The strangest thing wasn’t the fact that the phone rang at midnight, but the strangest thing was that I had disconnected the home phone service a few weeks ago. The very last thing I expected on this Friday night was my disconnected house phone to ring.
I jumped at the unexpected sound of the ringing phone which hung on the wall in the room next door. I know that at least briefly I must have wondered who in the world had gotten through on this line, but once the following events began to take place, I completely forgot anything that happened prior to the sound of that ringing phone.
“Hello,” I answered as I tried to catch my breath after sprinting to the adjoining room.
“Hello, Ma’am. Am I speaking to the parent of Justin Banks?” a woman asked in a calm, collected and professional tone. She had obviously made these types of telephone calls many times.
“Yes, I’m his mom. Has something happened?”
“Your son has been involved in an accident on Hwy 49. It isn’t far from your residence. If you can get over there, the emergency responders will talk to you.”
“But is he okay?” I felt a lump rise into my throat.
“Ma’am, please just let the personnel on the scene explain what is going on.”
I don’t remember hanging the receiver back on the wall. I don’t remember finding my shoes. I don’t even remember how I got the news to my husband who was in the shop, several hundred feet behind the house. The next thing I remember was arriving about two miles from my home to a lengthy line of backed up traffic on Hwy 49.
There is something magical about bright lights shining in the midnight sky. Normally I would enjoy the sight of the twinkling lights as they brightened the surrounding darkness. However, the magic is completely lost and replaced with an overwhelming fear, when the lights are the colors of blue and red flashes and whirls, especially after a daunting phone call filled with so many unknowns.
With no way to actually drive up to the accident scene, I yanked the car into park, jumped out and ran on foot down the highway to check on my oldest son. I don’t remember if I turned off the ignition. I am positive I didn’t bother to lock the door or grab my purse. I do remember one thing very clearly though. As I reached the scene, I remember wondering how all the emergency personnel knew I was the mom. In my frantic state, it never dawned on me, that only a mom would take off running down a highway in the middle of the night.
“Where is he?”
“He’s in the ambulance, but they are about to leave so we can’t open the door.”
“I need to see him! Is he hurt? What is wrong with him?”
“He talked to us. We don’t know what might be broken, but he seemed to be talking fine.”
“Where did they take his Tahoe?”
“Nowhere. It’s out there.” The deputy pointed towards the wooded area on the side of the highway.
I could see the lights and people, but I couldn’t really make out the vehicle or how badly it was damaged.
“Where is he?” My husband, Andy, who seemed to appear from nowhere asked.
“He’s in the ambulance, but they won’t let me see him.”
“That’s bull shit,” Andy muttered in a tone I knew meant he wasn’t allowing anyone to tell him what he could or couldn’t do.
Andy walked right up to the back of the ambulance and jerked the back door wide open. “Justin, are you okay?”
Justin laid on the stretcher bed with straps holding every single body part he owned in place. His legs, his arms and his head were all firmly belted down. He couldn’t even lift his head so we could see his face.
“I don’t know. I think so,” he mumbled in the terrified voice of a sixteen-year-old boy.
“Do you hurt?” Andy asked as he touched Justin’s feet, which were the closest body parts to the back door of the truck.
“I don’t know,” Justin’s trembling voice replied.
“Wiggle your toes!” Andy commanded.
For a moment I wasn’t sure Justin could do it, but after a few torturous seconds, he managed to wiggle both sets of toes. I don’t know how he became barefoot that night or what happened to his shoes, but at that moment in time, shoes were lacking importance about as much as the purse I ran off and left on the seat of the unlocked car sitting in the middle of the highway.
“We have to go now!” a paramedic walked up and closed the back doors of the ambulance, “You can follow us to the hospital. The deputies will hold the traffic until you get through.”
As we sprinted down the highway in the middle of the night, Andy asked in a breathless voice, “Did you see the Tahoe?”
“No, it was too far away.”
We reached my car first in the long line of impatient travelers waiting to get through. I jumped in, while Andy trotted further down to reach his truck.
The drive to the hospital felt like a dream, a nightmarish kind of dream. My legs shook uncontrollably causing my feet to seem to vibrate against the pedals. I didn’t know how to feel, I was scared, but I also felt an overwhelming numbness as well. I remember the fear, the anxiousness, and the nervousness all mixed into one indescribable feeling. I needed to let the rest of my family know what had happened or at least what I knew, which wasn’t very much. I couldn’t bring myself to call Mom, she had been through so much recently.
One week ago, to this exact day, my dad passed away around five in the morning. The months and weeks leading up to his death were a constant roller coaster of ups and down. We spent countless days and hours in hospital rooms watching dad go downhill slowly as congestive heart failure destroyed his body and ultimately took his life. Mom had been a trooper, she very rarely left his side for even a moment during his last days. She had given up the most of her life and herself to tend to his every need. She was exhausted and completely drained by the time the angel of death came calling Dad’s name. She sang Amazing Grace in his ear as the heaven’s lifted him home. One week later, Mom wasn’t ready for another hospital visit and most certainly not ready for anymore unwelcome news.
I chose to call my older sister instead of calling Mom. Grace answered the phone almost immediately. When the phone rings at one in the morning, it’s almost never good news, so her quick answer didn’t surprise me.
“Justin has been in an accident.”
“Is he okay?”
“I don’t know. Maybe. I’m on my way to the hospital.” My voice shook just like the rest of my body.
“I don’t know. I don’t know anything. I just wanted someone to know.”
“I’m coming to be with you. I’ll meet you at the hospital.”
“Grace, I can’t call anyone else. I can’t even think. You’ll have to tell whoever else needs to know.”
We hung up the phone just as I drove down Main Street. I clearly remember that moment in time, because I saw blue lights flashing in the darkness again. The sight of blue lights flashing and twirling in the night sky as some unlucky person likely received some traffic violation, made my heart sink into my stomach, a feeling that would take me years to overcome each time I saw lights flashing in the dark.
My sister reached the hospital with Mom in tow before I did since they had a shorter distance to travel.
“The ambulance just arrived, and I think they are unloading him. We don’t know anything yet,” Grace said as we passed through the glass doors to the full emergency waiting room.
I nodded at Grace and then looked at Mom, “You didn’t have to come. You are tired and have been through so much. You should have stayed home to rest. You know we would tell you what is happening here.”
“Last Friday when I walked out of this place,” Mom replied with a distraught look on her face paired with glazed over eyes, “I said I would never come back to a hospital again, but your dad loved Justin so much. He loved him as much, if not more, than he did any of you children. I needed to be here for him.”
I knew Mom was right, Dad loved Justin possibly more than he loved anyone else in the entire world. He spent as much time as he possibly could with Justin from the moment Justin could toddle around. Dad, better known as papaw to Justin, took him on trips to explore the countryside. He took him to the toy store nearly once a week. He visited the local coffee shop every Sunday and fed him ice cream, pie, and chocolate milk. Papaw brought Justin’s first puppy home. He hired him for his first job and wrote his first paycheck. He told him endless stories about his own youth as bedtime stories. He made sure Justin didn’t want for anything, at least not anything Dad could provide.
“Mr. and Ms. Banks, you can come back now,” relayed a brunette woman in blue scrubs with thick glasses and her hair in a bun who stuck her head through the set of heavy doors which led to treatment area.
Andy and I followed the brunette nurse to a curtained area with a sign which read, trauma unit two, hanging above the opening. Another nurse held a suctioning device in his mouth, so Justin wouldn’t choke on his own blood.
“If you will hold this here for me, I’ll get the doctor to talk to you.”
Andy held the suctioning tool in place while we waited for the doctor to arrive in the room.
“Honey,” Andy said with an odd, almost dazed, look on his face,
“Take my phone and look at the pictures one of the volunteers sent me tonight.”
I took Andy’s phone, clicked opened his recent messages and peered at the photo of the completely crushed Tahoe. I made the photo larger. It didn’t even resemble a Tahoe at all. The entire backside was entirely crushed, the whole passenger side was missing, with no doors or windows attached. The windshield was shattered. The driver’s side was missing the back door and window. The roof was crushed in except for one spot. One thing remained intact and one thing only. The driver’s door appeared barely touched except for minor scratches. The driver’s door window was the only glass left not shattered on the entire vehicle. It was an amazing sight. It was unbelievable. My jaw was likely on the floor as the doctor entered the room.
“Good evening, I’m Dr. Williams. We’ve reviewed Justin’s x-rays and he seems to have managed to escape with only a few injuries. He has a broken left jaw.”
I felt instant relief until the doctor began the next sentence.
“He also has a brain bleed. We are unequipped at this hospital to deal with a brain trauma. We will transport him to a hospital with a brain trauma center tonight in Johnsonville. The ambulance will depart as soon as everything is prepped for the trip.”
“A bleed in the brain? What does that mean exactly?”
“He is young. The bleed is small. If all goes well, he will recover without any significant issues. We still must take this very seriously, and like I said before, we are unequipped to handle this type of injury here.”
The next moments in time were a blur. I rushed home and packed clothes, bathroom necessities, insurance cards, and whatever my overwhelmed mind could remember. With no cash on hand, a visit to the ATM was in order, along with a trip to fill up the car with fuel. It seemed to take forever before I could set out to make the three-hour trip in the middle of the night to be with my baby.
Those three hours of driving were the most antagonizing moments of the entire night. Somewhere, about an hour in front of me, my oldest child lay in the back of an ambulance with strangers taking care of his needs. I couldn’t see him, talk to him, or even ask anyone how he was doing. Each time I witnessed blue or red flashing nights during my trip, I found myself fighting the urge to vomit on the spot. I hadn’t slept in over twenty-four hours by the time I reached the strange hospital building to locate my son. I wasn’t even sure where they had taken him but assumed the emergency room was the correct place to start.
In my sleep deprived state, I should have been in a trance and felt like a zombie, but instead adrenaline flowed fiercely through my veins as I marched to the front desk to try to locate my son who I’d not had contact with for the last four hours. I was led directly back into the treatment area to Justin’s room.
“When he got here, his blood pressure was too low, but we’ve put the drip up high which seems to help raise the blood pressure.”
“What does that mean exactly?” I asked.
“It’s likely from all of the pain medications he’s had recently.”
When the nurse departed the room, I walked up to Justin’s bedside and laid my hand against his hand. “How are you?”
“I don’t know. Okay I think.” It was obvious that it was painful for him to speak.
“The Tahoe is completely destroyed, we are blessed that are you alive.”
Justin only grunted in reply.
I continued, “I’m so proud of you for wearing your seat belt. I know how much you hate them, but without it, this probably wouldn’t have turned out so well.”
“I wasn’t wearing my seat belt,” Justin insisted with his eyes still closed.
“The emergency personnel said you had it on when they found you. You probably just can’t remember.”
“No, I wasn’t wearing it. I never wear it,” Justin continued to insist.
“You had it on, son,” I answered gently, not wanting to upset him.
Justin opened his eyes and looked into mine, “I wasn’t wearing my seat belt. Papaw came, sat next to me and put it on me. It’s the last thing I remember.”
I closed my eyes and pictured my dad’s face. He smiled at me as if he hadn’t just passed away one week ago today. He might have been gone from this earth, but he was still watching over us. He had given Justin an unexpected gift today, the gift of life.