Thursday, June 13, 2013

The fall (and rise) of a good man

Jacksonville—They say you can’t keep a good man down. It’s true.

Three weeks ago today (May 23, 2013), at this time (7 p.m.), I was sitting in a waiting room in the UF (Shands) Health Trauma Center, trying to remain positive but oblivious to the status of my husband Jim. I knew he was alive, but I didn’t know the extent of his injuries. And I wouldn’t know for more than two hours. My husband had taken a fall—a long fall of 13 feet—from the top of our RV.

That Thursday morning, as Jim prepared to go the our RV to finish installing three solar panels on its roof, he said to me, “You have things to do here. You don’t have to come with me.” I told him I was going. I said, “You could fall. I need to be there.” (How prophetic was that?) He scoffed at the idea, but the two of us headed out to the motorhome, which is stored 22 miles from our house, at a quiet RV park on the intracoastal waterway.

I’m so glad I went.

When we got to the RV, Jim went up to the roof and worked on the solar panels. He came down and rested and hydrated a couple of times. (The sun was hot; it was in the upper 80s.) I remained inside, reading. A few minutes after he went upside to finish the job, I heard a horrible thump. It sounded like a 150 pound bag of rice or beans hitting the ground. Splat.

I ran outside, calling to him.

There was no response.

I found Jim lying on the ground, not moving. As I pulled my cell phone out and dialed 911, I called to him, afraid he wouldn’t answer. While I talked to the 911 operator, I nudged him, and he finally (it was probably only seconds) began to rasp. He tried to sit up, to turn over, to do something to catch his breath. He was in terrible pain.

The paramedics arrived, I think, within 10 or 15 minutes—an eternity. (We were in a fairly remote area.) They checked him out and finally took him to the trauma center. After closing up the RV with the help of a friendly “neighbor” who lives in the RV park (and who even went topside to gather all Jim’s tools), I programmed the GPS and drove to the hospital.

And waited.

The trauma center is not like a regular ER. It is a large, curtained area, where real traumas (think falls and gunshot wounds) are taken. It’s just like Grey’s Anatomy or ER, with surgeries and blood and lots of activity. So, when the doctors are busy, they don’t let any visitors back there.

Around 9:45 p.m. I was finally able to go back and see my husband, who was heavily sedated. I got home about 10:30 p.m.

During the night, Jim was transferred to ICU, where the trauma team determined that he had broken his right collar bone, the right shoulder blade, and at least eight ribs (with multiple fractures), and a bone in his left hand.

The second night in ICU Jim lost two liters of blood. (We later learned that one of the ribs had snapped like a twig and had plunged into the lung, causing the hemorrhage.) He received a total of four units of blood.

The injuries Jim incurred were excruciating. And if truth be known, the trauma team had probably never seen rib injuries to that extent. They had a tough time deciding the best course of action—do nothing and let the bones heal on their own, or operate. One problem was that the chest tubes (one had been inserted the night of his fall, the second a few days later) were not draining properly and he could develop pneumonia or another infection. The other problem was that his rib cage was essentially crushed on the right side. What to do? Finally, it was decided surgery was needed.

Two weeks to the day after his fall, amid a threatening tropical storm, my husband was taken to surgery. I kissed him good-bye at 11 a.m. I didn’t see him again until 7 p.m. It was a long day.

The surgery was a twofold operation. The first part addressed the congestion. The doctor cleaned out the congestion and inserted two new chest tubes. The second part of the surgery consisted on clamping three of the broken ribs with titanium plates and screws. These clamps would help rebuild his chest cage. It was a fairly unique surgery, and the attending surgeon will probably write a paper on it.

Jim was again transferred to an ICU, where he again received excellent care. On Monday evening (June 10), he was sent to a private (non ICU) room, and on Wednesday, five days post-operative, he was to be released to come home. We faced yet another problem, however. The doctor told us that one of the plates had loosened. We were given a choice: more surgery to put in a longer plate or do nothing. We weighed the risks and benefits of another surgery to fix the problem and decided against it. The risks outweighed the benefits, to our mind.

I am very grateful for all the support everyone has given me and Jim. Some people used prayer; some sent their positive thoughts and concerns through cyber waves. Whatever was sent, I appreciate it, and so does he. It makes a difference to know you are not alone.

Jim can be stubborn, obstinate, and inflexible. But he can be kind, sweet, and caring, too. He is a good man, and I am so grateful that he is already remarkably rising above his horrible injuries.

Three weeks ago, this good man fell. But today he is getting up again. Thank goodness.

Until later,

Your Reluctant RoVer,


P.S. Friends have asked how the fall occurred. Jim isn’t sure. Most likely he was working stooped over, bolting down a solar panel, then stood up to assess his work. It is possible that he got dizzy. He says he remembers going down and thinking he would land on the skylight over the bathroom and it would break. Unfortunately, it did not break. Instead, it flexed and bounced him over the side.

Now, as Paul Harvey would have said, you know the rest of the story.

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