Monday, October 15, 2007

Life Changing Events

I had just gotten home Friday afternoon when my wife answered the phones. I could hear my mom in a wavering voice saying things like broken ribs, crushed ankle and suddenly fear washed over me. I raced for the other phone and soon learned that my little brother had fallen off a grain bin while on vacation at the family farm and was pretty banged up and about to be transferred from the regional hospital to the University Hospital. I knew it was bad and my blood ran cold. We called the Mrs. Z (daycare lady) and asked if she could look after Little Abbey for the night. She said yes and so I quickly took Little Abbey back over there. Seconds later Mrs. Abbey and I were heading north to the university.

We beat my brother to the emergency room but were soon reunited. It was the first time I had seen him since Christmas last year and he was lying on the rolling cart in obvious pain. Lots of pain. I tried to take his mind off things by making jokes about not being able to find good help these days and flying but he couldn't really listen through the fog of his pain. They kept injecting him with morphine but evidently it didn't have an effect on him and it was only a couple hours into it when they tried another drug that worked better, only slightly.

After numerous x-rays we finally learned the extent of his injuries. He didn't have any broken ribs but his right wrist had a hairline fracture. The lower end of his left leg had been shattered into 10 or 15 little pieces and shoved down through his ankle. It looked horrific and had he been a horse, they would have taken him out back and shot him. But fortunately he was in America and the best doctor in the world was on call and was going to do a surgery that he pioneered to fix him. We waited. Finally early Saturday morning, they said the surgery would be put off until later that morning at seven and wheeled my brother off to a room upstairs. My parents went with him but I couldn't.

His girlfriend was scheduled to arrive at the airport in the afternoon and someone had to go pick her up. I volunteered. So I went home and slept until time to leave and went to pick her up. All during my three-hour drive to the airport, I kept hearing via my wife's cellphone that the surgery kept getting bumped and would possibly not occur until Monday, which just infuriated me. My brother was in tremendous pain and I felt like we were young again and I would do anything I had to protect him. I was his big brother after all. But just a few minutes from the airport, I got the call that after three and a half hours of surgery, he was out and in recovery.

Later that evening in tow with his girlfriend, I arrived at the hospital and saw my brother again. They had put two bolts into his heel bone and two bolts into his leg bone well above the break. In-between the bolts, they had attached a rod with a turnbuckle and had stretched his leg in surgery. Because all his muscles and tendons had still been attached, the many shattered pieces had resumed their normal positions and looking at the new x-ray, I couldn't believe that I was looking at the same leg I had seen earlier. It truly was a pioneering procedure and will probably save him from a life of being crippled. In fact, other than some early arthritis in that joint, the prognosis is a full recovery.

Broken bones take about two weeks before they begin to heal. So the doctors still may lengthen the rod to get the bones positioned just right and decide sometime today if he needs another surgery to maybe screw on one of the larger pieces. If not, he will probably be discharged later this week with no cast on the leg other than the rod, turnbuckle and screws and the cast on his arm. He won't be able to walk on it for up to six months and it may take two years for complete recovery. So Saturday evening as I was heading home well after dark, my mind was on a happy high knowing things might end up just all right after all.

I pulled on the divided four-lane freeway and headed south. About ten minutes into my journey as I was slowly passing someone with my cruise set and evidently their cruise set just a fraction below mine, I saw some lights ahead appear over a hill. In the next four seconds, I spent probably three of those seconds looking at those lights and thinking they were headed right for me not comprehending the situation. Finally at the last second, I locked up my brakes, swerved in behind the vehicle I had been passing that miraculously didn't hit the brakes too and sealed my fate, before the car went flying north on the wrong side of the divided highway. I had been a second from death, no more. I was scared. Behind me on the busy evening traffic, cars were swerving all over to avoid the two red ember taillights that disappeared over the next hill still going the speed limit of 65 mph.

After I regained my senses, it still took me a half hour to understand what had happened. By that time, calling 911 on the cellphone right beside me was probably out of the question. So I drove home, hugged my wife, told her I loved her, tucked in Little Abbey and gave thanks to God that both Abbey brothers were still alive and kicking for another day. Life can change so fast.

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