The aftermath of an accident: A Piece of My Mind

My brother had an accident. He was working overtime on the weekend, on a 10-foot ladder. The ladder slipped backward from under him and he fell with it onto a wood-composite deck. He broke both wrists, his shoulder blade and every bone in his face except his lower jaw.

Day 1: He is in an induced coma in intensive care in critical but stable condition.

Day 2: My brother is in surgery for nine hours, first for a tracheotomy to enable breathing, because his nose and sinus cavities are shattered, then to reassemble his face. The reassembly requires 11 titanium plates and 93 screws.

Day 3: The doctors bring my brother out of the induced coma to test for possible spinal injuries. As he regains consciousness, according to a family member in the room, “He made a sound of such excruciating pain that no human should have to make. He won’t remember it, but his son and his fiancee, who were in the room, will never forget it.” The doctors put my brother back into a coma while they “adjust the painkillers.”

Day 4: With better pain management, my brother comes out of the coma. He is able to respond to questions with eye blinks, head shakes and nods. A feeding tube and tracheotomy limit his speech.

Day 5: His son brings in a whiteboard. Holding a marker between two numb fingers, my brother can write a wobbly word or two. His first word: “Mom?”

Day 6: My brother is out of intensive care. The doctors have found no damage to his spine, brain or vision. However, when he first puts his feet to the ground, he discovers another injury – a broken toe that had gone unnoticed earlier.

Day 7: My brother goes home from the hospital. Both arms are in splints, and his jaw is wired to prevent chewing, which might dislocate his carefully reassembled face. He loses 20 pounds in the three days before doctors insert the feeding tube.

Day 15: My mother and I fly up to help the caregiving team. We are apprehensive about what that new face will look like, but to our delighted surprise, my brother’s new face looks pretty much like his old face – maybe the nose is a little shorter, a little straighter.

My nephew shows me a picture of what his dad’s face looked like shortly after he was brought in to the emergency room – like a puddle of lemon Jell-O with red eyes floating in the middle. Amazing.

Day 19: I take my brother to see the facial surgeon who had put him back together. A lady in the waiting room notices his arm casts and comments, “I thought they only did facial surgery at this office.” With her attention drawn to the twin casts, she had not noticed anything odd about his face.

My brother’s family thanks God for his recovery.

I’m grateful, too, but I can’t help thinking, “God, what a waste of your time! It would have been so much more efficient if you had just steadied that ladder!”

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