I received the worst phone call of my life, from my husband’s cell phone. “Where are you?” asked the voice of the attending doctor that Tom had just started working with that day. “I’m out walking the babies!” I cheerfully replied thinking he and my husband were joking around during a late lunch break. What I didn’t realize at that moment was that he was also holding my husband’s hand as he was being rushed to the emergency room after colliding with a semi. His attending proceeded to tell me calmly that Tom had been in a car accident and hit a semi-tractor trailer. It was the longest walk back to my house that I have ever felt with two babies under two. I pray that none of you have to experience this type of phone call.
Two months before, I gave birth to our second child, a son, at 39 weeks and 1 day. Despite being full-term he had breathing complications at birth and was taken to the NICU minutes after holding him for the first time and stayed there dependent on oxygen for 10 days. Warren’s whole story is for another blog post. He is healthy now and was on the walk with my 17-month-old daughter and me at the time I received THE phone call.
Almost losing my son at birth was a scary enough experience, but I had my best friend to walk through it with me. Now, it was my best friend whose life was at stake and I was alone with two babies under two. Immediately, I prayed and then called my closest neighbor. She was able to take care of our toddler so I could drive to the hospital. Once she left, I let the tears flowed as I breastfed my baby and tried to get out of “shock” to move forward with the next steps. It was paralyzing. Then I began calling the family to come to take care of the kids while I went to the hospital. In the middle of arranging childcare and packing for the hospital, I received a call from the Spiritual Care department. The lady let me know Tom said he would be “OK” and he was being taken for a CT scan and X-rays, but she insisted I try to get there ASAP. Due to HIPAA laws, I wouldn’t know the state of my husband’s condition until I arrived at the hospital.
Fortunately, when I arrived Tom was conscious and able to carry on a relatively coherent conversation. He was missing a tooth, had a massive gauze bandage around his head, cuts down his cheeks, and an arm that had been burnt from being lodged between the steering wheel and the tractor-trailer. It took about an hour or two before scans came back but he was CLEAR! Clear of even the smallest fracture to his bones and had clear CT head and body scans. After his 4-inch long gash from the middle of his head down past his left eye was stitched up he was released! A miracle for sure! Inches from decapitation or a massive blow to the head at the least. Tom could remember all of his medical studies and would be released the day of the accident.
The cause of the accident is still unknown. It was the first day of cardiology rotation he was most looking forward to all year and it was going well so far that morning. Several of them were in a caravan to a radio station just miles from the hospital. We have tried to get more information than was on the police report, but our efforts have not been successful. Tom remembers everything before and after, but only a few parts about the accident. Our best conclusion is that someone must have pulled out in front of him from the gas station, forcing him into the turn lane where the tractor-trailer was waiting to make a left. We believe they probably didn’t see him coming around the bend due to a gas price sign blocking their view. Tom was following a co-worker on the one-lane road, he had no reason to have been distracted. His cell phone was in his pants pocket and it was 2pm in the afternoon on a clear, sunny day. Not knowing the cause bought me much anxiety, until my fireman/EMT cousin text, “I wouldn’t worry about it. He is lucky to be alive.” His comment wasn’t profound, but it had a profound impacted on how I moved forward. The cause, as much as I wanted to know, wasn’t important. It didn’t change anything. Tom is alive!
In the days to follow, I expected pure joy and peace. My husband nearly died and was mercifully spared. I expected gratitude to fill my heart and soul, after all, it was Thanksgiving. I was thankful, but I was also bitter and directed it toward him. Even admitting I was bitter for something that he didn’t wish to happen tore me up even more inside. I shouldn’t have these thoughts. We should be responding like those couples on Hallmark Movies whose significant other has a near death experience and they realize all their wrongs, forgive, and become completely different (better) people.
Happily ever after wasn’t happening. Holding onto this false conclusion of what this tragedy should change in our lives was uprooting even more resentment. The resentment that the medical student life is already hard and now I have to endure MORE. How long would it take Tom to heal? Would he have memory loss that we had not discovered yet? Would his hand heal so he could still pursue interventional cardiology? Would he always have scars on his face? Would treatment require out-of-pocket plastic surgery? We were already planning to end the fiscal year with just enough and now we have to replace a car! Where would we get a car wouldn’t cost us in repairs and hassle with the little savings we had left?
The four-week break that Tom has had to recover was the one that was scheduled for the end of the fourth year. We are thankful the school rearranged the break so he could still complete all his rotations on time. BUT we were so looking forward to taking a vacation when the studying ends before we move to a new town for residency. And now that ONE break is being used-up taking care of two under two and my husband during the busiest month of the year for my business. It seemed so unfair and felt like a punishment for being on this journey with my husband.
For Tom, this may have been a break from showing up at the hospital, but he still has to take boards, prepare for exams, act as the regional student representative, and complete his research. He needed to rest, but mentally knew he couldn’t fully rest and not fall behind.
He was stressed and I was stressed and we reverted to seeking personal comfort. As Tom grew more introverted and protecting of “his” time, I became more controlling about the completion of the to-do lists. He was looking for a wife to nurse him, be patient, and understanding as he processed this unexpected event and the permanent changes to his physical body. I wanted less responsibility and fewer people depending on me. I wanted help to parent and to be able to verbally process almost being a widow and all the unknowns of how Tom’s recovery would go. BUT I had a 17-month-old needy toddler adjusting to having a new, baby brother and dad who couldn’t pick her up. I had a two-month-old breastfed baby who was still cluster feeding and waking up every three hours at night. Many people offered to help, but even arranging help seemed overwhelming and then would our toddler be needier after having a sitter? My capacity already felt maxed out and I didn’t want to give anything I had left to my husband. We were “surviving”, but not as a team. Our marriage suffered.
“Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.” 1 Cor. 13:4-8
This verse represented everything I wasn’t being and pushed me to pray boldly for God to restore my love for my husband. I wasn’t feeling it. God had saved his life, given us more time together, protected my children’s father, and I was struggling to even like him. Several days later, almost magically, my desire to love in the midst of the processing and comfort seeking human selfishness was budding again. I can’t tell you it stayed budding and then turned into the Hallmark Movie ending, but its moving in that direction. It’s budding through fights, fears, disagreements, tears, suffering, provision, business success, babies’ needs, and holidays. Our love is budding because we have a greater hope that one day there will be no more suffering and one day we will be free from selfishness. It is budding because we know God is at work in each of us to make us more like Jesus, who fulfilled the law and is the perfect love in 1 Cor. 13:4-8 when we don’t have it in us to even fake it. We will not make it by our own strength, but only by his.
Some form of suffering will enter our lives again, hopefully not in the near future. I believe when it does Tom and I will be able to trust Jesus at a deeper level than we trusted this time. We will be less prone to seek personal comfort and more prone to be comforted by Him. And when we are comforted by Him, we will be able to comfort one another more generously.
But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” 1 Cor. 12: 9-10
Monday, Tom heads back to rotations. Its been just four weeks since the accident and his wounds have turned into scars and with the help of some ointment may not be too noticeable in the near future. He is caught up with studies for exams and back on track for the rest of the year. We have experienced evidence of God’s presence with us. The ENT specialized in facial plastic during residency. All medical bills have been covered by insurance! My business, Beautycounter, had its best month in the midst of all that was happening and November’s paycheck alone will cover 1/3 the cost of our new-to-us SUV. We also have had several people donate funds toward unexpected needs related to the accident. The babies are doing well. The baby started sleeping longer about two weeks after the accident and Tom is able to run after our toddler again. Family members took off work and rearranged schedules to help take care of our children while Tom rested and we attended appointments. Friends have brought meals and company when getting outside our house was a challenge. The outpouring of prayer and messages reminds us daily, we have a community who is walking alongside with us.