Sunday, July 27, 2008

Post traumatic disorder.......

December 22nd, 2006 around noon, I was baking Christmas cookies (not my usual holiday activity) in attempt to spread a little holiday cheer to my new found Arizona neighbors before we headed off to California to spend the Christmas holiday with family. I had just set a batch in the oven when my cell phone rang. It was Gabe...not a big deal...he told me that he had just received a call from one of Joel's roommate and that he had something to tell me. Still not too alarmed, but to be safe I went to my room and shut the door. Gabe called with the news that Joel had been in an accident and that he was in surgery. They were doing surgery on his arm and that they were pretty sure they were going to be able save it, but they were unable to save his leg.

Just like that emotional stability as a mother was changed forever.

Of course by the time I calmed down and remembered what I was doing, the Christmas cookies had transformed to Christmas coal. I called Greg and then Randy (two stabilizing influences in my life) and then Southwest to reserve a seat on the next flight out to CA. Greg immediately came home, I threw a bag of basically nothing together (who can think at times like that) and headed to the airport. I did have enough sense to call my good friend Dawn while on my way. Dawn is one of my amazingly thoughtful friends (I hope you all have a "Dawn" in your life)...and all though I wasn't quite sure what I needed from her at the time, she being the person she is...rearranged her holiday plans to make sure my kids had a place to stay, transportation and a Christmas present to open. On top of that...she got me the name and number of her husbands prosthetic guy (what an amazing guy Phil is!).

Honestly...I don't even remember how (I think maybe it was Ally who picked me up at the airport), but somehow I made it to the hospital where I was greeted by dozens of Joel's friends. Gabe and Rosie made it there about the same time and Gabe accompanied me in to ICU to see Joel for the first time since his accident. I was a nervous wreck as you can imagine. Joel was awake and all he could say was how sorry he was for ruining our Christmas. "Are you kidding me!!!! You're alive. What better present could we possibly ask for?"

I spent the next 8 days beside his hospital bed, dowsing him with ice cold water to break his never ending fever, draining his urine container, and rubbing his "phantom" foot because it burned so bad. His walls were lined from day break 'till well in to the night with family and friends there to comfort him. Ontie Melinda and Melissa came each evening to stand post so that Greg could drag me away for a couple hours break and a much needed shower. Leaving only made me more nervous so I would race back so that I could kneel by Joel's side and pray for his fever and pain to go away.

It was very windy the day Joel was released. I was scared to death to leave the security of a round the clock medical crew, but after begging the Dr's to let Joel stay one more day, they pushed us out in to the wind to mend at home. Home was Aunt Cindy's house (I'll never be able to pay her back for all she's done for us! She's amazing) where we were met by Cherif (Joel's friend who flew in from Hawaii to help out). Cherif, at the request of Joel, drove us to the yard where Joel's car was towed. What a frightening and humbling scene that was.

Those first couple weeks were much like the hospital stay except Joel's fever had finally subsided. Our days were filled with visitors and trying to figure out how to stay on top of the pain, his medication regimen, trying to figure out how to bath and take care of his wounds. The days soon filled up with follow up Dr. visits, wound care, physical therapy and prosthetic appointments. We filled our spare hours with visits to family and old friends.

With an astonishingly positive attitude (obviously feeling better and even poking fun at his situation here), Joel physically healed quite nicely and helped the Alder/Rodriguez/Arnold clan heal emotionally. After 3 months of being nurse made, I made a very tough decision to head back to Az to be with my very patient and understanding new husband. And in my usual fashion...nervously did what ever I could from 400 miles away to help Joel in any way I could, but never feeling like it was enough.

It's been 19 months and Joel has overcome every challenge with the same positive attitude every step of the way. He's got 2 new legs, he's driving, went back to Cal Poly with a renewed determination and graduated last month in an exciting field and now in the job market. As all of my kids are in one way or another...Joel is one of my heroes. I'm so very proud of the way he's over come all of the hurdles in his path. I'm so proud of the way he has picked up the pieces and brushed himself off and moved on with out skipping a beat. He's a truly amazing individual.

Of course as his mother...I'm always worried that behind his smile is pain and that he is just being strong for me. I just can't help but worry. I won't pretend to know the trauma that true victims go through, but I know many of you out there have gone through similar events and I'm sure you can relate. The pictures displayed above pop in to my head regularly and with out warning. I'll be driving down the street and the next thing I know...I've got tears rolling down my face. I'll be taking a shower and it will hit me that Joel has to hop in and balance on one leg to take his each day. I'll be working and get a sense of panic for no good reason. My cell phone rings at a late hour and my heart sinks. The holidays roll around and I make Joel call or text me daily so that I know that he's okay.

The lesson I learned when my brother Mike tragically died in a plane crash several years ago was to always express your gratitude when you have the chance because you may not ever get that chance again. From Joel I've learned to stay remember how lucky I am...Joel is still with us and he is healthy and his faculties are in tact. I still get to enjoy his engaging, energetic and caring personality. Reminding myself of this is what gets me through those moments of panic.

As I cried to Greg the other morning after receiving a text from one of my kids at 4:30am's tough being a mom. It's so joyful, but can also be so painful. Regardless...I wouldn't change it for anything.

I love you Joel...I love you Gabe, Dami, Rhyannon, Ally, Rachel and Jessica.


Unknown said...

Lisa, You're awesome. We love you so much. Thanks for writing such a nice post. I loved it.
Love Heidi (writing under Hannah's account)

US... said...

your are amazingly strong, :) and a great writer. Loves

Aunt Janet said...

what a beautiful memory you will always have of an outstanding young man. I love you for being the kind of mother to raise such a great young man