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.


“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.