Today, I had to spend a couple of hours at a doctor's office having a painful test. So, I took the time to think about my youngest daughter, Stefie. Just thinking about her tiny frame and her big personality brings me joy. She is 20 years old and not 100 pounds, even soaking wet to the bone. Her first year of college was at Texas A&M-Galveston as she had been accepted into the Marine Biology degree plan/program. Her first year at college required that she stay in the dorm on the second floor, no elevator. The co-ed dorm was an education for the old momma here...every neighbor was a male-version of "dude." Her first school year, living in a dorm, mostly around guys, was enough to make this Addisonian carry PLENTY of meds when visiting. Thankfully, she was surrounded by the most awesome young men...all watching out for their little Stefie and her just-as-tiny room-mate who had been a best-friend since they were young girls. We had no idea that this tight-knit community would soon be put to the test.
Last year, my husband and I had just bought a new little car. An adorable, zippy Chevrolet Caliber. I took some extra time when selecting this economical vehicle so I could check out the airbags and side air curtains along with the other safety features. Glad I did. During Stefie's 1st semester away, she announced that she and three of her A&M-Galveston buddies would be driving to the main campus at College Station so they could go to a football game and basically hang out with other A&M friends for the weekend. Yes, we let the kids take our brand new car, after we'd rattled on and on about the rules. Stefie did not feel like driving, so her boyfriend, Dustin, was the driver. A good Mississippi boy who was studying Nuclear Engineering and who grew up on a farm and hunted for the food that sat in his freezer. On their way to College Station, I told myself to chill out. I reminded myself about my oldest daughter; she was in her last year of college at A&M-College Station and would get her Biology degree. Things were pretty awesome.
Through the weekend, I stayed in touch with the girls. The sisters enjoyed getting to see each other since they attended different campuses. The weekend had been long and full. Soon, it was time to head back toward the coastline. I knew they were driving toward Houston and I periodically checked my watch. I had a bad feeling and even texted that sentiment to my daughter. She texted back that they had got a late start, but were on their way. Within a short time after our last worried-mommy-communication, my cell phone began ringing and ringing. Upon answering it, I could immediately tell that Stefie's friend, Gordo, was panicked. Why was he calling me from Stefie's cell phone? He sounded scared, "Mrs C, I have something to tell you and it's not good, we've been in a bad car accident and the girls are hurt."
At that moment, it seemed like my life zoned in on one thing...getting to Stefie. I felt wildly out of control, but managed to remain clear headed enough to ask Gordo if he could get Stefie to talk on the phone. Then it hit me...Why didn't SHE make the call to her mother? Wary, I asked, "Gordo,where is Stefie? Is she okay? What about Corey?" Gordo sounded as if he were crying, "I don't know if they are ok; I don't know. It's a bad accident, the car flipped." I was stunned. Gordo began sobbing, "I am so sorry Mrs. C., I am so very sorry." I told Gordo to calm down and asked if he were ok. He said he thought he was, then I asked him to tell me what was going on and he gave the cell to a paramedic on site while explaining Stefie's mom was on the line. "Yes Mam," the paramedic began, "We are going to airbus your daughter and her friend to Ben Taub Trauma Unit in Houston's Medical Center. We will be leaving shortly." At that, we were disconnected.
I was in shock. I knew it had to be very bad because Ben Taub takes the worst of the worst. Needing a Lifeflight transport worsened the situation. My husband and I got on the road. We live about 30 minutes from Houston's Medical Center and it's a good thing that my husband was driving. I had little self control. Within minutes, the paramedics thoughtfully called us back on Stefie's cell to let us know there were no available airbuses, so had started for Memorial Hermann Hospital in the medical center with both girls in the same ambulance. Turns out, this day was full of tragedy for Houston with not enough EMS on ground or by air to meet the demand. So, David and I drove straight there as I spoke with my oldest daughter and with my sister who prayed with me and prayed with me. Actually, I can be a prayer warrior, but this time brought me completely to my knees --- I'd never prayed in tongues, but my brain and mouth could not work together to form proper words, but I was still praying, but it was nonsensical to the normal person's ears, so I guess I was praying in tongues, to my Lord. All my emotion was flowing out of me in deep prayer, but too heavy for mere words to convey. Softly I prayed in tongues and never again will I question this "strange practice." Obviously, God listens. We can be out of our right mind and He still listens. He is awesome.
The kids were in their compact car and were hit at a major freeway intersection by a full-sized truck. Their car flipped several times over the median, knocking down signs, the hatchback of the car popped open and all the contents therein were strewn all over the road and those precious four kids in the car were each seat-belted and becoming quite smashed about. The two tiny girls sat in the backseat, trying to get rest on the way home. The two guys sat in front, but Stefie's boyfriend, Dustin was not driving. The other young man, Gordo, was driving. Now, Gordo is a great kid, but he is still a little too distracted by life, in general, to be in charge of a vehicle full of kids while driving a brand new car that he is unfamiliar with. Not a good recipe.
In a blur, we made it to the hospital and the girls had already arrived. For several hours, they would not let my friend Lynn and I see our babies. They would give not one solid update, other than, "they are being assessed." I've worked in this system plenty enough to learn that the hospital staff sometimes lies. I've seen it in action, twice. My mother's best-friend lost her daughter to a car accident - the hospital called to say that she had broken her leg and needed a ride home. Once they arrived at the hospital to take their daughter home, they were informed that she was dead. Then, about ten years ago, my own best-friend got a call from Hermann (same hospital my daughter has been transported to) and the nurse said her daughter had a broken arm and to please come up to the hospital so she could get a ride home. Same thing. My dear friend was not in a dire rush to make it to the hospital because she was thinking the problem was a broken arm and perhaps an emotionally shaken up daughter - my friend was already thinking about how they were going to help her daughter carry her school books to high school in the coming weeks. Then, she arrived at Hermann, went to the nurse's desk and they proceeded to tell her that her 16 year old beautiful daughter was dead. Severe bodily injury. Nothing could have been done. So, I didn't trust anything the hospital would tell me. I needed to see my daughter with my own eyes.
After about 4-5 hours of waiting with my crazed lack of coherent thoughts, a nurse came out and said, "Only one of you may go in," and since my husband was not paying attention, I hauled to the nurse's side and said, "Let's go." They brought me to a gurney with Stefie laying on it and she looked like a little angel, an angel in great pain with tears flowing down the sides of her face, her mouth softly whispering, "I'm sorry about the new car, I'm so sorry." I put my hand over her shaking hand and saw that the rest of her body was severely shivering and she gritted her teeth in pain, and I said, "No more saying I'm sorry. God has protected you and I am grateful. That car is a bunch of metal - the car is worthless to us, but you are priceless."
We held hands as she suffered with pains and tears kept rolling down the sides of her face. We talked a moment in hushed tones mixed with tears and I could immediately tell something was really wrong. She kept squeezing her eyes shut every few seconds and her body would go rigid. Yes, I knew, with a mother's intuition, that there was a serious issue with her back. And she had been repeating some of the same questions to me and I sweetly answered them every time, thinking she was in shock. Since a couple of gun shot victims were being wheeled next to us at the time - one of the gunshot victims sitting up on his gurney with blood pouring from his chest and he was screaming and being combative, so we were doing our best to get information about my Stefie in the middle of chaos. Finally, a young nurse said Stefie had already had a CT Scan of her spine and head; she did have a fracture in her lower spine and a head injury. The head injury left a large bruise on her brain that would take at the minimum of 4 months to heal and during that time she would have short-term, repeated memory loss and bouts of nausea. I was so grateful to God because all of those issues can have healing, even if the memory could never be recovered.
My daughter's little friend, Corey, lay nearby on another gurney and she'd had it rough. Later, we would see the inside of our totaled car and the blood splatter on the seats and walls from Corey's internal injuries causing her to vomit blood as Stefie lay hanging sideways and upside down in her seatbelt with a broken back. The scene of the accident was grim. A nice young man stopped to help these girls; he prayed with my daughter there at the scene as she waited to be taken away by paramedics. Over the days the followed the accident she just kept referring to her "angel" at the accident scene, but her memory failed her beyond that. Due to her head injury, she remembers nothing leading up to the accident and nothing about the accident except for three things: 1) the blood as Corey vomited, and 2) ants biting her as her body was pulled from the wreckage to the center of the grassy knoll, and 3) An "angel" holding her hand and praying with her. This angel was across the street, stopping at a convenience store as he was making his way to a family wedding. So, he had his camera on him, literally. He missed the wedding and the opportunity to take awesome, beautiful shots of the bride and groom, instead, he took pictures of the accident. He emailed them to me. At first, I was scared to open the file and to see the photos. But, personally, seeing the car at the crash site gave me a shock, but helped with closure.
My daughter is tough. She's a chip off this old block. After six weeks of lying straight on her back, she made the brave decision with her room-mate, that they would both return to school. A&M had been so kind by arranging take-home exams, online tests, etc., so they could still continue with their classes. The school offered to move the girls dorm room down to the 1st floor, but they both vigorously rebelled. They wanted to return to school and have everything be as "normal" as possible. No changes. Stefie would have to climb two flights of stairs with a lumbar fracture. But, she was determined and she did it while wincing and sucking in air, but she did it. Over the following weeks, her good friends learned to listen to the same story or questions over and over and over, without complaint. The school had four kids involved in this serious accident, yet the student body and staff pulled together to do their best to help each child continue forward, with success. It meant the world to me.
Stefie finished her first year at Texas A&M-Galveston beautifully - all classes finished, with a solid GPA. She'll always be an Aggie, but this accident changed her young life. She was 19 years old when the accident happened and throughout that school year, she had also been volunteering with the Big Sisters Club of Houston - every week she was meeting with a disadvantaged little girl at the local Elementary School. Stefie saw her hardships; she wanted to do more, so she decided to become a Child Life Specialist. In fact, Texas Children's Hospital in Houston has the largest Child Life Specialist department in the nation. They are a leader in this area.
Stefie had gotten plenty of "thinking" time while looking at the ceiling for months and she thought about her car accident injuries having an impact on her life and she thought out her mother's illness and the impact that it had on the entire family. She wished that she would've had a Child Life Specialist help her through the worst, during her childhood. So, she did her research and bravely changed her major. Now, she again lives full-time upstairs, basically has her own "apartment" up on the 2nd story of our house and she is quite content to live at home while she pushes herself to excel in college. A go-getter, she is also a Montessori Teacher and loves her job. She is wonderful with children. I am so proud of my daughter and all the hurdles she has surpassed. So many kids would've quit. She didn't. So many kids would've slowed down and lost focus completely. She didn't. She kept going and then tweaked her plan to make it better fit her life. It took courage and I admire her strength.
Our household has seen its share of struggles...I just hope to not break out into a fit of praying in tongues any time soon again because I sure know that it would hold significance.
Today, my daughter's spark and her gusto for life and for family and for reaching hard-earned goals brings me such comfort and it encourages me. Even when I have a rough day, I think about how much worse it could be and I remember the night we got to bring Stefie home from the hospital - she sat in the front seat of the Dodge truck with her daddy, propped up so her back could be supported as best as possible for the ride home. I sat in the back with tears rolling down my cheeks while singing praise songs to Jesus the entire way home. No one said anything as I sung because we each understood very well how different this scenario could have been...the Lord was letting us bring our baby home. We would nurture her until she was well...we were going home, with her, Praise God. Mercy was upon us.
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