Sunday, January 11, 2009
january 10, 1998
this is my friend leigh's car after it plunged off the 15 freeway with her in the passenger seat. she is lucky to be alive. i tell her that a lot. i think she believes it. weve been friends for a long time. 18 years, to be exact.
she and her husband, dana and two of their four kids, were driving back home to murrieta in pouring rain from escondido. dana says he knew they were going over the side as they started a dramatic, unavoidable slip. his response to the immediate emergency was "hold on, were goin' over!!" leigh doesn't remember anything after that. the van flipped, then rolled, flipped again, hit a tree, most likely with leigh's head hanging out of the broken window, then landed at the bottom of an 800 foot ravine, on it's side. unreachable by any road, because it was in the middle of nowhere. this was a paramedic's nightmare. the two kids were belted in and banged up a bit, but found themselves in the run of their lives. they were barefooted too. dana quickly instructed them to run up the hill (or mountain) back up to the freeway, to get help. they were 6 and 10. it was also pitch dark. dana's shoulder was dislocated, and leigh was slowly curling into the fetal position, cradled amongst a smashed cocoon of shredded metal. things did not look good, and if you look at the photo of the van, it is a miracle she lived. long story short, they were airlifted to palomar hospital, where her heart stopped, then restarted, then listed in extremely critical condition, skilled medical professionals relaying a very grim prognosis.
i can still remember where i was when i received the phone call. i was in my kitchen doing what i always do in the kitchen. my 4 little kids all around me. should we go to the hospital, or should we stay back, and let the family take over? were we intruding? i paced not knowing what to do, not even knowing if she would be alive if we did go. i found a babysitter and we ran out the door. im glad we went.
i will never forget what i initially saw. leigh on a hospital gurney, hooked up to numerous complicated machines, lots of medical people hovering over her, her head (unrecognizable, i might add) covered in bandages, her body shrouded in pale blue plastic warmers, with only her feet sticking out. her perfectly pedicured, beautiful toes (she has the most gorgeous feet of anyone i know) protruding from the sterile, blown up warmers. i knew it was her just from her feet. i couldnt believe what i was witnessing.
we went back to the hospital in a few days, where she was actually barely out of her coma, but in very guarded condition. again, i couldnt believe what was before me. there she was, her head was the size of a large pumpkin, her eyes completely filled with blood. the whites of her eyes a chocolate brown color, matching the color of her iris'. needless to say, her appearance was frightening, but i didnt want to let on i was shocked by what i saw. she could not speak, was barely conscious, and her right side was completely paralyzed. i actually started to think about having to help with a funeral and raise her kids. thoughts which made me feel sick to my stomach, quite literally. thoughts i did not want to have.
she made progress, and i spent a lot of time by her side. i carefully washed her hair, huge clumps of dried blood, numerous serious contusions and an incredible tangle of mess was what was left on her head. i helped give her her first shower, and actually had to hold her head up while she was getting x-rays-she could not hold her head upright. i quietly sang primary songs to her to try and take her mind off the intense pain, tears streaming down both our faces. i remember her begging for something to drink, while all liquids were withheld because the liquid she was drinking was going into her lungs. her thirst was unbearable. i tried to console her, but left the hospital feeling spent, my heart breaking for her. i spent the night with her at the hospital, because she was frightened at night. i carried a large container full of blood drained from her lungs along side her wheelchair on a journey to get even more x-rays. i rode in an ambulance with her to the dentist (wow, that was a first), and held her hand while the ambulance driver actually got lost.
i could go on and on, the story continued, and she was in intensive care for weeks, and in recovery and physical therapy for months. however, the story ended well, and ended with a lot learned. i want her to know how proud i am of her. i want her to know that i am glad she lived to tell her story. her accident has shaped her. her accident showed her she can do anything. she is now running ultra marathons, and is an amazing, gifted and determined athlete. she is a running machine. she has overcome incredible odds.
i am proud of you leigh, and glad i was able to hold your head up, 11 years ago. i'd do it again in a minute.
Posted by shawna henrie at 6:49 PM