Sue. I once had a girlfriend named Sue. She treated me pretty badly. But not nearly as badly as the Sue who was about to come into my life. My life and that of my twelve-year-old son, Ben. This new Sue was running late for her first day on the job as a waitress at McCarthy’s Restaurant, and, consequently, was driving a bit too fast for the prevailing road conditions.
We had had a big snowfall in the night, and Vermont Route 100 between Stowe and Morrisville was a mess. But Vermonters don’t miss youth hockey games because of a little snow; so here we were, picking our way carefully up the road toward the Canadian border where Ben’s game was to be played. And there was Sue, rounding the bend by Paine’s Christmas tree farm, when she lost control of her Toyota pickup on a patch of black ice and skidded wildly into our lane.
Fortunately for Sue, Ben and I were there to stop her. Unfortunately for us, we were only able to do so at considerable cost to life and limbs. By the time we were able to bring Sue to a halt, Ben and I were quite a wreck: broken hips, one shattered knee, an ankle in numerous pieces along with a half a rack of ribs, punctured lung, internal bleeding …..
Sue, I am told, sustained a gash over her eye. She was treated and later released.
“Sorry, buddy, I don’t think we’re going to make it to your game.”
“Dad, my legs hurt.” This from a boy whose left femur and right hip had snapped just seconds earlier
“I want you to take deep breaths, hon,” I remember saying. Thank you, Lamaze.
“It really hurts, Daddy.” He never cried.
What to do? I found myself contending simultaneously with two gargantuan fears, the first being that I wasn’t all that sure that my legs were still attached to my body; the second that the car might explode. Between the two, I was feeling pretty queasy.
We had to get out, I reasoned. Well, reasoned might be somewhat self-aggrandizing. Not that it mattered. I am not the handiest guy in the world under the best of circumstances, and given that it would eventually take five rescuers with ten unbroken legs and the Jaws of Life to wrest us from what was left of our car, I hope I’ll be forgiven for having failed to extricate us.
Sirens. Help was on the way. We continued to breath.
It is one of the countless benefits of living in a small town like Stowe, Vermont that when you get smashed to smithereens in a car accident and are lying near death by the side of the road, your rescuers are apt to be your friends, or at least your acquaintances. Enter Karen. “Ben, Alan,…..try to relax. We’re going to get you out of there.”
I don’t see Karen all that often, but she sure looked beautiful that morning. The picture of health. Really nice eyes. “We’re going to have to put a tarp over you while we cut the top off the car,” she explained. “It’s just so you won’t get glass on you.” Seemed reasonable. “Don’t be scared. It’s going to be pretty loud.”
Who’s that? I wondered as Russell Page stuck his head into the car and surveyed the wreckage. “Oh, hi Russell.” Russell is the father of the goalie on Ben’s team. He is also an emergency room doctor at Copley Hospital. Not the worst guy in the world to have drop by the scene of your disaster. I always enjoy running into Russell, even if he didn’t stay very long. Besides racing ahead to his hospital to spruce things up for our arrival, it was Russell who got to call my house and inform my wife, Lorrie, that life as she had known it, was about to change.
It is at this point in the proceedings that things go dark. I have no recollection of being removed from the car, or what agonies I might have experienced, given my condition. The paramedics say that I was making jokes all the way to the hospital. Lorrie tells me that I told her that we now had that convertible she’d always wanted. No recall. God can be kind.
And that was that for the next six weeks of the winter of 1999.
I awakened to a world of love; and a world of hurt. It was hard to believe that I had nearly died, and that my legs weren’t working, and that I’d missed the Superbowl by five weeks.
Ben was doing fine; confined to a wheelchair for a few more weeks, but definitely on the mend.
My situation was somewhat more problematic, in particular the issue of whether or not my legs would heal sufficiently for me to walk again.
My entire family, nuclear and extended, had rallied to my bedside for six fear-filled weeks -- weeks through which they suffered while I slept the sleep of the drug-induced coma patient. Our friends and neighbors pitched in – filling our refrigerator, our oil tank, our bank account. I figured that the least that I could do for them was to walk.
t took the better part of a year, some big league surgery and a lot of work in the rehab gym; but I got there. And though I’ll never again be a threat at Wimbledon, I do get around pretty nicely with the aid of a cane; two on bad days or on long walks.
I want to tell the world that I’m a changed man with a renewed love and appreciation for life, even if Lorrie tells me that, at least in her eyes, I’m still the same jerk I always was.
Between you and me, I think she’s wrong. These stories that I write; I could never write them before. They have everything to do with minutiae, and, for whatever reason, before Sue came along in her truck, the minutiae were invisible to me.
Would I recommend this method of getting in touch with your finer thoughts?
What do you think?