Looking back on a personal nightmare…

Passenger side of the truck. Doesn’t
look too bad hmm? See how the glass
is missing? He thinks he kicked it out
with the steel toe boots he’d been
wearing because the truck landed on
the driver’s side. 

November 19th is a tough day for me.  I fight the memories that rear up, the wishes for something different and finally come to terms with the reality of before and after. Four years ago today, I was getting up at four a.m. everyday to wake Jackie up for work. He was a welder and I had just gotten a new job working as a secretary. So much better than running the maid service at the marina on Smith Lake. Our oldest was thirteen and had the week off for Thanksgiving. The girls were still in school for a couple of days.

Jackie is a type II diabetic. Even then the disease didn’t respond well to medication. His sugar had been crazy all night. Finally, I got it down to around 200 and he left for work at 5:15 heading to G & G Steel in Russellville, AL where he was employed. He was alert, awake. Completely fine. Or so we both thought.

I went back in the house, thrilled to have a whole thirty minutes of writing time before the girls had to get up. I made a cup of instant coffee (The International Foods kind, that was when I didn’t need real coffee.) Then put in the audio tape version of Cradle and All by James Patterson I’d been listening too. Ten minutes had passed…

Driver’s side of his ’02 Tacoma. See
how the roof is squished down on the
 headrest? The Auburn cap he was
wearing that day is still wedged in
between the two.

At that point, Jackie had reached Phil Campbell and was passing the bank clock across from the Chat-n-Chew restaurant. The time was 5:25 a.m. He needed to be clocked in at 6:00 and always left in plenty of time. This is the last cognitive memory he would have of the next three days. He either blocked the memories or they were wiped from the head trauma. We aren’t sure. Four years later, he still can’t remember.

It’s 5:30. Coffee’s gone. I’m scribbling in my notebook, still sketching scenes for what would be Earth Enchanted (I remember it was the scene where Jack, Ryan and Devin are in the Smithsonian.) and in the background the tape has reached the point where there is a plane crash. For some reason, I literally felt like the wind had been knocked out of me. I sat there a moment. Couldn’t breathe. An image of him pulling out of the driveway went through my mind. Standing on the front porch, I heard very clearly the words On your knees (and I don’t mean that in any sexual way). I heard a voice and it commanded me to pray. Right then and there. And I am sure I looked pretty crazy barefoot in a red flannel nightgown on my knees on the porch at 5:30 in the morning in the middle of November, but I obeyed. I felt a sense of peace come over me. I tried to call him, but at this point he’d be at work and aggravated if I called and got him in trouble. So, when he didn’t answer, I assumed he was in the plant.

While I prayed, Jackie passed the Piggly Wiggly grocery store in Phil Campbell and made it past The Raceway gas station on “top of the mountain” also known as Spruce Pine mountain. He’s driving about 60mph (it’s 65 mph speed limit) in the slow lane when his blood sugar spikes. He passes out, crosses the fast lane and hits the five foot high median head on, flipping his truck several times down the mountain.

This stretch of highway is almost deserted that time of day. He was alone, unconscious. We’d find out later he had three broken ribs, a collapsed lung, multiple scrapes and cuts, a busted nose and mouth, and a torn aorta (that’s the major artery that takes fresh blood away from the heart.) He was dying, yet he managed to free himself from the truck and crawl several feet away. The chance that someone would see him and stop to help were slim, but another driver called in the accident from a cell phone at exactly 5:45 a.m. as they watched the wreck happen. He was in Russellville Hospital ten minutes later. That caller saved his life as much as the surgeons at ECM did. I never got the chance to thank them. I don’t even know who they were, but thank you.

Back at home, it’s 6:15. The girls are sitting at the table eating breakfast. L.J. is still asleep. The bus would run in thirty minutes and the girls were off to school. I’d normally leave for work at 7:00 to take L.J. to school, but with the holiday I have a little extra time.

It’s 7:30. I haven’t received a phone call either from his work looking for him or the hospital. I decide I’m crazy and he’s fine. About the time I’m gathering my purse and computer his aunt comes running into the house and tells me.

Unless you’ve lost someone (or almost lost them) it’s hard to explain what goes through your mind while you try to get to their side. I saw fifteen years of our life flash by in a heartbeat. A million memories, words, thoughts, images flitted through my mind. Worst of all was the terror of possibly losing him. I was thirty-one with three young children and my husband who’d been in my life since I was sixteen lay on an operating table with his major artery ripped open, in the hands of strangers.

Thankfully, he did survive the operation, but his health and all of our lives were much altered. Diabetes almost took his life in a way no one expected. So today I remember and give thanks we still have him with us. Give thanks for the loved ones in your life and never ever take them for granted. Only God knows how much time any of us have and what lies ahead. Time is precious.