More Than a Survivor

MomDadRon

Mark and I with Ron Roskos, who received the Lifetime Achievement Award.

Over twenty years ago I was introduced to Ron Roskos, then president of the Brain Injury Alliance of Utah, a non-profit organization. The group helps community members affected by brain injury by providing resources and information to survivors and their families. They also educate the community on preventing brain injuries. They have an annual conference every fall which brings together healthcare providers, educators, families and survivors. We appreciate the information given at the conference and enjoy seeing therapist and nurses who have worked with Mark in the past. It also appears to give them pleasure to see the progress Mark has made over the years. DadsPlaqueDuring the conference lunch they award five individuals in the following categories: Survivor, Family Member, Healthcare Provider, Educator and Lifetime Achievement. Mark was nominated for the Survivor award and we were thrilled to see him receive it. A month ago I was informed Mark was the chosen nominee and they wanted it to be a surprise for him. It was hard to keep the secret as I prepared for the celebration. I believe Mark’s survivorship has been based on the support of family and invited them to join us at the luncheon. Since Mark’s mother and sisters live out of state, it took more planning and time on their part to attend. Mark’s mom flew in from Washington to be at the luncheon and his sister, Karen, and brother-in-law, Mark Ray, flew in later that evening to celebrate with us. It made for a wonderful and memorable day. Our daughter, Katie, and I wrote the following introduction, which the presenter read when announcing Mark’s award. Mark Wilson survived a Traumatic Brain Injury due to a car accident he was in with his wife, Barbara, in 1991. He was comatose for three months and hospitalized for eight months. He is wheelchair dependent and struggles with memory and epilepsy. What a great example he is, especially to his wife and two children, who were ages seven and eight at the time of the car accident. Mark demonstrates the value of perseverance as he pushes through strenuous therapy relearning to speak, write and regaining the ability to feed himself. His ultimate goal is to walk and after twenty-three years he remains hopeful. With the assistance of a walker, his wife at one side of him and a friend at the other, he practices walking at least twice a week with determination. He’ll often look at the two people assisting him and jokingly say, “This is really hard. Must I drag you both along?” He shows burdens can be lightened and joy can be spread with a sense of humor. He enjoys making others laugh with what we call “Markisms,” like telling others that the scar on his stomach from the feeding tube he had is really a second bellybutton, which makes him “twice the man.” Despite many obstacles, he chooses to be happy by looking for the positive in every situation. He is forgiving and thoughtful towards others. Mark is patient and never demanding. He enjoys being productive and looks for ways he can help. He expresses gratitude often for what he has and for the help he is given. Mark once said, “Adversity is the exercise that strengthens the muscle of character.” His muscle of character has Hercules’ strength. He’s more than a survivor – he’s a THRIVER!

Mark and I with Mark Fox, the award presenter.

Mark and I with Mark Fox, the award presenter.

I’m so proud of Mark and believe he deserves the award for the way he cheerfully handles his difficult, unexpected, unwanted and painful life. I’m blessed to be his wife and caregiver. I loved what the presenter, Mark Fox, said after handing Mark the plaque. “I have to put in a side note…I was relatively new in my career back at the time Mark had his accident and was working in rehabilitation at what is now called HealthSouth,but was then Western Rehabilitation. Mark was at the center for a long time. He had speech impairment and you really couldn’t understand anything he said. Being a young clinician and seeing how hard they work for a long time in rehabilitation with limited progress in speech intelligibility, I really didn’t believe he could ever be verbally understood. But he was always determined. Several years later I saw him at the community rec center. They were doing exercises in the pool and he said, ‘hi’ to me. I about fell over. He was so clear. So, if you get an opportunity, I strongly encourage you to have a conversation with Mark. He is a wonderful man with a wonderful family.” In looking back, I was naively optimistic about Mark regaining all his abilities, but the determination and hard work has paid off. I’m grateful for Mark Fox’s statement recognizing his continued improvement even after his rehabilitation. Gratefully, Mark has never given up and a professional healthcare provider acknowledged it. There are only a few people who have been with us from the beginning of Mark’s traumatic brain injury and they are the only ones who can fully realize and appreciate how far Mark has come. We love to surprise them and see their joy in what he has accomplished. Life can be challenging. We don’t expect it will get any easier as we age, but it’s rewarding to overcome hardships. I’m grateful for organizations like the Brain Injury Alliance of Utah which provides support, education and shows us we’re not alone in our journey.

Marks mom, Wanda with Katie

Marks mom, Wanda with Katie

Eldin with Steve in the background.

Eldin with Steve in the background.

Dianne, Mick and Mom

Dianne, Mick, and Mom

Dad,

Dad

Table setting at the award luncheon

Mom, Katie, Eldin, Rosanne, Dianne, and Mick

Missing picture of Ruth and Steve who were also there, but sitting at a different table. Don, Klint, Jerrie and Jon were unable to attend due to work. We also missed our son, Christopher, who wasn’t there due to new employment which has taken him to Washington to live:-( We love and appreciate our family and their support!

Four minute video of the Survivor Award

Mark's Family Celebration (2)

Enjoying treats and our visit  at Sundance

Weekend fun with Mom W, Karen & Mark Ray

Mark lovin his root beer

Mark lovin’ his root beer

Mark's family celebration

After a fall ride on the Alpine Loop we enjoyed a picnic at Sundance

The Receiving End of Caregiving, Part 2

Thank you, Ann, for sharing the rest of your rewarding experience of being on the receiving end of caregiving, which is good reminder for the professionals, as well as friends and family, on what is important to the ones receiving care.

Written by, Ann McDougall

Ann & Liam in bed

I knew I was in the best place while I was in the hospital. It was where I needed to be at the time and that’s just how it needed to be. I accepted my situation and felt at peace with it. I was lucky enough to have an end in sight because a lot of people with health problems do not.  Every now and then I allowed myself to have a hard day, a down moment, or a good cry (in the bathroom so no one would walk in and see me).  Sometimes I’d feel angry, but then I’d to go back to having a good attitude, because a bad one wouldn’t get me far. I chose how I reacted to my situation. Yes, it was difficult at times, but I knew it didn’t help me to think miserable thoughts.

I had some wonderful nurses in the hospital. They did their best to make sure I felt at home by allowing me to have many comforts, like my own pillow and pictures of my family. My son, niece and nephews would often color pictures and tape them all over my walls and the nurses would comment when they saw a new one.  I appreciated the nurses who took the time to talk to me about my personal life and share a bit about their own instead of just asking the usual medical questions. One nurse, Michelle, sat with me on Pioneer Day and watched fireworks from my window because my family was not able to be there with me.  I loved it when nurses would come into my room just to say hi to me even if I wasn’t their patient that shift. It made me feel important and not forgotten. They were considerate of our family time. My husband, David and son, Liam would usually come to visit in the evenings and if a nurse came in to take my vitals, they always asked if they should come back later. Their kindness made me feel like a person, not just another patient. They celebrated with me each day I stayed pregnant because every day was a big accomplishment. I had a white board across from my bed where we kept track of how far along I was and each morning as we’d change the number, they would congratulate me on making it another day. They called our baby, Ariana by name when checking her heart beat twice a day. They made me feel like I was carrying a precious little one; it wasn’t just another pregnancy.

Meeting others in a similar situation helped me cope. There were a few other ladies who were on hospital bed rest and we were able to meet for lunch once a week to visit with each other in our rooms. It was therapeutic to talk with each other about our struggles and situations. They could empathize with the hardship of being stuck in a hospital bed, leaving our husbands and children at home without us, afraid for our unborn child’s life.

 

Most people like to be busy doing something productive, to feel like they have a purpose. It’s hard to feel productive and purposeful when you are completely relying on others to take care of you. I found it important to find something to focus on, some little thing to do to keep busy. While in the hospital I learned how to crochet. I made many things for our baby, our son and other people, which helped me feel important and needed. It gave my mind a distraction and my hands busy when I couldn’t do many other things I wanted to do.

Ann & LiamI had a lot of time for thought and reflection. I feel like I came home from the hospital ready to be a better parent. I have more patience with my son. I appreciate my husband more than ever. He has always been a great dad, but he showed me how extra ordinary he is by being an even better one. He took care of our house, did the grocery shopping, paid the bills, and took care of the pets while working full time. I was worried about how he would do it all, but he did just fine. He was so thoughtful and loving to me. On occasion he would stop by before work to say hi and surprise me. He did his very best to visit every single day and made sure our son came just as often. We were even able to arrange for our son to sleep over with someone else so that my husband could sleep at the hospital with me every now and then. The time together was important for our relationship.

Ann's kidsI have been blessed by seeing how many people were willing to serve my family. I was able to focus on the pregnancy and not worry so much about if things at home were being taken care of. I was humbled by how much my family was there for me. I knew they loved me, but they showed just how much by all the things they did for me. I loved it when my dad would stop by on his lunch breaks or my sister-in-law would bring her kids by to see me. They all came on Father’s Day and had dinner with me. I’m sure they would have rather been home, but it meant so much they brought the party to me. I have learned I can rely on my family and I hope they know how much I appreciate and love them.

 

 

The Receiving End of Caregiving

Written by, Ann McDougall

Ann & ArianaPregnancy has always been a difficult journey for me and my last pregnancy was no exception. I was high risk from the very start. Because of complications in past pregnancies, I was diagnosed with incompetent cervix. At nine weeks I was put on modified bed rest at home because I started bleeding. The doctors didn’t know the cause of it and said it wasn’t related to the incompetent cervix. At twelve weeks I had a planned surgical procedure done called a cerclage to help me stay pregnant. The cerclage failed at 21 weeks, causing more bleeding and a tear in my cervix. I had an emergency surgery, the second cerclage placed and the tear repaired. I was then put on strict bed rest at home. I was only allowed to get up to use the bathroom, shower, and get a quick bite to eat and had to be laying down the rest of the time. After a week of strict bed rest, I started hemorrhaging and both cerclages had to be removed because mine and our baby girl’s life were threatened. I was told I was most likely going into labor and there wasn’t anything that could be done to stop it. The baby wasn’t developed enough to live if she was born.  I was admitted to the hospital in hopes I could stay pregnant a week or two longer so the baby would have a chance of survival. The doctors didn’t think I would make it another day, let alone the 2 more weeks we needed to reach viability. We would do anything to try to keep me pregnant just a few weeks longer. We had already said hello and goodbye to our precious twin boys the year before. We did not want to give up on our daughter and knew being in the hospital was the best place for me. I was told I would remain in the hospital until the baby was born. I ended up staying in the hospital for almost 9 weeks and was able to go home on strict bed rest for the remainder of my pregnancy. The hard work paid off and miraculously our Ariana was born just 3 weeks early at 37 weeks and is healthy and doing well.

Being on bed rest is taxing in various ways. I wasn’t able to care for myself, or our 3 year old son, Liam, or our house, yard, six chickens and our dog, Harley. I had to completely rely on my husband, David, and other people to do everything which I had previously done for myself. It was difficult emotionally and mentally to let go and let things be done in a different way than I would have done them or to see things not get done at all. It was awkward to ask for help and feel like I was imposing or asking too much of those who had already done so much. I missed getting out and seeing my family, friends and neighbors. I felt isolated and lonely. It was challenging to express how grateful I was for all those who helped my family. I felt guilty for not doing more to make things easier on those who helped, even though I did my best with what I could at the time.

David & ArianaBeing in the hospital for so long was a whole new level of taxing. Everything was taken from me— my independence, privacy, familiar people, food and home. I missed being on my own schedule and not having complete control over my environment.  It was tough to watch Liam struggle with his tender, immature emotions as he tried to process the situation and not know how to help him or be there for him like I wanted to be. It was heartbreaking to watch David struggle with all the new roles he had and not being able to help ease his burdens as well as feeling like a source of stress for him. It was hard to feel so helpless.

People have asked me how I was able to be on bed rest for so long, especially in the hospital with a child at home and a husband who works full time. I couldn’t have done it alone. We had family members who took over childcare and neighbors and friends from our church who watched after our house and pets.  When my cousin, Lisa, found out about my situation, she came right over with her calendar and asked what days she could take Liam. She didn’t casually say, “Let me know what I can do to help.” She proactively offered specific help and then followed through by watching him many times. I also knew that I could call my sister-in-law, Krista, and she would take him any time I asked. My mom was the one we relied on the most. She did her best to watch Liam as often as she could and be the one consistent childcare provider. She worked at a school so it was tricky finding people to watch him on the days she had to work. Once school was out for the summer, she was the one who had him every day. She sacrificed so much to be there for him so I could focus on my pregnancy. She did not return to work after the summer so that she could continue to care Liam and eventually me when I came home from the hospital on bed rest. I will never be able to repay her for all that she has done for our family.

Ann's movie nightOther people helped by being there for me on an emotional and social level. Friends brought me books and movies, came to visit and even had a movie and popcorn night in the hospital. Some brought me snacks and meals, which were also appreciated. Many people from church brought us dinner for months while I was on bed rest at home. It was a huge help. I wasn’t shy about accepting food and even now I miss the good meals that were brought and even more, the people that brought it. I loved seeing my friends and neighbors because I wasn’t able to get out, so it was nice they came to me.  It helped to have visitors or even just calls or texts from people letting me know that they were thinking of me. I may not have always said thank you, but I thought it. The help never went unnoticed and was always appreciated.

Thank you Ann for sharing your story of endurance, persistence, fortitude, appreciation, and hope. I’m thrilled you have the blessing of your son and daughter—a great reward for your sacrifice.

I Believe in Miracles

youre-a-miracleIt was a grueling decision to stop the sale of our home in Sandy, UT. We were excited for about our new beginnings with an updated home and a better job. I wavered back and forth on which was the right choice. How I missed discussing this with Mark. With every fiber of my being I wanted our life to go on as we’d planned. The home we were most interested in was located in Uintah, just south east of Ogden. Weeks had gone by with no improvement and the hospital staff was not giving any hope there would be any. The realtor that sold our home was encouraging me to go through with the sale and not lose the deposit. Her advice was that we’d need the money now more than ever.

The hospital social worker assigned to us counseled me to stay put. He suggested the kids and I would need the support of our nearby friends. We had lived in our home for ten years and had established great relationships with many of our neighbors. His suggestion made sense to me, but backing out of an agreement seemed not only wrong, but felt like a giant step backwards. I wanted to move forward and not give up on our plan.

How would Mark feel when he wakes up? Would he be upset that I didn’t follow through with the sale? Would he feel like I gave up on him? I wanted to make the right choice…a choice that would be best for Mark, the kids and I. Believing that Mark would wake up any day, I wanted to put off the decision, but realized it wasn’t fair to keep the buyer wondering if the sale was going to go through or not.

One night I had a dream that I went through with the sale of our home. Because Mark was unable to work, we could not qualify for a new mortgage. The kids and I had the stress of moving into an apartment while Mark was still in the hospital. After months of rehabilitation, he came home in a wheelchair which was nearly impossible to maneuver in the apartment. It was hard for the kids and me to make new friends with all the other adjustments we were going through. Mark didn’t know anyone. He felt lost in unfamiliar surroundings and people.

The dream was the first insight I had on what our life could be like…but it was just a dream. I didn’t want to believe it, or even think it. I wanted Mark to be completely healed and for life to continue as we knew it.

The advice of the social worker seemed perfectly logical after the dream. I called the realtor to let her know we needed to back out of the sale of our home. It was the first tough decision I had to make without Mark’s input. I was sad, but relieved at the same time. I didn’t need one more thing to worry about and as much as I wanted to move, I knew the timing wasn’t right.

Over time it became obvious to me that to the doctors, nurses and therapist saw Mark as a body they were in charge of keeping alive. However, to me he was a person, a son, a brother, a friend, a father and most important to me…my husband. While I appreciated the professional healthcare team’s knowledge and skill, I was offended by their bedside manner, especially the neurologist. I had never felt such strong conflicting emotions before. How could I be so grateful yet resentful at the same time about the same person? As the weeks went by, my resentment grew. I knew Mark needed their skills, but they gave no hope for improvement. I was scared and didn’t understand the things they knew through their education and experience. I was discouraged and constantly worried about Mark’s condition. How long must we endure existing on the edge between life and death? Five weeks already seemed like forever.

When I was at the hospital I worried about the children. Were they okay with the neighbors until I got home? School was going to be out soon, then what? Will I need to impose on family and friends all day? I felt like a neglectful mother for not being with my children.

At night when I was home with the kids I worried about Mark. What if he took a turn for the worse? Would I be able to get to the hospital on time? I was grateful for brothers and my dad who took turns being with Mark at night, but how long could I expect them to do this? My mother was driving me every day to and from the hospital, not only because our car was now totaled, but I also had a broken collarbone and my right arm was in a sling. The 60 mile drive twice a day was draining me, what was it doing to my mother? I hated to be dependent on others.

The only thing I knew for sure was that I needed to have Mark closer to home, but how could I make that happen? He was comatose because he had a traumatic brain injury. His right lung had collapsed and his red cell count was too low. His body wasn’t getting the oxygen it needed.

One night I got a call from the doctor. “Mark’s white cell count is dangerously high, which indicates infection, stress and inflammation. We think he may have a serious liver infection and we need your permission to do a liver biopsy.”

I gave my permission and hung up the phone, feeling helpless.

miraclesI knelt by my bed and cried out, “I’d been praying for Mark’s red cell count to increase and his white cells did. Why aren’t my prayers being answered? When will this nightmare end? I’m scared he can not get better. I’m worried I don’t have the strength to endure life this way. I am exhausted! What am I suppose to do?”

In my despair, a  question came to my mind. Do you believe in miracles? Yes, I believe in miracles! Then assurance came —If you believe, you will see miracles wrought before your eyes. Remember, some miracles take time.

False Hope

On April 30, 1991, Dr. Hinchey walked into the I.C.U. room and said to me, “We only gave Mark a five to ten percent chance to live and given the extent of damage done to the brainstem, we do not expect him to come out of his coma. A tracheotomy is needed for people dependent on mechanical ventilation for a long period of time. Since we don’t expect Mark will be capable of breathing on his own, I recommend we do this procedure now.” Reaching up and pointing to the indent at the base of his own neck, he explained, “Through an incision in the neck we will cut in the front of the trachea and make a small hole for a trach tube.”

Trach tubeThe words were foreign—a tracheotomy and trach tube? In my nearly 32 years of life, I never knew or heard of anyone who had this procedure done. I might have learned about it in one of my health classes at school, but I couldn’t remember. As my brain scrambled in search for information to understand the meaning of a tracheotomy, what came to mind was a M*A*S*H episode on T.V. where Father Mulcahy performed an emergency tracheotomy which was guided by the surgeon Hawkeye over the radio. Great, my brain could only recollect a tracheotomy from a T.V. series filmed in the 1970 – 80’s based on three doctors in the Korean War on a temporary army camp.

Doctor Hinchey interrupted my thoughts by handing me the form to sign giving him approval to do the surgery. The M*A*S*H flashback made me appreciate the skilled doctor who brought me the shocking news and approval form to be signed. No matter how bad it seemed, I knew it could be worse. I was grateful the surgery was not being performed by an army priest getting directions over the radio by an absent surgeon. Fortunately, it wasn’t being done in a temporary operating tent which had several beds in it and usually a few operations going on at the same time in the same tent while the sounds of war explosions were in the background. Yes, life could be sadder.

TraceotomyMark survived his second surgery in three days, but seeing the plastic trach tube coming out of the base of his neck, which was connected to a ventilator, was unsettling to me. Mark was peacefully in a coma, unaware of the pumping sounds of the tubes which kept him alive. It was hard for me to watch the nurses when they came with a sterile container which held supplies to clean the tracheotomy twice a day. They had to clean around and replace the gauze under the curved wings on each side of the trach tube. This holder was secured in place by ties that went around his neck. The tracheotomy seemed invasive and the sight of it disturbed me, but the suction of his secretions was worse. I shuttered every time they used the catheter to suck out mucus and fluid.

I missed hearing his voice and now the tracheotomy made it impossible for him to talk. I kept hoping every day would be the day he’d wake up and end this nightmare. After a couple of weeks passed and he showed no sign of gaining consciousness, my dad and brothers took turns spending the night with Mark so I could go home to be with the kids. They often told me how much they missed Daddy and I’d tell them I missed him too. It was hard for a seven- and eight-year-old to comprehend how I could miss him because they knew I spent all day with him. It seemed strange to me also. They wanted to see him and asked me nearly every night when they could, but I was afraid the sight of the tracheotomy and other tubes would scare them.

Answering MachineOn my first night home, after the kids were in bed, I pushed the incoming message button on our telephone answering machine to listen to the messages recorded. After returning the calls, I pressed the outgoing message button to hear Mark’s voice on the second cassette tape. You’ve reached the Wilson residence. Sorry we missed your call. If you leave your name and phone number, we’ll get right back to you.” Tears escaped my eyes as I longed for him to “get right back.” This became my nightly routine. I loved hearing his deep voice while each word was pronounced clearly. I didn’t want to forget the sound of his voice and hearing it helped me sleep at night without him by my side. This simple, but now treasured recording made me feel close to him.

The longer he was comatose the less likely it seemed he’d come out of it, but as anxious and impatient as I felt to see his eyes and hear his voice, I realize he had too many serious health issues to wake up. I knew all his energy needed to go to fighting infections and healing his traumatic brain injury, but all the knowing and understanding didn’t stop me from wanting him to respond to me. Every day I’d read to him and hold his hand. I brought a cassette tape recorder from home and played his favorite music. I whispered sweet nothings into his ear, hoping he would open his eyes. When that didn’t work, I tried provocative or shocking words. Anything and everything that I thought would arouse or surprise him to the point he’d open his eyes—but no response. I was powerless to wake him up, yet every day I tried.

My days were filled with talking to the doctors, nurses and therapists caring for Mark. I got to know them and appreciated their skills. At least twice a day the physical therapist would do simple range of motion exercises to stretch Mark while we visited. I felt like I knew her pretty well after a month, so I was surprised to learn from a nurse that the physical therapist had a brain injury herself.

“I’ve heard you were also in a car accident a few years ago and were in a coma yourself for a short time.” I stated.

“Yeah.”

“Why didn’t you tell me,” I asked.

“My injuries were not as extensive as Mark’s and I didn’t want to give you false hope.”

“False hope? Without hope what is all this care for,” I asked.

I was hurt and discouraged. It seemed that not one doctor, nurse or therapist believed Mark would improve which felt like a betrayal. They were continually squashing my hope with their negative statements and statistics. Their knowledge kept him alive, but I began to realize that without hope for improvement, life would be worse than death…because this was no way to live!

Without hope life loses purpose. Is there such a thing as false hope?

Craig and Lynne’s Story

Screen Shot 2014-08-09 at 12.51.47 PM

 

My ninety-one year old Grandma Rose was a neighbor of the Zabriskie family. She had heard about a boating accident their son Craig had which resulted in a traumatic brain injury (TBI) in 1990. He was progressing well in rehab at McKay-Dee Hospital at the time of our car accident. My caring grandma knew that if I could meet Craig and Lynne, their experience would be helpful and give me hope. She asked them to stop by and see me sometime when they were at the hospital. I remember our first meeting just a few weeks after our accident. I learned that Craig was in a coma for five weeks. I thought Mark will not be comatose for that long. Craig was using a walker. I thought Mark will never need a walker. One might say I was in denial; I would say I was adjusting to a shocking twist of fate which I was not prepared for.

Lynne visited with me a few times while Craig was in therapy. She had a better understanding of what I was going through than I did. She had seven months of experience with TBI at the time. She recommended helpful books for me to read. After Mark left McKay-Dee hospital we kept in touch through cards since email was not widely used at that time. We have in common a love and heartache for wonderful men who are survivors of TBI; we are close in age and have the same number of kids. For more than twenty-three years they have been our mentors and one of the few marriages I know which have endured the trials of TBI. Their story is amazing and Lynne has shared it in a book, The Lost Season. They are one of many special people we’ve gotten to know on this journey and I’m grateful for their example and willingness to share their story on Uniting Caregivers.


KSL report written April 14, 2009

BOUNTIFUL — A former high school athlete and former high school cheerleader had it all: two beautiful children, a thriving business and a terrific marriage. One afternoon on Pineview Reservoir changed their lives forever.

Lynn Neerings and Craig Zabriskie began dating their sophomore year at Bountiful High School. Neerings was a cheerleader and Zabriskie played baseball for the Braves in the 70s.

“Craig was the all-American kind of guy and Lynn the cheerleader, so they were perfect together,” said former classmate Bob Grove.

The pair married in 1980. Over the years, they had two daughters and Craig had a thriving mortgage business.

Their life took a dramatic turn on September 11th, 1990 on Pineview Reservoir. Another boat hit Craig while he was waterskiing.

“And unable to hear our warning cries, I watched helplessly as the boat slammed into my husband,” said Lynn.

The couple estimates the boat hit Craig going 40 miles an hour, and the impact to Craig’s head was closer to 60.

Twenty minutes later at McKay-Dee Hospital, Craig had slipped into a coma.

“When the doctor came in he had x-rays and told me his brain had just shut down, but there was some activity and he probably wouldn’t make it through the night. Or if he does, he won’t remember you or the children or he’ll never walk again,” Lynn said.

After five weeks in a coma, Craig finally woke up. “They had him sitting in a wheelchair, and I knelt down and said, ‘Craig, I’m Lynn, your wife.’ Unable to speak because he had a trach, he leaned towards me and kissed me. He remembered,” said Lynn.

Craig doesn’t remember anything from the accident, but he knew right away life would be drastically different. Ironically, Craig signed up for long-term disability insurance one month before the accident.

He said, “I just had a great life, and after the accident, it was like everything was taken from me.”

To get back, Craig would endure grueling rehabilitation. He had to re-learn to walk and re-learn the alphabet. He even had to teach himself how to write with his left hand after being right-handed his entire life.

“They put a pen in my hand and said, ‘Write your feelings, write everything.’ So to this day I write down everything,” he said.

Lynn became a writer, as well. She put their story into a book called, “The Lost Season.”

“Our goal is to help everyone out there know that life is not easy, but you can overcome no matter what life brings you,” Lynn said.

Life for Craig, now 52, includes continual therapy. One of the first things his therapist recommended was racquetball, a game Craig played for years before his accident.

“I play with two rackets, one in each hand. I serve with my right and kill with my left,” said Craig.

Craig is also a regular at Gold’s Gym where Lynn teaches aerobics. Though he can no longer work, he says life is great, despite what happened.


I’m grateful Grandma had the foresight to ask the Zabriskie’s to visit me.Their friendship has enriched my life. For more information or to order their book go to  www.TheLostSeason.net.

 

 

 

 

 

You Raise Me Up

You Raise Me Up

April 27, 1991

Shortly after the dreaded phone calls, my brother, Don, and sister, Rosanne, arrived at the hospital carrying a folding chaise lounge. Always thinking ahead and being the protective big sister, Rosanne came prepared with something for me to sleep on if needed. Appreciating how lucky I am to have all my family live close by me and able to rearrange their Saturday evening plans to be with me, I felt loved, supported and secure with them uniting around me.

We got permission for all seven of us to go into Mark’s room together that evening. Tears were shed by each family member at the sight of a young man, who at the beginning of the day was full of life and excitement for a new job and the adventure of moving to a different city. Now he lay comatose, entangled in tubes that were connected to the equipment keeping him alive. Dad and my three brothers laid their hands on Mark’s head and gave him a blessing. Dad’s words were soothing and the spirit I felt was calming. I remember many of the words spoken, but most vividly I recall the love, concern and the comfort I felt. With Mark’s rotating bed stilled for the blessing, the pumping noises of the other equipment and strange I.C.U. smells seemed to disappear from the room.  In the midst of my darkest hours arose tender mercies. Surrounded by my family, the room became my sanctuary.

McKay-Dee Hospital was wonderful to us. They offered a room for us to sleep in at the Ronald McDonald House close by the hospital. My parents and I stayed in a room with a queen size bed and recliner chair. With my broken collarbone I couldn’t breathe lying down anyway so I slept in the recliner. My sister took back her chaise lounge realizing we had adequate sleeping arrangements and my siblings went home for the evening.

Like a wild fire, the word was spreading, leaving a painful scorch on all of our loved one’s hearts. The next day, being Sunday, many neighbors, friends, cousins, aunts and uncles gathered at the hospital. They were not allowed in the Intensive Care Unit so they shared their love and support with me in the waiting room. Mark’s Mom and Uncle Glynn flew in from Arkansas on Monday and his sister’s, Karen and Jerrie, flew in from Washington. They stayed a few days at the Ronald McDonald house with us. I was in awe at the number of people who came. Each person’s love and support lifted me up and added light to my days. They helped bring me out of the dark and deep hole I had fallen into, which gave me purpose and encouragement to move on and look upward.

I thought Mark would want me to go to his new employer, Robertson Electric, personally to let them know about the car accident and his condition. Dad and Steve went to the junkyard on Sunday to retrieve Mark’s tools and clipboard from the car. I looked in the clipboard to find his time card and the address of the office. Early Monday morning Dad drove me there and I met Mark’s employer for the first time. I explained that due to Mark’s condition, I didn’t know when he would be back to this new job he was so excited about. Mr. Robertson was kind and compassionate about the situation and told me not to worry. The job would still be there whenever Mark was well enough to work. I handed him Mark’s clipboard and he told me if there was anything he could do to help not to hesitate to call. For the next several weeks they called the hospital to check on Mark’s condition and sent him flowers.

The critical twenty-four hours turned into forty-eight and then seventy-two. As the days turned into weeks, my family devised a plan to encourage and enable me to go home on weeknights to be with our children, Christopher and Katie. Each brother and my brother-in-law, Klint, took an assigned night Monday through Thursday to stay overnight with Mark. They drove over sixty miles to go to the hospital right after work and in the morning they’d drive right back to their various workplaces. After I got the kids off to school, Mom would drive me to the hospital. She spent nearly every day there with me and then drove me home in the afternoon. Friday through Sunday I spent the days and nights there alone with Mark while the kids stayed at my parent’s home. Sunday Mom and Dad would bring the kids to the hospital for a visit then Sunday night, Dad stayed with Mark while Mom drove the kids and I home. Without a car and because of my broken collarbone I wasn’t able to drive for six weeks so I was totally dependent on my parents for transportation.

Every family member pitched in to help me as well as the children through this strenuous time. Friends and extended family drove many miles to see us while others flew from places too far to drive. People from different churches prayed for us. I felt the love and support of many and learned how caring and kind even strangers are. “You raised me up: to more than I can be” and I am forever grateful for you.

The Dreaded Phone Calls, part 2

Continuation from The Dreaded Phone Calls, part 1

April 27, 1991

My brother, Mick, was relating the phone conversations Dianne had with our other siblings when the neurosurgeon walked into the waiting room.

External_ventricular_drain_EVD“Mark has a traumatic brain injury. We’ve placed a shunt in his brain to relieve the pressure. The next 24 hours are critical. His injuries are catastrophic and we don’t know the amount of damage done to the brain. We’re not sure he’ll make it through the night. He’s in a coma and may not wake up.” Looking at the four of us he said, “It would be best if only one or two of you went in to see Mark at a time.” He left the room without one encouraging word or glimpse of hope for the future.

Terrified by his words, I looked at my parents. “This can’t be happening. It feels like a nightmare!” I wanted to run to Mark’s bedside, but I was petrified. Could I bear to see him this way? Would I recognize him? I imaged how terrible he’d look with a shaved head, shunt, drain, and other equipment keeping him alive. Dad understood my hesitation and said, “Why don’t I go see Mark first.”

Dad had just been gone a minute when my youngest brother, Steve, walked in the waiting room. Pale in color with a troublesome eyes which were searching for answers he said, “Are you okay?”

“Yes,” I stated and then related the horrifying news from the doctor.

“I know, I just saw Mark,” Steve said.

“Did you see Dad?,” I asked.

“No. I walked through the I.C.U. from the backside of the hospital and past the room where Mark lay alone. I noticed his name written on the board outside the room’s door. I walked in and around his bed when the nurse came in and asked if I was related. She gave me an update on Mark’s condition and then told me I could find you in the waiting room.”

Just as I was about to ask how he looked, Dad walked back into the waiting room and gave me the first optimistic words I’d heard in hours. “Mark’s coloring is good and he looks better than I expected.” Dad’s encouraging words were just what I needed to hear to give me the courage to see Mark.

Mom offered to go with me. My body was exhausted from the trauma of the accident so she pushed me in a wheelchair. It was a good thing I was already sitting down. He lay motionless, strapped to a type of bed I’d never seen before. The nurse told us the rotating bed was for his circulation. It tilted to one side and slowly moved to the other, taking three minutes for each rotation. He appeared to be entangled in tubing with one down his nose for nourishment, an I.V. for fluid and medication and one coming out of his head draining fluid. On his right side was another drain for his lung, while another one drained his bladder. A respirator was giving him the breath of life. I looked at him in despair, thinking how will we ever get through this? Focusing on his eyes, I prayed he’d open them and reassure me he’d be okay. I yearned to understand what was happening to his soul. I could see his body, but couldn’t feel his presence. Will I ever feel his spirit again? Will I ever see his beautiful blue eyes again? They are the window to his soul and I felt lost without him.

Rotating Bed 2

Rotating bed like the one Mark had

Please Lord, let him live. I can’t live without him, was my silent prayer as I watched the bed rotate from one side to the other. We were only allowed to stay in the room for a few minutes. Fearful it might be my last chance to tell Mark, my parting words were simply I love you.

Mom pushed me out the door and back into the waiting room. There on the wall hung a phone which seemed to be telling me it was time to call our kids. With a heavy heart, I picked up the receiver and for the first time tears flowed. The reality of the car accident was sinking in. How and what will I tell them about the accident? They were so young; Katie had just barely turned seven and Christopher was eight. How do I tell them Mom and Dad won’t be coming home tonight? When will we be coming home? I had so many questions myself, how could I answer theirs. My heart was broken and the last thing I wanted to do was to break theirs. How could I be strong for them when I didn’t have any strength myself?

Through my tears I looked at Dad, “I want to be the one to tell them—I need to be the one.” In desperation for strength, I knew I needed divine help. We prayed together asking the Lord to bless me with the ability. 

With renewed determination, I wiped the tears from my eyes and dialed our home phone number.

“Hello”

“Hi Linda, may I talk to Christopher, please.”

“Sure, I’ll get him.”

“Hi Mom, did you call to tell us when you’d be home?”

“Well, I’m not sure.” Tears filled my eyes and I quickly wiped them away. You can do this. You have to do this, I thought. “Your dad and I were in a car accident and your dad had to have surgery. I’m going to stay with him tonight here at the hospital. Your Aunt Dianne will come to get you, Katie and Linda and you’ll spend the night at their house.” So far so good, but I need to end this quickly before my emotions take over. “I love you, Christopher and I’ll call you tomorrow. Can I talk to Katie?”

“Okay,” he said with uncertainty.

“Katie—Mom wants to talk to you,” I heard him say in a tense voice.

“Hi Mom.” Katie sounded worried, or was it just me? I assumed she could tell something was wrong. Christopher was surprised by my unexpected phone call and didn’t have time to respond, but Katie had time during my conversation with him to be warned that something wasn’t right .

“Hi Sweet Pea,” I said, wanting to be reassuring, but my voiced cracked. You better get right to it, I thought.

“Your daddy got hurt in a car accident and we can’t come home tonight. We’ll be staying at the hospital and you’ll be staying with your cousins.” With tears running down my cheeks, but my voice under control, I told her I loved her and would see her soon. I knew she was frightened, but I was helpless to comfort her.

I wanted to reach through the phone line and wrap my arms around my kids. I needed their love and they needed to feel mine, but there was sixty miles separating us. It felt like they were on the other side of the world.

Most of all I just wanted to protect them from this horrible situation, but I didn’t have a clue how to do it.

The Dreaded Phone Calls, part 1

Information DeskApril 27, 1991

My parents anxiously rushed towards me “Are you okay? What happened?” they asked.

I told them about the car accident and how Mark was unconscious and was now in surgery getting a shunt to relieve pressure on his brain.

The receptionist pointed us in the direction of the intensive care waiting room and Mick spied a phone in the hallway near the waiting room. “I need to update Dianne and she can let the rest of the family know what’s going on.”

“Please do,” Mom replied, “We’ll be in the waiting room.”

“I want to call the kids, but I’ll do it when Mark’s out of surgery,” I said.

Dianne, called her daughter, Linda, to let her know it would be a late night with our kids. She also called my only sister, Rosanne, and my brothers, Don and Steve, to inform them of the details of the accident and our condition.

While in the waiting room, Mom and Dad noticed how uncomfortable I was with every breath.

“I think you should go back to the emergency room to make sure the doctor didn’t miss another problem. I’ll wait here in case the neurosurgeon comes while you’re gone,” Mom said.

“I don’t want to miss him.”

“If he comes, I’ll make sure he finds you in emergency to update you on Mark’s prognosis.”

I nodded in agreement. Dad grabbed a hospital wheelchair from the hallway and quickly wheeled me back to emergency room.

“My daughter’s breathing is uncomfortable,” he explained to the nurse at the station. “Could you make sure there’s not another problem?”

“Sure,” the nurse replied as she took the wheelchair and wheeled me in for more x-rays, then back to another room where my Dad and I waited to hear the results. Time seemed to be passing at a snail’s pace, but finally a doctor arrived with the results of the x-rays.

“Your lungs are clear and your heart is fine. There are no broken ribs. Your pain is coming from your collarbone, which is broken in two places, and the extensive chest bruising. The nurse will bring you some pain medication for now and here is a prescription to fill later.”

“I can’t take any medication,” I said. I already felt foggy and was afraid it might cloud my thinking. “I need to be alert so I can understand what’s happening.”

The doctor raised his eyebrows and looked at me skeptically. “Well… your choice, but in case you change your mind…” he said as he handed me the written prescription.

“Thanks,” I replied.

Dad wheeled me back to the I.C.U. waiting room.

“Hasn’t the neurosurgeon come yet?” I asked Mom.

“Not yet”

“I should call Mark’s mom,” I said. How do I tell her that Mark is not expected to make it through the night? What words would ease the blow?

Wanda lived in Vancouver, Washington about 785 miles away. Mark adores his mother and never uttered one negative word about her. She’s smart, witty, soft-spoken, and devoted to her three children. Mark was her only child for ten years and he enjoyed the undivided attention. I respected Wanda and appreciated her influence in raising such wonderful man. Now I was afraid she might reject and blame me and I felt she had every right to do so. Feelings of guilt and remorse about the car accident filled my soul.

Dad realized my anguish and offered to make the call, but I wanted to — or at least I felt like I should be the one to tell her. Dad pushed me in the wheelchair from the waiting room into the hallway to a small cubical with a phone sitting on a desk with a chair. I looked at the phone and feared I’d fall apart. I didn’t have the strength to pick up the receiver. Disappointed in myself I asked Dad if he’d make the call for me.

When there was no answer at her home, I remembered Wanda told us she was going to Arkansas to visit her parents and brother. I didn’t have Uncle Glynn’s phone number, but I did have Mark’s sisters phone numbers in my purse.

Being the big brother, Mark felt protective and proud of his sisters Karen and Jerrie. Even though they were only ten and eleven when he moved to Utah with his employment he kept track of them the best he could long distance. It was obvious he cherished both of them. Karen married Mark Ray almost two years prior to the accident and we had just been to Washington in November for Jerrie’s wedding to Jon. I was worried how they might react to this devastating news.

I sat in the wheelchair next to Dad, listened to his conversation with Karen about the accident, and then heard him ask for Glynn’s phone number. Without saying another word, he picked up the receiver again, dialed 0 to talk to the operator to have the long distant call billed to his home phone number.

I nervously listened as I heard Dad introduce himself to Glynn, whom neither of us had ever met, and then ask if Wanda was available to talk to. Next I heard Dad recalling the accident details and grim prognosis the doctor had given. He told her Mark was in surgery getting a shunt to relieve the pressure from his brain and that we would update her after the surgery.

I sighed with relief—Mark’s family now knew and seemed to be handling the news in their usual gracious way.There was one last dreaded phone call to make and I cringed at the thought—our young children still didn’t know.

The last Wilson family picture before the accident.

Mark Ray, Karen, Wanda, Mark, Barbara, Grandparents- LaFaye, Norval                                   Jerrie, Jon, Katie and Christopher – The Wilson Family – November 1990

Next week’s Sunday Story will be part two – how I tell Katie and Christopher.

The Blessing of Comfort

ambulance

April 27, 1991

“I know what you’re going through,” said the EMT at my side while the other one drove the ambulance to the hospital. “I just lost my wife three weeks ago,” he said in a somber voice.

“Mark will be okay,” I said as he placed the oxygen tube in my nose and checked my heart rate and blood pressure. He has to be okay, I thought. I can’t live without him.

“Is there anyone we can call for you?”

“Yes,” I replied and recited my parents’ phone number.

No answer confirmed my earlier fear they had already left with our two kids to pick up my 14 year-old niece, Linda. She had agreed to watch Christopher and Katie for the evening until we returned from our all day house hunting adventure in Ogden, Utah. I envisioned Mom and Dad in the front seat of their 1979 gray Chevy car with the three kids in the back seat.  Like a snapshot pictured, I saw all five of them happy, healthy, and unaware that our world had just turned upside down as they made their way to our home in Sandy, Utah. They were sixty miles away and I knew it would take at least an hour for them to get to us. They were uninformed of how much I needed them and how far away they all seemed to be. Yet in that moment, I wanted to protect all five of them from this devastating news.

After several rings, the EMT interrupted my thoughts, “Is there another number we can call?”

Still struggling to breathe from the blow to my shoulder and chest, I simply recited my brother’s home phone number. I was surprised by my memory of phone numbers and calmness under such horrific circumstances. I knew God was blessing me.

“Hello,” I heard my sister-in-law, Dianne’s voice over the speaker.

“This is the paramedics in Roy City. Do you know Mark and Barbara Wilson?”

“Yes,” Dianne said, sounding apprehensive.

“They have been in a very serious automobile accident and we are transporting Barbara to McKay-Dee Hospital in Ogden and another ambulance will take Mark there. We have tried her parents’ phone number, but there was no answer.”

Dianne anxiously assure the EMT she would let them know and the quick call ended.

She immediately called my oldest brother, Mick, at work. Since Dianne was home, she knew when my parents had picked up her daughter, Linda and realized they probably had time to drop the kids off at our house and were in route to their home. Mick told Dianne he wanted to go to the hospital with our parents so he called their phone number and since they didn’t have an answering machine he just left it ringing for several minutes until they returned home to answer it. As soon as they got the news, they cancelled the dinner date they had and headed for Salt Lake City to pick up Mick and the three of them drove together to McKay-Dee Hospital.

brand-canvas-hospital-mckay-dee-hospital

McKay-Dee Hospital in Ogden, Utah

After the x-rays and removing pieces of glass from shattered car windows from my ears with tweezers, a compassionate nurse asked me if there was anyone she could call for me. I knew it would be at least an hour before my family could get to the hospital. I didn’t even know who knew at this time other than Dianne. I thought of a close childhood friend who lived in Ogden. I told the nurse I did not know their phone number, but if she could look up Darlene and Dixon Pitcher’s phone number, I would appreciate it.The nurse left the room to make the call while another one fitted a patted figure eight brace which wrapped around the back of my neck, under my armpits and fastened in the back to secure my broken collarbone. Broken pieces of glass were all over my body,but not one cut. How strange, I thought as I looked at my bruised body while the nurse cleaned the glass off. Next she brought a sling for my right arm and adjusted it to my size.

“Would you like some medication for the pain.”

“No thanks, I don’t need any,” I said numbed to any feeling.

The nurse was just finishing up with me when Dixon and his friend came to the hospital. I was relieved to see a familiar face. Recalling the frightening words from the surgeon just before he took Mark into surgery, I was terrified of what laid ahead. I asked the two men to give me a Priesthood Blessing. I didn’t know Dixon very well and had never met the friend he brought with him. It was Dixon’s wife who had been my childhood friend, but he knew just what to say and his blessing brought solace. They sat with me for a while after the blessing. I was so stunned by the experience I don’t remember what was said, but I do remember the comfort these two men brought. My broken heart was full of gratitude for them.

The nurse came back in the room and handed me a large plastic bag with Mark’s belongings. Inside was his cut clothing, shoes, wallet and watch. She explained to me in the rush for Mark’s MRI and surgery, they cut the jacket, shirt and pants from his body. She told me Mark would be in surgery for a while and I was free to wait in the waiting room.

I thanked Dixon and his friend for the blessing and visit and assured them my family would be on their way. I didn’t want to keep them from their Saturday plans any longer and told them I’d be fine, so they left. I sat for a moment on the edge of the bed in the emergency room, alone and oblivious of the other crises going on in the other rooms. I wondered how I’d make my body move. I didn’t feel pain, emotion or drive. I felt dead and consumed with despair. This must be a nightmare, I thought. Surely I would awaken soon and life would go on as planned.

Divine intervention must have given me the strength to grab the plastic bag of Mark’s belongings with my left hand as I mustered up the will to get off the bed and walked aimlessly out of the  room into uncertainty, still wearing the hospital gown for my shirt. I looked down the hall and saw some swinging doors at one end. Unaware of anyone else in the hallway or in the rooms I passed, I walked devastated and all alone through the swinging doors into the main area of the hospital. To my relief, there stood my brother, Mick, at the information desk, talking to the receptionist. Mom and Dad stood behind him and noticed me. Immediate comfort came from the sight of them. Gratefully, I was no longer alone in this nightmare, but unfortunately…that also made it more real as my family poured love and life back into me.