On Sunday night our phone rang at around 1:30 in the morning. As a Mom, parent or family member…we all dread the late night phone call. Your mind begins to cycle through who could be calling and why. I begin to mentally take account of my children, Sam is in bed sleeping, Danielle is in bed sleeping, Ben...oh no...I didn't hear Ben come home after I called him at 11:15. Is he home, is he safe sleeping in his bed? I remember him arguing with me about being over protective and worrying for no reason at all…he’s just working on a friend’s truck, what’s the big deal? I have explained to Ben that ADHD gives you an amazing amount of extra energy and you go and go like the Ever Ready Bunny but then all of a sudden your body runs out of energy and it shuts down. He has been staying up too late and not getting enough rest...but please, please don't let this phone call be about Ben.
I watch Jeff closely as he answers the phone and when I see him begin to rush to get dressed...I know my worst nightmare is occurring. Something really bad has happened to someone I love. I hear him say "Is he alright?" My minds says, please don't let him be talking about Ben, please. Jeff continues, "Where was the accident?" He hangs up and acknowledges my worst nightmare. "Ben was in an accident on our street, I'm going to go with him to look at the truck." I watch Jeff rush outside and in the dim shine of the garage lights I think I see Ben. My mind thinks, okay, well he's alive and he's walking so it must not have been a really bad accident...right??
I quickly get dressed as Jeff leaves with Ben and some friends. My mind is whirling, were his friends in the truck?? Are they alright...is he alright?
Ben and Jeff walk back in and the friends seem to have left. Jeff begins to fill me in on how bad the accident is and that the truck is totaled and in the woods. Ben begins to tell us what he remembers. Turning on our road and then waking up because he was being bumped around and spinning and nothing else until his friend brought him home. He's not always making sense. He searches his mind for more but then the shock and the knowledge of what has happened hits him again and he gets sick. I ask him if he had his seat belt on and he turns to me with more sadness in his eyes and says “No, Mom…I’m sorry I didn’t have it on.” How many times has Sam told Ben to put his seat belt on to be safe. If you don’t want to listen to me why wouldn’t you listen to your little brother?
After hearing how bad the truck is damaged and hearing Ben not always make sense and then get sick, I turn on all the lights.
It's then that I notice that Ben is bleeding out of his left ear, his face on the left side is red and bruised and as he turns I notice the huge bulge behind his left ear that is pushing his ear forward.
Oh no God...I jump into my medical mode, something perfected over the years by Sam and I explain to Jeff that we need to get Ben to a hospital right now. Ben has so many signs that scream to me head injury that we can't get there fast enough.
As we pass the accident scene I am thankful that it is dark and I can't see the truck. My heart is already pounding and my mind is already scrolling through the "What if's?" What if he does have a head injury? What else could be happening to Ben as he sits here in the truck with us? Was he unconscious and for how long? He doesn't look that bad, he's talking, he's making more sense now. Please, oh please, God let my baby be okay!
It's funny how your mind can take a 16 year old, 6'2" boy and suddenly reduce him to the little baby you held in your arms so very long ago. I continued to talk to Ben to make sure he was awake and coherent. He looked in pain but I think a lot of that pain was coming from his heart and not so much his body. He continued to shake and I could watch emotions cross over him, fear, pain, hurt, anger, frustration, worry and a clearing knowledge of what had happened.
Jeff pulled up in front of the ER and Ben and I rushed in. Jeff stayed outside to report the accident to the police and then joined us. The nurse immediately put Ben in a neck brace and began to assess his injuries. Ben looked so sad...so hurt and yet my heart was rejoicing that he was here...he was alive.
A head CT and chest x-ray were ordered. The police arrived and explained the extent of the accident to the doctor...more tests were ordered and a physical examination and internal injury assessment was done.
As Ben waited his emotions were all over the place. He was sorry but then angry, then sad, then worried and just plain hurting. I prayed for God to comfort his mind and heart as we determined his physical injuries. The police officer came in and looked at Ben in amazement that he was coherent, sitting up, talking and appeared to have no major injuries. He told him, "You are one lucky young man, because when I came upon your accident, had I not know you were here with your parents I would have called the rescue squad to do a body recovery because I would have assumed the driver did not survive."
It was at this point I began to cry. Having dealt with so many medical emergencies with Sam my ability to hold together in the worst situations, to think and react when my heart is trying to over ride my head, to remain calm, to stay strong for my child and not loose control is a strength I would not wish on anyone. But this wasn't Sam, this was Ben. This hit me...really blindsided me and my heart over rode my head. No parent should ever have to hear that their child should have died.
Ben was taken away for x-rays and I couldn't help but feel hopeful that he was walking to the room and not laying unconscious on a cart.
The officer continued to talk with us and explained that Ben had to have been driving at a rate in excess of 50 miles per hour upon impact. He said over and over that Ben was very lucky and I hoped that he was right. I knew that until I heard that his CT scan and x-rays were okay that we were not out of the woods yet...that statement holds a whole different meaning for me now.
The officer left and returned to the accident scene to take pictures and have the truck towed. We waited anxiously until the nurse returned letting us know that the head CT was clear...oh, thank you God...and another trauma had come in so the doctor would be with us a little later.
As we sat waiting I couldn't take my eyes off of Ben, I adjusted his ice pack and as I've done with Sam so many times, I was assessing and memorizing every feature of this child in my head. How did we end up here? Why can't you understand that your curfew is set for a reason? Do you realize how lucky you are? How much are you hurting and is there anything I can do to make it go away? Why does being a parent have to be so hard?
The doctor finally came in and clarified that the head CT scan was okay. Ben had a major concussion and would have to continue to be monitored by us, his back and chest x-ray showed no fractures. She explained to us the procedure of monitoring Ben and advised us that if he shows any signs of getting worse we are to return immediately. The blood from his ear was probably from cuts sustained when his head broke through the driver's side window. There was no damage to his ear drum. The swelling behind the ear was the impact zone and would need to be iced and monitored but thankfully there was no skull fracture or injury/bleed in the brain. For once I was thankful that Ben is so hard headed.
But the overwhelming feeling was that I was lucky enough to bring my boy home. He was leaving the hospital and coming home. He was still here with me. Over time we would sort out the details, deal with the tickets and costs...but he was alive and he was okay!
As we drove home I kept checking on Ben, waking him if he dozed for a while. I was beginning to feel more at peace and then...we came upon the accident scene and it was 6:00 a.m. so now I could see the truck in daylight. It was erie to see the tracks and how a large portion of the woods had been cleared by the impact. Jeff pulled over, Ben told me he couldn't go out there. I understood but I got out and the image of the wrecker pulling the truck onto the trailer will be with me for the rest of my life.
I began to shake and cry again as I saw the extent of the damage. The driver's side window was gone and I now knew that my son's head had broken it out. The truck did not roll, it dragged, none of the wheels turned but what made me hold my breath was when I saw the two very large indentations, one in front of the driver’s side door and one behind it. I began to pray and thank God and whatever guardian angels were out here at 1:30 a.m. that guided this truck into the woods...because just a foot in either direction would have meant that my child, my son would have died on impact. I can't even describe my feelings at that moment of realization but the sights, sounds, and smells of that particular moment are etched in my memory forever.
I went back to the truck and Ben told me he was sorry again but all I could do was thank God that he was in the truck with me. We went home and tried to sleep but that was easier said than done. I continued to wake Ben and check for coherence. Every time I have tried to go to sleep, the "what if's" and "how would I" swirl endlessly in my head and sleep eludes me. What if the door would have opened? What if Ben would have been ejected from the vehicle? What if he would have been unconscious and his Dad would have found him the next morning? How would I explain this to Danielle and Sam? How would I tell Sam that Brother Ben is in heaven? How would Jeff ever recover from losing the child that makes him proud and drives him crazy all at the same time. How would I live without Ben, he and I have been through so much together in his journey to get to this point? And then I try to shut it all off, I scream in my head "Stop It, he's here, he's okay" and I drift off to sleep.
I took Danielle to show her the accident scene and Ben's truck and the realization struck her just as it had struck me and her eyes filled with tears. As much as Ben and Danielle argue there is still an undeniable love that exists between a brother and a sister, it transcends the teenage annoyance. Sam was also with us when we looked at the truck, but he didn't make much of it and I didn't want to push the issue.
I requested Ben's x-rays and followed up with his chiropractor who informed me that Ben now had whiplash and had turned/twisted his spinal column from his neck to his upper back which could cause long term pain and other issues if not corrected through adjustments.
The next day as I drove with Sam into town I heard his tiny voice from the back seat say “Ben, naughty”, “Ben truck” “Mom, Brother Ben okay…okay?” I reassured him that his brother was okay as my eyes again filled with tears. Just when I think Sam wouldn’t understand he proves me wrong. He continued, “Brother Ben, good to be home.” I think that pretty much says it all.
I continue to struggle with sleep and I have a strong urge to hug Ben whenever I see him, not exactly what a 16 year old boy would want his mother to do. The night after the accident I had an overwhelming feeling of comfort or peace or something knowing that all 3 of my children were safe and in their beds sleeping...but my head got stuck in that mode and it became a source of anxiety and again sleep eluded me.
The Ben I talk with now has softened his attitude, has expressed being okay with spending more time at home, and is still working through the pain in his body and heart. It has been difficult for Ben to watch the reactions of his family members as they view his truck and each come to the realization of what might have been. But I hope lessons have been learned, priorities have been changed and appreciation of life has been realized.
All I can say…is I love you Ben and I am so very happy that you are here to read this and the “what if’s” and “how would I” didn’t have to become a reality. Please, please each time you leave our driveway, remember that you were spared and these bad choices are something to learn from with consequences you can't afford to test again...and please commit to making good choices. We don’t want to do this life without you. Your Dad and I love you more than words could ever express!!
Please hug your children a little tighter tonight and tell them you love them, use Ben's story to explain the importance of curfews and never driving when you are tired or impaired for any reason. Ben is an excellent driver who only lost one point in his driving test taken in a city he had never driven in before the day of the test...and yet today, tonight and every day forward I will pray that he is safe while he drives and that he remembers to appreciate his life each and every day.