Saturday, August 1, 2009

Craig's Accident

In the month of June, when Craig was 19, his first job after college was plumbing in Jamestown, ND. He was living cheaply with his brother and wife. With his first paycheck he exuberantly went out and bought a brand new Yamaha 550 street bike.

Monday morning he rode to work wearing a helmet. A fellow employee who also rode his motorcycle to work, assured Craig that just riding around town, they didn't need a helmet. The next morning he went to work without his helmet or his wallet. As he was going back home to Lyle's for lunch, a lady pulled out from a side street onto the main two-lane he was on with another car. She waited for the car to go past but didn't see Craig, which caused him to T-bone her van at about 30 mph. He went through the large side window panel catching his face on the right edge, filleting it wide open from the top of his forehead to underneath his chin. He fell back out onto the ground unconscious, his eye completely popped out of it's socket.

At the intersection was a gas station, where there just happened to be an ambulance filling up with gas. At that same intersection there just happened to be a nurse walking across that particular road going to home for lunch. She came over, tried to clean and flap his face back on, put his eye back in, staunching the blood as best she could with limited means. The ambulance came rushing over, transporting him to the hospital which was within one mile of the accident.

They started surgery immediately sewing his face back together. He actually had a tear in his eyeball that needed sewn along with his severed flesh. One of the later challenges was getting his eyelid to work properly, to blink naturally. It would take three more reconstructive surgeries to get it as normal as possible. Interestingly, the doctors told his parents that the way his face caught the window frame, it was likely that he would have broken his neck or been completely decapitated if he would have been wearing his open faced helmet. His knee was a mess also, but his face, eye and brain is what they worried most about. (Funny, his face scar is hardly noticeable any longer, his eye has vision and is only a minor inconvenience once in a while during allergy season and he can never weld, which is sad-he's good at it! But his knee hurts like crazy, the damage is irreparable.)

The doctors had no idea who they were saving. Since he didn't have his licence/tabs, registration or wallet, when the police tried to figure out who he was, it took 4 hours to trace him through the serial number. It was only then, four hours later at 4:30 that his folks got the call. They lived 60 miles away. They were told that their son was in a motorcycle accident, in serious condition, still breathing but no guarantees he would live. By the time they got to the hospital, they told them the news that he was coming around but would more than likely be a vegetable all his life. It must have been a long two weeks waiting for him to wake up.

Once he came out of his coma, the doctors told them there was nothing more they could do, just take him home, let him live his normal life, put him to work on the farm and wait to see how it all turned out.

He had long term memory but couldn't remember anything short term. Hence, after noon lunch he would confusedly ask his dad what to do. Gordon would have to take him to the right field and get him started again on the tractor where he instinctively and mindlessly finished his day.

His poor mild-mannered mother had a hard time adjusting to her now not so mild-mannered son. If meals were not on the table at exactly the proper time, Craig would get belligerent and even curse at her. Unfamiliar behavior upsetting the entire family.

By the fall, his memory and abilities were starting to return; he could remember a couple of weeks worth. All his brothers and cousins were preparing to go back to college. For some reason, Craig wanted to give all his cassette tapes away. He had at least 250 in his collection. This was a windfall for all the cousins and younger brothers. Someone had the brilliant idea to make it fair and auction them off. He's still wondering if Todd has his favorite England Dan and John Ford Coley that he bought for a nickel?

In October he was able to drive himself to Jamestown for the first reconstructive surgery on his eyelid. They used a lot of Valium and only a local anesthetic. They told him he couldn't drive, so Lyle came to check him out of the hospital. As they walked out of the hospital, he convinced Lyle that he felt great, everything was alright and he could drive himself home, allowing Lyle to go back to work. Thirty miles along the way home there is a little town of Courtney. As he crossed the rough railroad tracks he was jolted into a different zone somehow. Not knowing where he was, and seeing an open bar, he asked to use their phone. He called his mom at home and told her he didn't know where he was but he would be sleeping in his car and promptly hung up. He saw a pop machine, bought a Mountain Dew, felt great again, jumped in his car and took off letting his instincts lead him home. As he approached the driveway, his parents were just leaving, as his mom had to go to find dad, tearing him away from field work first. They had no idea where he could be, just headed towards Jamestown, hoping.

It had to have been a terrible experience for his parents, wondering about the future. Gordon treated Craig as if he was functioning normally, even though on the inside he was probably worried sick and watched out for him without making it obvious.

He kept making progress, with two more surgeries throughout the winter. He worked at home on the farm the next summer and was able to go back to college that next fall. Launched............

Two summers ago, Craig's dad had cataract surgery and the now-not-so-young doctor was his surgeon 28 years later. Also, last year while visiting a Jamestown nursing home, through some coincidental conversations, Craig was able to meet and thank the now-not-so-young nurse, who essentially saved not only his eye, but his life.

Craig is the same age right now that Gordon was when he received the call. Tess and Brita are around the same age Craig was at the time. We are only beginning to comprehend the agony they must have suffered on his behalf and pray that we will never have to know what it was like for them as they put down the phone to take that long drive to the hospital.

I'm so grateful his life was spared! We all would have been robbed of being loved big, as only he can do.


KoverB said...

I forgot to add that because of such extreme blood loss, Craig had to have many pints of blood. He has gratefully given blood regularly ever since, as he would have died without transfusions and wants others to have the same.

Anonymous said...

When Craig was late for lunch that Tuesday, July 17, 1979 we didn't think too much about it until we heard that there had been a motorcycle accident on main street. I mistakenly understood that the cycle was headed north and was immensly relieved. Craig would have been coming south to the end of mainstreet and then up Mill Hill to our house. Byrd heard correctly, and was apprehensive. Later that afternoon, I was in a meeting at work when Dad called to say that Craig was in the hospital. I excused myself and drove as cautiously as I could with my mind screaming, 'faster, faster......' Mom and Dad were there in the waiting room when I got there, and shortly thereafter Byrd came rushing in. Scott would be born three weeks later so she was very pg. We went up to the floor Craig was on and were allowed to look in at him from the doorway. We could not see the actual damages, but his face was very swollen. We were informed at that time that he was probably out of danger for his life, but they were not yet sure that they had saved the vision in his eye. There had been some very delicate surgery performed but there was always a chance of something not coming out right. The days he spent in the hospital are a blur to me now. I do remember that his emotions were completely out of whack. Friends of his would come to visit and he could only sit and weep. Finally the day came when he was to be released from the hospital and Byrd and I followed him out the door. Rick and Ann were also there and they were commenting on how good he looked, and how well he was recovering. To Byrd and I it was a little different, as we watched him totter and sway down the sidewalk to the vehicle. I can hardly describe the emotions that I had at that time. We were so glad to see him up and moving, but we had seen him in the days before the accident - super strong and gregarious. Now shuffling along, with bandages all over, to be helped into a vehicle, to be sheltered at home......... I remember one meal in particular at Mom and Dad's. Craig pointed at the chocolate cake and asked for the 'pickles.' We realized just how long this process was going to take - for him to recover. The doctors gave no assurance that he would ever be the same, no idea of how much functioning he would recover. They had no idea how the eye would respond, how much plastic surgurey that would be required, etc. But gradually, over the course of the following months, Craig responded to all of the care and comfort provided at home, by the doctors, and loved ones. The tearing problem with the eye, and the bum knee were constant reminders of the accident, but the improbable sequence of 'lucky' things - as the nurse on the scene almost immediately, the ambulance station across the street, and so on, led to the saving of a life. For that we are very grateful. LO

Kathleen said...

Thanks Lyle, for being there and being part of the recovery process of which Tess, Brita and I get to reap the benefits of! :) Byrd would disagree, but I really did get the best Loverby out of all! :)

Anonymous said...

I want to add my Thanks also. Now as a parent of "young adults", I realize the Love Mom and Dad, and all the rest of the family really had.
Thanks Lyle, for the "rest of the story". I think Julie was working at the hospital at the time.