The Richmond Register

March 25, 2013

One call can change your life

By Marie Mitchell
Register Columnist

RICHMOND — It’s frightening how much your life can change with a single phone call.

“I’m Dr. Lynch. We have your son in the intensive care unit at UK. He’s been in a car crash.”

You’re crushed by the weight of those words. The shock races through your body, attacking everything in its path. Your heart stops beating. You forget to breathe. Your world spins out of control.

When you regain your senses, you opt for denial. There’s been a mistake. Not my son. Not Mitchell. He just left a couple of hours ago for an appointment in Georgetown. He’ll be back in an hour.

It can’t be him.

But there is no mistake. Our 21-year-old son crashed, in the rain, on I-75, not far from home last Monday. Now he’s lying in a hospital bed in the intensive care unit with head trauma, along with other injuries.

First, more denial. This can’t be happening. Two hours ago Mitchell was a strong, healthy guy with plans for the day, the week, the rest of his life.

He’d worked hard the past three months, piecing his life back together after an extended illness.

Why such a setback now?

But the call is real. A parent’s worst nightmare. Must stop stalling. And act.

We arrange for our other three kids to get home from school. I toss random things into a bag, not sure when I’m coming back home. We head to Lexington.

The trip seems longer than driving to the west coast. We can’t get there fast enough, yet don’t want to get there at all. So afraid of what we’ll find.

The police officer investigating the accident is at the hospital. He gives Mason details of the crash. No one at fault. Weather related. I don’t really listen. I don’t want to know. Otherwise, I’ll relive the crash in my nightmares forever.

I’m thankful no one else was hurt in the two-car crash. That’s enough for me.

I feel guilty for letting Mitchell drive my car on a stormy day. But I can’t turn back the clock. Can’t live with “what ifs.” Must forge forward. Concentrate on the doctor’s briefing. Cracked ribs. Bruised lung. Head trauma.

I see my son, battered and bruised, hooked up to so many winking and blinking monitors. Tubes everywhere. Can’t touch him. Hold him. Console him.

Despite all of the high-tech equipment, no one knows how extensive the brain injuries are. That’s causing the biggest concern. While they figure that out, we wait, worry, wonder.

As a news reporter for 30 years I’ve covered accident stories like this before, but never fathomed the depth and breadth of a family’s pain and loss – until now. I feel myself slipping into the pit of despair, but gain my foothold when I find the doctors and nurses so competent, capable and compassionate. No complaints about the quality of care.

They give us a crash course in Nursing 101, explaining procedures, numbers, medicines. We latch on to all the positive signs encoded in the medical-speak.

Once the tears have poured out and I’ve mourned for Monday morning Mitchell and accepted his injured afternoon replacement, we start monitoring treatment. I write down key words to Google and read up on head trauma. So much depends on so many factors. The true test is time. To see how it all plays out.

We make some calls. Break the news to family and close friends. I’m humbled by how quickly offers of help come. My sister and brother-in-law from northern Kentucky are on the road minutes after we hang up.

We get on prayer lists. Our First United Methodist Church family mobilizes immediately.

The hospital chaplain visits and listens.

Prayer warriors from various churches get loud. God can’t help but notice.

We’ve seen miracles already. The doctors have been amazed by Mitchell’s responsiveness.

I’m as proud of him when he wiggles his fingers on command or raises a thumb, as if he’d won a Nobel Peace Prize. Watching his eyes follow the person speaking is cause for celebration. It doesn’t take much to make me happy.

We’re not kidding ourselves. We know Mitchell’s recovery will be a long, difficult one. We prefer progress to be measured in leaps and bounds. But we’ll gladly accept baby steps.

We know we’re not facing this crisis alone.

I’ve tripled the phone numbers in my contact list already and will be calling in many favors as the days stretch into weeks and maybe months.

And I’ve put God on my speed dial. He always answers.