March - A Month of Rememberance, Hope and New Beginnings

Sunday, March 1, 2015

I'm back!   It's been a long time and I'm sorry for the long absence.  Like most of you, I've been struggling a bit in my efforts to stay cheery despite the persistent cold and snowy winter. is March and for me, March brings a variety of emotions...and memories.  The good emotion comes from the fact that February 29th is my youngest daughter's birthday.  When it's not a leap year, I consider March 1st to be her birthday.  So...Happy Birthday Dear Laura!  March also brings a flood of memories, not all happy, from a series of events that occurred in March of 2008.  A while back I wrote of those events and each year I re-read that piece to remind myself that just like the long winter, our lives can overcome great obstacles and tragedies.  We can be happy again!!!  As we greet this new month - the month when spring never fails to return - I'd like to share the story of my  March 2008 with you.  I hope it reminds you too that no matter what storm you are facing - better days are ahead if we just keep on keepin' on!

The Ides of March
 It was the first of March 2008, the day after our daughter, Laura’s 24th birthday.  Quite literally actually, because Laura was born on Leap Year and 2008 was a leap year.  So for the first time in four years, Laura got to celebrate her birthday on the actual day instead of on the 28th or March 1st.  That Saturday began as a sunny but crisp day.  John and I were just hanging around the house when mid afternoon the doorbell rang.  We both proceeded to the door to find two young men who introduced themselves as our son-in-law, Eric's friends, Chris and Sean.  It seems as though Eric had had a roller blading accident at an indoor skate park in Albany.  Chris and Sean explained that they were trying to reach Laura, but had not found her to be home and didn’t have her cell number.  Calmly thinking Eric had broken an arm or leg, we told them we knew where Laura was and that we would notify her.  The boys went on to say Eric was in Albany Medical Center.  At some point, John and I both noticed that both boys were standing in the cold March day in t-shirts, with no coats.  Almost as an aside, I asked the boys how bad Eric's accident was – never in my wildest imagination expecting the answer I was about to receive. 
Eric had been rollerblading since he was a very young boy,  and playing hockey since he was 3.  But today his experience was irrelevant.  Eric had taken a very bad fall.   His skate somehow got stuck on a pipe interrupting his glide, sending him headfirst from several feet high down to the floor.   The speed and impact of his fall was strong enough to cause his fastened helmet to fly off his head,  across the floor.  Blood was gushing from Eric’s left ear. Thus the reason for the short sleeved t-shirts – their warm shirts had been stained with Eric’s blood at the scene of the accident.  Not wanting to frighten us, they removed them before coming to our door.   Eric was seriously hurt.  Despite this devastating fall, two strokes of luck were on Eric’s side.  The first was a mom who was supervising her son skating.  She was a trauma nurse and she tended to Eric while he waited for the paramedics to arrive.  The second was that the skate park was a very short distance from Albany Medical Center.  God was obviously in Eric’s corner.
The boys left to go back to the hospital and we immediately got into the car and called Laura to say Eric had gotten hurt skating and she needed to go to Albany Med.  We told her no details yet, just that we’d meet her at home and bring her to him.  Laura and Eric, (who were 24 and 25 yrs old) had been married for 6 months, still newlyweds.  Once Laura was in our car, we explained the details of the accident to Laura who’s always been a pretty level headed girl, but then again, she’d never faced such a tragedy.   Who knew how she’d react?  Well, in true Laura fashion, she remained calm, at least on the exterior and from the moment her feet entered the ER, Laura rose to the challenge that was about to face her and met the impending storm head on. 
The first sight of Eric was a frightening one.  He lay on a stretcher in a neck brace, head bandaged, dried blood in and outside of his ear.  He was awake, but not speaking,  looking wide eyed  and dazed, nothing like the happy-go-lucky, fun loving, boisterous guy we knew.  The docs had not had time to fully evaluate him, so we were relegated to a special, private room to await news.  I didn’t know it that night, but the following year when my father-in-law lay brain dead after a stroke waiting for family to arrive so that he could be disconnected from life support, I’d know that being in this private room instead of the main waiting room was not a privilege, but an indication that bad news would be delivered and in this room you could grieve privately.  So we waited in this small room, the three of us and Eric's friends.  As the evening progressed, several more of Eric & Laura’s friends joined as we waited to hear Eric’s fate.  It was a long wait, but probably not as long as it seemed, and longer still for Eric's mom and dad who live in Florida.   Eric’s friends were dazed, especially the boys who witnessed his accident.  Two of them were only teens.  They undoubtedly had never witnessed such a horrific event in real life.  
 Finally the news came, Eric had a fractured skull in the lower left corner of his head.  His eardrum had ruptured from impact and his brain had slammed into the front skull of his forehead causing a brain trauma.  That was all we and the doctors knew at this point.  The next few days would tell Eric’s fate – if he’d live, if he’d be brain damaged, if he’d walk and talk again, if he’d remain in a his current state.  So much uncertainty, but for the moment he was alive and that’s all Laura and the rest of us could focus on.  The days and weeks that followed would be an exercise in prayer, patience and tenacity and would surround us with friends and family who gave us support, company, food and prayers.  We had one neighbor who had a hot meal waiting for us every night when we got home from a long day at the hospital.  So many people came and just sat with us in the hospital waiting room.  They knew they couldn’t see Eric in ICU, but they came to comfort us and help us pass our days.  They were our rock, our lifeline!
That first week was filled with baby steps but nearly each step led forward.  Eric was pretty fuzzy for a while, his speech garbled and most times unintelligible.  Sometimes he was even funny.  We allowed some of his sentences, although meaningless, to give us much needed moments of laughter and relief from the otherwise seriousness of the situation.  One day he asked Laura to bring him a pair of pliers the size of his picnic (he meant pinky) so he could get something out of his ear.  He’d repeat these things over and over again.  There were lots of these types of mix-ups those first weeks.  One day he kept repeating the number 22, 22, 22.  He insisted someone write down 22.  Finally his Dad took a strip of medical tape and wrote 22 on it and taped it on his bed tray.   Weeks later we learned that 22 was the jersey number of  Rick Tocchet – a hockey player who Eric idolized and whose poster hung over Eric’s bed as a young kid.  After 8 days, Eric was moved to Sunnyview Rehabilitation Center.   This was a huge and positive sign of progress.  Day by day, Eric worked to relearn old skills, work on his speech, math skills, and activities of daily living.  Once he even tried to get his friends to help him escape!  Eric had no interest in food, he’d lost his sense of taste and smell.  His vision was affected as well as his hearing in the one ear but those were temporary.  Eric worked hard with his therapists doing everything he could to recover and recover he did!   It took a while for him to feel like himself 100%, but in June of that same year Eric laced up a pair of roller blades and skated through Rockport, MA while we watched in horror thinking of the days and weeks we feared for his life.   
Now what is that saying, when it rains, it pours?  We found that out first hand, and witnessed the Ides of March from a whole new perspective.  Eric’s accident was on March 1st.  On March 6th just as we were about to settle down for some much needed sleep, the phone rang.  It was my mom.  She was calling to tell me my Dad had just died suddenly.   They had just come home from a small dinner party with neighbors where my dad, who’d had Alzheimer’s for about a year or so had decidedly agreed with his buddies that they didn’t want to go to a nursing home.  They hoped to die quickly and not leave their homes.  Well, that’s exactly what he did.  He came in, sat in his recliner and had what they assume was a massive heart attack.  He’d had bypass surgery in 1995.  Divine intervention?  Coincidence?  Who knows?  Bad timing? You can say that again.  As I think back to that time now, I wonder if it’s simply the trade of one life for another.  Did my Dad trade his life so that Eric could have his?  Who knows?    It was the day of my Dad’s wake that Eric was transferred to Sunnyview.  The devastation of my Dad’s passing was no doubt easier on Laura because she was still in such uncertainty of Eric’s future.  A person can only comprehend just so much tragedy at once.  And one would think that this would be enough, but sadly we would learn the end of March’s storms had not yet come.  By the third week of March, our 11 yr. old Sheltie who had been diagnosed with lung cancer took a turn for the worse.  On March 23rd Bailey had to be put to sleep.

Fortunately we’ve never had to weather so many storms in such close succession since then.  But as I look back on this series of storms now, I realize that just as in nature’s storms, we don’t really weather them.   We navigate through them as best we can, trying to keep our head above water as we try to stay afloat.  When it’s over and as we shake off the snow and dry off, we realize there are better days ahead.  The storm has passed and is a distant memory of a time we thought we wouldn't survive.  Fortunately we  know enough not to  dwell on those dark, stormy days.  We prefer to focus on the sunny, calm days ahead.   As you embrace this first day of March....I hope you will see it as a beginning....a beginning of new and brighter days ahead.   Before long our dark days, our storms, will be but a faint memory of times we endured and overcame and all we'll be focusing on is the warmth of the sun on our faces and the promise of new beginnings.

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