7/04/2014

I Got the Phone Call Every Parent Fears

“Eamon has been in an accident but he only has a scratch to his head. He’s been taken to Nanticoke Memorial Hospital with the other two boys for routine examination.”
This is what my wife was told by Michelle, another high school football mom, at 11:02 Saturday June 17, 2014. She was referring to my youngest son, Eamon, who was on his way home from Senior Week at Ocean City, Maryland. This is a yearly rite of passage most parents fear and most high school students in our area undertake the week after the graduate.

My wife and the football moms had several meeting with the 11 members of Eamon’s football team to put the fear of God into them about what could happen. The only subject they didn’t cover was not to fall asleep while driving, which was the cause of this accident.
When Robin got off the phone with Michelle and informed me about the accident, we were both upset about the accident, but reassured that Eamon only had a “scratch.” I should have been clued in by the “taken to the hospital” but we were optimistic that Michelle had given us an accurate report and Eamon had not been hurt.

Then Robin called the Nanticoke Hospital and spoke to Eamon’s attending physician in the Emergency Room.
“We gave him anti-seizure medication to stop the brain seizures. He is paralyzed on his left side. He has an acute brain injury. We cannot handle him here and are medevac’ing him to Christiana Hospital in Newark, Delaware.”
I watched my wife’s face contort in agony. She was at receiving the phone call no parent wants to receive and I was watching it in real time.
“Oh, Jesus, please keep him alive!!! Please protect him!!!”
She collapsed into my chest and I held her up as she wailed and cried.
“Look at me, Robin. This is real. We have to stay composed and act. I’ll pack a bag of his things for around 30 days since he might be in the hospital a long time. Dear, God not beautiful Eamon…”
The phone calls started to come in one after another, mostly moms of other football players trying to get information about what happened. Robin could only tell them that all we knew was that Eamon was at Christiana Hospital in Newark, Delaware and we were on our way there.
The Eternal Drive to the Hospital
As we drove to the hospital, I tried to keep my tears to a minimum but let Robin cry as much as she wanted. We both had to get the panic, fear, and anxiety out through tears so as not to burden Eamon or the hospital staff with also taking care of us when we arrived.

At several points my hands began to ache. I realized I was gripping the steering column far too hard and did some deep breathing to calm down. I could not fathom why all the cars were going to slow on 95 as we went from Mt. Airy, Maryland to Newark, Delaware. I looked at my speedometer and it showed 85 mph. All around me cars were going the same speed. I realized that my heightened sense of awareness was making me miscalculate speed and distance. I did some more deep breathing.
I am Catholic, and began to say a rosary for Eamon. My Methodist wife joined in. It worked to provide some spiritual comfort and calm us both down when we needed both.
First Hours at Christiana Hospital
When we found our way to the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) where Eamon was being kept, we were surprised to see around 18 members of Eamon’s football team, two coaches, and several parents in the ICU family waiting room. A number of them were behind Eamon on their way back from Senior Week and went right to Christiana Hospital. Their teen-ager text and Twitter posts meant at that point they knew more about the accident and its aftermath than us, Eamon’s parents.
I noticed Eamon’s girlfriend was there with her mother. Her eyes were puffy from crying. Some of the other kids were laughing and cutting up like the teenagers they still were.  Some parents informed us that hospital had a policy that only two or three at a time were allowed to visit the patient. As some were down with Eamon now, we would be the first to go next.
As I sat with everyone I had to ask one question and make one comment.
“Sorry, guys, but I have to ask an uncomfortable question. Was there any alcohol involved?”
“No. They were give blood tests and they all measured zero.”
“Good. Now, when you go to see Eamon the last thing he needs to see is a sad face. Smile and joke around. Do not register on your face what he may look like. OK?”
They all nodded “Yes.”
Robin and I were led into his room and I felt like I was in a Star Trek movie. The computers they had hooked up to him were a technological wonder. They monitored his vitals, heart rate, feeding, tracheal tube, temperature and numerous other health measures.
What we saw was not the horrible site we were expecting from the Nanticoke doctor’s early assessment but a beautifully whole Eamon. There was no damage to his face and when I looked at the rest of his body I only saw a few cuts and bruises. The left side of his head was shaved slightly and he had 12 staples to close the laceration to his scalp. He had mits on his hands, but that was to keep him from pulling out the tracheal tube.
The nurse informed us that he was on anti-seizure medication because he had a seizure at the crash site. He had a tracheal tube down his throat and into his trachea to clean out fluids. She noted that he had a concussion in the accident and that it would bear watching. She gave us a number of other medical data, some of which I understood and some of which I did not.
Robin and I, having helped create him 18 years ago, were overjoyed. Nothing she said indicated permanent damage. We were glad for the intense way he would work out even now that football season was over because he was in great shape which would aid his recovery.
We led Jordan down to his bedside and saw the relief in her face when she saw him. Then we led all the football players down so they could see that he was in decent shape, and as a lesson to them not to fall asleep as the driver had because it could end up like this.
Lessons
Have an independent power source to charge up your cell phone.
The day of the accident and for the few days Eamon was in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU), both my wife Robin and I were on the phone for hours. Even plugging the phone into the outlet in the hospital family waiting room and into the 12V car outlet while driving was not sufficient to keep them powered up. So, buy a good external portable battery pack charger. I’ve used Gorilla Gadgets portable battery packs (http://gorillagadgets.com/collections/all-products) for years and find them very reliable.
Keep Everyone Informed
Both Robin and I were getting constant calls and text messages asking about what happened and how Eamon was and how we were. This is an email I wrote and then changed slightly depending on who I was sending it to to keep them updated.
“I've been living in the ICU with Eamon a few days.
The first call we got was that he was in a minor accident and only had a scratch to his head. The second call we got from the doctor at the first hospital was that he had brain trauma, was paralyzed on his left side, had seizures, massive loss of blood etc. He said they couldn't handle him and were medevac’ing him to Christiana Hospital in Newark, DE. 
I was amazed at how good he looked in the ICU with the 12 titanium staples in his head. I was glad I was there to hold him down when they drained the tracheal tube and removed it from his throat. You know how big he is. They kept calling him "The Beast" and they wanted to have four big males nurses hold him down. I said that was unnecessary and that I would hold him down.
The problem was he was gagging and drawing up his knees and arms. I put my elbow over his legs and the other over his chest. I think they were happy for the help because they weren't getting it done. It was horrible to watch his face as they took that damned thing out, but I was glad it was me holding him down.
They had him on anti-seizure IV due to the blood loss at the accident. He's on pain meds due to the severe brain trauma. Some bruising on his neck from the seat belt. He was asleep in the back and was thrown to the front and was bleeding out in the other kids lap. He was asleep and the passenger was asleep and the driver fell asleep and drove 600 feet in the oncoming lane. He hit a couple in a Ford 250 1988. God help us, but the wife died and the driver is in Eamon's old ICU.
Eamon is finally out of ICU.  Robin is taking 30 days of medical leave. I will not be taking the vacation anymore as I will use that time here and there for his recovery. Eamon and Josh were to go to Ireland for two weeks beginning today. Ah well. He has my mother’s rosary on his chest so I expect a full recovery. His concussion is bad and will take time to heal.
The night before a kid they don't like they let stay at their place. He invited "older kids" (they won't give me names). The older kids trashed their place and sprayed them with a fire extinguisher. Unfortunately, the driver above threw up all night from that and got no sleep. They were afraid to lose their security deposit so they cleaned up until 10 and left with no sleep.
Get this. The day before, Eamon actually rescued a little kid who was drowning from the riptide. Wish that were they story I had for you.
Two of his coaches, 28 football players, and two dozen parents actually drove there to see him. I conducted them back and held up pretty good until I had to return to take care of the dog and register him for his classes at UMBC (alone, sadly). I saw his photos on the refrigerator and broke down crying for an hour until my eyes bled.   You know how it is. It never gets easier.”
Life Goes on Despite your Event
“We have to have a plan!” Robin announced as we left Eamon in the ICU Sunday night.
“You have to return home and go to UMBC (University of Maryland, Baltimore Campus) and get Eamon registered for his classes. I will stay in a hotel here until he is released.”
She was right. Registration was the next day and since he could not be there I would have to stand in for him, which I did. The staff at UMBC were very accommodating once I told them, briefly, what had happened.
Although most of the parents that day were anxious about seeing their children off to college, I was in a different place. For example, at one point I had to go into a bathroom, close a stall door, and just cry for half an hour to decompress.
Whereas before we had planned on Eamon living at home and commuting, when I experience the traffic on 695 I made the decision to try to get him housing on campus. The woman at the housing office wanted a letter from the doctor to prove what I said was true, which I supplied. As I said, life goes on despite your event.
Have a traditional copper phone and a cell phone if you can afford it.
My wife left her cell phone at work. At the accident and immediately after when the kids involved and their parents were trying to reach my wife, she did not have her phone because of all days she left it at work on Friday night. Those mothers trying to call her only had her number, not mine. Finally, one of them found our home number and finally reached us.
Help the medical people when you can.
My son is a good athlete and very strong. They were bringing in four hefty male nurses to take out his tracheal tube because, despite the restraints, he was able to sit up and also kick his legs which was interfering with their work.
They even nicknamed him “The Beast” which was and was not funny to me. 
Anyway, I offered to hold him down.
“Are you sure you can do that?”
“Oh, yes. I’ve done it many times before.”
“OK. We’ll give it a try.”
I think they were exasperated at that point so they allowed me to help. I sat through hundreds of hours of martial arts training with him when he was younger. One of the basic principles is that an angle breaks strength, so I put my elbow at an angle across his legs and chest and leaned over the hospital bed.
That freed them up to concentrate on removing the fluids in his lungs using the tracheal tube pump. It was excruciatingly painful to watch his face contort in pain as they flushed out his lung and throat liquids and then removed the tracheal tube. Still, it was comforting knowing I was holding him down relative painlessly.
Thank all those you can thank.
Many, many others will help you through a catastrophic event. Although you cannot possible thank everyone, at least try to thank as many as possible, especially the professionals, family, friends, neighbors and others who help you to the other side.
For example, I wrote the following letter to the CEO of Chrtiana Hospital to thank him and his staff the day after Eamon was released.
June 18, 2014
Mr. Robert Lashowski, MD
Christiana Hospital
4755 Ogletown Stanton Road
Newark, DE 19718
Dear Mr. Lashowski,
Please accept my deepest gratitude for the efforts of your staff (and especially Patricia Marie Bodens-Chatz, Jeremy Bunty and Danielle Zambardial of your ICU) for their care, professionalism, devotion to duty, kindness, and technical expertise.
Our youngest, Eamon Patrick Curley, was medivaced to your facility on June 14th, 2014 after a bad car accident. He was asleep in the back seat when the driver fell asleep, went 600 in the oncoming lane, and hit a truck. The first hospital where they too k him was unable to handle his condition which is why they medivaced him to Christiana Hospital.
About 25 of his football team and their parents came by on Saturday. All the nurses mentioned above, and your other staff, were tirelessly accommodating to our large number. We thought that, since they were there, it was important for all his classmates to see him with his current state as a cautionary tale. I think they got the message.
I am on the Board of Directors (volunteer) of the American Civil Defense Association (TACDA) and I think a lot and work often on improving human survival and improving emergency management. My personal thanks for leading the medical team that gets those areas right in a world that often does not.
With deep respect and gratitude,
Bruce V. J. Curley
P.S. I include a copy of the The America Civil Defense Association (TACDA) Journal. You or your staff may especially enjoy the article about the physician who is also a storm watcher at Joplin, MO.
Say “Thank You” to those with a card
When Eamon was finally off the meds and beginning to sleep fewer hours during the day as his concussion healed, my wife and I both bought him dozens of different thank you cards. Some went to family and relatives, some to friends, and some to a variety of others. For example, he plays violin every Sunday at our church in a youth music group. They created a beautiful card for him so they got a thank you card.
My Thank You to my Boss
After the event, we all have to transition back to our jobs and lives. Very few, even though they are sympathetic, will completely understand what you just went through.
As my boss has been one of the main architects of the E-ZPass electronic tolling system that enabled me to get to the hospital so fast, I sent him this thank you after the event.
Aye Mark,
Eamon is finally out of ICU. We hope to have him home soon. My wife is taking 30 days of medical leave. I will not be taking the vacation week anymore as I will use that time here and there for his recovery. Eamon and Josh were to go to Ireland for two weeks beginning today. Ah well. He has my mother’s rosary on his chest so I expect a full recovery.
When we first got the call that he had brain trauma, was paralyzed on his left side, had seizures, massive loss of blood etc. we raced to the second hospital where they medevac’d him…Christiana Hospital in Newark, DE. I thank you for all your E-ZPass work because we were able to get there much sooner using our E-ZPass. You should know that, despite the daily technical headaches, that system is a life saver in a crisis for many like us.
After days in an ICU, it is good to be back at work. I share this with you because I work for you. Please keep this private.
Bruce
Aftermath
Because he was asleep and thrown, hit his head, and was in a coma and on brain seizure medication, he does not remember the accident or its aftermath. That’s probably good.
Three weeks later, Eamon is playing violin, signing up for the violin classes for the music scholarship he was just awarded, going to dinner with his girlfriend, walking the dog, eating dinner with us, having friends over and doing most other “normal” 18 year old things, including arguing that we treat him like a 3-year old, so, things are back to “normal.” He will begin his engineering program at UMBC in August.
He is young and strong and the young and strong heal faster.
And…Oh…one last lesson…Eamon is under orders to hug me once a day now. He did not see my tears of fear after the accident, and he does not see my inner tears of joy now.
Parent Moment Poem
This is a poem I wrote about my now 28-year old son when he was out late one night when he was 16. It captures some of the anxiety we all experience when our children are out driving on their own, especially with their friends. It has a happier ending.

Parent Moment
There is a moment
In most parent’s lives
When they’re older,
Not grown up yet,
But older, and away
Somewhere else
That you don’t know
Because they never told you
And that panic sets in…
Are they dead in a car accident?
Dead from their own hand
From drinking too much booze
Or taking any one of a thousand drugs
Easily available in the marketplace
Of the young but hidden from adults?
At such times,
The panic can choke off breathing,
Cause the heart to pump blood
Through veins already overdosing
On the body’s natural heroin, adrenaline,
And thoughts rush in a manic clip of
WHAT
COULD
HAVE
HAPPENED
TO
MAKE THEM
SO LATE
Until just before you call the police
And make a private horror
A public horror
The car pulls into the driveway,
The child in question steps out
Oblivious to that panic,
Oblivious to parental fear,
And nonchalantly walks into the house
As if the mental breakdown in your head
Is as remote as a Toro Boro inner tunnel.
The threat out there has receded briefly,
Even if the reality is as ubiquitous
As murder on the local news.

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