“I am immortal until the will of God for me is accomplished.” – David Livingstone
One Week Before My Wreck – in the Texas Hill Country
The quote above means more to me than it does to most people.
I haven’t written about this before, and may not again. But today, shortly after 10:00 a.m., is the ninth anniversary of a life-changing event for me.
Nine years ago today the weather in north Texas was nearly perfect for a motorcycle ride out in the country. I had just gotten my bike back in July as a gift for my 50th birthday from my son and my wife. It was the best gift I had ever received, because I had wanted a touring bike since I was a teenager. The previous weekend I had been on a four-day ride with my best friend Dave Garrett through the Texas hill country. On Saturday morning Nov. 10, 2007 Dave was busy, so I set out on my own from Dallas to near Glen Rose, TX – because there was a ride-friendly road (meaning it had lots of curves) between Granbury and Glen Rose that I wanted to enjoy.
When I left the house at 8:00 a.m., I kissed Vicki goodbye and told her I would be back around lunch time. Even though it was November, the weather was so mild that I didn’t even wear a coat. I cruised through Granbury, stopping to get gas, and then headed down TX 51 to TX 67. Heading southbound, there is one 90-degree curve that was clearly marked with a large warning arrow, and I had slowed accordingly (and I didn’t think any more about that curve). When I reached the intersection of Hwys 51 and 67, I stopped and got off my bike and called Vicki. I told her it took me two hours to get down there, so I should be back home around noon.
Coming back northbound, it turns out that same 90-degree turn was not marked with any kind of warning sign, and although I wasn’t speeding, I was unable to keep my bike on the road. I left the pavement going between 40 and 50 MPH, and drove down into a gravel ditch that was a washed-out creek bed. Unable to regain control of the bike, I ditched the bike to my right and leaped off to the left. I landed face down in the gravel, and felt like my chest had collapsed because I could hardly breathe. It was the worst pain I have ever felt. Thankfully, I was wearing my helmet that day.
I don’t know how long it took, but I soon heard other voices coming up from behind me, saying that they would call for an ambulance. I could barely move, so I don’t know how many there were, or what they were driving. It seemed like a short time before the ambulance arrived (Glen Rose was about 15 miles away), and I could hear the sirens when it arrived. When I heard the ambulance driver approaching from behind I heard him say very clearly to the people who had stopped to help me, “I’m not moving him, this is a CARE-FLIGHT.”
As I lay there (I’m sure drifting in and out of consciousness by this time) the next thing I remember hearing was a helicopter land nearby. Several people loaded my broken body on to a backboard, carried me to where the chopper had landed, slid me in, and strapped me in. I remember the helicopter taking off, and seeing the rolling hills on the ground as it banked back toward Ft. Worth, and then I blacked out.
Turns out that the wreck resulted in two cracked vertebrae in my back. I have two steel rods and 12 really big screws holding my back in place today (see picture below). In addition, I suffered two punctured lungs, cracked ribs, a concussion, a broken left wrist, and two really messed-up shoulders. Think Humpty Dumpty after he fell off the wall. Since the wreck occurred near Glen Rose, TX, I was flown to the nearest Level-1 trauma center, which was Ft. Worth’s John Peter Smith Hospital, and then transferred to Baylor-Dallas two days later. The fact that I got transferred to Dallas was a miracle in itself – just ask Vicki to tell you that story. I spent over five weeks unconscious at Baylor in the ICU unit on a rotating bed while a large team of great doctors performed five major surgeries trying to piece my broken body back together again.
The best description of what my naked upper body looks like now is a slogan I saw on a t-shirt: “Scars are tattoos with better stories“. And I have at least 11 such stories resulting from this wreck. The three worst ones are from where they had to force breathing tubes in between my ribs so that I could breathe while they were preparing me for all of the surgeries they would perform while I was in the intensive care unit. I’m told that is a very painful experience when they insert these tubes because they can’t give you any pain-killers, and my brother Carl said that I complained loud and hard when they did it. One of my many blessings during this time is that I don’t have any memories from when the helicopter took off from the crash site until the day I woke up in the rehab hospital over five weeks later.
A couple of weeks after the accident Vicki said I developed a condition called SIRS (systemic inflammatory response syndrome), something where the key life-sustaining organs in your body start to shut down. The doctors told Vicki that they didn’t know what causes this condition, and they didn’t really know how to stop it. And if it is not stopped, it results in death. The primary doctor on my case even suggested that Vicki bring the kids to see me – if she wanted them to see me one last time! For some unexplained reason, my symptoms reversed a few hours later, and my key organs started regaining their function. I learned about a year after my wreck from another doctor that patients over 35 years old rarely recover from SIRS – and I was 50 at the time of my accident!
As bad as the trauma was that my body was going through, my family was going through even more. My son Parker was a freshman at A&M and nearly quit school to stay home and help Vicki. My daughter Gracie was a freshman in high school and was counting the days since she had heard her daddy’s voice. Vicki was trying to hold everything together, including her job, spending as much time as she could with me at the hospital, making sure the kids were taken care of, taking care of the house, and all of life’s ‘other duties as assigned’. My mom gave up nearly all her volunteer activities in Ft Worth to spend endless hours with me in the hospital and lived at our house in Dallas with Vicki during the week. The only thing I can tell that Vicki didn’t take care of during that time were the four 50-yd-line tickets to the A&M – Texas Thanksgiving Day game that went unused – sitting in my desk drawer! (the Aggies won 38 – 30!)
Once I survived the five surgeries to put the big pieces back together I was released from ICU and went to the Baylor rehabilitation hospital. On the second or third day in rehab, they do an evaluation to outline what they expect your recovery to be like before you are released. Vicki and I were told that I would likely never walk again, and may not be able to do much other stuff for myself either. I distinctly remember them using the term “he will be a total assist” several times, meaning that I wouldn’t be able to do that type type of activity ever again on my own! They said I would have up to 8 weeks in rehab, and then I would be going home (because insurance wouldn’t pay for any longer stay).
The first few days in rehab were extremely hard because I was coming off of all of the drugs that I had been sedated with in ICU. It was the first and only time in my life I got to experience hallucinating drugs – and I didn’t like it. As the drugs wore off, my mind was really confused, I was having crazy-wild dreams. And the pain from all my injuries began to really set in. Being a near-total invalid at the time, I had to be moved from my bed into a wheelchair via a hammock-like sling chair suspended from a rail in the ceiling.
When people came to see me in the rehab hospital, I could tell by the looks on their faces when they first saw me that they didn’t think I would ever be ‘normal’ again. That was probably the toughest part. But amazingly, I never felt that way, I always felt that God wasn’t through with me yet, and I actually felt the power of the hundreds of people who were praying for me and my recovery. And I don’t say ‘hundreds’ egotistically. The combination of church and Christian school communities that we had been a part of were a major source of the friends we had developed over time. They, along with many of their friends and families, were regularly praying for me and my recovery.
And I can tell you that I never felt the personal power of God more than I did while I was in that hospital. So, if you ever wonder if your prayers make any difference, I’m here to tell you that they do! I wish I could say that same powerful feeling of God’s presence has stayed with me until now, but it hasn’t worked out that way. I couldn’t be more of a believer than I was during that time, but I haven’t felt that powerful connection nearly as much as when I was in the rehab hospital. I attribute that more to me than to Him.
Around week two in the rehab hospital they added aquatic physical therapy sessions to my daily routine. After a few short days in the pool my body started showing small signs of a comeback, so they doubled my time in the pool. Trust me on this one – it is a lot harder to learn to walk the SECOND time, especially when you are 6’4″, and the falls are a lot more painful, so the pool time helped out on a lot of fronts. The back pain was still incredible, but at least I was slowly becoming mobile again. After the fifth week, I was doing well enough to take a small excursion outside the hospital, and I asked my family to take me to church. I not only wanted it for me, but to show all the people who were praying for me that their prayers were having a very positive impact on my recovery.
After six and a half weeks in the rehab hospital (and one week earlier than expected) I was discharged to go home, and I got to sleep in my own bed for the first time in nearly three months. The physical therapists did all sorts of weird things to my body while I was in rehab, and they all said I was a walking miracle when I left. Progress back to a normal life was very slow in the beginning. My body still needed tons of rest trying to recover from all it had been through. Vicki went back to work and my mom stayed with us and took me to follow-up doctor’s visits and continuing physical therapy sessions at Baylor (for my shoulders). My shoulder doctor finally decided that the physical therapy wasn’t helping enough, and so I went through another surgery on my left shoulder about six months after I came home. I didn’t try to start working again in my business until I had been home for a few months, and it was very slow in the beginning.
It was several months after I came home before I was able to drive myself anywhere, and every tiny bump in the road that I hit sent excruciating pain down my back. I was sent to a ‘pain management doctor’ for medications to ease the pain, and he swore that he was prescribing dosages that would ‘put down a horse’, but they didn’t seem to have any impact on me. It took over a year before I was really back into a full work schedule. If people who didn’t know I had been in a wreck saw me, most of them couldn’t tell anything had happened (unless I was trying to play golf with them – and my golf game was, and still is, really ugly).
But enough of the bad news, and on to the good! I have experienced tons of blessings and life milestones since my accident, including:
- I have seen Parker graduate from college and get married to his wonderful Christian wife, Erin, whose blog gave me the inspiration to finally write my story
- I have seen Gracie graduate from high school and college, and I got to help her publish her first book at age 19. And God willing, I will have the honor to walk her down the aisle in January to marry Jason Johnston, an amazing Christian young man who is in medical school
- Vicki and I celebrated our 30th wedding anniversary just seven weeks ago, and after all of these years I still think I ‘married up’
- I have had the opportunity to serve many businesses to help them get the right people in the right seats, focused on using the talents that God has given them
- I have been blessed to work with over 800 young adults, helping them understand their God-given gifts in making plans for their college and career
And I have many people to thank. God comes first, because there were a lot more reasons that I shouldn’t be here than I should, except for His will. Some or most of these people I have never thanked publicly, and I hope it is not too late:
- Vicki, for her unwavering love and support through terribly tough times
- Parker and Gracie, for never giving up on me or God’s power to heal me. At one point when I was in ICU, Parker and several of his friends stood around my rotating bed and prayed for me and my recovery. The doctor on call that night told Vicki it was the most impressive thing he had ever seen a group of young adults do
- My mom (Jo) for all the time she spent with me during and after my hospital stay
- Dan and Cheryl Mabery – for allowing Gracie to stay with you and your girls so Vicki could spend more time with me in ICU
- All the trauma doctors and nurses in ICU at JPS in Ft Worth and Baylor in Dallas. It would be an epistle if I tried to list them all, but special thanks to Dr. Andrew Clavenna who put my broken back back together again
- Dr. Kaky Little, who was not one of my doctors at the time, but her daily visits to see me in rehab (bringing in her bag of popcorn) and the time she spent with Vicki while I was in ICU were invaluable
- All of the physical and occupational therapists who worked with me (and on me) at Baylor rehab
- Bernie O’Donnell and Brenda Daniel for taking care of my business and my clients when I was unable to do so
- Evelyn Freeman for helping Vicki to keep everyone informed of my condition, and what they could pray for
- Dave and Lily Garrett for helping both Vicki and I with anything we needed around the house when I finally came home
- All of the people who earnestly prayed not only for my survival, but my full recovery, and especially the pastoral staff of PCPC who spent many a late night with me during the ICU days
If you have kept reading this far you are probably thinking, ‘Why is he telling his story now?’ Aside from this being a day that will forever be significant to me and my family, I want you to hear loud and clear:
- Don’t let anyone ever try to convince you that God is dead or that He doesn’t do miracles anymore, because I am living proof that He does! Every single person who assisted me during my stay in the rehab hospital called it a miracle when I left.
- None of us are ever promised a tomorrow, so take care of all that you can as soon as you can. Are you waiting on something or someone before you tell your story?
- If you are still alive on this earth, it is because God is not done with you yet. If you don’t yet know why you’re here, just keep asking, seeking, and praying that he will make it evident to you
- We can all endure much more than we ever thought we could, but we will never be asked to take on more than we can bear
- Don’t ever take time with your family for granted. When I kissed Vicki goodbye that morning, neither of us had any idea that it might be our last kiss on this earth
- As the song says, “When you are going through hell, keep on going…” It is the struggles that make us stronger, and we may just need every ounce of that strength that we develop through the struggles to fulfill God’s will for our lives! We are told in the Bible to be thankful for all things, and that includes all the struggles and hard times, as well as the good times.