Thursday, April 15, 2010

Life can change in an instant

I usually write about fashion & lifestyle topics here, but April 15th is a significant day in our house, & not just because taxes are due. Seven years ago today, I nearly lost my husband. Actually, he was my fiancee at the time; our wedding was set for October 31, 2003.

What happened? J is an architect & was standing on a 16-foot ladder, trying to get onto the roof of a building that his firm was renovating. It was unusually hot that day & the roof hatch was stuck; as he gave the hatch an especially hard push, the ladder came out from under him. Fortunately, someone was with him & called 911 immediately. The stairs were narrow & rickety, so the fire department had to remove him from the building via a fourth-floor window - downtown, at rush hour, no less. The ambulance immediately took him to Shock Trauma, not far from the site of the accident.

I knew nothing of this for several hours. When I got home from work, there were phone messages from his office & mine; people had been frantically trying to get a hold of me. I finally spoke with his firm's secretary & was told he'd been in an accident on the job site. The fact that he'd been taken to Shock Trauma made me (literally) sick to my stomach. As the name implies, you don't end up there unless you're in pretty bad shape. Because we weren't married yet, it took me a couple of hours to get the hospital's authorization to drive downtown & see J. All that time, I had no idea what had happened, only that it was very serious.

When I arrived at the hospital, J was on a gurney, naked except for a sheet. His clothes had been cut off at the accident scene. (Ever the smart alec, he informed me of his clothesless state with a smirk.) I stayed with him into the wee hours of the morning, only leaving the room when the hospital staff needed to x-ray him or (ugh) put his right leg in traction. The results of the x-rays were frightening: he'd fractured his right shoulder & broken the right side of his pelvis in five places, including the hip socket. J is a marathon runner who has qualified for Boston twice. When I asked one of the doctors when he'd be able to run again, she replied, "Run? Let's work on walking first." Hardly what I wanted to hear, and I was glad J was on so much morphine that he missed that comment. Eventually, we decided it was best for me to go home and get some sleep (something which was not going to come that night without the aid of a cocktail!)

J spent a week in the hospital. He could have been operated on within a day or two, but the hospital wanted the best orthopaedic surgeon on their staff to do the surgery, so we had to wait untill the weekend. It was a very long week. I paid no attention to visiting hours, staying far beyond those times, & am sure I made a few enemies on the hospital staff, but I was too worried about J to care. I brought him balloons, food, a plant, an Easter basket, magazines - anything I thought might cheer him up. At first, he was on too much morphine to read; he'd even nod off in the middle of a sentence, sleep for a few minutes, & pick up the conversation where he'd left off, providing both of us with some much-needed comic relief.

Finally, the surgery was done; Humpty Dumpty had been put back together again. The breaks had been very clean & J was in great health before the fall, so his prognosis was as good as it could be. A physical therapist began teaching him to bounce up & down a flight of stairs on his backside - an important skill, since he wouldn't be able to walk for 10 weeks - & he was sent home. Despite the stair-bouncing lessons, he spent his first few weeks at home in a rented hospital bed that took up a substantial portion of our living room. He received in-home physical therapy, spent a lot of time watching movies, & even did some work from home (talk about an odd reason to be telecommuting!) Luckily, he had excellent Worker's Compensation coverage through his firm; otherwise, this medical adventure would have cost us a quarter of a million dollars.

J was a model patient & made an amazing recovery. Our wedding went on as scheduled - we even performed in a play together the month before the Big Day - & he wasn't up to much running on our honeymoon, but snorkeling was fine. He was able to resume running marathons in 2004 & has since been in a few "ultra-running" events as well, including a 50-miler to celebrate his 50th birthday in 2008. The doctors warned him that he may eventually develop arthritis in his right hip, but so far, he's had no sign of that.

Awful as this whole ordeal was for us, we were very lucky. J could have been paralyzed or even killed in such a serious fall. As I mentioned before, we were well-insured, so we were spared the financial ruin that can accompany a medical catastrophe. We also had amazing support from our families, friends, & co-workers, for which we're grateful every day, not just on April 15th.

Oh, & I caught J on a stepladder in the kitchen this morning, which gave us both a good laugh. He has to climb a larger ladder in the show he's currently rehearsing. As long as there's no roof hatch involved, I guess I can deal with that... but I'll try not to think about it.


  1. Oh my... what a harrowing story. I am so glad it has a happy ending and the two of you are stronger for having gone through that together. xo

  2. wow, I had never heard the whole story before, so happy it wasn't worse for J! You must have been out of your mind at first, I can't imagine going through that

  3. What a story! I am so glad he made a full recovery. You are a wonderful couple and lucky to have each other.