Voices

On the last Sunday in July, 2019, my husband went to the gym after church. He had a great workout on the stationary bike (always proud of accomplishing five miles in fifteen minutes).

He got in his truck to come home.

That is the last thing he remembered for a long time.

At the house, our dog went crazy, barking. Someone in the driveway. Police officer: Your husband’s had an accident. Do you have a way to the hospital… truck ran off the road into the woods…appears to have been a medical event…sorry, I don’t know how bad it is. EMS was working on him when I left…

Both of our grown boys happened to be home that afternoon. We rode together to the ER, not knowing what we’d find.

My reeling mind wondered if their black suits were clean…in case…

At the hospital, a nurse was waiting for us. She ushered us into a side room.

Massive heart attack, said the ER doctor, but he’s alive. He wasn’t when EMS got to him. He was in cardiac arrest. They did CPR, defib…they are heroes…heroes…

Heart attacks killed his father and grandfather in their fifties.

After emergency surgery, he underwent induced hypothermia to allow his brain time to rest from the trauma. No one knew how long he’d gone without oxygen. EMS had arrived on the scene quickly, as the station is just up the street from where the truck ran off. My boys and I learned that their dad endured forty-five minutes of CPR and ten – TEN – shocks from the paddles. We would learn that his sternum was broken. Attending CICU physicians warned: After hypothermia, we’ll do a waking test. There’s no guarantee he’ll wake, or how extensive the damage will be to his brain…

As we endured those long hours, we learned that his truck was barely dented as it ran off the road, that it stopped just short of a deep ravine in the woods. We were told that he swerved into oncoming traffic and back into his lane before running off on the right. He never struck another vehicle. People behind him called 911. One thing different, and all would be different…

As one doctor said: Everything aligned for him. Everything.

He did awaken. He knew us. He was soon able to ask, in a raspy voice after coming off the ventilator: What happened?

It would be a long recovery involving another hospital stay and more surgery…but he recovered.

He could remember leaving the gym, but he could not recall anything from earlier that month, or from many months before. All of his long-term memory remained intact; all his stories, all his sports trivia and stats. There was just a period completely erased, leading up to the heart attack. He could not recall a thing from our family vacation to the beach earlier in July, the glorious time we had.

The brain’s way of protecting itself from pain, our oldest son said. I had a professor who told us about this in class. It’s not good to try to make a person remember…

He didn’t recognize the scenery on the way home from the hospital: Why are we turning here? Everything looks so new…have I seen this before?

The doctors said, Some memories may return as he heals. Some may not. It’s hard to say; everyone is different.

After a couple of months, he returned to his work at the church. He’s a minister. The number one question people had after he began regaining strength: Did he see anything? when he was… you know… ‘gone’? I mean, he IS a pastor… such curiosity tinged with hope, in that questioning.

All he could remember, much to people’s disappointment: It was just like going to sleep. No pain, just fading into sleep. So peaceful.

Then one day he saw pictures of our family vacation and recognized the giant tortoise we chanced upon at a roadside display: I remember that!

Random bits returned to his mind, here and there.

Then on another day, much later, he told me: I heard voices.

What do you mean, you ‘heard voices’?

When my truck ran off the road. When everything was going dark.

What did they say?

They said, “He’s in trouble. We have to get him off the road.”

Did you…did you recognize the voices? Do you think that maybewell, it could have been just the EMTs…

He shook his head. All I know is, I heard them when I was driving and I thought, if I can just get over there to the grass, to that little hill… where that sunset is…everything will be okay.

He left me staring after him as he headed out to the park for the eight-mile hike he makes now, several times a week.

He’s in trouble. We have to get him off the road…

Everything aligned for him. Everything.

I ponder the mystery of memory, and the miraculous…in ceaseless awe that he is returned to us, restored, rejuvenated, whole.

In his own words, with his characteristic wit and big, contagious laughter, as “a member of the Lazarus Club.”

*******

Photo is entitled “The Day Black with Night” and is in the public domain on Creative Commons with this verse: “Go for help to Him who makes Orion and the Pleiades, by whom the deep dark is turned into morning, who makes the day black with night; whose voice goes out to the waters of the sea, sending them out over the face of the earth: the Lord is His name.” —Amos 5:8.

The annual Slice of Life Story Challenge with Two Writing Teachers is underway, meaning that I am posting every day in the month of March. This marks my fifth consecutive year and I’m experimenting with an abecedarian approach: On Day 22, I am writing around a word beginning with letter v.

28 thoughts on “Voices

  1. Thank you so much for sharing this with us. I am thinking about the little voices. I need to believe that we all hear the little voices when we need them.

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    • Yes – at the time it was unfolding, all I could manage were snippets of writing, words to hold onto, much as we were all holding onto moments. Here I tried to stitch the details together for the whole, big picture of awe…it really is amazing to see him going off on his hikes and feeling so well, and to watch how excited he gets when our granddaughter comes. Gifts all around, every one invaluable. Thank you, Jess.

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  2. This piece captures so many emotions. I felt like I was with you at your house. I paused wondering how you were going to get to the hospital. I was so worried about your boys and how they would find their father. I was was afraid to continue reading after ‘heart attacks killed his father and grandfather.’ And then comforted by your oldest son’s comment about the brain protecting ourselves. I believe in voices and have faith that when I need to hear them most, I do! Thank you for sharing this story.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you for reading and for this response; faith became a moment-by-moment living, breathing thing at the time. The sense of awe remains with me. It was important to preserve the details and, in another act of faith, to share them. Again – many thanks for your words!

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  3. I remember you writing your way through this collective trauma; the line about “black suits” is a hard punch of show-not-tell. The voices, though…when my mother passed, I was jealous of my toddling daughter who saw her angel grandmother frequently, seemed to commune with her. My mother never appeared to me…until I was pregnant with my second born, in a prophetic dream that is a story in itself. It would not surprise me if one day, your husband is able to identify the souls to whom those voices belong.

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    • I could only write snippets at the time; part of me dared not write more, and then there was the fact that he needed me and I had to drop everything else. Writing is so much mental work and he took up all the “hard drive” at the time. Here, safely past, I could stitch the details together and preserve a “whole.” That story of your little daughter communing with your mother … your dream… I remember you writing around that before. Tremendous power and beauty in it. Love never dies, not ours for the one we’ve lost, and not theirs for us. That they are gone does not mean they are not near…

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  4. What an incredible story of the accident and recovery. We are right there with you, in the trauma of it all and then the slow amazing recovery, the whole sequence of events that might have been so much worse, the gradual return of his memory. The voices, something was there watching and protecting that’s for sure… the power of the sentence beginning “I ponder the mystery of memory and the miraculous….”.

    Liked by 1 person

    • There were such moments of awe throughout the living of those long moments – and awe in the retelling. You would never know now that he’d been through all of that – he’s so energetic and vibrant. Miraculous indeed. Many thanks for your words!

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  5. Your accounting brings so much emotion– wondering about the black suits. I felt your pain as you and your boys watched and waited. How hard it was! The mysteries of recovery are vast. “Everything aligned for him. Everthing.”
    So glad it did.

    Liked by 1 person

    • It was hard, and it was long; the minutes slowed to a blurry crawl while my husband was in CICU, with my not knowing first if he’d survive or second, in what condition…the mysteries of recovery ARE vast, and wondrous. The thing about “Everything aligned for him” is that it was spoken emphatically by a CICU doctor. So often throughout this experience, I found myself blinking, processing, not quite able to comprehend the vastness of the given moment and the knowledge therein. Many thanks, Diane.

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  6. This story is so gripping. We all dread the day we may get that call. I’m sure God isn’t finished with your husband yet. I am working with a girl who was in a horrible car accident and had a brain injury. She wants to write her story. She doesn’t remember the month she was in the hospital. Is the brain really protecting her? Or is that memory not even there for her to find again? It’s all interesting to me.

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    • Memory fascinates me anyway – the idea of recovering lost memories, even more so. I hope your girl will find healing and strength in her writing. There are still some things my husband cannot recall and may never – many things during the first week home being some of them. It wasn’t until after the second surgery and recovery in fall, rolling into winter, that he really began gaining strength – then came COVID. He’s been able to lead the church through it, even when it could only be by video. You’d never know he’d ever had the ordeal at all. The word that comes to mind: Grace.

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  7. What a deep and powerful gift – in every direction. Your husband’s survival, the alignment of whatever forces where at play in helping him survive, they serve as a reminder that there are things in this life that we cannot explain. And the Bible verse to accompany the photograph (already haunting in its own right) will stay with me. “Go for help to Him…” WOW.

    Liked by 1 person

    • So many things in life we cannot explain; so many moments of enduring the moments, of hanging in the balance, and holding onto faith for whatever the outcome … that verse from Amos: I could hardly believe it was attached there with that photo. I did a search of woods or maybe “going dark” and that’s what came up; I wanted something representative of what my husband may have seen as the truck rolled off the road. This photo and that mighty verse came up – with all permissions to share freely granted. Just one more of the profound gifts.

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