room where broken glass from the windshield and windows was removed from my face, ears and body. When my shirt was cut open, I saw my black and blue chest and felt the labor of each breath. Anxiously, I asked every person attending to me if they had received word about my husband yet. I was hastily taken away in the ambulance before Mark was even pulled from the wreckage. The murmurings of his death by the crowd of people who came to our aid terrified me. More than anything, I needed reassurance that my belief that he would live was correct.
While lying on the hard, cold x-ray table, Dr. Heiden, the on-call neurologist, interrupted the technician. He informed me that Mark had arrived at the hospital, unconscious and needing immediate surgery to place a shunt to relieve the pressure on the brain. “He’s alive,” I said with a deep sigh of relief.
Dr. Heiden replied, “Yes, but I’m not sure he’ll even make it through surgery.”
I heard the words, but didn’t focus on them. I was rejoicing in the fact that at that moment he was alive. My world had just turned upside down and the best I could do was take one moment at a time.
“Can you sign with your left hand?” Dr. Heiden asked.
“No.” I replied.
“Well then an ‘X’ on the signature line will give consent to do the surgery.”
It was a foreign feeling to have Mark’s life depending on me, but I made my “X” with my left hand and the doctor rushed out the door.
That was the beginning of my intense caregiving journey twenty-three years ago last April. I had no warning or time to prepare for this new way of life. I couldn’t comprehend what my responsibilities would be, but thankfully, I was a hopeful novice willing to learn what was needed to create a brighter future for my family.
In Utah we have Pioneer Day on July 24th. It’s the day the pioneers entered the Salt Lake Valley. This past week I’ve been thinking of similarities between my caregiving trek and my pioneer ancestors who walked approximately 1,248 miles from Nauvoo, Illinois. Others sailed across the Atlantic Ocean to Boston or New York City, making their journey on foot or in wagons more than 2,370 miles. They endured harsh weather, death of loved ones and starvation as their food and water supply diminished. Nothing had prepared the majority of these travelers for the exhaustion and illnesses they would suffer. They were beginners, in a new territory, learning a new way of life. They were hopeful novices, who envisioned themselves building new homes and making a happier future without persecution.
Gratefully, I haven’t seen wolf-pawed graves of the dead or the putrefying carcasses of mules and oxen on my journey. However, worry and heartache has come from the pain and suffering I’ve seen in hospitals and rehab centers. Only faith for improvement keeps one enduring through such difficult times.
Splintered wrecks of discarded carts or wagons have been absent on my journey, but I have worried about individuals whose family and friends have abandoned them in their illness. It saddens me and makes me wonder what happened to drive their loved ones away. Was it the ailment itself, or the attitude of the afflicted person, either way, it’s troublesome.
The pioneers traveled in groups or companies. They rallied around each other helping one another in their journey. They needed and depended on each other for survival. There are many stories written of selfless helpful acts that saved another’s life. They mourned and rejoiced together. Likewise, I appreciate the help and support I get in my journey from friends, family, church and support groups. In return, I strive to give back the same to those around me.
The handcart plan was for seventeen miles a day for sixty days, but none of the ten companies could reach that goal. Despair and frustration must have come from the slow journey of seven to fifteen miles on a good day, making the trip tedious and wearisome. Today we can make the drive from Nauvoo to Salt Lake City comfortably in an air-conditioned or heated car in nineteen and a half hours. However, I know the disappointment that comes from unachieved goals and have felt the discouragement from slow progress along with the worry that comes from an uncertain destination.
The pioneers didn’t know how or when their journey would end. Similarly, I don’t know how or when mine will either, but like my ancestors I will carry on with faith and hope in a brighter future.