When the lunch bell rings, well over one thousand sixteen, seventeen and eighteen year olds descend upon the south exit doors of our high school. My duty is to make sure they are each wearing their school ID's, a requirement to enjoy the privilege of off-campus lunch. During the crush and noise of the lunch exit as throngs of teenagers pass on either side of me, I offer, "Be safe!"
"Enjoy your lunch."
"Enjoy the sunshine."
Then in a brief reprieve of the mass exodus lightening strikes, and I hear the PA from Neurology say, "This is not a survivable accident." and I can't breathe. Instantly, I am in the ICU room......
There were teams of medical professionals attending both girls. Price was admitted to his own room. There was a trauma team, a neurological team, and an orthopedic team. Soon into the morning, we stopped hearing from the orthopedic team as it was determined that pressure in Taylor’s brain needed to stabilize.
We thought Josie would have surgery that morning, Sunday, but soon found out that the orthopedic team needed could not operate until Monday until her own traumatic brain injury stabilized.
When the neurology team wanted to put a probe in Taylor’s skull, Joey and I visited Josie’s room again. We wanted to know Josie was okay. We wanted hope. We made a desperate attempt at small talk and encouraging words. Josie giggled nervously as if her elfish giggle would make this better, us lighter.
There were two numbers we were watching. The neurology team explained that her ICP, Intracranial Pressure and her CCP needed to switch places. Her ICP, once the probe was in place, read 40. Her CCP, the pressure in the artery delivering blood to the brain, was 20. They needed to switch, reverse, change places.
And so we began waiting and watching. Watching her oxygen numbers, her heart rate, her ICP and her CCP. We listened to the machine breathe for her and we heard the incessant beeps of the machines that delivered medicine to her broken body. At one point, I was writing down the medications they were giving her – again, another desperate attempt at control. Her blood pressure was a concern early on.
I don’t have a medical background, just an interest having been a nurse’s aide in college for five years. What little I have learned did not match what the doctors and nurses were saying or not saying.
I remember asking, “What are we looking for?” They would answer that her numbers needed to go down.
Joey begged Taylor to fight; he willed her to make the numbers switch places. At times they would creep point by point downward and he would praise her, “That’s my girl!”
Even if they lowered down a point or two, the CCP number seldom rose. As Sunday ticked on, her heart began to race. I believe the medical term is tachycardia. Eventually, her heart rate was beating at over 180 beats a minute and the pressure in her brain rose from 40 to 60 to over 80. Her blood pressure would change erratically as well.
The medical team lowered her room temperature to below 60 degrees, placed a cooling blanket on her and placed a fan on the table that would blow directly on her face. Still the machine kept breathing for her, the numbers would stabilize for an hour or so and then begin to rise again. The machines would beep; the nurses would come in checking tubes and pressing buttons, and Taylor would lay there as if in perfect slumber.
So much of her body was in a splint or cast, it was hard to find a place to touch her, except her forehead- which we kissed often.
I wondered all day why Taylor’s head was not swelling, why I couldn’t see the injury that was keeping Taylor from coming back to us. I don’t know if I didn’t ask the questions clearly enough or if the ICU team just didn’t know how to tell me about her brain injury. Finally, I asked my brother, a police officer of twenty years. He explained that Taylor’s brain had in fact hit the inside of her skull at about 100 miles per hour upon impact and then my six foot three brother broke down in tears. His brokenness confirmed what I knew hours earlier when I had seen Taylor lying so peacefully in the ER.
By five o’clock in the afternoon, Joey wanted a shower and to pick up clothes for us to stay overnight, and I wanted answers. I needed to know why there was no immediate action for the tachycardia. It seemed incongruent to what I thought I knew. I told the ICU nurse to send in someone who would answer my questions. Sometime after five, the PA from the neurology team came in. I asked her to tell me in medical terms that I could understand what was happening to my daughter. I asked her to explain the heart rate that was going untreated, the issues with Taylor’s blood pressure and why after all the medicine had her ICP numbers not improved. Kristi, the PA, looked at me with brown eyes and told me what no-one in the last fifteen hours had – “This is not a survivable accident.”
A broken moan from deep inside my gut audibly left my body as I let my head fall toward heaven. My aunt was with us. I didn’t see the PA’s face, but I remember Linda telling her it was okay. It was what we had asked and what we needed to hear.......
The rush of young minds resumes its roar past me and while my mind says, "you may not fall apart; you may not fall apart" my lips continue my principal messages, "Enjoy your lunch; be safe!"
No red headed laughing cherub passed me; there was no visible reason why lightening needed to strike, so why does it? Why in the middle of lunch dismissal am I sucked back into the ICU and the agony of that moment. LIke the night terrors our daughter experienced as a two year old after we moved her from Midwest City to Sallisaw, my mind cannot file the memory away in a place where it rests. I struggled with this all weekend not wanting to write about it -wanting just to be able to think it out. No matter how many times I arrived at the same conclusion, the PA kept telling me my daughter wouldn't survive, and I kept asking myself the same question. Eventually, I wondered if the person who wouldn't survive was me.
Sunday morning I took myself to service to listen to an author Taylor really enjoyed, Bob Goff. He wrote the book Love Does. Within minutes of beginning his message to us, which is really just a tapestry of stories where one life weaves love and laughter into another, he offered this caption, "Honor God by doing your work!"
Lightening struck again and I saw myself standing in the masses of children I often call mine. I am certain the PA's voice will return, and I am certain that my work involves standing in the south commons telling my kids to be safe.
I am not sure the words, "praise you in the storm" have ever made more sense to me.
1 Peter 2:9