Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Craig's accident

I've decided to talk about Craig's accident that happened July 2, 2006 a little more in depth than I have before. I did not have Facebook or a blog at the time and so I didn't write about it except emails to family. Here is my recollection and I'm sure I will remember more as the hours pass.


I will admit, when I got married I didn't quite realize the gravity of the decision. I was 21 and although I felt mature for my age, still so young and naive. Within a very short period of time (weeks), Craig and I began to see hard days. We were immediately caught up in drama with his ex-girlfriend over custody and child support for his son, who was 5 at the time. And then if that wasn't bad enough, 11 months into our marriage Craig was in a horrible mountain biking accident. He broke his T-12 (back) and C-6 (neck) and most of his face including his zygoma, nose, and mandible. His face was literally crushed by the large rocks he landed on. He was unrecognizable. The accident happened the weekend before July 4th in 2006. We were camping on the Elwha River outside of Port Angeles with Craig's high school buddies since it was his 10 year reunion. I had worked that day and was tired after the long drive so I went to bed around 11pm. Craig wanted to stay up and hang out with the guys. A couple hours (I think) later someone came to my tent and said Craig was hurt and needed to go to the hospital. I honestly thought they were joking. When I realized they were serious I followed them to the scene of the accident and saw Craig sitting in a pool of blood and moaning, nearly unconscious. I felt dizzy seeing him. I was half asleep still and did not imagine seeing him like that. I remember almost falling over and having to sit down. One of his friends said they'd drive him to the hospital and I just nodded. They took off and a couple minutes later I followed in a car driven by a few more of his friends. The terrain was rugged as we were offroad for our campsite. It was very bumpy and I have no idea why any of us thought it was a good idea to transport Craig ourselves, but it didn't cross any of our minds at the time. I had no idea what had actually happened but his friends seemed to think it was just a concussion.
It was about 30 minutes but we made it to Olympic Medical Center, the small but efficient hospital in Port Angeles. Craig was already back in the ER when I got there. I was in my pajama pants, a tank top, a hoody and flip flops. Luckily I had grabbed my wallet. I could hear Craig screaming and the nurses were asking me questions about his medical history and our insurance. I filled out forms and they brought me back to his room where the Dr was trying to gently pick the rocks out of Craig's face and in particular the part of his upper lip hanging on by a thread. They were doing a physical examination of the damage and ordering test after test. At first they thought just a couple broken bones maybe or a minor back injury but every time they ran a test they found more wrong with him and then ordered more. I kept trying to ask what was going on and the story kept changing as the ER team was trying to pinpoint all the damage. It definitely was not a concussion. At this point it was about 2:30am and I was all alone. Craig's friends had been drinking (I had not) and wanted to go back to the campsite and sleep it off so they gave me their cell numbers and said to call when I needed a ride or anything. So, there I was in a city I didn't know all by myself in my pajamas.
I again heard Craig screaming and learned they were putting the catheter in. Another hour went by and they mentioned needing him to go to a Trauma Center. Um, what??? Ok, so this was bad. This was really bad. I was freaking out about money, too. I know that sounds stupid in a time like that, but all I could think about was our mortgage (for the house we'd just bought!) and the $700plus of child support we'd just been ordered to pay monthly and I was afraid of how much insurance wouldn't cover or even if we had insurance yet. His employer wasn't supposed to enroll him for a few days but Praise the Lord they did it early and it literally became effective the day of his accident!!! Talk about providence.
So, somewhere around 3am the ER physician ordered a helicopter to take Craig to Harborview Medical Center in Seattle. However, that morning had a huge cloud/fog cover and it was not safe for the flight. We waited and waited with Craig hanging on and moaning and moaning and saying over and over to me, "I'm so sorry, I'm so sorry." Eventually the Dr realized that we'd be waiting all day for the cloud cover to lift so he ordered a fixed wing flight from the airport. I thought I'd be able to go with him but was told I'd need separate transportation. All the way from Port Angeles to Seattle! I tried calling Craig's friends back at the campsite but most didn't answer. One did and she asked if I could take a cab to the campsite and then get Craig's car and drive to Seattle myself. My insistence that this was really serious and Craig could die and I didn't have any cash and I was scared didn't seem to matter. She ended the call saying, "sorry." I was all alone. I had been trying to call my parents all night but they weren't answering. I finally got my dad around 4:30am and he said he could come get me. Although I realized that if he did it'd be 1 1/2 hours for him to get there and then another 2 hours (at least) to get to Seattle. I then remembered that Craig's sister and brother-in-law (Karyn and Jim) live in Port Angeles. I didn't know them very well since Craig and I had only been together 2 years but I gave them a call. Jim answered and graciously offered to come right down to the hospital and drive me to my parents house in Poulsbo. He came to the hospital and gave me a great big hug and was such good support. I just couldn't handle being alone any more. He drove me all the way to Poulsbo and I'm sure he was supposed to be at work. I could barely say a word the whole ride. I was exhausted from only getting a couple hours of sleep but also terrified about how this accident had changed the course of our life and that my husband might never be the same, if alive at all. At the time I left the hospital Craig was being prepared for his flight and I didn't even know if he had use of his limbs. Before leaving Port Angeles Jim took me back to the campsite to get Craig's wallet and car keys and I had to walk past the pile of bloody rocks. Wow. I left our tent and everything in it knowing I didn't have time to pick everything up.

I got to my parents home around 7am or 8am (I think). I called the hospital and Craig had not arrived yet. I then told my mom what had happened and asked her to make phone calls to my boss and Craig's boss to let them know we wouldn't be at work the next day. I couldn't talk on the phone or even really talk at all without crying. I was devastated. My mom took notes of everything and started a notebook of information for me about who she called and what was going on with Craig.
After much insistence from my mom I took a shower and changed (admittedly it did help me feel a lot better) and my mom, dad, and I left a little while after that for Seattle. Around 11am Craig was in the ER at Harborview Medical Center. Someone came out to the waiting room and went over insurance stuff with me and told me not to worry that there was help available and just to focus on my family right now. She said he'd be going up to the Intensive Care Unit once the ER could get him stable. Then she led us back to his corner of the ER. A handsome, kind young doctor with gentle blue eyes was taking care of him. I was in shock, just sort of numb. Craig's chin and nose were nearly flat to the rest of his face ( his chin was actually indented on one side). His cheeks and forehead were extremely swollen and also purple and bloody, with his eyes swollen shut. I don't remember if he could talk at all but I'm pretty sure at that point he was very out of it and not able to talk. He did not at all look like my husband. He looked like the girl on Grey's Anatomy a couple seaon's ago whose face got smashed. My dad took a couple pictures before the security officer came over and put the kabosh on that. The ER Dr was undoing the messy lip stitches the Port Angeles hospital did and trying to clean our more little pebbles and save his upper lip. We were led back out to the waiting room while they did scans and more tests. My mom made more phone calls and let Craig's ex know what happened in case we'd need to fly his son up to see him one last time. My mom said she cried and promised to call DSHS and cancel child support for the time being (side note- she never did that) and also said she'd work on getting jacob a flight (never did that either).

A few hours later Craig was taken to the ICU on floor 9 which is actually the Burn Unit and Trauma overflow since the Trauma Unit was full. He had the best nurses there and had one on one care. There was always a nurse in his room 24/7 to watch him and bring him back the many times he'd stop breathing.  There were no plans yet for surgeries as he was way too swollen. It was a waiting game. I was not allowed to stay in his room so I went home with my parents that night and the wonderful nurses told me to call them directly any time I wanted for reassurance and they would tell me exactly how he was doing. Just being able to call them before I went to bed to make sure he was still alive was at least some comfort. I went back the next morning on the 8am Bainbridge Ferry. Harborview has a free shuttle available to employees and visitors that picks you up at the ferry and brings you there so that was awesome. I did that every day for the next almost two weeks, staying the whole day and going home when it was late at night. I would usually drive to our home in Bremerton and water our new flowers I'd just planted, check the mail, and then drive back to my parent's home in Poulsbo to sleep. That first week was really a blur. Craig does not remember anything from falling off his bike to 1 1/2 weeks later. He doesn't remember me visiting and sitting with him all day or anything that happened. I, however, remember it all. He had his first surgery on July 4th and it was over 8 hours long. I believe that one was for his back. After that it was one surgery after another spaced just enough apart that his body could recover from the post surgery swelling. He had large metal screws and rods put in his back and then was fitted with a body brace he had to wear 23 out of every 24 hours for the next three months. They didn't do any surgery on his neck hoping it would heal itself over time. He wore a Miami J collar for that. I don't remember when but they started doing the facial surgeries after the back surgeries were done. This included many small metal plates in his chin that they literally screwed his many broken bones onto. They put a metal plate under his left eye for that bone and also put titanium pieces in his nose. There was then a surgery to wire his jaw shut. He could not open his mouth at all. It's like closing your mouth so top and bottom teeth touch and then not being able to open. Not fun! That had to stay on for 2 1/2 months.

A little before the 1 1/2 week mark he was taken from the ICU to a more normal floor, meaning he had to share a room and had lots of different nurses all the time who didn't speak the best English. He had a call button if he needed anything but what would happen is he'd press the button and the nurse would ask, "what can I get for you?" and then he wouldn't answer since he couldn't talk and they'd just leave him!!!! It was so infuriating and Craig was scared every time I left in case something happened and he was all alone. It was so awful. I was worried every night when I left but I wasn't allowed to stay in his room. Every morning when I got there Craig looked so relieved that I came back and that someone could finally get him help. He would try and scribble on a pad if he needed something or I'd ask questions until we could pinpoint the problem. We had to tell the nurses multiple times, "he can't talk, so if he buzzes you, GO IN THERE!" My mom even called the Charge nurse a few times.

It had been 9 days and Craig had not even been able to get down some chicken broth. They were threatening him with a feeding tube and that threat worked! He got down some clear liquids and maybe some milk. After that he made good efforts to eat something (rather 'drink' something) every day and we didn't end up needing to go the feeding tube route. Then it became time for him to try and get out of bed. For those of you that have been through it you know how much even 1 week of laying flat in bed can really mess with your muscles. It was huge for him to even sit up in bed. He was dizzy and sweating like crazy. We just worked on sitting up for a while that day. The next day I came in and was told that he had gotten up (with the physical therapist of course) and very slowly walked a few steps with the walker and security belt. I was shocked! He looked so proud and I know he'd wanted to do it for me. Going through this ordeal was so taxing on us and every day that I left Craig thought I wouldn't come back the next day. He felt so guilty for his stupid mistake (staying up late being stupid, showing off with his buddies) and that he had put us through all of this. I will admit (and Craig knows this) that I did feel anger sometimes and sometimes I did want to leave. But I knew that wasn't the admirable choice and I knew that he needed me more than ever. He was learning to really trust the Lord and to trust me. After the day that he started eating and then walking he seemed to improve a lot every day. He got to where he could slowly make the rounds down the hall and back, and while still really sweaty and worn out, he could do it. He mastered a few stairs and was able to scramble an egg with the occupational therapist. At about 2 or 2 1/2 weeks (I can't remember), he was discharged to go home (with regular appointments in Seattle with his multiple surgeons). Believe it or not we took the hospital shuttle, slowly walked onto the ferry and got home that way with no car! My mom picked us up and drove us home on the Bainbridge side. My Aunt Karen went grocery shopping and got the high calorie items I needed to make his liquid meals. It didn't feel like Craig was ready to go home but the hospital really likes to see their patients go home asap because of the risk of infections like MRSA from long hospital stays. So, home we went. Craig was not allowed to even think of going back to work for 3 months and he couldn't drive. His face was very much still healing with a few more surgeries to go. His back was recovering in the full brace, he still had the neck collar and his mouth was wired shut. I got very good at making high protein, high calorie smoothies and sticking soups in the blender. Whatever he ate needed to fit through a straw in the corner of his mouth and also contain hopefully 2000 calories per day. Even with that amount he still lost 30lbs in a matter of weeks (some of which was obviously muscle). My strong, hard working husband was stuck sitting on the couch watching movies and walking around our tiny home. I went back to work after a few days so I wouldn't lose my job and also to pay our mortgage. Each morning I got up and made him a high calorie liquid breakfast, got him all his medications, then I would make sure he was ok and had a movie to watch (I don't think we had cable) and a phone nearby. I hurried to get ready for work and tried to suck up the tears and be professional. I promised to come home on my lunchbreak. I would go to work and try to be a good teller and help my customers but all I wanted to do was crawl in a hole and sob. I would race home on my lunch and make Craig a high calorie liquid lunch, do all his medications, then spend the next 30-45 minutes on the phone with insurance companies and hospitals trying to work out the bills. It was exhausting. Then I would race back to work and try to hide the fact that I sobbed the whole way there. My co-workers were so kind and hopefully the customers didn't think I was too weird for being red-faced and super sensitive. I don't think anyone really knew how bad our situation was and I just didn't have the energy to talk about it. After work I would go home and begin the slow task of removing the dressings under Craig's body cast, giving him a shower, putting on new dressings and putting the body cast and neck brace back on. He literally couldn't help at all with this so it took a lot of time, energy and strength from me. Often I'd shave his face so he wouldn't feel so messy but I couldn't shave certain parts because of all the healing wounds. Then I'd get him settled in the living room and once again make him a high-calorie liquid meal, do all his medications, and try to think of something for myself to eat and then go through all the many bills that had arrived that day. So went my life for 2 1/2 months. Craig was dying of boredom as we didn't have a dog at the time and most of his 'friends' seemed to disappear after the accident. He felt so lonely all day and also super anxious to get back to work. Tim Ryan Construction was graciously holding his job for him. During the 2 1/2 months of being home before going back to work Craig had a few more face surgeries, mainly on his nose. It had been so badly crushed that it was very difficult for his otolaryngologists to reconstruct it. After the 3rd nose surgery they told us if they did any more he may not have a nose ( I believe they actually said it might end up like Michael Jackson- RIP) so we'd just have to live with it. The nose surgeries were also for things like a constantly running tear duct and breathing issues- not just cosmetic :) Although I do have to tell you that my favorite facial feature of Craig's prior to the accident was his adorable nose. I always told him how much I loved it and that I hoped our children would someday have it. It was a bit devastating for that nose to be gone and just the fact that he no longer looked like the man I married. I mean, I realized that we'd get old and gray and probably fat, but I never thought his actual facial features would change. It was so hard for me and I know he felt really bad about his new face, too. He saw himself as a monster. All this after not even a year of marriage! I was 22 and Craig was 27. We spent our 1st anniversary (July 16th) doing nothing in particular. What's the point of going out to eat or getting your cake topper out of the freezer when your jaw is wired shut! Craig eventually went back to work and life went on, although it was very challenging for a solid two years. Our marriage went through more than I'd wish on anyone. I felt bitterness and anger that Craig put us in the situation he did. I felt sorrow for all I'd been through and wished that like Craig I just wouldn't remember it. I was SO stressed about money. Medical bills just kept coming and coming and my lousy $10.50 an hour job at the Credit Union just didn't cut it.

Once his jaw wires were cut and his body brace and neck brace were retired (after three months), we began the tedious and expensive task of putting his mouth back together. When he landed on his face he efficiently managed to knock out a couple teeth, grind a couple down to the pulp, and crack a dozen more. His mouth was a decaying mess. It was barely salvagable. And we were told that although they wanted to save most of the teeth that because of the trauma to his jaw it was possible the nerves could die at any time over the next few years and his teeth might just fall out. Oh joy! Some of the dental was covered under our insurance company's 'dental accident clause', but it took phone calls to the insurance company every day to remind them of the accident and what the work was for otherwise I'd get an explanation of benefits saying ,"patient does not have dental coverage." And then I'd have to call and say, "I know he doesn't have dental, this is his dental accident coverage, please review all the notes from every other time I've called!" And then I'd have to retell the whole story of the accident, living it all over again. So frustrating, as you can imagine. Because of the extent of the damage to his mouth and also his jaw being shut and his lip having major stitches and scarring, we were unable to kiss for over a year. I sort of got used to it and still to this day struggle with kissing and the intimacy it brings. It's hard to hide your feelings or your flaws or your anger or your hurt when you are that close to another person; face to face. It's just requires such a huge amount of trust for me, even more so than other types of intimacy. It's sort of hard to explain but I know it comes from all we went through. It's something that gets easier with time and I'll keep working through (and honestly is probably somewhat to do with all the men that hurt me (bio dad, boyfriends, etc) prior to Craig).

Right after the accident I began looking for another job with better pay and benefits since we didn't know if Craig would be able to go back to work. Six months later I started a great job with Bank of America as a personal banker and we were able to slowly get back on our financial feet. It's been 3 1/2 years now since this whole ordeal and we don't talk about it too much. We know what we endured and that it almost cost us our marriage. We are survivors. It's allowed us to see marriage as something you commit to over the long haul. We are in love and feel more committed now than ever. I wasn't sure I'd ever get there in the middle of the hell we went through. Since then we've encountered an expensive custody battle with Craig's ex, infertility treatments, and Craig getting laid off to name just a few things. We've had quite a journey! My hope and prayer is that God has brought us through all of this to teach others and to encourage others; perservere, don't give up, let go of selfishness! Our journey is definitely not over, but I'm proud of how far we've made it. Most people have no clue what we've endured or that Craig looks different than he used to. I hope that's a testament to the God that we serve and that He can give us beauty for ashes. He WANTS to give us beauty for ashes. To take our failures and our messes and turn them around and redeem them. Redeem us. We don't deserve his love or favor, but he still wants to give it to us.

I hope I can encourage you to press into your marriage. To love your spouse with a real and true love that is prepared to fight the good fight. I hope you can commit to make it work and not see divorce as an option. And I hope you can open your heart and let the God who created you, who loves you more than anything, transform your life and give you joy no matter what set of circumstances you find yourself in. May God richly bless you this Christmas.
~ Diana

My hubby in Oct 09!

2 comments:

  1. awe Diana, you write so beautifully. I almost feel like I was there. Thank you for sharing that story. I had heard you mention it briefly and wanted to ask about what happened, but hadnt.
    Merry Christmas! I look forward to getting to know you, Craig & Ely more.
    Love,
    Julie
    PS your faith is truly inspiring!

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  2. It's Kandah, I just read this and i am chocking. My hubby and son are in the room so I'm trying to be brave. My goodness. How great is the Lord! I love him. So glad i met you and ur precious family. You guys are always blessing others and God has so much in-stored for you. I am glad to blessed to be your friend. Love you so so much. Happy to see the results of God's love and mercy!

    <3 Kandah.

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