Jana had facial reconstructive surgery on the third day. The surgeons put a metal plate in her cheek, gave her a synthetic orbital socket (hers was crushed beyond repair), and moved lots of little bone fragments back into place so they could heal. The doctors, both fathers of young children, promised to care for her as if she was their own. Still, it was a terrifying morning. The loss of one child was imminent. What if Jana didn’t wake up too? I prayed desperately and numbed my mind to it until I was by her side again, my fingers tracing gentle swirls on her hand, assuring her (and me) that she was going to be all right.
After surgery the swelling and bruises crossed to the other side of her face, leaving her unrecognizable. Now both eyes were swollen tightly shut. Her face was so distorted she couldn’t cry properly. Her lips were distended, she could hardly open them. She wined with a high-pitched breathy noise. She couldn’t eat. I sat by her side, unable to ease her suffering. I’ve never felt so helpless.
Jana was in pain and understandably mad about her situation. She pulled away from us when we tried to touch her. She wanted to watch a movie, but couldn’t open her eyes. She would listen to an audio story restlessly, then the next dose of morphine would come and she would fall asleep. Every hour a nurse would come, pry her eyes open, and shine a light in them. This all lasted two or three days. Endless days.
In the middle of this, we had to tell Jana and Michael their little brother had died.
Losing someone you love is crushing. Watching the pain in your children’s eyes as they try to understand how they will never see their little brother again burns off parts of your soul that will never be restored.
I can’t do this.
Nobody asked me though, and nobody gave me a choice.
Jana found comfort in one thing, the piles of notes and cards that filled her room. She had about a hundred and fifty of them…cards from school, from the kids at church, and a basket of notes from a community prayer service that was held for Samuel. In the quiet hours of night when she couldn’t sleep, I read them to her. Notes from higher grade teachers made her feel important, and she especially liked one from a kid who said he wrote on behalf of the middle school. When I finished, she would ask me to read them again. We passed hours this way in the dark, me reading by the light of the medical monitors next to her bed. Sometimes I thought she had fallen asleep, but if I paused, she whispered for me to continue. It was the only time she wasn’t agitated. She would sit still, her head resting back on the pillow, soaking in the words of love and prayer and encouragement.
A week after the accident, Jana was discharged. Her injured eye was still swollen shut, but she could awkwardly manage soft foods. She couldn’t walk because of her traumatic brain injury. She struggled to support her own weight, was dizzy, and could not put her feet one in front of the other. She didn’t have control over her legs. Because of her concussion she would get a headache if she read more than a single line of writing. She was constantly nauseous. She was still on heavy pain meds. We had referrals for physical therapy and speech therapy. They predicted she would make an excellent recovery, perhaps even a complete recovery, but there was no way to tell how long it would take. She might regain her functioning in weeks, or months.
I could hardly believe she was alive.
We left the hospital, the first time I had stepped outside in over a week. Our new reality was staggering. We were a family of four, loading Jana’s walker in the back of the car. It was all wrong.