A Mother's Story
I never thought of myself as a panicky mother. When my kids were small and they played outside until dark, I figured they were having too much fun to keep track of the time. I took the usual childhood ailments in stride - bumps and bruises didn't scare me. So, on the evening of September 29,1993, when I turned onto my road and saw two of Courtney's friends waiting for me, I didn't give it much thought. I figured their car had broken down. They waved me down and told me that Courtney had been in a serious accident.
On the way to the hospital I kept thinking, "O.K., so she's been in a little accident, probably got banged around a little. She just got her license - there go the insurance rates." I was a living, breathing example of "those kinds of things always happen to other people". Muggings and murders always happen to other people, and fires and tornadoes always destroy other people's homes. Bad car accidents always happen to other people.
But I was wrong. When I arrived at the emergency room, I was met by three doctors and a chaplain. A chaplain! They told me Courtney had sustained massive head injuries, and had a lacerated spleen and a broken wrist. She was in critical condition. And so, what started out a day like any other ended up a day that changed the lives of my daughter, my family, and me forever.
I have taken things for granted in my life, but over the past 9 months I have learned to never again say "that can't happen to me or my family." In less time than it takes to kiss your spouse and kids goodbye at the door, your whole world can be turned upside down. The path you've walked your whole life suddenly has a "Detour" sign in front of it.
I, like so many other mothers, had great hopes and dreams for my daughter. She would be everything I was not and do everything I had not done. She would take dance and piano lessons, wear the frilliest of dresses, and be a cheerleader in high school. She would be light-hearted, lively, independent, and popular; she'd drive the boys crazy. When she was old enough, she would go to the beach every summer with her girlfriends, and after she graduated she would go to college. Later, she would get married and have children of her own. Were my dreams for my daughter foolish? Was I asking too much?
During the first 2 weeks of Courtney's accident I was in a turmoil of emotions. I slipped into a cycle of fear, panic and anger. If not for the tremendous support I got from my family and friends, I surely would have cracked. I couldn't stop thinking about how many times I had fussed at Courtney over the most trivial matters. I can remember how she wanted to spend her first paycheck from her part-time job on $50 perfume. Of course, I wouldn't let her, saying it was foolish and that she had better ways to spend her money. How I wish I had let her buy that stupid perfume! I thought back to our last conversation on September 29. She had come home early from school because she was sick, and I told her she couldn't go out that evening. She wasn't too happy about that. No matter how upset we were with each other, however, we always ended our conversations with "I love you." Now I wondered if I would ever hear those words again.
After 3 weeks, Courtney was still in a coma. The doctors weren't very optimistic. I have seen tragic movies - where families keep a 24-hour bedside vigil and will their loved one back to life. But this was not a movie, and there didn't seem to be a happy ending in sight. Even though I never, never gave up hope, I tried to remain realistic. One doctor even said he didn't think Courtney would ever wake up, and in a month or two I might want to consider other alternatives. I was proud of myself for the way I handled that news. I didn't scream or cry out against God. I just thanked him for his honesty, and continued to hold her hand.
It's been 9 months since I spoke to that doctor. Courtney is home now. She has come down an extraordinary road. She was in a coma for 6 weeks and spent a total of 199 days in the hospital, 6 months of which were spent in a rehabilitation hospital where she had surgery to reconstruct her left shoulder, repair her left wrist, and place a shunt in her head that helps to drain any fluid that may collect. She has undergone intensive, very painful therapy. She has had to relearn almost everything. She is slowly regaining her ability to speak, and her therapists are optimistic that she will one day walk again with the help of a cane or walker. She has lost the use of her right arm, and must learn to do everything with her left hand. She sometimes forgets the names of her friends and calls the bathroom the television. She still has a long way to go, but she is learning new things every day through daily therapy at the local rehabilitation center. Her therapists say her motivation and determination are remarkable. Those of you who visited Courtney during the first weeks of her accident and have seen her just recently can see the tremendous improvements she has made. She is on her way back.
During the past 10 months I have gained a great deal of patience. I've watched as Courtney struggled to do the things that most of us take for granted holding up your head, bending your fingers, swallowing. I no longer fret about sitting in rush-hour traffic or waiting in line at the grocery store.
Our lives have changed forever. I pour over photo albums and have practically worn out the VCR looking at all our home movies. My heart aches as only a mother's can for the little girl she was and the young lady she had become. I never cry in front of her, but it's hard to watch as she sits alone on the weekend, as her friends, caught up in the magic of summer, come over less and less. Courtney must wonder what has happened to her, and she gets very frustrated when she tries to speak and the words come out garbled. I ask her about her feelings, but she can only nod her head.
Courtney may never go to the beach with her girlfriends or go off to college. She may never get married or have children of her own. I realize now that these were my hopes and these things may not have happened even if she had not had her accident. What happened to Courtney was terrible and unfair, but these few words cannot begin to describe the grief I sometimes feel inside for my child. On those days when the sadness seems too much to bear, I jerk myself back to reality, stop feeling sorry for myself, and thank God that she is alive. When all is said and done, and after I've had a good cry, I start to think about how lucky I really am, because the best dreams did come true. I can still go into her room and watch her sleep, curled up on her side with her hand tucked under her pillow; I can still brush her hair, and look into her blue, blue eyes. And that dreaded word that makes even the most patient mothers cringe after they've heard it for the umpteenth time - "Mommm!" is the sweetest sound I have ever heard. I listen closely as she tries to tell me she loves me, struggling to remember the words and I can laugh when she says she has to go to the television.
March, 1997 :
I thought I'd share some good news. Today, for the first time, Courtney took a bath by herself while I was at work. She called me at work and said, "Mom, are you sitting down?" My first reaction was "Oh God, what's happened?" But I could tell by the excitement in her voice that it was something good. Then she went on to tell me she had taken her bath by herself. I asked her how she got out of the bath tub and she said "Boy was it hard!", but then she went on to tell me she "fell out" and I said "WHAT??" She said "I FELL out of the tub, but don't worry, it didn't hurt and I'm going to do it again tomorrow!!"
I feel so blessed and thankful for how far she's come. This was a child who the doctors told me would never wake up from her coma. I hope this lets everyone know that there is always hope, and to never say "never".
Attorney Gordon S. Johnson, Jr.
E-mail to: waiting.com
For legal questions call toll free: 1-800-992-9447
copyright ©2002 - 2013 Attorney Gordon S. Johnson, Jr., All rights reserved.
For more on Attorney Gordon Johnson