Don’t Tell Me Miracles Don’t Happen Today! (Part III)

I’m back, after a brief hiatus to celebrate our nation’s 232nd birthday, observed just as the founding fathers intended:  with “fireworks, feasting, and gaiety.”   Now, while I’ve got some ribs, brisket, beer-can chicken and beans being infused with mesquite smoke outside, I’ll finish my Ladybug’s tale.

When we left off, it was right at sunset on Sunday, June 11, 2006.  The place, the pediatric wing at Memorial Hermann Hospital in the Texas Medical Center in Houston.  We were exuberant, for our precious Ladybug was being moved out of Shock/Trauma ICU after a four-day stay, but we had been happy that she was there for it meant she was alive.  She had made it through her first surgery (in 2-4 hours less time than had been anticipated by her surgeon, Dr. Arun Gadre.  In two days, Dr. Gadre and Dr. Richard Urso, an ophthalmic surgeon, would complete the reconstruction of Ladybug’s face.

Since her jaw (broken in two places) had been wired shut and would remain so for the next six weeks, Ladybug was on a liquid diet.  The nurses showed us to the small refreshment area for our section of the ward, which was stocked with a wide assortment of fruit juices, milkshakes, and other healthy beverages at our disposal.  Since Ladybug only weighed 97 lbs. at the time of the accident, keeping her nourished and at a healthy weight for her 5′ 1″ frame was a priority.  After a meal or two, Ladybug was already tiring of the liquid meals available, and we were having to get creative.  Thank God there was a Starbucks in the main lobby; had it not been for Frapuccinos, she would have wasted away to nothing.  As it turned out, it was this spring, nearly two years later, that Ladybug sipped a smoothie since having the wires removed.  Before that, merely saying the word “smoothie” would turn her green with nausea.

As stated in my last post, as soon as Ladybug got settled, she started texting all her friends to let them know that she was finally in a place where she could routinely visit and had access to communication.  The next day, Monday, was a constant inpouring of friends from church, school, track team, swim team, and even friends of friends.  We lost count somewhere around 50.  The nurses commented that, even when they had had celebrity or VIP children in the ward, they had never seen so many visitors in one day.  Everyone was great; they were conscientious, caring, respectful of others, and treated my Ladybug like a queen.

There was one visit during those hectic days that most sticks out in my mind as a selfless, sacrificial act that meant so much to all of us, especially to Ladybug.  Jeff Appel was at that time president of the Brenham Dolphins Swim Team, to which all three of my kids belonged at that time (my oldest has since become too old for the program, which ends at 18).  He is also the owner of Appel Dodge/Chrysler/Jeep in Brenham.  Right at 5:00 in the afternoon (which means he was negotiating downtown traffic in our nation’s 4th largest city, and leaving himself open to battle even worse traffic going home), he walked in the door, carrying a foam book that had to be a good 12 inches thick!  The team had created not a get-well card, but a get-well BOOK,  with each swimmer making his or her own page of love and support!

Jeff Appel so easily could have relegated bringing the team’s well-wishes to another member of the team’s board or to a parent, but he took time out of what surely must have been a busy workday to come personally and extend the teams’ well-wishes.  He stayed for a while, talking to us and to Ladybug, making sure that our immediate needs were being taken care of.  It made quite an impression on all of us.  Since that day, all of our automobile business has been with Appel Chrysler/Dodge/Jeep–we replaced the totaled Jeep Cherokee with a Dodge Durango Hemi, which was traded in earlier this year as gas prices began to soar for a Chrysler PT Cruiser.  It is also where I got my beloved RaggTopp, my Chrysler Sebring convertible.   I take advantage of any opportunity that comes up to recommend Jeff’s dealership to whomever I can–I just wish I could do more to show my gratitude to someone who went way above and beyond the call of duty.  Jeff could easily have called as a representative of the team, and I would have been happy.  Rather, he came as a friend, and for that I will be forever grateful.

Here is one shameless and unsolicited bit of promotion: Thanks, Jeff!

There were others who meant so much in those days:  Von and Stacey, who hovered over me as I hovered over Ladybug; Scott, who not only brought over fantastic Vietnamese food, but also his youngest son to play with my youngest son; and Peggy, with whom Hubby and I had had a disagreement (over something that seemed so important just a week earlier and was totally insignificant now)–when she came to visit, Hubby hugged her and said “You know, this means we can never get mad at you again!”

Then there were Chris and Beth, even though they never made it to the hospital to visit.  Believe me, I understood; they were much too concerned with the recovery of their own daughter,  Ladybug’s friend, who had so badly broken her arm in the effort to save Ladybug’s life.  Beth was one of the first people to contact me after we’d gotten word;  Chris is a member of the Volunteer Fire Department, and heard the call on his service walkie-talkie.  They knew as soon as the call came in that it was our girls.  Beth tried like mad to get on the helicopter with Ladybug, even as the ambulance was arriving for her own daughter.  Each of us regards both girls as our own, and never more than at this time.  I was so scared to speak to Beth at first; I just knew she must hate me for what had happened.  How foolish I was–if anything, we became closer than ever.  Still, her daughter was taken to another hospital on the farthest outreaches of the opposite side of the Houston medical area.  Her daughter got to go home on the same day that mine moved out of ICU.  Hubby got to pay one visit over there, but I did not get to see my “other daughter” until well after Ladybug was released from the hospital.  Still, within a couple of weeks of Ladybug’s release, they were “doing the sleepover thing” again, just like old times.

But I get ahead of myself.  On Tuesday, June 13, Ladybug went in for her second facial-reconstruction surgery in four days.  The first one had gone well, remarkably well.  The second, though, was scheduled to go much longer, and would be much more intricate.  Among the throng of visitors that Monday before was Dr. Gadre, accompanied by Dr. Urso to discuss what would happen in the second surgery.  Dr. Urso would go first; he would make the only visible incision other than the one for the tracheostomy in the whole battery of procedures–just below her right eyebrow.  Using that incision and one about 1 1/2 inches behind Ladybug’s hairline, Dr. Urso would insert a steel mesh that would be her new eye socket.  After that, the surgeons would go inside Ladybug’s lower eyelids to reset her fractured cheekbones and sinus bones with metal plates.  The surgery was expected to take 8-12 hours, and the first one had gone so well, Hubby and I were on edge, not daring to speculate if the ease of the first surgery would mean difficulty in the second.

It turned out that the fears we dared not contemplate were unfounded.  The second surgery was over in only 6 hours, and went so well that the surgeons, so schooled in objectivity, could not contain their excitement.  What I saw were Terry Bradshaw and Franco Harris after the Immaculate Reception, Buck Belue and Lindsay Scott after the 92-yard pass play that beat Florida and put Georgia in the #1 spot in 1981, Jake Taylor and Willie Mays Hayes at the plate after the “called-shot bunt” at the end of Major League.  They were two guys who had scored the game-winner, and they knew it!

Again, though, our joy was tinged with a bit of sorrow.  During the surgery, I made some phone calls to see how things were going at home.  It turned out that the owner of our local pharmacy has passed away suddenly and unexpectedly.  “Mr. Walter,” although he had retired and handed the responsibility of keeping Bellville’s prescriptions to his pharmacist son long before we had moved to the area, was still a fixture in the pharmacy that bears his name, helping out when things were really busy or just chatting with the townsfolk when it wasn’t.  We knew he would be sorely missed, and the staff at the pharmacy, along with “Mr. Walter’s” son Mike and his wife Kim, our local nurse-practitioner, were amazed that I would even think to call to express my condolences while my daughter was undergoing delicate surgery!  It’s just what you do.  My experience with Ladybug made me oh so much more aware of the importance of “Little Things.”

Again, we knew we would have to deal with post-operative swelling, but even so, we were amazed at how good Ladybug looked–far beyond what we were told to expect!  The doctors would want to see her every few weeks (Dr. Urso would see her for the next year), but they were excited.  Dr. Gadre had told us most pointedly that he “could not put her back the way God made her.”  Well, in that case, God took over the hands of Dr. Gadre and Dr. Urso and worked yet another miracle, for once the swelling went down, our beautiful Ladybug was back!

Twenty-four hours after the second surgery, Ladybug’s surgical trach tube was replaced with one that would allow her to cover it to speak.  Her voice was music to everyone’s ears!  Another gift received that day came from one of her two best friends in Florida.  The hospital volunteer brought in a large box which turned out to contain a teddy bear outfitted with a small straw shopping basket.  Inside the basket was one item–a deep purple eye shadow!  We howled at the joke that continued from that first horrible night.  When Hubby went into the ER treatment room that first time, his heart broke upon seeing the injured, semi-conscious Ladybug.  He felt he had to do something to break the obvious tension, so he said the first ridiculous thing he could think of.  Upon seeing the “raccoon eyes” described in Part I, he said to Ladybug “Didn’t I tell you to do something about that eye shadow?  For a year and a half, the only two things Ladybug remembered first-hand about the day of the accident  were the sound of the helicopter rotors, and her Daddy’s silly remark.

On Friday, June 16 (my father’s 81st birthday), the hospital spoke of releasing Ladybug.  As much as we wanted to take her home, we were concerned.  Home was a 90-minute drive away in the best of circumstances; if it were rush hour or there was a major snafu on the freeway, who knew how long it would take to get home?  They had only removed her trach tube and butterflied her incision that day–what if something were to go wrong?  We asked for and received another 24 hours to observe her and have help nearby if needed.

Hubby got the RV ready, while I began to organize the florist shop that my daughter’s room had become.  The balloon bouquet went to the little girl next door who had been a “regular customer” in the ward since she was a toddler due to a faulty liver.  This visit was due to dehydration, which caused problems for the transplant liver she had.  She and Ladybug had become fast friends on the ward.  It took three trips with a cart to put all the flowers into our minivan–the last trip with Ladybug holding onto two bouquets as she was being wheeled out.  Then came the slow trip home–the RV had transmission problems that prevented going above 45 miles per hour.  Still, it was a celebration for Ladybug to be coming home at all!

Of course, Ladybug was apprehensive–this was her first car ride since the accident.  The sudden heavy downpour just as we got to the traffic jam caused by the closure for construction of the ramp we wanted to head home didn’t help.  Still, we knew an alternative route that was some 40 miles longer, but not obstructed with detours to God-knows-where overpopulated with other, less responsible drivers who had no more clue where to go than we did.   Two-and-a-half hours later, we were home!  Ladybug was home.  The worst was over.

NEXT TIME:  Postscript


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