Thursday, June 30, 2011
Tuesday we left the Evers. It was hot and dry in Texas and we'd been driving for hours. We stopped at a gas station to let Domino use the restroom and stretch our legs. We loaded back up and I climbed in the backseat letting Jace have shotgun. I stretched my legs out across the girls, despite their laughter infused, half hearted protests, rested my head against the window, and fell asleep.
Then there was a man in a brown baseball cap upside down, leaning over me. He had a Texan accent and was really trying to get me to respond. I don't know what he was asking or what I murmured in response, but it seemed to satisfy him. I closed my eyes. I realized that I could only feel my head between his hands-- it felt as though I didn't have a body anymore. I heard him tell someone else that he was an off duty fire fighter. That was when I realized something was wrong. I sifted through my dark, empty brain and finally pulled up one memory:
I saw my mom driving. I looked out the window and saw a white semi next to us. We got closer and then jerked away with such a force that I knew there was going to be trouble. I clenched my eyes and unclenched my jaw, felt a jarring bump, and went unconscious.
(The jaw thing was interesting. I don't how where I had the presence of mind to do that, but I do know where I learned it. When I was in high school at one of those assemblies we learned that the reason drunk drivers usually walk away from accidents is because the alcohol makes the relax and being relaxed saved them. I was fascinated by this and I told myself that if I were ever to get into an accident I'd relax. I figured that I probably wouldn't remember that because accidents happens fast, but look at that! I did! And the doctors said that had I not done that, I would have lost many of my teeth. Thanking God for that over and over. I love my teeth.)
The man in the baseball cap was gone. I felt a burning on my legs, which ended up being the propellers of the helicopter which carried me to the hospital. I saw my reflection in the sunglasses of the man on the helicopter. I couldn't see my eyes. There was blood everywhere and the side of my face was destroyed. Why was this happening to me. That was when I started thinking maybe this wasn't a dream. I drifting in and out of consciousness for the next few hours. I love my brain for knowing when to shut down. There were things I just didn't want to experience. I woke up to them stripping me of my jewelry. (They didn't end up giving it all back. Rude.) They told me they were going to cut my clothes off. That triggered my first coherent thought: crap. I've always thought about how much I never wanted this to happen. To be on a table under bright lights surrounded by several men stripping off all of my clothes. And they just ruined my favorite bra. I went unconscious again. It was too much to handle. I woke up later and registered for the first time that there was an accident and somewhere I had a family. Someone was dead. I guess someone told me that at one point in time. I asked the nurses who died. They said my mom was in the hospital and I could see her soon. I asked again who died, and I realized that I was in hysterics. I just wanted to know and they kept dodging the question. I was so frustrated. Finally they said that Jada didn't make it. I felt relieved. That was right. I knew that already. Unconsciousness again.
I awoke awhile later and really had to pee. I told the nurse that and she brought me a bedpan. It was impossible for me to raise myself up over it, so she shoved it awkwardly under me and told me to go ahead. Well I did...and promptly felt my pee running up my back. That, my friends, is an awkward feeling. More blackness. I woke up to the nurses telling me Jace was coming into the room. I was worried that I was still exposed and tried to cover myself, realizing that my arm was strapped down. But that I was covered. Jace came in and updated me on the situation. The instability of the Ford Explorer combined with the luggage rack made it so top heavy that the slight over correction caused it to roll over, landing wheels down in oncoming traffic. Kenyan, Jada, and I had been thrown from the car. Jace had already been discharged with just a gash on his leg. Mom and Kenyan were in the hospital--Mom with some medium head injuries and Kenyan with unknown, non severe wounds. Injuries from the seatbelt had killed Jada instantly. Aria had already been discharged with just a sprained toe and was currently with a new friend shopping and swimming. Lucky girl.
Jace was sitting there talking to me when some missionaries walked by. I don't know where they came from or where they were going, but they offered a blessing and some well wishes and departed. Like the man in the brown baseball cap I will never know their names and I can never properly thank them. But it was the first of many miracles that have occurred in the past eight days. More unconsciousness. I woke up to more men in my room, two more men from our church. I talked to them as much as I could and then, apologizing profusely, told them that I had to pee. They got a nurse and cleared the room. The nurse tried the bedpan again. This time I made it into the pan. Feeling proud I lifted myself off the bed so that she could remove the bedpan. I managed to hold myself up for a few seconds until my weak legs gave out and I came crashing down on the corner of the pan, tipping my fluids out all over the bed. It takes bravery to be a nurse. Also I got a catheter after that. And then I blacked out.
I vaguely remember seeing my mom. They wheeled her whole bed into my room. She was holding my hand and singing a lullaby from when I was a kid. I couldn't see her because I couldn't turn and picking my head up with the neck brace on was impossible. Then I was on another helicopter headed to another hospital in Lubbock, TX. The doctors were fearful that I'd had brain damage, so they sent me to a more specialized hospital. The helicopter burned my legs again and I woke up outside in the dark as they wheeled me towards the building. I remember feeling the cool desert air and loving the darkness of the night. So much, in fact, that I told the man wheeling my stretcher to leave me there. Begging, in fact. I told him to just hide me by a building and I'll heal by myself. He didn't listen. In fact, I think he laughed. There was a nurse in the emergency room. She told me her name was Tiffany and I could squeeze her hand. They gave me a tetanus shot and about a thousand other shots. Poor Tiffany probably didn't have any feeling left in her hand by the end of it. I got really attached to Tiffany. They wheeled me out of the ER to a normal room and I spent a lot of time asking for Tiffany, even when I knew she wasn't around. Then the most wonderful girl said her name was Kirstie and I could hold her hand. And I did. They had to change the dressing on my ear and do other heinous things that hurt me. And Kirstie was there letting me wring her hand dry. She put Chapstick on my parched lips and gave me water with a straw. She played music for me on her phone and she let me cry all I want. At some point in the night my second angel arrived. Dusti came to help Kirsti and together they healed my heart before the wounds could get any deeper. They listened to me tell every detail i could recall about Jada, even when tears drowned my words. I told them anything that came into my head and they sat there listening to me and crying with me and helping me in a way I didn't know people could. Their sincerity, their compassion, the way they dried my tears off my ugly cheek, they softened my heart and made me feel so loved in a way that I don't know I've felt before. I will be eternally grateful for these two angels.
Somewhere later in the night (actually I think it was about 4 in the morning) the Madeiras arrived. It was so nice to see familiar faces, as the rest of my family was still at the hospital in Amarillo. They'd heard they news, jumped in the car, and plowed their way through the dark desert. They arrived at the hospital and were told that they weren't allowed in my room. They thought it was unacceptable and they fought their way in. They had lip gloss for me and they held my hand and reminded me if the wonderful time I'd had the weekend before swimming in their pool. They held my hand as the blood pressure cuff tightened way too tight. I felt like a pregnant woman, holding on and breathing heavy until the blood pressure testing was over as though they were contractions coming and going in waves. It took Vic and Laura and Kirstie and Dusti to get me through physical and emotional pain of that night. But eventually I slept. I woke up in just enough time to realize I needed to puke. They raised my bed up and I regurgitated my morphine and travel food all over my hospital gown. The gown came off and my dignity was a little damaged as I was cleaned like a comatose old person. It was a good thing I liked the people cleaning me. I finally fell asleep again and only woke for about a minute to meet Jim Johnson: Vice President of the hospital and local branch president. He'd been alerted to our situation and was looking out for our family. He left the room and in came nurses with funny colored hats on to give me anesthesia. I blacked out as they went to work on patching together my ear. I hate to end the story here, since it's not the end of the story, but that's enough for today.
[These are the anesthesiologists. I was relieved to learn that they really did have funny hats on, that it wasn't just the effects of the drugs.]
Here's the thing about me and blogging. I like to remember details. I like to capture my memories with pictures, with favorite quotes, with the way things felt. When I write, it often ends up being lengthy and full of specific things. I try to write things down soon after they happen because I am fearful of missing one thing. So with that in mind, this will probably be the most difficult story to write--recapping the last seven days that have been unusually full of stories, words, and deep emotions. I've really been dying to start writing for the past few days because I feel the intensity of the details fading in my little drugged up brain. But that's as much as I can do today. Hopefully I can get it all out before I forget it all. I really wish I'd had more pictures. For now I just have one lovely one--super flattering, you know. Don’t worry. They’ll get better.
[Title from Worry About You by 2 AM Club]
My name is Julie Merrill. I am the Lubbock stake Relief Society president. I have had the privilege to be at the hub of all the activity that has gone on in the past 8 days with Nicole Mortensen and her family. Please forward to any who would be interested.
I thought I would send you an update of what is going on with Nic and family beginning from yesterday. I know there have been lots of miracles and things that have happened before then, but I don’t have time to write that book, nor do I have all the details and information.
Nic and her kids are busy trying to sleep, heal, sort through luggage that rolled through the dirt when they landed here.
Currently they are staying in the Voorhies home while they are gone on vacation. What a blessing it is to have Nic and her family all under one roof! They are healing slowly from their injuries; the house is bustling with friends that the kids have made.
Aria has been kept busy with all the other 9 year old girls. She had a new friend Cami Whiting sleep over last night. She’s been going to craft class, playing at people’s houses and is having a blast.
Kenyan has made friends with Jane Whiting, Cami’s older sister. They hit it off well spending most of yesterday together doing fun things, playing board games, craft stuff, etc. Kenyan is slowly but surely improving each day. Her bubbly attitude and smile are contagious. She is the one that is going to take the most time to heal physically.
Jace is keeping busy with Sierra and the teens around Lubbock. They have been swimming, to movies, youth night, and have just been wonderful. Jace has a lot on his mind, but is dealing with it piece by piece. He’s a fine young man. I gave him a hair cut last night. Good looking guy! We took him to the doctor to make sure his leg and foot weren’t broken. They are just bruised and he is healing up just fine.
Bridian got her stitches out of her ear and face; the swelling is going down each day. She has met girls from the singles ward and her nurses from the hospital came last night and took her to dinner.
Nicole is writing Jada’s obituary, sewing Jada’s burial dress, being with her kids, and organizing things for this weekend.
Her neck is in a brace (for about 5 more weeks or so) and she will have follow up appointments in the coming weeks. She is still having residual effects from her concussion and forgets things occasionally. She is not comfortable to take care of all of these details by herself yet (totally understandable) and is doing the best she can with what is on her plate. So if you have called or e-mailed or texted her and she has not responded, please know that she is doing the best she can and she knows you are concerned for her. If she responded to everyone, she would not have the time or energy to do all that she needs to do to prepare for this weekend.
Thank Heaven for our angels Berny, Cathy, Christa, and Val (and her daughter Sierra)! They have all been here at different times to help with the millions of details that have had to be dealt with. What amazing women! We have grown to love them all.
Many thanks to the Madeiras and Evers for all they did when the accident happened. They were amazing. Also many thanks to Nicole’s mom, dad and brother Cody who came and for all their love and support as well. Sister Joey is on her way and Vivian will visit for a couple of days.
This Saturday I will take Joey, Nicole and kids to Amarillo. We will dress Jada’s body and Nicole and the kids will have private family time with Jada and say their goodbyes to her. The mortician has been wonderful and will keep Jada as long as needed until further arrangements need to be made.
After their goodbyes we will be staying with President Vest and his family (Amarillo Stake President) overnight and will attend sacrament meeting with them Sunday morning. After lunch we will head back to Lubbock. Nicole, kids, and friends will stay at Chief (Carl) and Carlene Mortensen’s home. They are distant cousins. Wonderful people. They will stay there as long as needed; our main focus is to make sure Nicole and the kids physical wounds are healing properly. This will take weeks. We will also deal with the emotional/mental part as that comes more to the surface. Our stake president and a member of the high council (Cami and Jane’s Dad) visited a few days ago (both are family therapists) and met the family. Their professional services will be available as needed.
There are no plans in the works right now for Jada’s funeral, burial, or memorial service. That isn’t the focus at the moment. Jada is taken care of and there is no rush. Those things will probably not take place for months. We are focusing on Nicole’s family right now and when God lets Nicole know where she’s supposed to live, settle, and begin her new life, then she will proceed; that decision is between her and God. We will let all of you know what the plan is when she gets her answers. Nicole and her family are in God’s hands; they are in the loving arms of the Lubbock Texas Saints, and every need they have is being taken care of. We will keep you posted---
Thank you for all your love, support, concern, and prayers. They are being felt here and God’s mercy and grace is being poured out upon them. Thank you for sharing your wonderful friends and family with us in Lubbock. We have grown very attached to them and it has been, and will continue to be an honor to serve and love them. They have taught us how to face adversity with dignity, grace, and unwavering faith. We will keep them here as long as God allows!
Feel free to call or e-mail me with any questions, correspondence, requests, etc.
Monday, June 20, 2011
Friday was wonderful in so many ways.
Friday was Jace’s birthday. There’s nothing I love more than an excuse to celebrate that wonderful boy.
Friday was day filled with sun, and everyone knows how much I love those.
Everyone was hyper. Including me. Aria wanted me to wear her “sunnies” and I was more than happy to oblige.
And then there was the round of excitement where the kids are all ready and we’re just waiting for the mothers to get home from the nail salon. It included things like running around chasing the bird and me unsuccessfully trying to throw Aria to Jace on the second floor.
Then, FINALLY, the cooler was loaded and everyone was properly lathered in sunblock and we had all the necessary plastic pool toys and flimsy noodles perfect for hitting kids on the head. We were sufficiently prepared for the magical pool that is always the highlight of resting our heads in this tiny town.
I perfected my dive in the adult pool and then played tag with the kids in the little pool. I spent the afternoon in the hot Texas sun darting through caves and underneath waterfalls fighting through the water to get just close enough to tag my siblings and be relieved from the heavy responsibility of being “it”. I gave dolphin rides and helped with handstands and spent hours supervising and participating in trips down the winding waterslide.
I mean honestly, the lake surrounding the pool looked just as inviting. Maybe not to anyone other than me, but that was good enough for me. Oh, and that’s a security guard making his rounds, ensuring that people don’t get roughed up in the cave, Texas style.
Jace had the most fun, since it was his birthday.
Actually he just really hates pictures.
Everything really is bigger in Texas, right down to the summer winds that topple entire tables, spilling vanilla bean dip on my bag and my shorts and causing little children to run in terror.
Regardless, I think it was safe to say everyone had fun.
[Tell me that’s not an Alyssa smile right there.]
Despite the circumstances, made worse by idiotic words and untimely text messages, she is getting better, back to her normal self. Proof? The first thing she did when we got here was clean out the fridge despite the protestings of the owner. And on one of their shopping trips she brought me home a white cardigan because she saw one and knew I needed one. Hello, Normal Nicole. I have missed you.
After spending an ample amount of time in the pool we decided to take the paddle boats for a ride around the lake. Our first attempt was aboard the African Queen. Full of excitement and energy, we boarded the dinky little plastic boat.
Jace and Jada braced themselves and started paddling backwards furiously, fighting the wind and a hole that was throwing off the navigation of the boat.
It became clear after a few minutes that we weren’t getting anywhere and that it had nothing to do with the determination of the paddlers. We ran aground only a few minutes after departing and had to be rescued by a maintenance worker named Sam who assisted us from the banks with a shovel.
We returned to the dock, exchanged our unreliable African Queen for a trusty yellow duck, and headed off once more.
We rounded the first bend after quite a delay much to the delight of our supporters, elated to see us and relieved that we’d made it the first few yards.
Jace and I were the resident paddlers. I doubt Jada could have made it very far, bless her short-legged heart.
See how my wrist no longer has a watch on it? That was the only lasting casualty from this trip. I have really bad luck with watches meeting Texas. It never ends well. I feel very lost without my watch.
I took a break after the exhausting ride to take some more pictures, drink water, and then resume documenting. The three girls decided to brave the waters on their own. We advised them to take the duck.
I ran to the other side of the complex to take some more picture and found them pulling up to the bank to see if I’d seen them get soaked by the water fountain. The girls were delighted because “Mom took us ALL THE WAY through it and got SOAKED! Even in her HAT!”. I was sad to have missed it, but they were thrilled to have an excuse to do it again.
I have to say, I was perplexed. They didn’t seem to touch the water at all. I thought maybe I had missed something, or maybe the wind was carrying the water further than I could see. As it turned out, the wind was just pushing them too fast for me to get a picture. So they circled around with their weary legs and tried again.
It was such a beautiful day, such clear water, so free of stress and so filled with happiness.
At the end of the day the ladies left to “start dinner” [read: get first dibs on shower] while Jace and I led the kids in sucking every last drop of fun and sun out of the day. We loaded everything up into the car, winced as the hot seats burned our already burned legs, and drove home.
While the girls started showering and actually staring dinner Jace, John, and I went to the store to get some essentials we were missing. Here’s the thing about Texas: everything is far away. There’s just no getting around it. The store we went to was 45 minutes away. Wal-Mart is a good 20 minutes away. The nearest gas station is further away than our closest Wal-Mart in Florida. It’s something I’ve noticed about the mid-west that I’m not sure I’m fond of. I miss the convenience of Florida—everything is around the corner. School, church, stores, libraries, parks, EVERYTHING is less than eight minutes away (even less if I’m the one driving). But out here there’s a big separation between commercial and residential. The houses are here. There are a few of them. The stores are there. There are a few of them. There are never a million or either, and the two rarely overlap. The roads are wide and endless, as are the fields of dead yellow that encompass them. I certainly don’t love that. What I do love is the speed limits here. That is one thing that is consistently bigger here. The lowest speed limit I’ve seen is 45 mph. Roads that would be 45 in Florida are 65 here. Love that. Except that people here don’t appreciate it at all. I still fly past people as I drive legally. We got to the store after a long drive listening to Motownphilly a few times and took our time browsing through all the oddities. We ended up getting sushi and salt and vinegar chips just for the ride home. We’d hate to starve on the long trek. Man that was some gooood sushi.
We made it back home, already hungry again because of the long and grueling drive. We were please to find a delicious Mexican dinner awaiting us—quesadillas and Poblano peppers and yellow rice and chips and salsa and all the other highlights of Americanized Mexican cuisine.
Then it was time for the festivities.
I love Jace so much. He is such a wonderful, upstanding boy. He has taken on so much responsibility and always willingly does all the ‘man’ things—kill the roach and carry the heavy things and check the tire pressure. He has such a big heart and is so eager to protect us all. He is the most wonderful brother I could ask for.
The girls started by getting him to walk under the landing and then dumping balloons on him.
After the ceremonial balloon dropping we feasted on cheesecake and homemade mint chocolate chip ice cream.
After singing and appropriately being amazed and thrilled by his gifts we continued the party by playing spoons. Well…some of us played while others wrestled and made rules for their secret club.
Spoons is an intense game in this house, not to be taken lightly.
Everyone had their game faces on.
Most especially our newly sixteen year old.
The next morning was Saturday. [I’m Rebecca Black here to tell you that Saturday comes after Friday. And Sunday comes after thaaat.] Saturday means Saturday jobs, wherever you are. We vacuumed and started laundry and cleaned the kitchen.
See that? That is every one of my siblings cleaning. At the same time. Someone else’s house. They are wonderful when they want to be.
Later that afternoon we got to have the adventure of a lifetime. I packed up the little girls and drug them to Plano to see some wonderful people. We swam in a volleyball and played with girls that I named Pistol and Starfish and Rainbow and Sunshine. Then we had tacos and watched National Treasure. It was a grand evening. And it’s always an adventure being the adult and dragging my little fan club everywhere I go.
You know a family loves you when you find pieces of yourself on their fridge.
I feel very loved.
[Title from Fearless by Taylor Swift]