A few days ago, I crashed my Jeep into a tree and rolled it on its side after sliding across the most slippery ice in all of Kalamazoo county. I was momentarily knocked out (“moment” could mean seconds or minutes, I’m not sure) and awoke to my headlights illuminating the woods I did not mean to drive into. Confused, I put it in reverse and tried to back out, only realizing then that my vehicle was sitting on its side at 90 degrees, as if in a shady carnival ride, my seatbelt suspending me in my seat. My backpack was up against the passenger window, which was shattered by snowy ground. A wiggly flashlight beam came toward me, a man shouting “are you ok?”, to which I said “Yeah, I’m ok, I just need to get out.” I unlatched my seatbelt and started fighting gravity. The guy opened the driver side door like the hatch on a submarine and I climbed out into the arctic air. Hoisting myself up (the last bit of strength I’d have for days, as it turns out), I jumped to the ground with a thud. Another guy came up to me, offered a bottle of water, and told me I was bleeding. He went back to his truck and brought a handful of napkins and isopropyl alcohol. Dazed, I wiped my head, unsure of where the blood was, like when you ask your kid to wipe his face and he wipes away everything but the spaghetti sauce. A country sheriff car pulled up, its spotlight bright and invasive. I turned around and saw what I just climbed out of. Whoa.
At that point, I just wanted to sit down. So I sat down in the deep snow. When the officer came up to me, I stood, brushed the snow off my bum, and asked if I could sit in his car. I figured he’d let me sit in the front seat, but no — he doesn’t know me. So, I sat in the back of a police cruiser for the first time. True story.
I called Britt on FaceTime and saw my own bloodied and bumped up face in the corner of the screen, a sharp contrast from her beautiful face. I could see the left side of my head that likely hit the roll bar. I began to feel my chest hurt from the seatbelt. My lower back started to really hurt. My arms hurt. But, with her on the phone, I felt ok, warm, at ease. I saw the one I love and was immediately relieved.
From the front seat, the Sheriff asked me what happened. As I told him the story, I looked over at my Jeep, noticing details about the undercarriage and suspension, and it hit me: I should’t be able to see that from here. It really was up on its side. A fireman came up and asked for my name, writing it on a pad with an unreliable pen that he had to keep shaking to make work. The ink was cold and so was I. I asked for a blanket, which he provided, and it fit the stereotype perfectly: wooly and rigid, uncomfortable, like a big flat Brillo pad.
Several people in uniforms asked if I wanted to be checked out at the hospital, to which I said “nah, I’m fine” every time (I tend to be optimistic.) When the Paramedic came and shined her light at me and my bloody head, that particular answer was no longer acceptable. They carefully took my hoodie off and popped on a neck brace. They walked me over to the ambulance and helped me climb into a not very ergonomic bed where they wired me up and strapped me in. We hit the road and headed to Bronson (the hospital, not the Pinchot). For the first time in my, I rode in an ambulance.
We arrived at the hospital and I was wheeled down the hall to my room. I noticed that not all the ceiling tiles are the same color. A few light bulbs were burned out. I could feel my feet hanging over the edge of the stretcher. They counted to three and lifted me over to the hospital bed. My feet hung off the edge of that, too. People gathered ’round me and made me feel very special, asking for my name, shining lights in my eyes, poking at me and pushing down on my stomach as if something was starting to fall out.
They cut my The North Face™ shirt off of me and attached sticky wires to my torso. Another Doctor came at me with an additional round of questions. It was like one nightmare job interview after another, my bare chest and giant feet rudely interrupting by just being there. With the bumps and lacerations on my head, blood work and a CT were ordered. While we waited, I found out my nurse is a traveling nurse who makes good money but changes hospitals every 13 weeks. In this case, she has to drive 90 minutes to work each day — thus, a traveling nurse. I could tell she was new to this particular hospital because we got lost on the way to imaging. All I could see was the ceiling, so I was of no navigational help. I could feel people looking at me as we rolled down the halls, but, as I was flat on my back, I couldn’t see them. It was like a parade that everyone could go to but me.
Moving myself from my hospital bed to the CT shelf was not easy because the pain in my upper body was starting to fire up. A tiny woman helped me get into scanning position, her strength greater than her size, which was a testimony to her professionalism and command of the laws of physics. The CT machine swirled and grunted, pelting me with invisible waves that would soon tell a blurry story. When it was done, I asked the tech what she saw in there, to which she said, “I can’t tell you anything, but the radiologist will.” With a smile, I said “Oh, you can tell me!” and she snapped back “No, I can’t.” I suddenly remembered the rivers of blood that streaked across my face. I was not in top condition to work the system. Our conversation was over.
Back in my ER room, Britt and I talked again on FaceTime. We talked about how Jeeps are replaceable but people are not. I was fortunate. Everyone at the scene said I could’ve been in much worse shape. One Paramedic said “I’ve seen more from a lot less”, and I believed him. For Brittany and I, it was yet another reminder of how precious life is, that every day is a gift, and that you can never take things for granted.
I asked the nurse for something to drink and a pack of Lorna Doone cookies. Hospitals seem to always have those buttery shortbread wonders stashed someplace. She said “well… let me check on that…”, to which I replied “I don’t really need the cookies, but I am pretty thirsty. She didn’t give an answer and quickly left the room. It was then that I became mildly concerned about my status. NPO meant surgery was possible. Surgery meant something was wrong. My appetite for Lorna Doone’s left the room, too.
A solid knock of 7 or 8 pops on my door. I said “Come in!” because what was I supposed to say — “not now, watching SpongeBob?”, even though I was. It was the county Sheriff with my backpack, wallet, and prescription glasses. My prescription sunglasses, which meant my regular specs remained in the crashed Jeep. I thanked him for his help and asked if the Jeep looked totaled. “Oh yeah, front axle’s broken and the steering column is all jacked up.” Better the steering column than my neck, right? I was glad to have my backpack and glasses. I put on my aviator sunglasses, which fixed the blur but created another problem: I looked like a washed up lounge singer.
SpongeBob played dimly on the TV. It was nearly 2am. Still thirsty. Another brief FaceTime call with Britt. So wonderful.
Many minutes later, my attending/supervising Doctor came in. Dr. McCoy. I made a Star Trek reference that she politely acknowledged and brushed aside before giving me the good news: I was all clear. CT showed nothing remarkable. My brain was still there and nothing was bleeding, which meant I could go home. Thanks, Bones! Now how ’bout some Lorna Doone’s? She put her Resident on the hunt. Moments later, he came back with Graham Crackers. Upon opening, they pulverized themselves into a fine sandy pile on my hospital gown, which only made me thirstier. “Can I drink water?” The nurse ran and grabbed two of those styrofoam Hospital travel cups with lids and bendy straws. I forgot about the graham cracker dust and drank from the oasis, grateful that I would soon be released.
I asked the nurse for a Bronson t shirt that I could wear home, as well as my blue hoodie that they took off of me at the scene. My winter coat was, unfortunately, in the back of the Jeep. She said she’d find me something, and she did — scrubs! But there was a catch. These weren’t cotton, they were paper. I donned a paper thin, light blue, short sleeved “shirt” with a “pocket” in the front that would tear on load. My hoodie was elsewhere in the county. My hat was long gone. It didn’t matter. Britt was kind enough to work up an Uber/Lyft, and I was ready to get out of there.
There was one problem: pain. I’ve never been in an accident like this, so I didn’t know to expect that the pain would kick in after the adrenaline slowed down. Oh, did it hurt. Lower back. I couldn’t sit up. I couldn’t put my new “shirt” on. I was pretty sure I couldn’t walk. They gave me a quick shot of pain meds, let that find its way to the owie, helped me get dressed, and wheeled me out to the waiting room. I sat in the lobby of the ER, nearly 3 am, paper shirt and sunglasses on a bloody face, and blended right in. I hopped in my ride and started heading home. It was still snowy.
Finally home. Britt and I talked again before we both went to sleep, her at her place and me at mine. Being geographically separate is difficult, especially at times like these. She was so helpful from afar, but I still wished I could be with her. I thought again about how precious and fragile life is. We talked about how God was clearly watching over me, and that it would all be ok. We both had to get some sleep before sending our kids out the door to school in a few hours. Goodnight, my love.
The next morning, my left eye began to change colors. My back hurt so much that I didn’t really move. My head and chest hurt so much that I tended to lie motionless on one and, eventually, two heating pads. I asked Nick to buy me another heating pad because so much surface area needed warmth. He brought that and some ice cream. My saintly mother in law came to town (again) and kept things together as only she can. Britt and I talked throughout the day. I missed her. I ate very little, drank only a little more. I kept falling asleep to episodes of MST3K.
The sadness/frustration kicked in when I realized I would miss Cameron’s 5th birthday party. I was supposed to be there, bouncing on the trampoline with him and his pals. I was supposed to help Britt at the party so she wouldn’t have to do it alone. I was supposed to be a dad presence for my boy. Instead, I was confined to my bed, put there by a tree on a winter night. So frustrating.
I am sad that Lexi was sick, which put her int he hospital for 5 days. I was sad that Britt and I got the same sickness, which took us out for 5 days, And now this? Come on.
I am sad that I can’t do ministry, leaving my team to scramble and come up with something again and again. So frustrating.
I am sad that it still hurts to turn my head to the right.
In Philippians, Paul writes “I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret to being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.” At the time, Paul was in much worse shape than me, yet his words help me right now.
Because of Jesus, I can feel miserable and fulfilled, frustrated and joyful, in pain and yet healed. I don’t understand it, but this peace is real.
I’m writing this at my kitchen table at midnight. This is the best I’ve felt in days. I’m told tomorrow might be the worst. I have no idea what to expect, as this is all new to me.
It should be noted that Jesus does not cause injury, sadness, or frustration. However, He did experience all of these and more, which means that my Lord is helping me through His familiar territory.
As always, I appreciate your prayers.
As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.
Hope does not disappoint.
The Joy of the Lord is (still) my strength.
Ok — back to sleep.