April 27, 1991

Passenger’s side

Five weeks shy of a thirty-second birthday is too young to be a widow. This must be a nightmare, I thought as I lay on the hospital stretcher in the emergency room.

Driver’s side

I looked at my bruised body while two nurses standing on either side of me removed pebble-sized shards of glass from my ears, chest, and arms with tweezers. It was strange there wasn’t a single cut anywhere. This doesn’t make sense.

 The nurses helped me sit up, then moved my feet and legs gently to the side of the stretcher. With latex gloves covering their hands they combed through my hair with their fingers to remove more glass. There were no cuts on my face or head either. Additional evidence this must be a nightmare.

They wrapped a cream-colored, padded figure-eight brace that went around the back of my neck, under my armpits and fastened it between my shoulder blades to secure my clavicle bone, which had broken in two places.

 One nurse asked, “Would you like some pain medication?”

“No thanks,” I said, feeling disconnected from my body and confused about the events that were happening. I needed a clear mind to retain vital information given to me to make life-changing decisions. I could see my body was broken and bruised. It’s not normal to look like this and not experience more physical pain. My whole body felt numb, like I’d been given a large dose of Novocain. More evidence this must be a nightmare. Or could it be I’m consumed by grief and regret?

The emotional pain was intense. Every fiber of my being screamed in terror of what was to come. Never have I felt such mental agony and unbearable fear. It left me void of any other emotion. Not one tear fell from my eyes. Could medication help this kind of pain? I was afraid to ask. I felt the urgency to be alert and fully in control, yet I also felt the opposite. I better stay away from any medication.

The nurse gave me a hospital gown because my shirt and bra were cut off in the crisis so I could be examined. Another nurse adjusted a royal blue sling for my right arm to keep me from moving it so the broken clavicle bone could heal.

I’m not a stranger to hospitals. I’ve been admitted twice to have my babies, and I had to take my eight-year-old son several times to emergency throughout his life when he struggled to breathe due to severe asthma. My seven-year-old daughter also had a couple of emergency room visits—once with a febrile seizure and another time with an outbreak of roseola. Over the years I’d seen some of the trauma that goes on in emergency rooms.

This hospital was different. I’d never been here before. It was 60 miles away from home. Knowing family and friends were far away added to my loneliness.

On the other hand, my husband, Mark, had never been admitted to a hospital. In the fourteen years I’d known him, I’d never heard him speak about an injury or illness that required hospitalization. Not once. This couldn’t be happening to him because he’s always been healthy and active.

He was lucky too. Just before our marriage, he drove me home after a date. While driving back to his apartment, he looked at the dashboard and noticed his car was on empty. He must have been racing to get to a service station. Unfortunately, in the moment he took his eyes off the road, he missed the sharp curve. He lost control of the car and drove down a rocky embankment, which caused his car to roll. It was late and completely dark outside. This road didn’t have any street lights. He was trapped inside the upside-down vehicle. The door would not open, so he rolled the window down, unbuckled his seatbelt, and crawled out to safety. Miraculously, he walked away from that accident without any broken bones or cuts. Why were things so different this time?

A new nurse I hadn’t seen yet walked into the room and handed me a large, white plastic bag with a drawstring. On the side of the bag were big blue letters that read, Personal Belongings. She explained in the rush for Mark’s MRI and surgery, they had to cut his jacket, shirt, and pants from his body. Inside the bag were his shoes, socks, wallet, watch, and cut clothing.

She told me Mark would be in surgery for a while and suggested I wait for my family to arrive in the waiting room.

The heavy disconnected feelings were paralyzing, and I couldn’t make my body move. We are too young for this horrendous experience. How do I wake up and get out of this lonely, cold emergency room? How do I end this nightmare?

A dose of reality shot through my body with an intense burning sensation of fear. What if this isn’t a bad dream? How do I fix it? I’m responsible. I was driving and he was the passenger. It’s not fair Mark’s life is on the line. It should be me in surgery, not him.

How do I correct this terrible injustice?

My mind kept racing over the unbelievable words I’d heard. “Mark may not make it through surgery. He’s unconscious. He has severe brain swelling and needs a shunt immediately.”

This can’t be happening to my healthy husband.Bad things happen to other people, not us…or so I thought.

My April 27th Theme Song. Thank you Hilary Weeks for writing words that explain just how I feel.

Finding the Silver Lining

Some days are just plain sad, leaving us feeling lonely and discouraged. On days like this it may be hard to remember that others understand the heartache we are going through. Although no two lives are the same and our experiences are all different, if we love and live we will feel pain, disappointment, despair, and distress.

This past week I’ve had a few of examples where this became evident to me. One of my special nieces wrote this and she has given me permission to share.

“I doubt there is any greater horror than being woken up in the early hours of the morning by a frantic husband yelling at you to call 911 while holding up a lifeless baby…

Two of the most common things people said to me when my baby doll passed away were, ‘The pain will fade with time’ and ‘The pain will never go away, it will always hurt’. Two very contradicting statements, but both are pretty accurate. I didn’t like either option. I didn’t want the pain to go away, but I didn’t want to feel it either.

The Nell Family

Photo credit, Lisa Nell, 2015

Seventeen years ago today I lived that horror. Seventeen years later the pain is real, and I don’t think it hurts any less than it did that day. Time has healed my emotional wounds. I have had many blessings and many heartaches and I am grateful for all of it. To wish that horror had not happened would be to wish I hadn’t had the chance to have her be a part of my life. I will take the pain if it means I get to experience true joy. This day is always filled with mixed emotions for me. My heart was ripped from my chest, but I was taught a valuable lesson in life, love, and gratitude.”

I have never experienced the death of a child, but I do relate to “The pain will fade with time” and “The pain will never go away, it will always hurt”. I often feel both of those contradicting statements about my own life experience along with, “My heart was ripped from my chest, but I was taught a valuable lesson in life, love and gratitude.” I love you, Lisa, and appreciate you sharing your grief and happiness with us.

I have a cousin who had surgery for a brain aneurysm a few weeks ago. He has been in my thoughts and prayers constantly. His progress has been a way too familiar roller coaster ride. Last Friday, Mark and I went to see him in ICU. I wasn’t even sure they would let us in, but I had to try. I was in hopes to at least see his wife, who greeted us with a big hug.

“I’ve thought about you often since this happened,” she said. “I hate that you had to go through all this at such a young age and with small children.”

With tears in my eyes because I knew somewhat about the pain and anguish she was experiencing and knew she felt some of mine, I said, “And I hate that you have to go through this now. You are continuously in my thoughts and prayers.”

Our hearts were knitted together as our understanding of one another grew to an authentic level. This event made me appreciate how much God, family and friends help us get through the hard knocks in life. The blessing we receive from our grief is the realization that even though the incident which causes the sorrows may be different, the anguish felt is very similar. As we work through it and heal, we can more fully lift and support one another by sharing the load. True empathy not only lightens the pain, it makes those dark days brighter and more meaningful as we genuinely connect with one another.

In your grief and sorrow, what has helped you find the silver lining?

Other Related Posts:

The Miracle of Volunteers, part 1, Sandy, UT

The Miracle of Volunteers, part 2, Draper, UT

No Man Is an Island