One memorable day in February, 1999, God really wanted to get my attention. He had probably been dropping little hints for awhile, but anyone who knows me knows that I’m often dense, so whatever subtlety He had started out with was rejected for a more direct approach. I don’t know why He didn’t just yell down from Heaven like He did in the Old Testament, because that would have been MUCH easier for me, but that’s one of the perks of being God, I guess: You get to do whatever You want to do.
1999 was starting off as a busy year for me, and probably not one of my most successful. My heart was in the right place; I was trying to raise kids, shore up the foundation of a new marriage, and make sure I was bringing home plenty of that commissioned bacon to fry up in the pan. I was bustling. I was going 100 miles per hour. That’s what busy, professional, middle class, modern Moms were supposed to do. Right? I believe I’d read about that strategy in a book somewhere. Or at a Leadership seminar. Or maybe it was in Cosmo.
The Accident Day (which is how it is referred to around here) started out petty enough. Miss Krista (yes, my precious Middle Child, the one that has given me all the gray hair and the high blood pressure), chose to skip out of school with a friend who had just gotten her driver’s license. In all of their teenage wisdom and motor vehicle experience, they pulled out of the school parking lot and immediately hit an undercover police car. Not a serious accident, except, lo and behold, there also happened to be alcohol in the car. Unopened, but, realistically, they’d only left the parking lot less than a minute before.
I got the phone call, and my blood was at the appropriate boiling stage by the time I got to the child. She likely would have rather gone to jail than get in the Jeep and go home with me, but I wasn’t going to let her off with something as painless as juvenile lock up.
I was in the living room, right in the middle of my “Come to Jesus” meeting with Krista when her father arrived. He was there to pick up Krista and her younger brother, Alex, for a weekend visit. He had no knowledge of what had transpired earlier.
He and the kids were struggling with their interactions at that point in their lives, and while most of the strain was between him and our oldest daughter Amanda, it was a delicate balance for all of them during those teenage years. It was no surprise that he began putting his 2 cents worth in to the verbal lashing I was piling onto the girl. She’s his child, too.
Nonetheless, his words to Krista were harsh, and they boomeranged back on him almost immediately when Amanda chimed in. Then came the 30 seconds that I am pretty certain are burned forever into each of our minds. Amanda made a gutsy statement fueled by teenage idealism about “Oh, you want to show up and be Big Daddy today? What’s the special occasion? You don’t have anything to do with us any other time.” That’s not a direct quote, but as close as I can remember it. Her Dad turned his attention from Krista, took two long strides over to Amanda, raised a warning finger to her, and as he began to tell her to watch her mouth, she beat him to the punch with the type of venom-laced “SCREW YOU!!” that only a 16 year old could muster.
And then it got ugly.
In a flash, Amanda’s Dad grabbed her under her jaw and held her against the wall. Krista shrieked and bolted from the room, and I launched myself at my ex-husband, successfully separating him from Amanda. Amanda then bolted up the stairs, with an “I HATE YOU!” chorus flowing behind her. My son Alex, 13 years old, stood there frozen. I made eye contact with Steve to let him know that no one was in danger, and he should go after the girls. Even that early on, it was amazing how well Steve and I communicated without ever saying a word.
What had just transpired here? I knew we weren’t exactly the Cleavers, but neither were we prime candidates for the Jerry Springer show. I’ve known their Dad since I was a kid; he wasn’t, and isn’t, a violent man, nor does he have a hair-trigger temper. My children were good kids, respectful, polite people. They were imperfect, yes, and they were definitely going to be rebellious teens, but they were kind hearted, generous, and intelligent. What had just happened in my normal, middle class living room on this normal Friday afternoon?
After a few deep breaths, it was decided that their Dad and Alex would proceed with the weekend visit as planned, and Krista would stay at home. As the boys headed out for their 60 mile drive south, I went to get a bead on what sort of angst was enveloping my girls upstairs. They were sullen and silent, and I left them to vent to one another while I continued to ponder how the last 15 minutes had escalated to such an explosion.
The call came about 30 minutes later. There had been an accident on the highway. My ex, still churning from the confrontations at my house, had neglected to see that traffic had come to a stop ahead of him, and his little Honda slammed into a much larger SUV that was stopped on the highway. My son, his half brother, and his father were in ambulances headed to a hospital. My heart stopped. The State Patrol said everyone was alert and speaking, but banged up. Off we go to get my 13 year old baby.
Amanda had a “first date” planned for that evening with a certain boy that she seemed quite smitten with. A group date watching movies at another friend’s house, but a date nonetheless. I had learned to judge the level of crush by the amount of time spent in preparation of seeing the object of her infatuation, and this one had actually warranted new jeans in addition to the regular beauty regimen. I called her and told her that her brother was alive and well, and she should go ahead with her plans. We joked about being careful on the road, even though she’d be traveling less than 5 miles total all evening.
After arriving home and getting Alex settled with some Sprite, fluffy pillows, and his choice of TV stations, I paged Amanda with the home phone number so she would know we had gotten home, as I’d promised to do earlier. Ah, the days before cell phones! She called me from the King Soopers where she’d been working for several months. The store was a short 2 blocks from our house. She and the group were loading up on chips and soda, then heading to another friend’s house for movies. She’d be home by 11:00. Krista was still holed up in her room, not sure if she should be apologizing more or angry at me.
I threw on a nightgown and crawled into bed next to Steve. It had been a long day. I was trying to devise a system for alarms for each hour so we could check on Alex when the phone rang. On the other line was a young woman, talking quickly. “Do you know someone named Amanda? There’s been an accident, and this was the last number in her pager. I’m trying to find her parents.”
“Not funny, kids. I’m not in the mood to….”
Then I heard a frantic cry in the background, and knew it was my daughter.
“I’m her Mom. Where are you?”
She was less than half a mile away. A block from the grocery store she’d called me from. I tossed the phone and grabbed for my jeans. Steve was already up and moving. A quick explanation to Krista that her sister was in a fender bender and I was going to check out the damage, and we were out the door. I could already hear the sirens. Steve was driving, and as we came speeding up to the police officer that was blocking the street, I was hanging out the window saying “My daughter is in that accident!” He was calm. What was my daughter’s name? What did she look like? He showed us where to pull the car over to, and asked us to wait in the car and he’d send someone over.
For the first time, I looked past the flashing lights. It wasn’t a fender bender. There were 3 cars in the collision. I was trying to process the scene when Steve said, “That’s Heather’s car.” The SUV on its side, with all the windows busted out. I opened the door and was making my way to the sound that I’d heard over the phone when the policeman walked up and firmly planted himself in front of me. “You’re Amanda’s mom? I’m going to let you see her, but only if you can talk to her and keep her calm, ok? Let the paramedics do their job, stay out of their way, but try to keep her calm, ok?”
I heard him, but nothing was penetrating my brain fog except Amanda’s voice. Then there she was, on her back in the street, EMTs surrounding her, a blanket pulled up to her neck, where a brace had already been placed.
“Amanda, honey, I’m right here.”
“Momma, I’m scared. I think I broke my arm.”
“It’s okay, Baby. I’m here. You’re going to be fine.”
“It hurts. I’m scared.”
Other ambulances were leaving. I tried to do a count in my head of how many people they needed to tend to. 5 in the car that Amanda was in, no idea on the other 2 cars.
A policeman pulled me back by my elbow. He told me that they were looking for a hospital to take her to. I looked at him like he was stupid. “Aurora Regional is just over there…” I began, and he stopped me. “Ma’am, they can’t take her there. We’re trying to find a trauma unit. We’re checking with University Hospital.” University Hospital? In the middle of Denver? Where all the indigent people are treated? “No, we have insurance, she doesn’t have to go there.” He was so calm, and in that moment it annoyed me ferociously. He looked down, and I followed his gaze. I was barefoot. In February. In Denver. “Ma’am, go home. Get her insurance information. Gets some shoes on. Get phone numbers of anyone you’ll need to reach. By the time you get back here, we’ll know where she’ll be going.” Amanda was yelling my name again. The officer walked me back over there to tell her that I was going to get some things together and would be right back. He had a flashlight, and for the first time I saw how white Amanda was. She was in shock. I saw the blood. Everywhere. What was under that blanket?
We pulled back in the driveway and took a moment to put our game faces on. Reassured Krista that Amanda was alright, we were just going to have her checked out at the hospital to be sure, no big deal. Checked on Alex. Got dressed, including shoes and replacing my nightgown with a shirt. We were back out the door in 2 minutes.
As we pulled back up, the same officer walked to the car and said the ambulance had just left, and she was on her way to University Hospital. Steve drove like a madman, and as we were flying down the city streets, I remember saying to him, “Please be careful. This isn’t a good day for us and cars.” His response? “I’m not a Heisner (their last name), I’ll be fine.”
We jumped out of the car and went directly to the ER information desk. I gave the nice, calm nurse Amanda’s name, and she looked on her screen and rifled through her papers. Furrowed her brow. “Where is she coming from?” “An MVC in Aurora.” “She’s not here yet.”
We had beaten the ambulance. I think it’s still one of Steven’s proudest moments.
I saw the ambulance pull in, but didn’t recognize the person on the gurney that they wheeled in. The nurse directed them to a room number, cocked her head in my direction and said, “Her parents are already here.” Amanda? That couldn’t be Amanda. It was Amanda.
A police officer came over to give me some background. She had been partially ejected as the vehicle flipped, but the boy sitting next to her grabbed onto her and pulled her towards him, which probably saved her. Her shoulder and arm ended up between the vehicle and the pavement when it landed on its side, then proceeded to slide 70 feet or so. He told us we were extremely lucky that her injuries weren’t much worse. I thanked him, but wasn’t feeling very lucky.
Eventually a doctor came out to give us an update. It was unpleasant. There wasn’t much left from the elbow down on the top of her forearm, and they were still trying to remove glass and asphalt that was imbedded in flesh and bone. They hadn’t given her anything for pain yet, because they needed to know what she could feel and what she couldn’t. They were going to stitch what they could, but there wasn’t much to pull together. She would need grafts. She would lose significant use of her left hand and arm. Worse was the high risk of infection with such massive soft tissue damage, which could result in amputation.
I was trying to process the information, but my mind kept screaming “That’s not an acceptable answer. There needs to be a better solution.” I called my sister, who was (and still is) a nurse with plenty of trauma experience. She was 800 miles away, and probably asleep, but she listened to my shaky account of what had happened and the current status, with me wrapping up by explaining I needed a better outcome than this.
I love my sister. She peppered me with some questions.
“Did she hit her head?” “I don’t think so.”
“There’s no neurological damage at all? She’s coherent, she knows who you are, she’s speaking?” “Yes, she’s talking and conscious, it’s just her arm.”
“OK, honey, then listen to me. Here’s the deal: I want you to shut the hell up and be grateful that she’s alive and has full brain function.
“It doesn’t matter if they have to cut off her ENTIRE arm, which isn’t likely, but even if they do, you still have your daughter. The doctors will do the best they can. Dry your eyes, thank God and your lucky stars, then march yourself in there and be her Mom.”
It was the verbal equivalent to a slap across the face. Pretty effective from 800 miles away. Thank heavens for her.
Steve earned his merit badge for step parenting that night. We finally got into the room to see Amanda, after being briefed that there would be lots of people in there, there was a surgical curtain up right in front of Amanda’s face so she couldn’t see her arm and we shouldn’t look at anything but her face. Talk to her. Comfort her. Help her relax. The nurse was clear: if either of us became emotional or ill (no crying or fainting or throwing up), we would be asked to leave.
I’d heard the phrase “white as a sheet” hundreds of times, but had never really seen a person that color before. There were 2 nurses and 3 doctors, all with scissors and tweezers and helmet lights and needles. I froze. Steve reached over to my chin and physically turned my face towards Amanda, whispering “Don’t look, remember?” I looked at Amanda and smiled. Steve found a small container, filled it with water, grabbed some gauze pads, and began cleaning the blood off of Amanda’s face and hair.
“Hey, sweetie. You’re going to be ok.”
“I think I hurt my arm.”
“Yes, you hurt your arm.”
“I don’t know where my purse is.”
“Don’t worry about it.”
“They cut my new jeans and shirt off.”
“I’m sorry, Mom.”
“Don’t be sorry, hon.”
“Do you think I’m going to need stitches?”
I froze. She had no idea.
Steve jumped in. “Maybe a couple. If they have to stitch you up, what color do you want? You can have any color you want.”
A nurse looked in our direction. “I don’t think we have purple.” Steve just looked at her. She sent someone to find purple surgical thread.
Many hours later, after lots of purple stitches, and morphine (for her, not me), and vomiting (her, not me), she was sleeping soundly, bandaged like a mummy. Now it was just a matter of time to heal and rehab.
Steve and I were exhausted; physically, mentally, and emotionally spent. My rigid, controlling personality had been punched repeatedly over the past 24 hours. I knew there was a life lesson in all of the day’s events, but I’m sad to say that I failed test. I paid the tuition, but didn’t really learn the lesson. My take away was that I needed to be more observant, more aware. I needed to be more diligent so things like this didn’t happen again. As if I had control.
Did I mention I can sometimes be dense?
Amanda recovered, though her days of Varsity softball (which she played even as a freshman) were over, as was the incredible artistic potential that had already garnered attention from local universities. She has good use of her arm and hand, but osteoarthritis has already begun to plague her in elbow, wrist and fingers. Krista survived the wild years…at least I hope her wildest years are behind her. Alex didn’t have a concussion, but still got to show off some nasty bruises. That’s a pretty big bonus for a 13 year old. Now that he’s all grown up, he drives just as poorly as his Dad. Well, maybe not that bad.
As for me, I thankfully have lived long enough to overcome that rigid, controlling personality….for the most part.