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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Review of Unbroken by Madeleine Black

Unbroken: Used, beaten, but never broken. My story of survival and hope. Madeleine Black (2017).

Rape is horrible, no matter how we describe it, no matter what words we choose—rape is still horrible. Madeleine Black in her book uses words, graphic words, to tell the story of her rape and close brush with death. As difficult as the book is to read, this book needs to be read—by survivors of rape, by families of those who have been raped, by friends who want to help but may not not know how to respond.

And it needs to be read by those who get impatient, frustrated, and exclaim “Just get over it!” If only it were that easy. Madeleine takes the reader through the process of dealing with rape and all the associated emotional, mental, psychological, and spiritual dimensions of rape and survival.

At the end the reader discovers that the road to “get over it” is something each rape survivor wants to do. But it can’t be done with an impatient shout or frustration from a friend, family member, or even the survivor. There is so much more to it. Madeleine writes:

I have been a victim of a crime that leaves you silent, and there is so much that stays hidden in that silence. It not only protects the perpetrators, but it also keeps the victims in the shadows, drowning in their inappropriate guilt. Now, my strength is my voice and I intend to use it, not just for me, but for others who aren’t able to speak up yet. (p. 266)

As you read the book, Madeleine walks you through the horrifying details in essentially chronological order. That means at the beginning she will generally describe the rape and associated death threats and degradation. But it isn’t until much later in the book that she gives the full details—and it is so bad that she provides an appropriate warning about the graphic nature of the events surrounding the rape. Why that approach? Because Madeleine is living with the reality of the rape, which means some events are blocked from her memory as a defense mechanism. The frustration and despair of rape includes gaps in memory. She couldn’t get past it, because she didn’t and couldn’t have the entire story in mind. The reader takes the journey with that hole in her memory—she lived that way not having answers, fighting at times to remember, thus, the reader experiences it that way, too. Consider how many years Madeleine endured those struggles to get to this point in 2017. A one week immersion in her book does not fully give the reader the understanding of what it means to “get over it.”

I have known people who have experienced horrible circumstances. Neighbors fought in World War I, one was a Bataan Death March survivor, my father, uncle and father-in-law all fought in World War II. When I was in the Navy I met several former POWs of Vietnam. Our commanding officer came to the squadron the same month I did. He was a POW for 6½ years, severely injured and was in the hospital for 15 months upon his release. I persuaded him to tell of his experiences. So every week for a year he walked us through captivity and torture chronologically from the time he was shot down until he was released. As a pastor I have ministered to and cared for rape survivors, so I was not a newcomer to the agony of many who had endured severe trauma and major accompanying (often hidden) issues.

Yet, even with that background, this was a difficult read for me. I was surprised when I got about half way through the book—I had to stop. I didn’t read for two weeks. Very uncharacteristic for me. Puzzling: how could I be hung up on reading it? After considerable reflection I finally discovered why it was so hard for me. I thought I had the answers to “help Madeleine.” But what I was really doing was trying to re-write her book, from a different perspective so that it would get to the point where I had all the answers. Yeah, I know—how arrogant and disappointing! I had failed at the one point that had always been a strong point of my ministry— listening to the person on his/her terms.

That seems so obvious but I wonder how many critics of rape survivors approach it the same way, hence the exhortation “Just move beyond it!” By doing so, we fail to understand what really happened and what the teller of the story is presenting to us and lived through. Once I came to this realization, then I could go back and read the book, in other words—let Madeleine tell the story on her terms in her way. And then I could finish the book.

While reading, I gave Madeleine updates on my progress (or lack of). She wrote several times “It gets better, stay with it.” I did stay with it, and I am glad I did. My heart aches with what she endured, my heart rejoices that she came through decades of profound struggle. And now she has a voice to add, an important voice, a strong voice through her book and through public speaking. If you or someone you know (male or female) has been raped, seek help. There are many resources. Madeleine’s book is a valuable resource for every person.

Thank you, Madeleine for your story, your perspective, and your encouragement. Well done!