"Shock Trauma!" The words shot through the air like the crack of a rifle! "Shock Trauma!" The sound ricocheted off the walls of the bedroom! Over and over; until the sound seemed deafening to me. What's going on? What was the rest of the message? I had to take control of myself!
A few months ago those words would not have had the same effect on me. They had no meaning to me until I completed the nursing assistant course. Critical! Life and death! The words flashed in bold black letters across my mind; words that turned a quiet, ordinary evening into a flashflood of events that changed all of our lives dramatically.
It had been a day like any other day. A day of standing in the strength only God can give. So many things had changed over the last two years. The shocking break up of a twenty-seven year marriage; working part-time; studying nursing at night; managing my own life and making decisions about things that had never been my responsibility in the past. Learning everyday ". . . with God all things are possible." (Matthew 19:26)
So many mornings, as soon as I could gather my senses, I would begin to say, over and over, "I can do all things, through Christ, which strengthens me." (Philippians 4:13)
Things were beginning to take shape. It was not easy. Single parenting; holding down a job; being single again at forty-four were all uncharted courses to me, but God was teaching me to trust Him. He had proven His faithfulness again and again.
It was Friday, so I left work and went straight to the bank to cash my paycheck. I stopped at the mall and picked up a few things; then headed home. I shouted hello to the kids as I went up the stairs to my room. I made a practice of giving myself a few minutes to regroup before facing the chaos that usually greeted me in the evenings. It also gave the kids a few minutes to clean up any disasters that may have occurred in my absence.
Halfway through changing I noticed the light on the answering machine flashing. Probably a call for the kids, I thought. Their dad usually called before he came to pick them up on Friday night. I pressed the button and heard my oldest son's voice.
"Mom, there's been an accident! Dawn was in a wreck! The kids were in the car with her. I am on my way to North Arundel Hospital. They have flown Dawn to Shock Trauma."
It felt as if the whole world had gone into slow motion. I heard myself saying, "Oh God. No! Shock trauma? No, not Shock trauma!" I could not stop saying it! I had to get control! What was I supposed to do? Who do I call? Where do I start to try to make sense out of what I had just heard? Who were the other people in the car? I played the message two or three more times. My hand trembled a little more each time I reached for the machine. Oh God, please. This can't be happening! But as I listened again, I knew that it was happening and I had to go to them.
I called Dottie. Dottie was the kind of friend that only happens to you once in a lifetime. She was always there when I needed her. She had just lost her husband to cancer. She was widowed and I was divorced in the same month. We had spent a lot of lonely evenings together. Sometimes crying on each other; sometimes laughing until we cried over things that would not have made sense to anyone else. She would know what to do. I don't even remember what I said to her or what she said in reply, but a few minutes later, there she was. Calm, and reassuring; as always.
I called North Arundel. They had no information on Dawn. She had not been taken to North Arundel. She was flown directly to University's Shock Trauma Unit. Who exactly was with her? Who did they have in the ER? What was the extent of their injuries? The voice on the other end told me to hold on; she would find out.
"Charlene has been checked over and she is being released." Who in the world is Charlene? Dear God, "Charlie!" The baby! We never called her by her real name. I interrupted the nurse on the phone. What about Brandon? What about Chris? Brandon had minor abrasions; nothing serious. What about Chris? No answer. She asked me to hold on for a moment and left. My mind went crazy! He's dead! She can't tell me herself! She has gone to get someone with the authority to tell me! After what seemed like forever, she returned. Chris was okay! There was abdominal distress that they had to look at in x-ray, but he was all right. I wept with relief. They were being released to their father. Thank God; Bill was with them.
Next step . . . go to Dawn. Her Mom and one of her sisters lived in Texas. Her dad had remarried and I didn't know where he was. I had to get to her. We had always been close. She was like a daughter to me. She was more than that; she was one of my best friends. She was only twenty-six years old. She was beautiful, petite, and the kind of daughter-in-law that every mother hopes for. We both loved the Lord. She would sit for hours and listen to me as I related my experiences in God to her. She would follow me around as I did my housework and ask me questions about the Lord or where to find something in the Bible. She was such a joy to me. She had to be okay!
I don't remember the drive to the hospital. From somewhere far off I could hear Dottie's voice, but I didn't know what she was saying. Maybe she was praying out loud. I only knew I could not answer her even if she was talking to me.
All I could think about was Dawn. Her sweet smile; her crazy little girl laugh; the way her hair always smelled so clean when she hugged me. I used to fuss at her because she would come out in the cold right after she washed her hair and when she hugged me in church on Sunday morning her hair was so cold against my face. Was that just last week? We had held each other after church and cried. She had separated from my son and had to work two jobs to keep things going for her and the kids. We seldom spent time together and we missed our talks terribly. We promised to exchange schedules so we could make a point of getting together at least once a week. We took the kids out to lunch after church and reassured one another no matter what it looked like, God was in control! We were going to make it! Would we make it through this? Would she?
The next thing I was aware of was Dottie leading me down a long hallway. There was a small desk toward the end of the hall with a woman behind it, doing some paper work. She turned to us and volunteered to help.
I don't remember which of us answered her but she guided us to a phone, gave us an extension number, and told us they would tell us what to do. Someone on the other end went to get the doctor. He said that Dawn was critical and they were trying to get her stabilized. They would call back in about an hour and tell us if we could come in and see her. They would also be able to give us a rundown of her injuries at that time. The voice was very gentle and as encouraging as possible under the circumstances. He said if we had not heard from him in one hour, we should call him back.
Time is a relative thing. One hour filled with joy passes too quickly; one filled with agony never seems to be passing at all.
The hour finally gone; I reached for the phone. Maybe I should give them a few more minutes. Maybe it was me who needed a few more minutes. A few more minutes to pray; to plead; to prepare myself for what I would hear. A few more minutes to hope I would wake up and find out this was just a horrible nightmare! Maybe someone else would come and make the call for me; someone stronger than I was; someone who had the power to change the situation.
I was holding on by a thread when suddenly I remembered what I had been reading for two weeks...Andrew Murray's "A Believer's Secret to Waiting on God." I had been practicing what I had read. Whenever my emotions tried to gain control, I would get very still before the Lord and let His Spirit minister the quietness I needed to put those feelings under subjection. I closed my eyes, took a deep breath, and, after a few minutes, settled into " . . . a peace that passes all understanding . . . " (Philippians 4:7).
I finally placed the call and got the report. There was kidney damage that may require surgery. They were waiting to see if the kidney would stop bleeding once the cavity was filled. They were not sure how much damage had been done to the lungs but they had been bruised when she struck the steering wheel. We still could not get in to see her. Maybe we would be able to soon. They would call. Again the awful waiting.
The room soon became occupied by other families staggering in under the shock and panic of circumstances that were out of their control. The sense of helplessness was overwhelming. I wondered if any of them knew God. How do people face things like this without Him? I thanked Him for making Himself known to me. I thanked Him that I did not have to get through this in my own strength. Again the scripture came to me, "I can do all things through Christ, which strengthens me." (Philippians 4:13)
As I glanced around the room I saw my son rushing down the hall toward me. When he saw me he broke down and wept in my arms. Words came flooding out of him concerning an argument they had the night before when she dropped the kids off to him. Harsh, cutting words that he had spoken to her, echoed in his mind. Would he get to tell her he was sorry? Would she ever forgive him? Only God knew.
We called back to see if we could get in to see her and they finally said we could come, but only for a few minutes. She was strapped to a narrow bed with tubes running into her arms and monitors all over the place. She did not look like she was hurt badly on the surface. She had a few scratches and a bump on her forehead. She was conscious and very concerned about the kids. They had flown her out by helicopter and she did not get to see if they were hurt or not. Everyone had reassured her that the kids were okay, but she was afraid they were just telling her that so she wouldn't be upset. She knew I would not lie to her, under any circumstances, so she settled down a little bit after I told her I had talked directly to the hospital and found out they were released. They were now with their grandfather.
We stayed with her until they ran us out. There were other victims of a car wreck being flown in; arriving within the next two minutes. Things would once again become hectic in there. The best thing we could do was go back to the waiting room... and wait.
All night long the reports came. First she seemed a little better; then she was rushed into surgery. Part of the kidney had to be removed. Finally the bleeding stopped; then she got bad again. Dottie and the doctor both explained it would be that way for at least the next forty-eight hours. Two steps forward...one back...three forward...five back.
The next morning they moved her around to the other unit of Shock Trauma. The condition of her lungs had worsened. They were filling with fluid. They put her on a respirator. She still looked as if she was doing okay at this point. She could no longer speak because of the respirator, so she communicated with me by writing on a clipboard and pad they had given her. Her spirits were high and she always tried to encourage me by saying she was going to be all right. I felt that she would be too and I told her so.
There was so much going on all the time that I couldn't understand. They were very good about explaining everything they did to her, but after a while, the answers seemed unimportant. All that was really important was prayer and holding on to her hand so she would know I was there.
It seemed every time I came back into the room they had added something to her body. It looked like a M.A.S.H unit in there by now. They had to work quickly when things started to go bad for her so they never bothered to clean up as they went along. It was a frightening sight. I had to brace myself each time I went in.
Her mother and sister finally arrived from Texas. We all had lived near one another in Texas when Dawn and Bill were first married so we knew each other well and were almost like family. It was a relief to have someone else there to help make the decisions before things got any worse.
Her mother and I traded off with the others so they could spend time with Dawn. At times we had to hold each other up as we left the room. We prayed together; cried together; and even managed to laugh together over some of the funny things that had happened over the years concerning this daughter we shared.
The days began to run together and it was hard to distinguish one from another. We went home a couple of nights to try to get some sleep but we never were able to rest, so, most of the time, we just stayed with her.
The lung condition became more critical. One lung collapsed and the other was rapidly filling with fluid. They decided to put her in a medically induced coma. It was necessary to put her on two separate respirators and they performed a tracheotomy so she could continue to breathe while they inserted the tubes. X-rays were taken to see if the tubes had been placed properly. They were not. The procedure was repeated. Two trauma teams were working frantically over her. We prayed for God to guide the doctor's hands and to give them wisdom. We prayed for Him to comfort Dawn.
Dawn only weighed about 98 pounds and was about 5'2". After she went on the respirators, I noticed her eyes and across the bridge of her nose was beginning to swell. The swelling was due to the fluids and the respirators. They warned us the swelling would become much worse. They tried to prepare us for what would happen next.
There was no way anyone could have prepared me for what I faced a short time later! When I walked to the side of the bed and looked down, I did not even recognize her! My head started to spin. A scream was pushing its way up from somewhere deep inside of me! She looked like something from a horror movie! Please, God, don't let me scream! I think from that point on I knew that I had to completely release her to God.
They were not sure if she could hear us, but they told us we should continue to talk to her. It amazed me to hear the calmness in my voice. I put a Walkman in the bed with her and attached two mini-speakers to it. I placed one on each side of her head and played praise and worship tapes. Songs like "His Steadfast Love" and "Lord of All" gently filled the room for the next five days. The nurses agreed to restart the tapes when they had time.
I did not understand why all this was happening, but I knew God loved Dawn even more than I did. All I could do was trust Him and be whatever comfort to her I could.
On the morning of the ninth day, the doctor asked us to sign a release form so they could do another surgery on her. He said we needed to understand, she probably would not survive the surgery. She was so weak but they felt it was their last hope of helping her. Her mother and I signed the paper. We looked at each other, and somehow there was an unspoken agreement made between us to let her go.
The doctor reported back; the surgery had gone remarkably well and she was still holding on. I had to get out of there! I was disappointed that she had not just slipped quietly into the arms of the Lord. I stood in the hall, on the floor below for a few minutes to regain my composure; got some coffee from the machine, and headed back to the elevator.
As I stepped from the elevator, my son was waiting. We were to go to the conference room. Relief flooded my soul and the sweet presence of God swept over me. Thank God! I knew she was gone from the pain and suffering. We stepped into the room and they made the announcement. The nurse cried as she assured us they had done all they could do. We agreed and I explained the decision had been in God's hands. He was the only one who truly had the power over life and death. I explained that we knew someday we would see her again. We knew she had entered into a much better place than she could have ever found here.
I asked if I could go see her one last time. There were not sure that I was ready for what I would see. I assured them it was something I had to do. Her mother and my son went with me. What I saw with my natural eye was beyond description, but what I knew in my heart sustained me. I prayed a final prayer thanking God for this wonderful daughter-in-law He had given me. I thanked Him for allowing her to be with us for a while and for all the ways she had blessed my life. I thanked Him for taking her to be with Him; told her goodbye and left.
We took care of the necessary details and the rest of the family left the hospital. I had called a friend to tell her it was all over and she suggested I wait there so she and her husband could come and take me home.
I walked the halls and thought of all that had happened over the last nine days. I could not believe I was so calm. The more I walked the greater the feeling of complete peace became. The peace gave way to joy. I began to hear a song over and over in my mind. Quietly at first; so quiet I could not make out the words. Then suddenly it was as though someone turned up the volume.
"Break forth into joy, O my soul! Break forth into joy, O my soul! In the presence of the Lord, there is joy forevermore! Break forth into joy, O my soul!"