One Son, One Crash, Nine Injuries, One Band
One night, near midnight, the telephone rang, waking us from sleep. The voice asked for verification that I was mother to Michael, and told me she was calling from Auckland Hospital’s Emergency department. I repeated what she said, so my husband would know what was happening. He immediately sprang from bed, and started hauling suitcases down from the cupboard above our wardrobe.
“Michael’s been in an accident?”
“He’s in a critical condition?”
“He may not survive the night?”
“It’s a nine-hour drive.”
“There are no planes to Auckland from here.”
“We’ll hit the road. If there’s any question of permission for any procedure, you have it. Just, please, keep him alive until we arrive.”
Our clothes jammed in the cases and we were on our way, stopping to collect the father of Michael’s girl-friend, who’d been in the same crash. We drove all night, only stopping for a coffee and snack when fatigue hit the driver. We arrived at the Emergency Department at about the same time as the business rush-hour was in full crawl.
“He’s not here,” the man said. I nearly collapsed, thinking he meant our boy had died. “He’s up in the Critical Care ward. I’ll walk with you to show you the way.”
We parted company from the girl’s father, as she was in a general surgical ward, and arrived on the CC floor. Sitting on a bench seat outside the ward was the driver, Richard, his head in his hands. Beside him, another of Michael’s friends. I went straight to Richard, sat beside him, and held him close.
“Richard, this is not your fault. We do not blame you. Please, don’t blame yourself. I’ll call you in as soon as they let Michael have visitors.”
We entered the CC ward, and were led to Michael’s cubicle; there he lay, his usually soft tan skin pallid, eyes closed as he drifted through the induced coma that rested his body. Both of us had tears in our eyes, but we fought them off. Our worry and misery were far outweighed by Michael’s condition.
He had taken nine points of impact and damage when the car had been T-boned at an intersection, and he in the passenger seat took the full impact:
A skull fracture, and concussion;
A fracture of the humerus, and tearing of the ulnar;
A hairline fracture of the C6 vertebra (with potential paralysis);
Two fractures of the pelvic cradle – one at the front, one at the back;
His spleen had been shattered and splattered throughout his abdominal and chest cavity;
Abdominal organs had been forced through his diaphragm (they found his stomach between a lung and his heart)!
They had already removed all traces of his spleen from the abdominal cavity, replaced all organs, and repaired the diaphragm. He wore a neck brace until the C6 hairline fracture showed signs of healing and it was safe to manage without it. They operated to repair the arm fracture.
In the meantime, over the days of visiting him, we all were able to stay in the hospital’s family hostel, with a community kitchen and quiet room. It was a steep walk up to the level of the hospital, and I was using a walker frame, being in recovery form my own health problem.
The girlfriend’s condition was far less concerning than my son’s. She whined about the possibility of a slight scar on her face. Her father had by then been joined by her mother and younger sister – lovely girl. The mother was my husband’s “boss”, and she told him he had to return home, to complete a routine end of the academic year task. So I remained in the family hostel on my own, but managed to get up to the CC ward everyday – just to sit as “wall paper” as Michael lay there, needing quiet, or companionship when he was up to talking.
They operated to pin his pelvic fractures, and advised me he’d be out of surgery and ready to see me at about four-thirty. I returned to the hostel, listening to the radio during the long surgery. When I walked into the CC ward the anaesthetist and surgeon were attending him still. They urgently waved me away, and said they’d fetch me when he was awake and ready. Something was wrong, I could feel their despair.
I waited for another hour and a half before they came out to fetch me. Oh, God. Their faces were the colour of a hospital sheet.
“He’s not coming out of the anaesthetic.” I didn’t wait to hear any more.
Around his bed, the anaesthetist stood at Michael’s head, the theatre nurse stood at Michael’s left side, monitoring his pulse with his hand – watching the wave lines on the monitor. I stood at his right, holding his hand, tears running down my cheeks. It seemed this would be his last hour on earth.
Then, I realised – even in a coma, some patients still hear what is spoken directly to them. Michaelbeing a musician (bass guitar, drums, and vocals in a small rock band) I began talking music to him.
“Michael? The boys in the band are waiting for you. They need you, Michael.”
“Michael, I’ve been listening to the radio all day – The Rock station – all your favourites.”
The medicos were murmuring to each other sotto voce, their tones tinged with concern. I didn’t want to hear their words. Then I remembered something The Rock’s announcer had said.
“Hey, Michael. You know what I heard on the radio? AC/DC are touring down under.”
“Jesus, he’s got a grip!’ cried out the theatre nurse.
“That’s a good response.” The anaesthetist glanced up at the sudden spike on the monitor. “He definitely heard that.
In between silent sobs as I tried to sound calm, I said “Michael, if you come up out of this… if you can wake up… I will get your to an AC/DC concert… even if we have to fly across the Tasman.”
His grip of both our hands was sharp, sudden, strong! Thank you, Lord Jesus.
I kept talking about our favourite band, naming their songs, which videos we both liked best… Heck, I even sang one! I gave time between talking for him to respond – and for the medicos to watch the ever increasing pulses of the monitors of his brain activity, his heart… then, at last…
“Wanna see AC/DC, Mum.” A soft, whispered mumble, but there he was, back from the depths of near death.
Gradually over the next hour as the theatre nurse and I quietly spoke to him about music, his friends… he brought – he fought – himself back to full consciousness. Only when he was stable, and awake but tired – a natural tiredness – could I leave him to sleep.
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Post Script: AC/DC announced they would extend their tour to New Zealand, to Auckland. At the time, I had relapsed (shortly after Michael’s surgeries were completed, and my body collapsed after bearing all the stress) and was again confined to my own hospital bed at home. But Michael, and his sister, did get to hear our favourite band perform live. I have to admit, I cried as I couldn’t be there with them.