A Parent’s Worst Nightmare
My husband and I lived through a parent’s worst nightmare. Three years ago on a late September night, our family received a telephone call that no parent wants to get. My husband was home alone at the time. I was visiting my parents in Arizona. He answered the telephone at approximately 8 pm. The frantic voice on the other end was that of our daughter’s best friend and college dorm mate. She said that our daughter had been one of five girls in a car that was involved in an accident not far from campus. They had gone out for Chinese food and had not returned nor answered their cell phones. Sirens started to sound and word spread through campus that their car skidded off the road. EMTs had arrived within minutes to transport the girls to the local hospital. My husband hung up the phone and frantically took off for the hospital to meet our daughter there.
Both our daughters were attending a small, private liberal arts college about thirty minutes from home where my husband taught English. My husband was the first of the parents to arrive at the hospital as we lived the closest to the campus. It would take the other families over an hour to arrive. It was not yet determined who had survived the accident and was taken to the operating room and who had not. My husband was led upstairs to the trauma ICU waiting room. What happened next played out like a scene from a movie. Each time the elevator doors opened, hearts would stop for those camped out in the waiting room. After what seemed like an eternity, the elevator doors opened again but this time the trauma staff wheeled out a patient from the operating room. It appeared to be a young woman with dark hair. My husband stood up and approached the gurney. He looked down and saw our daughter bundled underneath bandages, tubes and monitors. Thank God! He nearly passed out with relief.
They proceeded to wheel our daughter into her hospital room. The attending physician then told my husband the extent of her injuries. She had broken all the ribs on her right side as well as her right femur. She had cracked her pelvis and had lacerated her liver. She had several brain contusions caused by hitting her forehead on the front seat headrest. She was put into an induced coma. The waiting game began.
All five girls in the car had just begun their freshman year on campus. They were full of life, excitement, and enthusiasm. Even though it was a rainy night, they all agreed to drive into town to pick up Chinese food. The girls reached the restaurant and grabbed their order. On the way back to the car they laughed when reading each other’s fortune from the cookies found in the bag. Their destiny was sealed when they determined who would sit where as they got back into the car. Someone called shotgun. Someone didn’t mind squeezing into the middle of the back seat. Someone was smart enough to buckle up. Our daughter wound up in the back seat on the left hand side purely by coincidence. This would prove to be the best possible place for her survival.
The driver was not speeding, although traveling too fast on a dark, wet, unfamiliar road nor was she on a cell phone as later rumored. The car hit a patch of wet leaves and spun out of control. The driver overcompensated. The car rolled several hundred feet down an embankment where it was stopped by the force of the tree it hit.
Our daughter’s roommate who was sitting beside her was killed instantly. My husband and I had only met her once when we moved our daughter into their dorm room. She was an absolutely beautiful girl. She wanted to become a physician and was interested in research. The girl next to her in the back seat took the full brunt of the hit from the tree. She survived four days until it was determined that her brain no longer functioned. Her family made the heroic decision to donate her organs.
The girl driving the car survived but sustained major damage to her neck and back from the full force of her chest hitting the steering wheel. The girl in the front seat passenger side survived in tact with only a minor whiplash. She was the one wearing a seat belt.
After my husband’s discussion with the physician, he then knew that he would have to make what would be the hardest telephone call of his life and that was to me, to let me know what had happened. When I first received the call at my parent’s home, I got angry. I thought perhaps the girls were fooling around or worse yet, were drinking. Once he began to describe our daughter’s injuries, I began to realize the extent of the crash. When he then told me what happened to the other girls, I began to hyperventilate and then went into shock. With the help of my family I was able to book the next flight home. My husband met me at the airport. We didn’t arrive back to the hospital until midnight.
I can’t begin to describe what I felt when I saw my daughter for the first time after the accident, what I felt when I bent down to kiss her and examine the extent of her injuries. It felt like I did when I first laid eyes on her when she was born. I wanted to remember every detail, every crevice, and every nuance. I thought she still looked beautiful despite injuries to her face and neck and looked remarkably well considering the circumstances. We stayed in her room until the sun rose.
Five days later, the medical staff determined that due to the nature of our daughter’s injuries, she should be air lifted to the closest children’s hospital. The flight crew allowed me to join them in the helicopter’s cockpit. Once we landed at the children’s hospital, our daughter spent an additional fourteen days in the ICU. Thus began the second round of waiting. Our daughter continued to improve although remained in a coma. The extent of her head injuries could not yet be determined.
Many thoughts went through my mind during those two weeks. I prayed … a lot. I began to bargain with God concerning the outcome. If she survived, I would be a better parent, a better wife, a better person. I would see the world in a more positive light and not let my negativity color the many blessings our family had already received. I would appreciate life more and live it to the fullest.
Our daughter woke up on the twentieth day of her recovery. We then moved our daughter by ambulance back to our hometown to begin further rehabilitation. Slowly and steadily she continued to improve.
I am happy to say that, three years later, our daughter will graduate from college next spring. She has no recollection of the accident or of the recovery period that followed. This was truly another blessing in disguise. She continues to keep in touch through Facebook with the families that lost their daughters. She harbors no anger or ill will toward the girl who was driving that night.
Yes, prayers were answered. Our faith was tested. During those days I would wake up each morning imagining my faith like a shield of armor. I would mentally dress myself with my faith and walk into the hospital’s battleground navigating through periods of hope and despair and the potential challenges that both my daughter and our family eventually faced. Our daughter survived. The war was won. She has returned home victorious, as the girl we always knew, cherished, and loved so much.
I wanted to share this story because even though other families were not as lucky as ours, this experience made us realize the extent of our love, our faith, and our commitment to each other and to the world around us. A parent’s worst nightmare became an affirmation of our faith and God’s eternal love.