August 19th, 2015 was the worst day of my life.
On the hottest day of the year, our air conditioning broke. Then the well pressure tank broke and our basement was flooded.
We hadn’t seen anything yet.
Since we wouldn’t have any water until the next day, my husband and I checked into a local hotel.
Our daughter Julia was at a sleepover with two of her best friends. It was a last hurrah before they left for college.
We were incredibly grateful for air conditioning and a shower and had just settled down to sleep when my cell phone rang.
It was 10:30 at night and Julia’s best friend Diana’s name flashed across the face of my iPhone.
My heart stopped.
It is a mother’s intuition. This would not be good news.
“Mrs. Brown, it’s Diana.” Her voice was high pitched and shaking. “There’s been an accident.”
She took a deep breath and then the words came out in a torrent.
An old pickup truck, a dark night, a dirt and gravel road in the country, a driver going too fast, all ending with a sickening crash into a tree.
Julia was unconscious for a few minutes. She was in the middle and since there was only a lap belt to restrain her, her face hit the dashboard with full force.
She woke up when the ambulance arrived and was able to state her name and answer the questions of the EMT’s.
It was at that point that Diana called us, so we headed to the hospital thinking that she would have a concussion and that would be that.
We were kept in the ER waiting room for over 20 minutes.
We would find out later that was because they were desperately trying to get her stabilized. Julia had decompensated fairly quickly after the ambulance arrived. She was extremely combative and stopped breathing several times on the ride to the hospital.
When the ER doors finally opened, the head doctor met us looking extremely serious.
“Your daughter is in grave condition,” he said. “We believe she has suffered severe head trauma and you may be looking at long term care.”
And then: “If she survives.”
He gave us permission to see her for just a few moments.
It was heartbreaking.
The first thing I noticed was that she was intubated. There was an enormous patch over her left eye and there were angry cuts on her forehead. Dried blood was streaked through her beautiful strawberry blonde curls. Her legs and arms twitched in agitation. On a pile beneath her bed was her favorite outfit in a heap, all cut up.
“Talk to her,” the doctor encouraged us. “She may be able to hear you.”
Through many tears, Doug and I took our places on either side of our daughter’s bed. We took her hands and took turns saying that we loved her. I have never felt so helpless.
I was in the same room with my daughter but I could not reach her.
To our horror, she began to decompensate again and we were rushed out of the small room as the curtain around Julia was closed decisively.
We held each other and wept. Julia had just graduated from high school two months before. She was due to leave for college the following week.
My brilliant, beautiful, creative, musical girl might be gone forever, replaced with a shadow of her former self.
The thought was more than I could bear.
Life had suddenly become extremely terrifying and I felt like I could not breathe.
After what seemed an eternity, the doctor told us that they were transferring her to Dartmouth Hitchcock hospital via ambulance, as the fog that night precluded a life flight.
“Can I go with her in the ambulance?” I asked.
He shook his head. Her case was serious enough that the ambulance would be filled with staff. Doug and I would have to drive ourselves. But before we could leave, he instructed us to leave our cell phone numbers with the ambulance driver…so that he could call us if Julia did not survive the ride to Dartmouth.
With heavy hearts, we headed out into the middle of the night and began the hour and a half drive to Dartmouth.
I spent much of our drive looking at Julia’s Instagram and Facebook pages on my phone. Just two weeks before I had done a photo shoot with her and her friends on the beach. Seeing the photos of Julia drenched in sunshine, smiling and laughing made me weep.
At one point, I looked up from my phone and straight ahead into the dark night lit only by the high beams of our SUV.
“If Julia doesn’t make it,” I said in a small voice, “I cannot stay here. I would want to take whatever we need with us, mail the keys to the house back to the bank and leave this town forever.”
They were not idle words. I meant every one of them.
When we finally pulled into the ER parking lot of the hospital, we both looked at each other and the tears flowed.
Our cell phones had not rung.
Our girl was still with us.
To be continued…