Welcome to Western Rehab

The sixty mile ride in the ambulance seemed so strange and unlike the ride I had the day of the accident. I was grateful to be in the passenger seat and not on the stretcher in the back. Both technicians were very friendly and asked lots of questions about the accident and our experience over the past seven weeks. It felt unreal as I talked to them about it. How could all of this have happened to me? Events like this happen to someone else, not me, somebody who is better prepared for it. When would I wake up from this bad dream? A sense of being stuck in it hit me hard.

Picture from http://www.healthsouthutah.com.       Formerly Western Rehab Hospital

Before I knew it we were pulling up to the entrance of Western Rehab. My excitement to finally be there turned to fear, like the first day of elementary school. You can hardly wait to go, but when you get there you realize you don’t know what it’s going to be like. My eagerness turned to worry as the EMT’s unstrapped the stretcher from the ambulance and wheeled it into the hospital. I hadn’t given much thought about what would be expected or how hard and painful it would be until we walked through the doors. Yes, I had taken a tour of the hospital and had met some of the staff before, but all that was discussed on that visit was the details of the facility and their therapy program. My confidence turned to insecurity as we approached the front desk to check in with Mark lying on the stretcher in a coma.

Picture from http://www.healthsouthutah.com. Formerly Western Rehab Hospital

The receptionist welcomed us and said Mark’s room was going to be in the special care unit right in front of the nurse’s station.  She directed us to go straight down the hallway. One EMT pushed the stretcher from the head of the bed while the other guided from the foot. My mother had followed the ambulance in her car and met up with us at the receptionist desk. As we walked by Mark’s side, I noticed a man in a wheelchair with his head bolted to a halo. The sparkling clean, wide tile hallway seemed filled with pain and suffering. I was overwhelmed by what some of the patients were enduring. Sights of treatments for injuries I had never seen before. Would I get used to seeing discomfort, agony and grief? Mark was in a peaceful coma; what would his recovery be like? Am I strong enough to handle it?

As we approached the nurse’s station we were greeted by Rita, a cheerful, friendly nurse who escorted us to Mark’s room. While the EMT’s were getting Mark transferred from the stretcher to the hospital bed, Rita opened the closet door and said, “Bring some clothes for Mark because we plan to dress him every day. He will need loose fitting pull over shirts and pull on pants with high top shoes. Socks and underwear can go in these drawers, along with any other personal belongings you want to bring,” she said as she pulled out one of the drawers on the left side of the closet.  She pointed to the white board on the right side of the closet. “This will be Mark’s daily schedule.” Written on the board was:

Therapy

9:00 am OT – Cheryl

10:00 am Respiratory

11:00 am PT – Leslie

Noon – 1pm – Rest

1:30 pm  Speech – Chris

2:00 pm OT – Cheryl

3:00 pm PT – Leslie

4:00 pm  Respiratory

4:30 pm Speech – Chris

10:00pm Respiratory

Sitting Up

Up – 11:00 am                   Down – 12:00 pm

Up – 2:00 pm                     Down – 4:00 pm

Up – 8:00 pm                     Down – 9:30 pm

Wow, what a busy schedule. How can Mark do all that? At McKay-Dee Hospital Mark didn’t have a set schedule, so I was thrilled they thought he could do it, yet flabbergasted at what seemed unrealistic.  In my mind I could see the doctor at Mackay-Dee Hospital, saying “I tried to tell you it’s too soon.” I pushed the thought out of my head as I remembered my first day of school and the overwhelming feelings of schedules and expectations. However, from the past I’d learned I could adapt, so I silently committed to help Mark in every way adjust to this new schedule and meet their expectations.

I was familiar with the range of motion routine the Physical Therapist (PT) would do with Mark at McKay-Dee Hospital, but I couldn’t imagine why he needed a Speech Therapist (ST) or an Occupational Therapist (OT).

“What will Mark do in speech therapy while he’s in a coma and has a trachea tube?” I asked the nurse as she detached the tube from the portable ventilator to the stationary hospital ventilator and hung his IV to the post on his bed.

“The therapist will come by and explain what they will do in their therapy sessions and the doctor should be in any minute now. Make yourself at home and let me know if I can get you anything.”

I sat in the chair next to Mark’s bed and Mom took one on the other side. I looked at Mark and was relieved that the move appeared to go unnoticed by him. He slept peacefully through the ambulance ride and transferring from the stretcher to the bed. He seemed unaware of his new surroundings. I was grateful to be in our home town of Sandy, UT.

A young, handsome man walked into our room and introduced himself as Mark’s new neurologist, Dr. Wright. He reviewed the reports he’d read  from McKay-Dee Hospital with us and we discussed the  treatment plan. His mannerism was gentle and compassionate. Immediately I felt at ease with him and confident Mark’s recovery was in good hands. He explained Mark would be completing the powerful intravenous anti-biotic in five days and he ordered all therapies to be done in his room until then.

“What will they be doing in respiratory therapy?” I asked, pointing to the schedule.

“The therapist will keep the tracheotomy cleaned and gradually turn down the ventilator, weaning him off of it. The respiratory therapist will help Mark learn to breathe on his own again.”

“What about speech therapy?” I asked.

“They use objects like bells and whistles to try to get Mark to respond to them.”

“Cool,” I said, hopeful and excited. This staff is planning for him to come out of his coma!

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.