Flashback—25 years

The weekend of January 31, 1993 looked to be an interesting football weekend. The Buffalo Bills would face the Dallas Cowboys. Having been an “anti-Cowboys” fan since the early 1960s, there would be no doubt who I would cheer for. That was my expectation.

But before the game ever started there was another battle that would dominate that weekend and month. I was not prepared for this battle, I felt totally overwhelmed by it. And yet…

Our older son would turn 23 just a couple months after the Super Bowl. He had been involved in drugs since 1984, spent more than a year in a psychiatric hospital before his 18th birthday, in jail/prison two different times before he turned 22. He was married at age 21, married an attorney who was an addict. Not a good mix.

The Accident: 9:30 AM

On Friday, Jan. 29, about 9:30 AM my wife received a call from an ER nurse at the closest hospital to where our son lived, about 6 hour drive from where we lived. The nurse asked my wife a couple questions, readily acknowledging that she had reached the right people. She said “there was serious car accident, your son and his wife were involved. We are just starting to treat them in the ER.” Then she stopped, shouted in the phone, “Oh, no! He’s gone critical, don’t leave!!” Click

Now what? We couldn’t drive 6 hours on that information. What if the concern wasn’t that bad? Or what if we would be too late to see them, even if we left now?

We immediately began calling our prayer chain at church: prayers for his life, for the surgery, for his wife, for peace in the midst of the storm.

The nurse called back about 5:30 PM and explained a little. Our son showed signs of deteriorating quickly. He had broken three ribs, punctured his lungs, had a broken clavicle, had broken his pelvis in three places. Most urgent, however, his brain began to swell. They rushed him into surgery by the neurosurgeon, who removed ½ of his skull.

At the hospital: 11:00 PM

Later that night, when we drove there, we discovered that the neurosurgeon had injured his hand and had been out for several months. This was his first day back, and his first surgery. Not the weekend we expected!

We arrived about 11 PM and began to receive the reports about his injuries before they would even let us see him. The surgeon said: “To be honest, we don’t know how this will go. But, it will be 4-6 weeks before we know whether he will live. It will be at least a year before we know how much of his motor skills he will retain. This is best case scenario.”

A slam to the gut! But he was alive, step one. And then they let us go into the critical care unit to see him. Yep, as you would expect, tubes everywhere, monitors for every part of his body, his body and head wrapped. No visible response from him at all. 

We learned from police reports that he had pulled out to cross a highway, right into the path of a car going 55 mph. The impact was right at the post where the driver’s door would open. We saw the car a couple days later. We still can’t explain how he survived. The door and frame were shoved half way across the front seat where the his seat had been. I still couldn’t visualize how his body wasn’t torn apart. It was a miracle that he was even breathing.

His wife had been injured but in a different way. Her brain was suffering from “shaken brain syndrome.” Outwardly there were no broken bones, no lacerations, but the brain injury was harder for them to treat. Measurements were not in noticeable terms for us. But she was recovering slowly.

Recovery Begins

By Saturday he recognized us, and he could hold a pen and write on a note pad: “I love you” and “God loves me.” At that point that response was sufficient for us. By Sunday he was able to remove the breathing tube long enough to say a couple words. Not much, but far more than we expected. In fact, that afternoon, he was able to watch a little TV and could follow the Super Bowl. Even the neurosurgeon was surprised at his progress.

He had another surgery on Tuesday, We had to leave on Wednesday, but kept in contact with the hospital and the doctor. He had another surgery on Friday to replace his skull that had been taken out initially, and another surgery the following Monday.

You have got to be kidding me!

10 days after the accident, our son was released from the hospital. The surgeon couldn’t believe the progress. We told him it was a miracle; he said he couldn’t argue with that.

But all was not well with our son. He tried walking with crutches (broken pelvis, broken ribs do not make good companions for recovering from surgery). By that next Friday he had fallen in his home and couldn’t get up. His wife was still in the hospital. So he managed to pull the telephone to himself (the days before cell phones) and called me. I immediately left, drove all the way up, got there about 11 PM, cleaned/showered him, cleaned their house, got breakfast for him, and immediately I turned around to bring him home with us.

It took him about a month living with us before he was able to do most things for himself. I took him back to his home, and he wife was released and they settled into their recovery together.

Not exactly the Super Bowl weekend I had anticipated. But we were thankful for him being alive. The road gets dark over the next 25 years, including him going missing for 18 years.

But I will always look back to this Super Bowl weekend and marvel at God’s surprising (to us!) goodness to our son and his wife. No, not what we expected. But isn’t that life in this world, even with God?

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Forty Years—Changes in Life

Forty years ago this month was a monumental time for me and my wife. I was in the Navy, had just been picked up for regular Navy, had been selected to attend Naval Postgraduate School (Monterey, CA), and we were making plans to move in August. We also had begun the application process for adoption. All of that was put on hold, though.

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That all changed during February 1977. After extensive tests I was diagnosed as insulin-dependent diabetic. I began taking insulin shots once a day. My diet, which wasn’t horrible, changed. I wasn’t overweight, but they put me on 1200 calories/day. My weight went from 165 to 149 in the first month. Eventually they had to move my calorie intake to 2200 cal/day.

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The first Navy lawyer I spoke with said that I would be out of the Navy within 3 weeks—get prepared. My doctor was much more supportive; he advised me to go through a medical board evaluation. Over the next 6 months I went through 5 medical boards (each at a higher level) to see what my status would be. Each board reversed the previous board’s decision. So first board (NAS Miramar): recommended full unlimited sea duty in the Navy. The next one (don’t remember specific command): No dismiss from Navy immediately. Back and forth for 6 months.

In mid August the final medical review board met in Washington, DC, consisting of five members: three line officers and two medical doctors. The vote: 3-2 approving me for full unlimited sea duty. That meant I was the first person in the Navy to serve on unlimited sea duty while still taking insulin. Many were shocked, although my wife and I had trusted whatever decision would be from God, we were relieved.

So how did we celebrate? Had a great evening out. We began packing for our move to Monterey at the end of the month.

Oh, I also had another kidney stone! Yep, when the Intelligence detailing officer (the one responsible for assignments) in DC called me, he had to call the hospital. He was shocked. He said something to the effect that why would I mess up all that everyone had done by ending up in the hospital??? Ah, sir, that was not in my plan of the day!

We moved a week later. I drove the moving truck, and apparently it helped the stone move, because that first week of orientation at NPGS I was back in the hospital (Ft. Ord Army hospital). Surgery was not successful. But the stone finally shot out two days later at 1 AM in the hospital. Got out of the hospital and began classes at NPGS that week.

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The Rest of the Story

In 1980 I was serving at Fleet Combat Training Center Atlantic (FCTCL) as intelligence instructor. By this time God was moving me to consider seminary. In late December 1980 my wife and I agreed that I should do so. However, I had to serve another 1 ½ years because of NPGS commitment.

In the first week in January, 1981 I forgot to take an insulin shot. I checked the urine and it was ok. I went another day, and then another. I was due for a doctor’s check up (every month since Feb. 1977) that next week. He ordered the usual blood tests and my blood sugar was normal. The Dr. said, well, we might consider dropping your amount of insulin (I wasn’t on a real high dose to begin with). With fear and trepidation I told him I have not taken insulin in 10 days. I was prepared for the slap on the back of my head. Instead, he was enthusiastic and wanted me to go two more weeks, checking urine every day.

So in January, 1981 was my last shot of insulin. I have been insulin free since then, and blood sugar tests throughout the past 36 years have been normal. While I was still in the Navy I had to have monthly checkups. If the doctor was new, he began researching my records and claimed that they must have done the tests wrong initially. They wanted to explain how this could happen medically. My reply was: I think God healed me. Every doctor said, “That’s a lot more believable than anything I can do in explaining.”

That dramatic change allowed me to start seminary in September, 1982, without the worry of insulin and the complications of diabetes.

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Yes, a lot has happened in the last 40 years. Thank God for all of that.