The accident was nothing unusual really. Just a combination of teen-boy energy, riding fast downhill, clipping another bike (the other rider maintained control and was fine, thank goodness), a swerve that took him over a five-foot incline, and then a collision with a ditch in which the bike stopped and he didn’t. He flipped over the handle bars and landed on his head and back.
People, listen up. When my son crashed, he landed on his head. His helmet cracked. We are fairly certain that we would be dealing with a horribly different situation had he not been wearing that helmet. Helmets are head-savers, brain-savers, life-savers. WEAR THEM.
The accident took place at a local park where our church was having a mentor-mentee ice cream social. A number of people saw the accident, including a nurse who took immediate charge and kept him still. The downside of crashing at a church event: this was distressing for the people who know and love us, particularly the children (including his sisters). The upside of crashing at a church event: being surrounded by loved ones, an immediate emergency safety net.
Neither my husband nor I were there when the accident happened. My husband was running errands, and I was, mostly likely, bowing after our final performance. I had about exactly fifteen minutes to come down from the show (thank you, my son, for waiting to crash and burn until after the show’s run was completed) before my husband called to say our son was on a backboard and being loaded into an ambulance.
(Actually, the first thing he said was, “Don’t panic,” followed by, “Sorry, that’s not what I should have said first.” When he added, “He’s conscious” and “he can move his arms and legs,” I realized that if those were the markers he was looking at, then things might be serious. So I semi-freaked, naturally.)
(You know, I was super worried about the ravages of post-play depression but it hasn’t even been an issue. A silver lining, perhaps?)
At the local hospital, the first CAT scans came back with the mild neck fracture—he would probably need a neck brace for six weeks, they said, but no biggie, really—but they wanted to do more CAT scans because they didn’t get a good read on the thoracic.
My son was clearly in a lot of pain, but I downplayed it. From all the times I took my kids to the doctor thinking they were dying from pneumonia or appendicitis only to learn they had a stupid virus and there was nothing the doctors could do, I’ve learned to downplay all medical situations. Besides, my son has a flair for the dramatic (no idea where he gets it). His back was just sore from the fall, I told myself.
Then the kid started puking. Turns out, throwing up while in a neck brace is rather horrific to watch (not to mention experience). Wave after wave of vomit. No time to suction. Thrashing around. Projectile vomit. That was the only time I lost it with the medical staff. I think I yelled something profound and super effective, like DO something!
At 10:30 that night, my friend popped in with burgers. My husband and I had just about finished scarfing our food, when the doctor came up and informed us that there were, indeed, breaks in the thoracic and that they would be transporting him to University of Virginia for more specialized care.
I lost it. I had so successfully convinced myself the whole event was no biggie, and here things were, spiraling out of control. The whole thing royally pissed me off. While I ranted and cried, my friend stayed steady, making me drink water, feeding me chocolate, and talking me through the necessary steps. (Nine years before, our roles had been reversed. She’d called me from the hospital in a panic—her baby just diagnosed with a tumor and ordered to UVA for treatment—and I had been the one doing the clear-headed thinking: pack your glasses and contacts, camera, insurance card, clothes, money, etc. And now she was returning the favor.)
When we arrived at UVA in the middle of the night, the ER lot was deserted, but once inside the pediatric ER, it was a completely different world. We were met by an entire trauma team.
The examining room was crawling with doctors and nurses—at one point I counted eighteen people, not including myself. I had my own social worker (I’m here for emotional support, she said gently while staring hard into my eyes as though assessing how close I was to becoming unhinged, and, inadvertently, making me wonder if I ought to perhaps succumb to histrionics to keep up with appearances), and soon after a chaplain popped by. The medical professionals seemed divided into groups. One team was suited up in face shields and surgical gear (they were working so quickly that I wondered if they were prepping him for surgery and had neglected to tell me). Over the hubbub, the EMS workers called out the relevant details. A man dressed in street clothes stood at the foot of the bed and called out orders. Other people stood at the head of the bed, announcing his information as it came up on the computer monitors. Within just five minutes, they had stripped off his clothes, slapped on leads, started IVs, done an ultrasound, log rolled and spine checked him, and taken x-rays. It was absolutely dizzying.
By the time my husband arrived, the room was nearly empty, the floor littered with trash. He had missed the whole show.
Things slowed to a crawl after that. We were moved to a room in the Trauma/Surgical/Burn ICU. There were more CAT-scans, many rounds of doctors (floor doctor, spinal doctor, trauma team), visits from social workers, and lots of nurses. There was no place to sleep, so my husband sat in a chair and rested his head on a trash can, while I went to the family lounge and draped myself over three hard chairs. We each slept about an hour.
Yesterday afternoon, our nurse found us a bigger, better room with huge windows and a sofa for us to sleep on. It’s not in the ICU section, but we are still under ICU care, so our nurses generously trek back and forth on our behalf. (The medical staff has been wonderful.)
The medical staff has been wonderful. And looky here…..
Diagnosis: A broken neck and back, whoo-hoo! (Okay, okay, so that sounds way worse than it is—but it’s true! It’s not every day you get to claim an actual, though ever-so-slightly, broken neck! Gotta live it up a little, I say.) Oh, and a concussion; his vision is still all screwy.
The Neck: tiny C5 fracture.
The Back: fractures in T7, T8, and T9. The T7 and T9 fractures are mild, nothing to be worried about, but the T8 one, while not terrible, is the problem spot. It’s a compression fracture, and the vertebrae is 50% the size it should be. An MRI showed that there is also a torn ligament, which means that area is weaker.
The treatment plan, as of Tuesday noon:
A c-collar (neck brace) for the C5 fracture. A clam shell brace for the thoracic fractures. Right now he’s wearing both braces and waiting to be taken to x-ray where they will stand him upright to see if the spine remains stable once gravity gets added to the equation. If so, we go to physical therapy and go home, maybe on Wednesday. If the spine is not stable, then we’ll reevaluate, I guess.
Thank you for holding us.
We think of you and your son, your in our hearts and prayers. He WILL be a great EMT not just this will make him understand but because you are his parents! God Bless and Keep you.
Came across your blog through other friends and was so sorry to hear about your son. I understand completely what you have been going through. Know that prayers are coming from Arkansas. R
WOW! You've been so strong through all this. I'm crying just reading your post. My family (and all my friends here in Guam) continue praying God's strength, comfort, and healing to you all!
Whenever I got hurt and he was around, he would just tell me, "Aww, don't be a wimp, it builds character!" I don't think I"ll be that mean to him. But it does build character…
This post just finally showed up for me this morning. I have been on such pins and needles waiting for an update. Truly.
You are such a marvelous mom, person and writer. I am in awe. Seriously. To be able to put fingers to a keyboard (let alone produce the talented writing!), and eye to a camera, while in this situation would be well beyond me.
There will be tough times ahead dealing through the healing with your beautiful, helmet-cracked, teen-aged man/boy, but remember what the alternative could have been.
Keep the updates coming for all of us readers of your blog. Hugs.
P.S. Have to say my reaction was identical to yours when the picture of the blue puke bag came up. Second thought was that it was some kind of giant pee bag, but then figured that particular problem would have been taken care of.
The staff at pediatric hospitals are just so amazing.
My son, now almost 2 years old, was born with bilateral clubfoot and as a result of that, I spent the first 4 months of his life in and out of the Hospital for Sick Children in downtown Toronto. I was a first time mom, dealing with a lot of new situations and no sleep and every time I had to be in the hospital for treatment, a nurse or doctor would ask me how I'm doing, let me know they were available to talk to if I needed it. If I looked particularly teary one day, they would encourage me and generally be good people, see if I needed to speak with a councilor or something.
When you end up in a place where parents and children are often going through some of the worst times in their lives, it's amazing how much the little things can make you feel better. If I had more of an aptitude for hospital work, I think I wouldn't have minded being a nurse in a children's hospital.
I've been reading your blog for years, but have never commented. I saw your initial post about your sons' accident, and then last night I had a very vivid dream that included your entire family and lots of weird fun. So I felt I had to reach out and say that I am thinking of all of you. Lisa in Pasadena, California
Please tell this to Jonathan.
I hope you can come home soon, Jonathan. Get well.
I'm so sorry to hear about this!!! Jonathan's a great friend.
I agree, it will definitely make him a better EMT in the long run.
Praying for you and your family!!!
Josiah from SVCC
(Ask Jonathan who I am – he'll know 😉 )
Thanks for the update! I've been thinking about your family so often ever since your first post and will continue to hold you all in my thoughts and prayers.
Best healing thoughts will continue as long as need be. Keep amusing those nurses! (It does look like a giant condom!) Nurses love patients and families that are kind and will return the favor. I hope you get away with a clamshell, but that will be its own kind of misery for someone as young and active as he is, but there are worse alternatives. He is healthy and should heal quickly, hang tough.
I am so glad that he is getting such wonderful care – and thank you for taking the time to keep us all in the loop. Love and prayers continuing to flow from here to there.
Thank you for this update…it is good to know what to pray for specifically. So thankful to hear that your son will heal…but, so sorry you are all going through this. It is an amazing thing to feel carried, isn't it?? More big mama hugs to you….across the miles and through the screen. XOXO
Goodness, I came here for a recipe and found this news! Sending prayers from Kansas. I'm so glad your son is on the mend, and I hope he continues to feel better every day.
Prayers headed your way. Thank you for the updates. We've never met but I feel like I know you through your blog (and your friendship with Margo who is just fantastic 🙂 May you continue to be surrounded by love and caring!!!
Thanks for the update! Prayers continue. Hope you can come on home today…..
Love that you started with a PSA. I'm relieved to read the news that it seems a decent prognosis. I can only imagine the horror and fear. Much love to all of you.
Still praying for you and your boy.
Stay strong and keep a positive attitude. Thinking of you and your family.
Thank you for updating us. I've been praying. Through years of reading about your son on your blog I know that he (and the rest of your family) has an indomitable spirit. There are some hard times ahead for all of you, but with your incredible support system, your love for each other and your church community you'll pull through. UVA is the absolute best – so thankful that you were sent there quickly. I hope rest is in the near future for all of you.
I am SO GLAD for the positive update! (and for all the details and photos – you are amazing and I think you will all be glad you saved these things) Praying for and loving you all. Will not be casual about helmets, no I will not (and I am ashamed to admit that before I became a mother, I was biking and went over the handlebars and cracked my helmet and when I was getting stitches in the ER, the doctor held the cracked helmet in front of my face and thanked me for wearing it. How could I neglect such a serious lesson?!)
Thank you for taking the time to inform us about your journey. The SVCC family is soooooo concerned about Jonathan. Please tell him we are thinking about him and praying for you all!
So glad he is young and strong – my thoughts and prayers are with him and your family.
OMG, the timing!
Sending warm and healing thoughts your way!
Oh my goodness! I'm so glad everything is at least as okay as it possibly can be. Watching someone projectile vomit when they can't turn their head is so traumatizing! So glad he is sitting up now.
Thank you SO much for the update and thank you for sharing your amazing journey with us. Even the lurkers who have never met you (like me). 🙂
Still praying and hurting for you and your son and all the family. Hugs.
Yes, yes, yes on the helmets!
Thank you for sharing his story……I'll be keeping him and your family in my thoughts. <3
I adore you! I know we only became friends a short time ago, but each time our paths cross, be it in person or via the Internet, I feel a connection. I am continuing to hold you all close in my heart. Thank you for the update! Hugs!
Praying and praying!!!
Still holding you all. Crying. Thinking about my babies and your babies. About your mama heart. About all of it. Prayers for sure, and love. Lots of love.
Thanks for helping us know the whole story; my students at EMS are praying for you!
Only a blogger would have enough wits about them to remember to bring their camera to the ER and take pictures. Seriously JJ. I couldn't help but read this with a smile knowing you were writing a post in your head as you clicked photos. Is that SO WRONG? 🙂 I'm so glad he is going to be okay. And I think you're right, this is going to make him a better EMT. Also, that blue puke bag… it seriously looks like a giant blue condom. How can you have possibly been the first person to notice that? Love to you and your family. I hope you guys get to go home soon.