That August Night
I stared up at a white ceiling, completely at peace in the intensive care unit of a Washington hospital. Silence surrounded me in the stillness of dawn as sparkling raindrops fell outside my window. My peace turned to bewilderment. Where was I? The return was hazy. Where had I been? Did my soul depart the mask of skin I wear, the broken body? Where did I go and what journey did I take? I had no memory of that August night, no memory twelve hours before the accident and no memory while in a coma for two and a half weeks after I was hurtled from inside a truck onto asphalt into the depths of unconsciousness.
I had visited my friends on their wheat farm located on the outskirts of a small village in eastern Washington. They told me that after water skiing and picnicking on the Snake River soon after my arrival, we returned to their farm, and I had announced, “Let’s go see our friend, Laurie.” Sandie hesitated, insisting she would stay home, while Willie, her husband, thought it a great idea.
I don’t remember our drive to Laurie’s house that fateful evening, nor being met at the airport the previous day, or the events and fun that we apparently enjoyed on the Snake River. My memory was concussed out of me approximately twelve hours before my accident.
Floating upward, my eyes finally opened. I was astonished to find out from my doctor what I had been through as I surfaced back into consciousness. A fractured skull that had severed my olfactory nerve hemorrhaged both retinas. My body was covered with multiple scrapes and bruises from the asphalt where I had landed, my feet and toes bloodied with cuts from wearing only sandals. The paramedics noted I was breathing abnormally when they arrived at the scene, immediately transporting me to a small local hospital where I spent the night, then transferring me to ICU in a larger metropolitan hospital in Spokane a day later.
Nearing the end of my comatose state, through the haze of unconsciousness it was the thirst - wanting water and more water. They gave me ice instead. I had no control over my speech yet, but could sense the nurses nearby. At the same time a feeling of such peace washed over me.
Because I have no memory of those weeks in a coma, I relied on my friends to tell me what happened. Though still weak and in some pain, we chuckled over some of the things I did while unconscious – when I refused to get into the bathtub to take a bath so two nurses had to hold me down when they got me in.
You pulled the plug on them and drained all the water out,” laughed Sandie.
“I’m sure they understood I knew not what I was doing.”
“Did I really break my restraints and stumble out of bed into a doorway, breaking the stitches open on my elbow?” I asked.
“Yes, though you were still in a wavering fog, somehow you managed to get out of bed in your weakened state. The nurses told me they were very upset.”
“All I wanted to do was get up. I only needed to go to the bathroom. I must have lost my balance,” I said.
“Willie, how are you?” I asked, confused and disoriented. “What happened?”
“I’m pretty good, only minor injuries. The truck spun out on gravel on the way home from Laurie’s, going 55mph as far as I can remember. I was scared to death as you were laying on the highway not moving, and had to run to a nearby house to call the ambulance.”
“The doctors at St. Joseph’s were quite surprised about your quick recovery,” chimed in Sandie. “They thought it would take longer.”
“I sure fooled them, didn’t I? They told me on my discharge, they checked for a subdural hematoma, but I fooled them again! I don’t even remember having an MRI.”
Not amused by my statement, Sandie soberly replied, “I don’t know that you fooled them, but there was certainly someone watching over you. We came to see you every day, but you were sure antisocial and would not talk or open your eyes for us.”
Willie, with his crooked grin and pale blue eyes, teased, “You have a bridge named after you, where our accident occurred. After all, your head cracked the highway there.”
After spending a week resting at my friends’ home, we decided I could physically handle the flight home. “I promise I’ll be back.”
“You better be,” said Willie. “We’ll hold you to it, but promise you’ll bring your three sons the next time.”
Sandie hugged me, with tears in her eyes, “Yes, we must continue your visit next summer - and, please bring a helmet with you!”
At San Francisco International Airport, my youngest son and husband greeted me. What a thrill to see them. As my son, Gary, wheeled me towards the elevator, I jumped out of my wheelchair to walk to it and stumbled to the floor, unable to discern I was not ready for steady walking yet.
My fractured skull severed my olfactory nerve, which does not regenerate, losing my sense of smell forever. Still traumatized and in an emotional flux, the loss did not sink in when my neurosurgeon told me of its permanence.
After one year my taste returned, though I lost close to twenty pounds and looked like a shriveled old tomato. I had no desire to cook or even eat, until an emergency low blood sugar level sent me to a doctor again.
Out of one’s five senses, losing the sense of smell was a disappointment initially, but as the years passed, rarely ever thought of.
I was very lucky, I reasoned. One could hardly get to age forty without losing something - a best friend from first grade, a few illusions, and a significant love.
“Brian, what have you done?” I asked my son that Thanksgiving as we sat down for turkey. White wine had been poured. Taking a sip out of my glass, I realized something was wrong. I could not smell or taste, but could tell from the weight and look of the liquid that it was water. We all had a good laugh over his prank.
The physical, mental and emotional states continued for months, while I navigated along, the physical healing the quickest. Phone calls were suspicious since I recognized no one’s voice.
Daily each morning, wistfully looking out my bedroom window, tears involuntarily fell. Why was I crying when I had survived and was alive? Praying to God each day, I thanked him for returning me to my family.
My story is one that changed my life. I found a love energy and contact with my higher self in experiencing new truth and wisdom. It was a major adjustment in living and attitude, and a distinct alteration of personality and thoughts.
Weeks would pass as I became more aware of what had happened to me. I became interested in the human body and how it could heal, and took a course in anatomy at a local college, the oldest student in the class. We dissected human cadavers with scalpels (thankful I could not smell the formaldehyde). Sneaking a camera in one day without the teacher noticing, I captured pictures of the internal organs we studied.
Yes, my life had changed. Because of my coma, I don’t remember any pain or fear, and pursued my love of skiing in the Sierras only two months after I returned home, falling on ice on one of my runs, causing more trauma to my injured elbow.
With unshakable optimism, I decided to take flight lessons, becoming a licensed pilot, flying friends and family on exciting adventures with unforeseen dilemmas in the air. Had my accident taught me to be fearless? Was I immortal? No, only looking forward to more challenges.
I continued to try to understand what happened while in a coma. Did my soul leave my body to experience spiritual awareness, only to return again so that I could live? I seemed happier and so explored the spiritual side of life, sensing my guides many times. I began to understand how unaware I’d been – how closely things are connected to one another. We humans are a part of something much larger. I learned that there are other realities that exist besides what you can see, touch, and hear with your physical senses.
Yes, my guides had surely been watching over me. My accident, though traumatic, has taught me that life should be lived to the fullest extent, with faith that you are evolving down the right path. That unforeseen accidents do happen, perhaps to teach you subtle lessons about your life’s journey, and to know yourself in new, and more loving ways.