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When the sun came up the next morning, the hospital corridors quickly resumed their busy pace. The day shift of nurses arrived to review their caseloads, while carts of breakfast trays emerged from elevators and doctors began making their early rounds.
Soon a medium-height man with light hair and wearing a lab coat came walking toward me. He was perhaps in his forties and seemed very confident. “Hello, I'm Dr. Hill,” he said. “It's good to see that you made it all the way from Hawaii. What time did you arrive?”
“About midnight,” I answered, reaching out to shake his hand. “Thank you for calling; I know it was hard to find us.”
“Yes, I'm glad I got through to you.”
He had already checked on David that morning and quickly began giving me an update. “Your son remained stable through the night, even though his condition is very grave,” he said. “I've seen the results of the CT scan over in radiology, and it shows what I expected: a coup-contrecoup injury. The brain, as you know, is a soft organ that resides inside the hard shell of the skull. When a sudden impact occurs, the brain at first slams toward the skull wall, causing some damage-but then it rebounds the opposite direction and hits the other side of the skull, injuring that part as well.” Dr. Hill motioned with his head to illustrate.
“It appears that David hit the pavement on the right side of his head-the 'coup' impact-but the more serious damage is in the left temporal lobe-in other words, the 'contrecoup' part of things.
“Of course, there is diffuse edema-swelling-all throughout the brain, which is what is causing the increased pressure. That's our real concern. We're doing everything we can to bring that under control. And keeping him sedated is all part of the strategy.
“Do you have any questions I might answer?”
I hardly knew what to say. The whole thought of brain injury had always made me shudder. It had to be the absolute worst thing that could happen to a person's body. The only query I could come up with was, “Do you think he'll be all right eventually?”
Dr. Hill paused, as if to choose his words with care. “It's much too soon to say,” he finally replied. “There's a lot we can't know for now. When he arrived here yesterday around eleven o'clock, he evidenced what we call 'decerebrate posturing'-rigid arms and legs, toes pointed downward, and head thrown back. As you see now, at least that has ceased. We just have to keep watching and waiting for more developments.”
And with that, he stood up to move on to the rest of his busy schedule. It was hard for me not to have a clear plan of action to follow. I wanted somebody to say, “We'll do this, and this, and then this, and at the end of such and such a time, your son will be fixed.” But it wouldn't be that simple.
I went looking for a phone so I could call Dale and tell him what little I knew. It was reassuring to hear his voice. He told me he had succeeded in getting onto the Tuesday flights, which meant he would see me sometime Wednesday. He said the church had already volunteered to bring meals for the boys while he was gone, since they would have to stay there for school. “Don't worry, honey,” he concluded. “They'll be okay, and I'll be with you in just two days.”
I then returned to the ICU nurses' station, pleading for as much time with David as they would allow. He looked the same as when I had arrived the night before-comatose, unmoving, unaware. At every visit, I would stare at him, stroke his hand, stroke his feet, and tell him I loved him so very much. I had no idea whether he could hear me or not. But I would talk to him anyway. And then all too soon, the nurse would signal that I must leave again.
My energy was drooping after a night of almost no sleep, but I couldn't go. In between my bedside vigils, I was buoyed by the phone calls from Yakima that started to pour in. Friends from the church, neighbors, fellow employees from Penney's, business contacts of Dale's-they all wanted to find out the latest news and to tell me they were thinking of us. What a strength those calls were to me. They let me know we were not alone. The hospital staff eventually joked that maybe they needed to put in a private line just for us.
Late that day, a call came from a stranger. “You don't know me,” the young-sounding woman started out, “but my name is Linda Sharp. I was at the accident scene just after it happened, and I haven't been able to think about another thing since. I had to call to find out how your son is doing.”
“Well, he's in a coma, and he's not doing very well,” I replied. “The main damage is to his head. There are no other injuries or broken bones that we know of.”
But what I really wanted was to hear her story. “Tell me what you saw,” I added. This would be my first contact with an eyewitness.
She began to talk about how she and her three young children had spent Saturday night with a friend in Lewiston, and they were headed back north that Sunday morning to go to church. “When we came up to the top of the Lewiston Grade — suddenly, there was your son lying right on the double yellow line! His smashed-up motorcycle was off to one side, and the other car was parked in the grass, with the driver standing alongside holding a baby girl.”
(Lewiston, I should explain, sits in a valley at the junction of the Clearwater and Snake Rivers, along with its twin city, Clarkston, Washington, just across the state line. This was a stopover for the famous Lewis and Clark Expedition of 1804 to 1806, which is how the two towns got their names. Opposite the towns, a steep ridge rises some two thousand feet above the valley floor. U.S. 95 winds to the top of this ridge and then divides right at the state line. U.S. 95 keeps going northeast toward Moscow, Idaho, while U.S. 195 splits off northwest toward Pullman and Spokane, Washington. This junction was where tragedy struck.)
Excerpted from Fighting for David by Leone Nunley and Dean Merrill. Copyright (c) 2005 by Leone Nunley and Dean Merrill. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. www.fightingfordavid.com.