Note: This is a continuing story. The previous parts can be found here: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5.
Twelve years ago yesterday something happened that changed our lives changed forever. At the time we had no idea the impact this event would have on our lives. It started out innocently enough: on a sunny January day Dan went for a ride on his new bike with some friends. I went to an acting class at the Shakespeare Theatre. On the way home, I kept trying to remember the words to a part that I was supposed to be learning for the class, and when I walked in the house the phone was ringing. I picked it up and someone said, “Hello, you don't know me, my name is Jamie Gardner”. (Telemarketing, I thought preparing to hang up.) “I'm calling to tell you that Dan has had an accident on his bike. But he's OK.” (Great, I thought, he's wrecked his new bike. I'm going to have to kick some butt.) “It looks like he's broken his leg. But he's OK.” (Probably can't kick butt while he's on crutches.) “The ambulance is here and they've stabilized him. He's OK.” (Oh.) “He's going to have to go to the hospital. He's OK”. By now I was beginning to realize that this wasn't a simple fall off a bike. In fact, it was the beginning of a year that was at the same time the most difficult and the most important in our lives together.
Dan had not simply broken his leg. He had shattered it. When it was all over he had a metal plate with 7 screws in it holding his leg together. He had a pin into his hip and suture thread holding small pieces of bone together. They just ran out of room to put more screws in.
The first night was awful, waiting for the surgery. They wanted him to be in traction overnight before they operated. We sat up all night, just waiting. The next day he was in surgery for several hours. I've forgotten how many—it seemed to me like days. But I knew that at least he was in good hands and out of pain.
Twelve years ago today I had to do the most horrifying thing I've ever done. After his surgery they wanted Dan to sit up right away. They had nurses and doctors in the room and they sat him up on the side of the bed. His eyes rolled up in his head and he passed out and then he had a seizure. They told me to get out of the room. They told me to go into the hall and yell “CODE”. (I can't even type that word. It's taken me four times to get it right.)
They got him back into the bed and called all the specialists in. After about a bazillion tests they decided that the problem was that he had lost quite a bit of blood during the surgery. They were reluctant to give him a transfusion, and the result was that he simply didn't have enough blood pressure to sit up. They ended up giving him three units of blood. I remember watching the red thread winding through the tube and into his arm. The color came back to his skin and he began to look alive again. It was truly a miracle. If anyone tells you that giving blood is the gift of life, I am here to tell you that it's true. I could see the life trickling back into him.
My husband is an athlete. Before this accident, he had run 16 marathons and hundreds of other races. We wondered if he'd ever run again. On the bright side, nobody ever said amputate. Nobody ever said permanent.
I took leave from my job to take care of Dan. He had physical therapy every day. One of the things I love about Dan is his determination and his drive. For him, pain is no reason to stop. He drove himself until he could walk again, although he had a terrible lurching limp.
In May of that year he was walking along one day when the plate in his leg broke. He said that it didn't really hurt but that the leg felt 'spongy' to walk on. The doctors said that they had to go in and replace the plate. For me, that news was terrible—back to the beginning, to blood transfusions, to staples in his leg, to learning to walk again, to starting anew with the physiotherapy. For Dan, though, it wasn't as bad as the first time because he knew what he was going to have to do. So we started over.
At the end of the year, Dan could walk again unaided. This time, though, he didn't have a limp. While this year was very hard for us, there were some happy endings.
The time we spent together working to get him well brought us closer together than ever. It was during this time that we realized that we couldn't always count on being healthy. We had always dreamed of living in Europe, and we realized that if we really wanted to do that, the time had come. As Dan said, “someday is now”. So we began the process of dismantling our lives and preparing to move to Belgium.
The second surgery that seemed to me to be such a setback actually gave us a gift: they were able to correct Dan's limp. Today he runs whenever he can.
I still sometimes think about Jamie Gardner, who called me about Dan's accident. If I ever have to make a call like that, I'm going to use Jamie's call as a model. It was about the best way of breaking that kind of news that I can imagine. We saw Jamie from time to time after that. He had his own miracle that day, but that story's his to tell.
To be continued...