To say that Jeff was an angel driving an SUV would be an understatement. I climbed into his car, breathless and wheezing, relieved to know that Brian was at the hospital, grateful for the ride there. I quickly called John to confirm that he was with him. The car had wings-we fairly flew to the emergency entrance of CMC-Pineville. Had Jeff pulled any closer to the building I might have stepped into the trauma room itself. As I barreled through the entrance, I see John, then a staff member. The rescue team (EMTs, firemen) is still here, our heroes from the highway, the front line in the battle to save Brian. At last…I can see my son…from the waist down. The tiny curtained area is buzzing, humming with activity; we are not allowed any closer, but we can SEE him, part of him, anyway. What happened to his sock and shoe?
I start asking questions, trying to figure out what I’m observing. At some point, standing beyond the fray, a helpless outsider looking in, a switch flipped in my head. I feel calm, almost clinical, demanding information. “Has he regained…can we go to…his injuries…when can we…do you know…what about…have insurance information…transferring when…done here ...is that a…does he have…do we have time…I’ll be right back?” One of Brian’s nurses overheard my rambling interrogation, and asked “Are you a nurse?” “No,” I replied, “I just need to know as many facts as possible.”
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The physician finally stepped out to speak with us. Brian’s injuries required more than what they were able to provide at this facility; he was brought here to be stabilized (due to the proximity to the accident scene). The decision had been made to fly him to CMC’s main hospital. Once he was aboard the helicopter, we were to drive over to the other ER and meet him there. Dear God…please help my family, my son. Brian, what did you do? We still didn’t know exactly what we were dealing with… Whump…whump…whump…in the time it took to update Brad & his father (they were in the waiting room), the air ambulance arrived. We were told that we were lucky-an actual physician would be accompanying him on the flight. Brian was hustled past us, wrapped up as in a cocoon; John said “I love you Brian, we’ll see you over there”. I couldn’t speak; I couldn’t think; the calm façade was gone, crumbled to dust as he left my sight again. Just a glimpse of his face as he went by…
I have no idea how we got to the main hospital. I was on the phone again, calling the girls, my mom, voicemail…in the blink of an eye we were there. Where to go: Children’s ER or Main ER? Pineville said to go to children’s; they were wrong. Winding around, loosing precious minutes, finally the main ER, John having to move the car, trying to get to the little curtained area (like before) to Brian, DENIED. We are escorted by a chaplain to a small room, off the side of the main ER waiting area. Our girls arrived, safely delivered to us by friends. Sunny (Brian’s girlfriend), Brad and his family, Brian’s friends, Grace’s friends, parents of those friends, all began to arrive as well, overfilling the space. And so we wait, tears dried for the moment, pacing, phones ringing, praying, raging, wondering, meaningless small talk filling the empty air, impatiently waiting for news. Scared to know, terrified from not knowing…at last, a doctor.
She introduces herself and sits down. Addressing me, she asks, “Exactly how much do you know?” I respond with the facts as I know them: “We have been told that he has been unconscious and bleeding; he has some broken ribs and a collapsed lung, his heart rate and pulse have been erratic, but they were stabilized before he was transported here.” The silence is deafening. It seems as if she takes a deep breath (perhaps steeling herself) and then she pushes full steam ahead, informing us, very matter-of-factly, “Your son actually expired at the scene; they were able to medically bring him back…he’s still in surgery…” Whatever else she said, I do not remember, as I was no longer able to hear. My tenuous grip was slipping away. I made my escape to the parking area outside of the ER (please, get out of my way, let me pass), dialing my mom (please, please answer), looking for a hole in which to crawl (I need to hide, to vent, I’ve got to let it out), seeing people I know all over the place (where can I GO). I couldn’t disappear, so I squatted down, put my head between my knees, and begged, “Mom, I need you to get here, it’s bad, really, really bad…”
“I’m Very Sorry”
With assurance from my mother that she is on her way, I stumble back inside the ER entrance. I continue to see a wall of familiar faces, questions burning in their eyes, but I cannot abide conversation right now.
Our friend Alice comes out to find me (again), to lead me back to the private waiting area, as the doctor is on his way down (is this good…it’s so soon). She works for the hospital, with trauma ICU, no less. She knows Brian personally. Another friend made her aware of our imminent arrival, of Brian’s accident, of our need. Alice immediately assumes her professional persona (I’m struggling, fighting to hold on), and helps to guide me during our wait, making suggestions to bring some order to the chaos (so many waiting, anxious teens, phone calls, updates, etc.), defining black and white choices for me amongst the swirling gray mist created by my circumstance.
I resume my place at the room’s center, as tightly wound as a bedspring, trying to pray for the best, expecting the worst. Another lifetime passes while we wait; the door opens, and there he is, the one who knows. The surgeon zeroed in on me, instinctively knowing somehow that I was the one to whom the message must be delivered.
“I’m very sorry; your son did not make it; he died.”
What? Just like that? That’s it? After all of this…it’s over? His words are impossible to comprehend, to believe, much less accept. My grasp of the English language has fled to another place, overwhelmed by the task at hand. He may as well have been speaking in a foreign tongue; for once again, I cannot process anything else being said…
The room is tilted, spinning, my life is slipping away. I hear screams all around me, from within me, cries of anguish, our minds unable to come to terms with the harsh truth that has been thrust upon us, refusing to believe that Brian has gone from us, forever…John jumping up, yelling from the corner, “Nooooo, you’re wrong, no no no no no no no no…this cannot be…no…”; Beth, leaping from the couch and falling to the floor crying out, “No, not my brother, not Brian…”; Grace, kicking and screaming, “You’re lying; it’s not him, you’re wrong, it’s not my brother…”; Sunny, sobbing, searching blindly for the trash can. I have been swept away by the same agony I felt earlier, only it’s far, far worse, for now my nightmare has become my reality, having been confirmed with absolute certainty. The primal cry escaping me announces the departure of my heart and soul, both of which have gone to join my son. We are surrounded by a small group of stunned friends, all silently crying with us and for us, for the life that is no more, disbelief visible on every countenance…
My heavy, hazy veil lifted just enough for me to realize that I had to see Brian (how can I deal with this); I have to talk to him, to touch him, at long last to just be there with him, to let him know that we tried to be there (so he wasn’t alone). I have things that I have to say (although he can no longer hear me); I need to smooth his brow (even though he can no longer feel it); I need to ask him what happened (in spite of the fact that he will never answer); I have to tell him that I am so sorry that I wasn’t there in time (I can’t fix this one, B). This was the only way I could go on, the only way that I could ever begin to face what comes next. At the same time, my mommy instinct knew that I could not allow our girls to see him right then; rightly or wrongly, I decided they did not need to remember Brian in this way.
At long last, we are taken to our son. I am taking deep breaths, trying to make sense of what (who) I have suddenly become, trying to reconcile what is, with what was, to no avail. Over and over (am I speaking or just thinking) ‘I cannot do this; I am not this person; this is NOT my life; I did NOT ask for this; I am not this woman; I don’t know how to do this; I cannot do this; how do I do this; I don’t know how to live this life; how can I live THIS LIFE’? Floating down the corridor (past a sea of faces), into the elevator (are we going up or down), delivered to another passageway (I can’t do this, I have to do this), entering another dimension (someone PLEASE wake me up), braving the place where my present and future have ceased to exist…Brian, I am here, we are here now…
John glances around the curtain to confirm with his own eyes the truth that his heart cannot bear to witness; he can go no further. I must. Alice waits with John beyond this screen, out of the line of sight, lending him her strength, as I cannot. I am finally with Brian; I do what I must, tears falling like raindrops born of a summer storm, my journey to reach our son complete. Dr. Thomason stands behind me, weeping, sharing our loss as his own. Brian is swaddled like a newborn, only his face is visible; he appears to be sleeping. The sunburn on his face is gone, so many freckles on his nose…
We have to go; what else can be done here? We must do the impossible now; we have to leave our child behind (this cannot really be happening). We return to the little room, barely able to acknowledge the many, many others here, lining the hallways, sharing our agony. We gather our girls, forcing ourselves to go from this place, on to the place we call home, without Brian; a little over two hours has passed since Brad’s call. I am forced to settle for clutching the nameless plastic bag containing his sock and shoe to my broken heart instead of him, the last vestige of the man who was our son…