I shit you not

If you are new to this blog of the upcoming book Viking Funeral, celebrating the life of Dave Linane with booze, words, and fire, welcome.  The timeline above shows you where we are in the book. While each chapter can stand on its own if you wish to read from the beginning, click here.  More info is available, About Dave or the FAQ section explains who the book is about and the arc of the storyline. If you found me through a grief group, this page of my perspective of why we are all here in this place right now may be helpful. XO M

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I shit you not,,,
sounds like modern-day Shakespeare that phrase, does it not?

Memories are not tidy and conveniently linear even when you have taken the time to try to do just that by writing them down and organizing them. A memory of the first time I saw Dave in the hospital came to me that I wish I could have forgotten. It popped in there being sparked by hearing the phrase; I shit you not. I was so shocked by the memory all over again. When I told my husband, he, too, was shocked. Keep in mind, I was SEVEN, but regardless, what I saw was so shocking…that I would be shocked if I saw this today. But again, I WAS SEVEN.

Dave was in the intensive care unit (ICU) for 13 days after his injury. My sister Anne at 12 and I at 7 were too young to see him during that part of his hospitalization because the visitor rules restricted children under 16. My parents were rule followers. Dave underwent a five-hour surgery to stabilize his spine. Bone was harvested from his right hip and grafted to his fifth cervical (C5) vertebrae. His fourth, fifth, and sixth cervical vertebrae were then fused together for stability. As a result, he never regained full range of motion when twisting his neck to look to his right. He could turn about halfway to a full stop, not going any further position.

After surgery, his neck swelled to more than 22 inches. He was a big guy for sure, and I don’t know what the original measurements of his un-swollen neck were, but regardless, it swelled, and he could not breathe. This was expected by his doctor, and a tracheostomy was performed so that he could, in fact, breathe. A tracheostomy is conducted by making an incision in the soft hollowed out portion of the neck, right above the super sternal notch at the top of the rib cage right below the windpipe, a breathing tube a “trach” (trayk) is inserted directly into the lungs. His neck concurrently put in traction. Congratulations! You are now officially WAY more prepared for what is coming than my parents prepared me.

Dave was finally moved from the ICU unit to Wing 700 at SBCH. This meant he had somewhat stabilized following his initial injury and surgery. Wing 700 was home to patients who had brain or spine injuries. Basically, this was the part of the hospital for severely injured people who, for the most part, do not leave and definitely not by walking out. They are eventually moved to some other care facility to linger and die a very slow death.

Dave’s room was on a crossroads hallway corner directly across from one of the nurses’ station. When we arrived at the hospital, my very first visit to A hospital ever in my life, I was greeted by that unforgettable smell of disinfectant. That and the flattest gold-ish colored walls and carpet ever. Almost mustard, almost tan God awful, NOT pleasing to the eye color. It is actually hard to call it a color at all. I might even say it was a depressing shade, and that was before I learned anything I ever knew about Dave’s new circumstance or depression. But even at 7 all I knew was that I instantly loathed this place.

When we arrived outside Dave’s room, the very thick wide door was open, but a white privacy curtain was pulled around what I would soon find out was his bed. There were many sets of white pants and shoes that I could see moving around below the curtain, coming into and disappearing from my view. After a few minutes, the medical staff came from behind the curtain and saw my mom and I standing, waiting. They indicated that whatever they were doing was finished and that we could go in. My mom headed in first and pulled back the curtain gently. She said, “Hi, Dave.”

There was a wall to wall, floor to ceiling window that looked into a pleasant green landscaped space in the center of the hospital directly ahead and Dave in his hospital bed on the right side of the room.  His bed was away from the wall by several feet, leaving the bed almost in the middle of what was a fairly large room. I do not recall what he was wearing because the medical devices were so shocking I don’t think I saw anything beyond them.  There were no chairs to sit. This room was all serious work and absolutely no play.

The ‘Trach’ tube was made of a transparent plastic piece that connected to another gray plastic flange like fitting inserted in an incision in his neck. There had to be some parts that fit inside of him that led into his lungs, I am theorizing from the minds-eye of my seven-year-old self and some very basic understanding of tubes and the shapes of lungs: forced med-school, day one. The tube was about an inch in diameter. It ran from a machine that breathed for him, located on the other side of the bed. The tube continued straight beyond the fitting in his neck for about 18” just sticking out there, open-ended, hissing. Apparently, it was how the air left his body as well, that open-ended portion.

He was unable to speak because as we all know, air has to run across our vocal cords in order to make the sounds of speech. His breath was nowhere near running over his vocal cords. He could only mouth words. He also could not swallow and had to spit saliva into a tissue every few minutes. Again, not prepared for what I was taking in to the core of my memory at seven years old.

I realize now that I had to have been in shock. I hadn’t comprehended any of the adult conversations I had overheard for the previous 13 days. I had heard that he was asking where his legs were and had not understood what that meant to the point of snickering. I was quickly shushed and told that it was not funny, but still not explained what exactly it all meant. My poor parents must have been in shock for months, possibly years as they daily came to some new realization about the reality of Dave being paralyzed and what that meant.  I still only have a minimal understanding, and it’s been 40-something years.

I mentioned he was in traction following the surgery. Traction is when two bones that are misaligned are pulled apart with force, usually with weight to help straighten them out.

I know that first part was awful but here is the real I shit you not part of the story: I repeat, I shit you not, the sides of his head were shaved the top portion of his hair still long, and there were bolts, actual FUCKING BOLTS sticking out of his skin, one on BOTH sides of HIS HEAD! There was a metal wishbone-shaped device that attached to each bloody bolt on the side of his head, his FUCKING SKULL, had BOLTS sticking out, I mentioned that part, right?

THEN, there were wing nuts holding the wishbone metal ‘thing’ for lack of knowing what in the fuck that medical device thing is called. WINGNUTS, like ordinary hardware my dad had in his toolbox in our garage! Excuse my language here, but I am retroactively freaking the fuck out as I think about how horrific those medical devices looked attached to what I believed to be the kindest, sweetest guy in the entire world, my big brother.

I didn’t say a word. I must have had enormously wide eyes. I could not take them off those bolts sticking out of his F-U-C-K-I-N-G  H-E-A-D!!! I followed the metal wishbone thing up over Dave’s head. It was attached to a rope, a thick, taught, white, half-inch nylon rope, like what you might tow a car with. The bed had a bar that ran from footboard to headboard above his head for things to be attached to. The rope went up over his head at a 45-degree angle to a pulley that was hanging off that bar. Beyond the pulley behind the bed, the rope was taught as an enormous sandbag was tied to the rope keeping it…taught. I learned later that that bag of sand weighed 90 pounds, more than two of me at that time.

Dave shifted his head around, reminding me of a horse chaffing with an uncomfortable bit in its mouth, trying I assume to find a comfortable position to get into as he turned to make eye contact with me in his attempt to engage with me. Everything moved with him, the wishbone horse-bit like thing, the rope moved, the sandbag was definitely restraining him. I was SIMPLY HORRIFIED at what I was seeing, HORRIFIED FOR HIM. Retroactively I am horrified for my poor parents, Dave and myself, all over again. FUCK!!

He joked about my skinny chicken legs, like that is even a thing. It was not untrue; my legs were skin and bones. I could not believe he was making jokes. I cannot state in font capitalized enough how HORRIFIED I was at what they were doing to him. This is the sort of thing you might see in a scary movie if Hollywood knew how to make a realistically scary movie.  Paralyzed-that would be a scary movie. I was nowhere near old enough to see this horror movie. Can we pleez change the fucking channel?

I didn’t understand him at first because I was not prepared to listen to less than a whisper. In short order, you figure shit out and pay fucking attention because I don’t want to be the person to ask someone to repeat themselves when they have to work so hard to communicate. Got it, Yes, school is fine. I AM being good, but I didn’t say any words, I just nodded so HE could hear me. I had nothing to offer in terms of a two-way conversation, and I was a very verbal child. I was utterly speechless.

I could not get that fucking image of the bolts coming out of his skin out of my head for a very long time. Certainly not on the way home. I asked, “why were there BOLTS in HIS HEAD????” My dad explained that “he was in traction and that his spine was being aligned with weight, that the bag hanging behind his bed was full of sand. He had had as much as 90 pounds of weight hanging off his head at one time.” “How did they put the bolts in HIS HEAD???” “They used a drill.” “Like the drill, you have at home?” “Something like that.” I stopped talking. I just could not get over BOLTS IN HIS HEAD! AHHHHHH!!!!!!! Pretty sure this was when my nightmares began. I never saw this particular scene in my dreams, but I was terrorized by catastrophic nightmares for decades that I can now pinpoint pretty much back to this time as to when they started.

Later, like decades later, I asked Dave how they put those bolts in his head. “They used a drill.” which, of course, begs the question, “WERE YOU AWAKE?” “Yes.” “Oh My God! What the fuck were you thinking? Was it scary?” He said, “HELL YES It was scary!! I kept thinking they were going to drill into my brain.”  “Did it hurt?” “First of all, they didn’t tell me what they were doing. The nurse came in and just started shaving my head on each side. Then they gave me a local shot. The drilling part was very scary, and I felt it because the doctor didn’t wait for the anesthesia to take effect, and it, SOUNDED and smelled horrible.” He couldn’t talk, so I suppose that is why they didn’t bother to tell him anything. He added, “The traction itself was painful, it gave me really terrible headaches.” I CAN FUCKING-IMAGINE!!

On some other occasion, I don’t remember the context, but I asked him about the trach. He explained that he was not awake for the initial insertion of the trach because it took place when he was under anesthesia during surgery. They did have to change some aspect of the device regularly because it is a potential source of infection. Pneumonia is among the most common causes of death among paralyzed individuals, so they took every precaution. Dave described that when they changed the tubing out, he could not breathe momentarily and that that had been very scary as well.

Fast Forward to roughly present day, my sister Anne, her husband Randy, my darling husband, and I were visiting Jim D and his wife Natalie at some point when I was in the middle of writing this book. I had recently interviewed Jim, who had been one of the speakers at the Viking Funeral. This book project was a frequent topic of conversation in my world of friends and family for quite some time. I told them about remembering about Dave being in traction after interviewing another friend of Dave’s called Bruce and the fucking bolts that were sticking out of his head. Jim was aware of who Dave was when he was hurt. But, he was away at college and then growing his young family before he really got to know Dave after moving back to SB, so he had not experienced or heard the story of the fucking bolts in Dave’s head. Everyone in the room was retroactively horrified, thinking about my visual description.

Anne, who I rarely hear curse more than a “damn-it,” was nodding emphatically and repeated my words “FUCKING BOLTS! IN HIS HEAD! FUCKING BOLTS!!!” I was so surprised. She and I had never talked about that time. Ever. Not as children, not as adults until that moment. I had to ask, “Did mom or dad say anything to prepare you?” “NO!!!” I realized out loud that our parents were really flying by the seat of their pants with this whole critical injury thing. They were trying to figure out what to say to their other children when they were not sleeping, not eating, standing over their other injured child all day, crying when they had a private moment alone so as not to upset anyone. I felt so validated when she mirrored my horror at the fucking bolts experience. We both came to the conclusion that they had to be in shock and simply had other more worrisome shit on their minds.

After I conveyed this memory to my mom’s lifelong friend Suzie, she told me about her experience from that time. She and another long time friend, Ginger, had waited to go see Dave until he was stabilized and moved from ICU because there was a visitor limit for both the total amount of time he could have visitors and how many people could see him. They wanted to allow as much time for my mom to be there as possible, so they waited. Suzie and Ginger had been talking on the phone daily if not even more frequently, as updates of Dave’s condition were available in those tense early days. In this particular conversation, they were preparing themselves for going to see Dave. Suzie theorized that she didn’t know how she was going to keep it together, seeing Dave. Ginger somewhat sternly snapped at her and told her, “You’ve gotta keep it together.”

Suzie made her way over from Redlands to see him not long after that conversation. My mom was at the hospital speaking to a nurse out in the hallway ouside Dave’s room when Suzie arrived. She motioned for Suzie to go on in and say Hi to Dave. Suzie walked in and took in the horror that I described above. Suzie was a surrogate mom to Dave. She helped raise him from the time he was born alongside her own kids, they all bathed together, ate, and had slumber parties together, forever. She managed to smile and get a few words out but had to back herself out of the room with an “I’ll see ya later, Dave.” As soon as she backed out of his room, she braced her back against the wall right outside his door as she collapsed into tears from both the horror and emotion that overwhelmed her for Dave, for my parents. My mom caught her before she hit the ground. They hugged, but Suzie had to leave the hospital directly.

When she got home, she immediately called Ginger and, through tears, tattled on herself. She warned Ginger to be prepared because it was so much worse than they could have possibly imagined. Ginger scoffed in disappointment that Suzie had such a hard time keeping a stiff upper lip in the face of this adversity, that they had to be strong for Sandra, for all of them.

A few days later, Ginger came to see Dave and had the same exact experience as soon as she walked out of the room, and again my mom caught her before she hit the ground from her utter shock. She too left directly after, cried all the way home,  called Suzie, and they cried on the phone together as they theorized without answer, “What are Tom and Sandra going to do?” Needless to say, I felt retroactively validated for being so freaked out with four other adults having the same experience as me.

These horrible devices were removed after a few weeks. Not at the same time. The trach was removed first. My mom was in the hall while they removed it. As soon as it was removed, she was allowed to come in the room. The first thing Dave said to her was, “I have seen GOD! And she is a WOMAN!! AND—SHE’S BLACK!!!” My mom didn’t know what to do with this information. But he was so excited to be able to talk and to tell her all about the dream he had. I remember her coming home that day and repeating these words but nothing further. Pretty sure my Catholic raised mom has a pretty long defined image of God as the standard white-bearded old white guy.

I asked him while helping him plan this book about this dream. He enthusiastically responded, “Of course I remember. I was in the ICU. I was in this beautiful outdoor place of intensely green gentle rolling hills. I was moving among the hills, possibly floating because it was, after all, a dream. I saw someone ahead in the distance. I was attracted to this person and felt compelled to make my way that direction. I somehow knew this person was God; I don’t know how I knew, I could feel it, I guess, again, like you just know things in your dreams without further explanation. As I grew closer, she turned as if in slow motion. Her white gown was flowing around her as if in a slight breeze, floating ahead of me; she was a beautiful black woman. She gently urged me to go back. She told me I was not finished living my life. And then I was back. Pretty sure it was a dream, but it was so real, and I have never forgotten any detail of that experience. It is as clear in my memory as if it happened yesterday. I don’t exactly know what to make of it, but somehow it comforted me.”

Dave was never one to talk about religion or go to church before or after his accident. We were raised Catholic, and given where we lived, directly across the street from a cathedral, if it were his thing, he certainly had access to do so. However, when asked in those first few months and years that followed his injury, how he always managed to keep his spirits up, he would say that ‘We are never given a cross we can’t bear.’

© Mardi Linane Copyright 2020

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