From the very early days of APW, we’ve had readers who have lost partners suddenly, or suffered through tragic accidents where they both survived, somehow, together. In emails to me, the message over and over was that we all need to value what we have, try to be in the moment, stop losing time to complaining and wishing, and just be here right now. But it’s been a rare person that is able to write about it. So I’m so grateful to Carolyn, who’s here to talk about nursing a partner through a life changing accident. What gripped me about this post was not its sadness, but its strength. I learned something about my own marriage reading this post, something gritty and true. So here is Carolyn, teaching us all something.
I really wasn’t expecting life with my new husband to be rosy forever. I knew better, because I learned the hard way with my first marriage. But it’s too easy to take the good times for granted, when they’re really, really amazing, in an “I-can’t-wipe-this grin-off-my-face” kind of way. You can start to forget just how precious the good times are until they slip away in one tragic, life-shattering moment.
Eight months ago, while at work, I received that phone call. Casey had been injured when a seventy-foot tree he’d been cutting down unexpectedly fell on him, pinning him to the ground. My ears began to ring and all the blood in my body pooled to my legs, making them so heavy I could barely move. My brain began to race with questions… “Is he alive?” “Is he breathing? Conscious?” But all his boss could say was that he was being flown by helicopter to a nearby hospital; he was breathing but unconscious; and it wasn’t good. I hung up, trying to mentally process everything as my co-workers, overhearing my questions, sprang into action. One of them drove me to the hospital, a painfully long forty-five minutes away. As she drove, I began to process for the first time what life would be like without him, unable to fathom that this was REALLY HAPPENING. Could he really die? Why did this happen? Hadn’t I endured more than my share of trials in my life before this? We were still newlyweds. How could I finally meet the man of my dreams and have such a short time to love him?
That day marked the start of our new lives. It started with two very uncertain and rocky weeks in the Intensive Care Unit, his life hanging in the balance. Medical staff later revealed to us that they hadn’t expected Casey to survive. But he beat the odds, despite a spinal cord injury that meant he’d be paralyzed from the waist down, internal bleeding and crushing injuries to his heart and liver, multiple shattered bones, and a gaping chainsaw cut between his legs merely an inch from his femoral artery. We endured as he suffered days of ravaging infections, ventilator-induced pneumonia, uncontrollable pain, and sleepless nights. I can never explain my own agony of feeling utterly helpless to make him more comfortable.
But, he recovered. Three weeks after the accident we were sent to rehab at Craig Hospital, a thousand miles away in Denver, Colorado. He worked hard to gain strength and learn to navigate in his new body. He inspired me every day, fighting to do more, just when I thought he had nothing more to give. He did more than live; he set an example. He took things in stride.
Although our lives are far from carefree now, we are finding our way, one day at a time. What “In Sickness and in Health” meant the day we took our vows was one thing; this was entirely another. What I couldn’t have known at that time was what that would really mean in the face of what happened. No, I couldn’t have fathomed the fact that my burly, tough husband would end up paralyzed, or would have to endure a myriad of associated conditions for the rest of his life. Suddenly we were running scared from the fear of debilitating pressure sores, or UTIs that can quickly migrate to the kidneys. Of blood clots that might travel to his lungs and kill him, with equally dangerous medications to prevent them. Or, God forbid, being propelled out of his wheelchair after hitting a pothole in a crosswalk on a busy street. But as a wife, it was by far the hardest to watch my fiercely independent husband learn to swallow his pride and accept help when he involuntarily lost control of his bowels or bladder, or tipped over backwards in a parking lot. And conversely, it was equally tough to lovingly refrain from helping him in other situations as he tried to once again assert his independence and get out of sticky situations on his own.
I was asked recently if all of the things that I’d seen or had to do affected the way I loved my husband? Was I still attracted to him? I distinctly remember indulging briefly in that fear, while facing head-on his first bowel disaster, in public, without the help of hospital staff. But, as I snapped my rubber gloves on and pulled out the baby wipes, I pushed that fear away—I had to. I got the job done and moved on because he needed me. And when it happened again in the months to come, it got easier. How? Because we laughed our way through it. We reminded each other that this, too, would pass, and so would all the bad and inconvenient things we’ve yet to face. Things will get better. And they do, a little more every day.
There’s no question of whether my love for my husband has changed—it has in both subtle and dramatic ways. Good but unexpected ways. This may sound crazy but we are nearing the point in “our” recovery that we have begun to see the blessings—the good things that have come from this tragedy. Is it actually possible to believe that our life might actually be better than it ever was? If not today, but in the future when things are less fresh and we stop grieving for what was? As we begin to shut the door on yesterday, and become acclimated to our new “normal,” I have to believe the best is yet to come in our marriage. Because it is something real, something strong. Something we nearly lost, making it worth fighting for.
Wedding photo by: Callie Crass, final photo by our friend Kevin Masarik