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September 17, 2021

Window on the World Column | Life Happens

“Life happens when you are busy making other plans…” That was my Facebook post of a truck that was smashed beyond belief. It belonged to my daughter’s boyfriend, Aaron, and my daughter was the passenger.

Saturday night and I was nicely snuggled with my granddaughter Madison. We were reading Junie B Jones together in bed. She’s going to be a first grader, so this was the very wonderful “Junie B Jones, First Grader: Cheater Pants” edition. We were roaring with laughter at that crazy girl. Special times.

I noticed a missed call from Aaron, which struck a bit of an uneasy chord. They had left only a few hours ago for their 10-day, dream vacation in Montana. I call him back, and those are terrifying sounds a mother cannot unhear. The screams of your child with the buzz of first responders all around her in the background. They had been in a most horrific crash, and she was trapped in the wreckage. Everything froze. I paced the house, I could barely breathe. A wrong-way driver had hit them head-on on the freeway near Redding.

The hours after that are all a blur. The hours until I could actually see and hear her and note the wiggle of her toes and fingers. Truthfully, I’m not quite sure how I got to Vacaville. They were still doing MRIs and X-rays when I got there; but it was clear she had broken her back.

I had heard about Kaiser hospitals before and how special they were. In Kaiser Vacaville, Francoise had her own room without the usual hospital noises and chaos that you expect under normal hospitalization situations. They let her boyfriend and I stay in the room with her (he wasn’t physically injured) and treated us like family. They knew we weren’t patients, but we were hurting all the same. They offered us coffee and kindness.

From the CNA Rachel (can we adopt you?) to the nutritionist Jessica (oh how cute and kind you were to us, we didn’t want to leave you!) to the tip-top RN Glenn, who was so particular and thoughtful in his treatment of my daughter that you would have thought she was his only patient, and to the head nurse Maria (a mango a day will be in my mantra forever …) and many others. I have never been sad to leave a hospital before; but this time I really was. We felt so safe there; that her recovery was in their capable hands and their hands were so good.

Come to find out, an old friend of mine from Soledad was now working up at that hospital. She came to visit us and gave us good advice about what we should do. Being in the medical world, she was a big help and steered us in the right direction. We needed that, as adrift as we were at the time.

The next day she returned with cupcakes baked by her daughter. So very cheering! Thank you, Stephanie and Alyssa! Familiar faces in the storm are such a comfort. Another old friend lives close by and she visited us with yummy coffees after work. Cheers to Thais, the lovely Wonder Woman!

Our son Marc came from Sacramento bearing the most delicious tamales in the world and took Aaron under his wing to deal with the destroyed vehicle and police report. Aaron could not have managed that alone; it’s so distressing to re-visit the scene of the crime, as it were, and so nice to be reminded of the basic kindness and humanity of people when you really need them. So many folks in Facebook land asked what they could do to help. We felt so wrapped in love and support.

She’s home now. She was so traumatized by the accident it took me a while, days even, to be able to get her into the car. Every time we tried it, her blood pressure would crash, she’d feel nauseous, and her pain would soar. Then Glenn would smile, tell us she wasn’t ready yet and put her back to bed.

Finally, we managed our escape with an accompaniment of pillows and drugs. Rockstar Nurse Glenn wheeled her out from the cocoon of the hospital, Room 307, to the big world outside. Truthfully, we wanted to take that guy home with us; but he had other lives to save, other families to cheer along — not to mention his own family of a wife and five kids.

My daughter’s rollercoaster road to recovery is meshed with a good deal of anger and sadness. Their beautiful and special vacation was destroyed by a careless or negligent driver; we don’t know which yet. Aaron’s truck is obliterated, along with many of their prized possessions. Her back is broken, everything fun has had to be canceled.

She is likely not able to start her nursing school on time or go to any of the concerts they had planned in the coming days and weeks. Her fury toward the mystery perpetrators currently knows no bounds. We remind her of how lucky she is to be alive and not paralyzed; but that is little comfort to her during these early days of grief and fury; not to mention pain.  

One thing she does know, for sure, is that Aaron has been by her side every minute of every day since the accident. When it happened, he jumped out of the truck, called 911, and rushed to hold her head, also her heart, steady while the first responders cut her out of the vehicle.

The days after, he didn’t leave her side, not even once. The hospital crew joked that he needed to put on a pair of scrubs and help them out in his spare time. He did everything for my girl from bathing her to massaging her feet and cheering her spirits. He didn’t sleep for days in case she needed him. As I commented to one of my friends, “true love can be found in the shattered glass of broken dreams.”

In the meantime, the flowers, friends and meals keep arriving at our house (thank you Jessica, Anthony, Precila and Fabian!). It all helps. Our girl is practicing her walking, getting stronger every day, and the VNA will be coming next week to check her out and move along her physical therapy.

Two kittens will be arriving to cheerlead her recovery — nothing like a kitten to lift the spirits — and we, her family, will be at her side for whatever she needs in the coming days, as she rebuilds her body and spirits. “This is a life-altering experience,” she tells me. Yes. Sometimes life gives us those too.

Thanks to all who helped us, loved us, and made sure we didn’t fall to the ground this week, never to rise again. We are not yet put back together; nor are we broken. Marginally fractured might be a better description. We so appreciate all the love.

Lucy Jensen
Soledad Columnist
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