THE EAST-END TAG-ALONG
By Lauree Dash
Post-traumatic stress? Isn’t that what people in combat get? Imagine my surprise when I was telling my therapist about the last year of my life and she responded softly, “ You sound like a victim of 9/11.” She said the way I described my experiences, and the tone in my voice, sounded like someone with PTSD. I don’t know anything about that. Here’s what I know:March 9, 2011, my husband, Ford, was in a catastrophic car accident that almost killed him. I was not driving the car. I was not even with him at the time, but I was in that accident too. It has consumed my life like a never -ending episode of ‘Grey’s Anatomy.”
It’s now one year and three months later, and I am sitting on the deck of my parentsEast Hamptonhome, trying to make sense of it all, to find peace, and maybe even a new life direction. My parents bought this North Woods hideaway twenty-six years ago and theEast Endhas always been my place of comfort and healing. I need that now more than ever.
My husband went into cardiac arrest when the Paramedics got him to the ER and he was dead for three minutes before they could revive him. They operated to remove his ruptured spleen and he died again when he bled out on the table, but he came back. Two weeks later, he coded in front of me when they were doing a routine lung procedure. But again, he survived.
He had a small brain bleed or TBI – Traumatic Brain Injury. He did not need surgery but they were “watching it.” Every day, neurologists turned down the drugs keeping my husband in a medically induced coma to see if he could respond to commands. It took them two weeks to close his swollen abdomen, which meant surgery every two days to keep his belly clean. He had a corneal abrasion in his left eye, broken ribs, he was paralyzed on the left side of his body, his lungs failed, his kidneys shut down, his left hip and pelvis were in multiple pieces, his right femur was broken and his left elbow and ankle were fractured. He was on life support for one month and then trached, meaning he had a tracheotomy tube at the base of his neck, for two weeks before he could finally breathe on his own. He spent six weeks in the ICU then we moved him to the main hospital.
I knew his brain and his spine were uninjured and I hung all my hope on that. He would be fine. He would be in the miracle one percent who survive this kind of “Level 1 Poly Trauma.” I was going to do everything in my power to make it so. I just had to figure out “how.”
I played classical music in his room to create a healing environment. I had read somewhere that classical music stimulates the brain. All of the nurses in the ICU were incredibly kind and offered me guidance. I’ll never forget one who said to me, “Miracles happen in the ICU. Don’t you give up hope.” She gave me a prayer card I carry with me still. Nurses told me to talk to Ford even though he was in a coma. He could hear me. I spoke to him and sang songs to him everyday. Both of our families came out to sit with him and we never left him alone.
Each morning at seven the ICU team and the trauma surgeons rounded. They discussed his case and they were kind enough to allow me to participate. There were numbers to watch. Because he was on a respirator it was important to know what he was “satting”- his oxygen saturation level each time he took a breath. Ideally, this number is between 95 and 100. Anything below 88 sets off the respirator alarm that makes this awful honking sound I will never forget. It’s like a bad circus horn gone awry.
Another number I learned to ask about was his white cell count- a marker for infection: the higher the number, the bigger the infection. A normal person’s white count is about 9,000. The first two weeks, my husbands’ white count was 66,000. It turned out his pancreas was leaking fluid that had become infected. There were infectious disease doctors, nephrologists, neurologists, anesthesiologists, hematologists, trauma surgeons, neurosurgeons, cardiologists, urologists, orthopedists, ophthalmologists, pulmonary specialists, pain management doctors, phlebotomists, social workers and case management workers to coordinate. And God bless the lift team. They moved my husband and helped him sit when he was too weak to move himself.