In the days following Zach’s motorcycle accident last month, there was a lot of driving between Orlando (where my parents and kids were) and Melbourne (where Zach was hospitalized).
The stretch of road we took was so pretty and peaceful. Lots of wide fields and grazing cows, white picket fences and stunning sunsets.
Beauty is particularly poignant when we’re in pain, isn’t it? It’s like, “How can everything still be so lovely when I’m so broken?”
My parents made the trek every single day. They brought the kids, who spent most of their time begging for vending machine snacks and playing Monopoly in the lounge. They were a welcome diversion.
Eli and Violet were allowed brief visits with Zach, and were quite somber after. Jonah was too young to visit the ICU, and he was NOT happy about it. He said he KNEW that Zach wanted to be with him, so we HAD to let him in. It sure was hard to keep telling the little guy no. He said things like, “I can’t feel Zach in my heart anymore” and then he wrote this note and asked us to read it to his big brother:
Talk about heartbreaking….
That whole second day is something of a blur now. Zach remained sedated and on the ventilator, to allow his brain to rest. Every time they tried backing off on the sedation, he shook violently and became combative, so they had his wrists tethered to the bed with black, seat-belt type straps to prevent him from pulling out any tubes.
The neurosurgeon said that agitation was normal with a frontal lobe injury and could resolve in one day, or in two years.
Can you imagine how crazy it felt to hear that? There was no way to know what we were up against. There was no way to know if our Zach would ever return to us, even if his body survived.
They said he could hear us speak, so to keep it positive, and we did. We took turns sitting beside him, talking gently but sparingly, with the board at the end of his bed reminding us that his brain needed as little stimulation as possible.
(I have to admit that the Activity Level cracked me up. I mean, he was fully sedated and on a vent. What else was he going to do?)
So it was a whole day of just being with him, something that parents of 18-year-olds don’t get to experience often. But since he couldn’t do anything about it, I tried to make the best of it. I prayed over him, mostly silently. I couldn’t hold his hand because of the straps, but I could lay my hand on top of his to warm it up. Mostly I just placed my palm on his upper chest, the part that I knew was uninjured, so that he would know we were there. I wanted to stroke his hair, or kiss his cheek, but his face was so battered, I couldn’t bear the thought that my kiss or touch might cause him more pain.
Man, it was hard to want to love and comfort him and be able to do almost nothing.
Donnie and I took turns sitting with him; other times we sat together. We took brief naps in the lounge because we weren’t allowed to fall asleep in the ICU, and during one break, met this awesome three-legged therapy dog, Sunshine.
I read a book they gave me about traumatic brain injury and had to stop because it was just too depressing.
We had the sweetest nurse, Alie. She encouraged us to leave the hospital to sleep and shower that night. My parents reserved a hotel a mile away, to make it convenient for us to take turns sleeping and staying with Zach. But when darkness came that second night, I froze at the thought of leaving him.
How could a mom just leave her injured child alone like that?
Alie assured us that nothing would change overnight, and if it did, she would call us immediately. But Zach was likely to remain unconscious all night and wouldn’t really know if we were there or not. She warned us that the next day could be tough if they decided to extubate and take him off the sedation. (Boy, was she right about that…) And that we would need some sleep to face it, since neither of us had slept the night before.
It all made sense, but my heart just wasn’t getting it.
Donnie told him bye, and went to get the car…or something…I don’t remember. I just know I was standing in the corner of in that darkened room, the streetlights glowing through the blinds, sobbing silently into my hands because the thought of leaving him alone in that sterile, cold room simply broke my heart.
I don’t remember how I finally peeled myself away, or how I held it together long enough to make it out to the car, where I sobbed again on that mile-long ride while Donnie told me it was all going to be OK.
He let me out at the front of the hotel and there I sat in this fancy lobby, feeling totally alone for the first time in days, and completely out of place with my red-rimmed eyes, messy ponytail and stained shirt.
A businessman strode by on his phone and I swear he glared at me like I was a vagrant or something. Yeah, I looked that rough.
We showered. Donnie immediately fell asleep. I couldn’t sleep. I’d been so wound-up-wiped-out for so long that I couldn’t shut off my thoughts.
Not when they kept wandering back to that chilly, white room and my black-and-blue boy, and the bleakness of a future that held no guarantees for any of us.