type='text/javascript'/> A Latte Talk: 2012

Thursday, April 12, 2012

A year ago today, my husband broke his neck.

Never in a gazillion years did I ever think I would title a blog post this way.

Can I share my (his) (His) story?  I've told nearly everyone I know bits and pieces of the story, but I've never written it all down.  I don't want to forget, so if you'll indulge me, go get a latte, maybe a potty break, because this is the long long long version...

Tues, April 12, 2011
I was sitting on the floor of my living room looking at my new smartphone that had just arrived in the mail. A knock on the door showed a woman I vaguely recognized.  When I opened the door, she said very calmly, "Um, there is a man out here lying on the ground next to a ladder, I think he's your husband, he says he hurt his neck, and to please call 911."

I grabbed my phone and ran out the door, subconsciously imagining a wheelchair ramp in place of the steps I was running down.

When I got to Matt, he was moving his arms (Praise God).  As I was calling 911, he was talking to me just as calmly as if he was sitting in a lawn chair drinking lemonade.  Ok, maybe an exaggeration, but I could tell he was 100% with-it, not in shock and not in agonizing pain. He kept saying his hands hurt.

He told me and the EMT's that arrived shortly that he had been working on a ladder up against the house, which was propped against our chain-link fence.  He was only about 5 feet up, cleaning out a bird's nest from the vent for our bathroom fan.  As he was pulling hard on a tool, trying to pry it off, it suddenly came loose. The force of his pulling made him go flying.  He landed feet-first on TOP of the fence, and because of his momentum, he immediately somersaulted forward into the muddy raspberry patch, on his head, wrenching his neck. He heard/felt numerous crunches in his neck, and also a shot of pain and numbness go down his arms. The bare rasberry bushes also kissed the backs of both of his hands and wrists when he landed, peppering them with tiny, horrible thorns.

He was immobilized and strapped to a board, loaded onto an ambulance stretcher, and his last words to me before being rolled into the ambulance were, "You better call the River Falls Brass guys... I think I may not be able to play in the recital tonight."

Ya think? ;)

I have to be honest with you.  At this point I really thought he was fine.  He was moving arms/legs, he was talking, he was worrying about how much the ambulance/ ER visit was going to cost.  A sure sign that he was fine!  I even stood around and chatted it up with the neighbors who were roused out of their houses from the sirens.

When I got to the ER, I could tell that he was very, very nervous.  His neck was swelling. His hands were killing him. He was visibly afraid of what they would say when they returned with the X-ray results.  He really thought he had broken his neck.

The X-ray came back clear. They saw no fracture.  They prescribed a muscle relaxant for his increasingly stiff muscles, and sent him on his merry way.

He did not play in his recital that night. :)

When we got home, I went out and walked around outside, put the ladder away, etc, and noticed that in the raspberry patch where he had fallen, there were large metal stakes with sharp metal all along them about every 18 inches all the way along the side of the house.

Except for the spot where Matt fell.  There was a gap about 3 feet across in which he fell right between.  Oh, thank you for that gap, God. I literally was nearly sick when I saw how close he came to impaling himself!  Never mind landing on his head, and crunching his neck, there were other dangers God spared him from as well.

That night, he could hardly move his neck, it was so stiff.  His hands hurt him so badly, I've never seen him in so much pain. He did not sleep at all that night.  At this point, I felt like something was wrong. He was miserable.

Wed, April 13- Sat, April 16
He did go back in the next day to his regular doc, because of the hand pain. They x-rayed his hands, prescribed pain pills, and sent him home.  He wasn't complaining of neck pain, just stiffness.

Over the next several days, his neck swelled up so much he looked like an NFL linebacker, no exaggeration. I wish I would have taken a picture of him. He also lost his voice from throat swelling, and swallowing felt funny enough for him to not want to eat much except soft food.
Besides the throat/neck swelling, he was feeling better by Saturday.  His hands were feeling better, his body wasn't so sore.

Sunday, April 17
He woke up saying he felt almost normal, if it wasn't for the funny feeling in his throat, his laryngitis, and his stiff neck. He had more energy, he was up and around the house more.

As we were getting ready for church, at one point when Matt was taking a drink of water, one of our kids said his name and he turned his head a little bit while he was swallowing.  Something happened in his throat and he choked and sputtered on that little bit of water.  Totally freaky. Something was definitely wrong.

Back to the ER we went, to a different hospital this time.

They did a CT scan of his neck, looking for vascular damage in his neck that might cause the laryngitis and the problems he was having swallowing. He was wheeled away from his little ER room sitting up, I was told it would be about 10 minutes.
25 minutes later, I started to worry.  Right then, the door opened, and he was wheeled back in.  Flat on his back, with a cervical collar around his neck. "He has a broken bone in his neck!" the wonderful nurse, Jeffrey, told me when I looked at him quizzically.

The CT scan showed a fracture of his C-2 spine, a fracture named "Hangman's fracture" because it is the type of fracture found on autopsies of those who were hung to death.  Lovely.

Every physician or nurse we saw during his 3 day hospital stay said the same thing to us when they heard Matt's story of delayed diagnosis.  "Lucky".  Over and over and over, we heard how "lucky" he was that his fracture was stable and didn't do damage to his spinal cord. "One wrong move, ..." "The fracture is clear around that vertabrae... one more day in the hospital just to make sure it really is stable.  He is really lucky." Hangman's fractures are, we learned, one of those fractures that makes even the stuffy medical professionals pause and suck in breath.  C2 fractures are especially dangerous, because of what nerves go through that vertabrae. The nerves that control breathing go through C2. I won't elaborate on why this is a problem, and why we had so many passionate "He's lucky"'s from the nurses. You get the picture.

Oh, the flood of questions and emotions. Questions of treatment, prognosis, what he would have to miss during recovery, and how long he would miss them.

Mercifully, there were positive answers to almost all of those questions.  He did not need a halo.  His throat problems were caused by swelling, not vascular damage. His hands would eventually heal, his voice would eventually return to normal.  The swelling would subside, and he would be able to return to essentially normal activity within 8 weeks.

But during that time of  questions and after, there was a LOT we did know.  God was soveriegn over all of these events.  He knew exactly what was happening inside Matt's body.  He knew Matt would not play that recital and the next one and his much-anticipated, long-planned auditions that Spring.

Matt spent 6 weeks in an Aspen collar, unable to drive. Every day, I changed and washed the pads on the collar and shaved his face and neck. There were many days of no activity for him.  Many books to read. Many quiet afternoons of reflection.  At least one (maybe two?) Lord of the Rings trilogy all day long mega-viewings.

We had friends and support helping like crazy.  My dear sweet friend and neighbor who watched my kids at a moment's notice so we could go to the hospital the second time.  A meal of Panera in the ER.  Visits from friends in the hospital. My wonderful mom, aka Grambie, who was here the day the accident happened, and practically lived here helping with the kids for a while, and again while I went out of town a few weeks later. Men who came to pray and encourage Matt while he was in that vulnerable state.  Meals, many meals. Gift cards to Trader Joe's, Target, and Papa Murphy's. :) One brave dear friend came and got up on that same ladder in that same spot, and finished the bird's nest job. Another dear friend of Matt's came and served us by helping with his collar changes each day so that I was able to take a girls weekend trip to CA. And SO many prayers, lifting us up. We felt so cared for.

The most remarkable part of this story, to me, is how God changed us. We're grateful God spared and healed him (understatement of the year).  But that wasn't the most miraculous work God did.  Not by a long stretch. The most amazing thing he did was plant trust, faith, and joy in us. It was not many days after his fall, that Matt blew me away by saying, "I'm actually glad I broke my neck". He knew that the JOY he was feeling was a direct result of trusting God in every detail (he had to!), and it made the process of the trial 100% worth it. Isn't that amazing? The very real, very raw awareness of God's soveriegnty over every detail of our lives bore so much fruit in my heart.

For example, for a long time after this, every time there was something I could have worried or stressed about, I actually FELT that it was completely fruitless to worry. Worry didn't even entice me.  For 5 days, while we had NO CLUE that Matt had a broken bone in his neck, God saw fit to hold those bones together, to keep Matt safe from tripping or moving and doing more damage, etc... Human worry wasn't necessary to work that miracle. Why wouldn't I trust Him with every. single. problem. ?!  I can tell you that there is much joy when I trust this way.

Of course, as time passes, those revelations are not as fresh, the emotions not as strong, but the faith God gave us through this experience is lasting.  And worth the the trial (another huge understatement).

Today, a year later, I look back and marvel.  April 12, 2011 was a day that changed our lives, for the better.

Easter Sunday, 2011
Easter Sunday, 2012