Crisp cool day outside of Portland Oregon.
(Please be advised: Some pictures may be too graphic for younger readers.)
In the early fall of 2013,
I prayed a prayer.
It was sincere
and one I felt an urgency to pray.
I had no idea the life altering challenges
I would face after praying this prayer.
I asked God to “break me”.
Two simple words.
I took a deep breath and continued. I asked him to prune off everything that is hindering me and to restore me into what He has wanted and intended for me to be. I wanted to go to a much deeper level in my walk with God and I trusted Him with whatever that meant. I was absolutely certain of two things; He would answer this prayer, and I was sure of His unfailing love. Indeed, that two word prayer started the process. It also started a series of events that would shake me to the core.
This is just one of the events.
On April 12, 2014 I had an odd feeling that I could not shake; this day would be different.
I felt it.
I knew it.
I took ample time in my thoughts to try to calm the pit in my stomach. It was a crisp cool day in our small suburb town outside of Portland. The sun poked out above the far too often white-grey clouds that are typical for us. I pulled open the blinds in our cozy breakfast area and looked out over our beautiful back yard into the green-way that shelters a patch of ground for local hikers and nature enthusiasts. I breathed in deep at the sight, but still no relief of the achy pit that remained. I tried to explain it away several times, but the gut wrenching “knowing” could not deny something was going to happen. I went about my day as normally as I could.
I thought about a conversation I had with my son several months prior. It gnawed at me. Distance is always a concern in cases of emergency for parents when their children go off to college, get married or get a new job. My son’s job was working on high-voltage electrical lines as an apprentice, many states away.
I began to silently pray and ask God for His help…for whatever was coming.
I finished my typical Saturday chores, sat down on my couch, opened my laptop and started doing some online searches. I felt a need to follow through on the conversation with my son from a few months back and purchase a few items that I had talked about. They were very specific items, but nothing that was outside of an ordinary purchase.
Looking back, it was a mothers’ frail, but instinctive attempt to “comfort”.
Nathan was a thousand miles away in Texas:
a young, healthy, vibrant man working long hours
and loving the field he chose several years before.
After working, many nights he will go to the gym and strategically work on the muscle group in the plan that he has for the day.
I have been amazed at his persistence and perseverance to continue to do this while in training for his job. “Who has energy and time for all this?”, I would often ask myself. This, however, would prove important in the events to come.
Here I sat; on my couch in Oregon, filling a list of “things” I felt he needed for a reason I could not shake. Several hours passed, the orders placed and the urgent, uneasy feeling stayed.
I got a call in the evening of April 12th around 9:30 pm.
Nathan was in a serious accident.
One of his closest friends, Dylan whom he refers to as “his brother” began to tell me what happened. He became so upset while trying to tell me that he became ill and handed over the phone to another friend.
I thought my son was dead.
In those milliseconds, I felt my knees go weak
and my heart felt as if it was being ripped out of my chest.
My mind raced. I knew immediately why I had felt the way I had earlier in the day. The other person got on the phone. I could not get the question out quick enough.
“Is Nathan alive?”, I feebly asked.
“Yes!”, he quickly responded. My son was, indeed, very much alive! I found out that the accident did not happen on the electrical lines as one would have expected, but on his motorcycle going very fast. My mind raced to the miraculous knowledge that he was actually alive.
“Thank you God!” slid quietly through my lips.
Hope came and filled my heart.
The months of preparation in my faith and trust in God made sense. Looking back, I had never been challenged to this degree in what I was going to see in those coming days, and how utterly convinced I now am that God prepares us, when we are still enough to listen and willing to listen.
I remember asking questions of myself within those first moments of the call.
Do I really, truly trust God?
With everything dear to me?
The promptings in the weeks and months prior to this had prepared me to be able to answer that very important question. My spouse and a dear friend can attest that I knew something was coming, as I mentioned it several times.
Even that day.
I knew my son was alive! This in of itself was an absolute miracle when hearing the details of his accident. Gods hand had not only been with Nathan the entire journey, but literally carried him through, cradling him in those moments that could have easily taken his life. Going at that speed was fast, for anyone, even my son. On the long vacant stretch of road just before he reaches his home is where the accident happened; so very close to the safety of the walls of his small dwelling, but too far from any comfort they would hold.
It was a warm night and he pushed the limits; of speed, safety and the decision to take a risk. With no traffic and being just a short distance from his house, he and his friends cruised this stretch of pavement many times without incident. On a whim he “punched it”, as they put it, for just a few minutes; long enough to get the speed of his bike up to a breakneck three figure number. When he glanced down and saw his speed, he immediately let off the gas. He looked up just in time to see a black dog right in front of his bike.
His world instantly changed.
Nathan said that when people describe going in slow motion during an impact or accident, it is absolutely true.
He felt his body go head over heals as his motorcycle crashed into the poor dog, slicing it in half on impact. As his bike was falling out from under him, his shoes were knocked off his feet as they struck the pavement. Momentarily landing on his feet, he slid, burning the soles off of his socks. Not a patch of skin on his heals were burned. The speed at which Nathan’s unprotected body was going was so fast that he lost his balance. At 120 mph he began rolling, then bouncing and then the gut wrenching sliding…burning his skin on the areas not covered by the leather jacket and pants he had declined to wear just before the ride.
Over and over again
on the long 250 feet of pavement,
he felt his head bouncing as his helmet repeatedly hit the pavement.
What remained of his new bike came to rest less than 10 feet from a telephone pole. Pieces scattered along the blood streaked road.
Remains of Nathan’s bike; the handlebars are missing (the bike was totaled).
Friends that were riding behind stopped, not believing what they saw. Friends he worked with side by side every day putting their lives “on the line”, saw Nathan’s on the line. One friend in particular had been trained in triage in the military and began assessing his bloody wounds, making sure no major arteries had been compromised. Seeing this was not the source of the blood and he was safe to travel, he was not about to wait on an ambulance and decided to take Nathan in himself. He sprung into action; gathered Nathan into his truck and began the drive to the hospital at equally breakneck speed.
These young men trusted each other with their lives.
This day would be no exception.
Continuing to trust in God’s protection became critical in my response to the call. He was still alive. I was able to talk to him briefly; just long enough to hear his voice and hear him say he needed me there with him when I asked what I should do.
I had to get to him.
Texas is a long way from Oregon.
God had plans to show me that regardless of how far away my son was in miles, that He, God, was close and in control. He would be one step ahead in the journey, every inch of the way. My husband was able to find a flight leaving within two hours of the call and arriving in Houston at 6 a.m. the next morning. I quickly packed, hurried out the door and was on my way. Shaking and trying to manage the temptation of bursting into tears, I rolled down the windows. I breathed in deep, the same crisp fresh air of a city I needed to escape.
I drove to the Portland International Airport. I’m still not certain of the route I took to this very day. I pulled up to the Long Term Parking gate, grabbed my ticket and ahead of me was one open parking spot. I almost gave in to the earlier temptation to cry, but for very different reasons… “Thank you God…again!” came from my lips.
Shuttles are usually a 20-30 minute wait time, especially late at night in long term parking. On this night God had other plans. I got out of my car and opened the trunk. As I pulled out the last of my luggage and shut the trunk lid, I turned around just as the shuttle was pulling in. The shuttle was no more than 20 feet away.
I waved excitedly to the driver. Once I got settled on the shuttle the driver said to me, “Ma’am, in all the years I’ve worked here, this has only happened a couple of times. If anyone else would have been on this shuttle I would not have been allowed to stop. You’re lucky tonight.” I looked at the driver and said, “Sir, tonight is not luck. God has been one step ahead all along getting me on the road to my son who was in a bad motorcycle accident just a few hours ago. Thank you for stopping for me!” The driver was stunned and all he could say was “Wow Ma’am that is for sure. I hope your son is okay”. I told the driver about the parking spot too, as if he didn’t know where he just picked me up from!
The driver kept glancing at me as if he had something to say as he continued to pick up a few more passengers on this late night route. We drove in to the drop off area and I could not get off fast enough. He made a point of getting off the shuttle to tell me once more, that he hoped my son would be okay and that he was glad he was there to pick me up. I smiled and thanked him. I knew that God wasn’t just making a statement to me but also to this kind man who took time for me.
God would continue to show all of us that He was with Nathan during this crisis and that He never left his side. He was even with his mother a thousand miles away, making a way for her to be there too. In the moments of the accident, the hours, days and weeks ahead, He was there. God never promised easy. God never promised we would be without pain or agony, only that He would never leave us.
I would need to remember this too.
I arrived at the Houston Airport. Nathan was in the Memorial Herman Trauma Center emergency room. It is one of the best hospitals in the area. Every single moment in the car was irritating to me being so close, but yet so far. Finally arriving at the Trauma Center and rushing to the ER, I grabbed the name badge that would finally allow me to see my son. With each step I was closer to him. As I turned one last corner, I finally laid eyes on him. Nathan lay on a gurney, surrounded by monitors.
As I walked closer, I noticed Nathan’s color was good and incredibly there seemed to be no head injuries with the exception of one small area above his eye.
His elbows, sections of his arms and shoulders were burnt black from the pavement. It was painful to look at and I found after just a few moments I could no longer look upon his injuries without feeling ill. As I got closer to the gurney…
I turned my gaze to Kim.
Kim, is Nathan’s fiancé.
She was by his side looking tired but relieved. I rushed over to her and hugged her. I too, was relieved and deeply thankful for her being with him and caring for him.
He opened his eyes and saw that I was there and in a gruff, quiet voice thanked me for coming. I could have hugged him tight, had he not been in so much pain, but I kissed his forehead instead. I have never been so glad to see my son as I was at that moment.
The experience in the ER for Nathan was just the beginning of a kind of pain that no one can understand unless they have been through it. Different areas of Nathan’s body had been burned from the friction from sliding on the pavement. He slid a long way; 250 feet on bare tender flesh. It’s called “Road Rash” and the name does not do it justice.
Nathan was finally released from the emergency room after several hours and moved to the Burn Unit of the trauma center where they could treat his wounds. He was heavily sedated, as burns are one of the most painful injuries a person can have. Burn Units are unique in that they have their own ventilation system separate from the hospital. The reason for separation is because burns are extremely vulnerable to infections and hospitals are laden with bacteria.
Another complication is the particles of dirt, sand and gravel that are burnt into the skin from the road. They have to get it out. They have to scrub it out. This was no different just because the patient’s name was Nathan. They had to do everything they could to make sure his skin was completely cleaned and scrubbed. If any bacteria would be present or left in an open wound it would spread and the risk would be great.
This young healthy man was briefed in the first few hours of being in the burn unit on what he was about to experience and the pain that would be involved. They explained that they would give him several different types of pain medication, some would be pills and some would be injected. This “cocktail” was for the different nerve layers of the skin that had been affected dependant on the depth of the burn. They would then scrub his skin for as long as he could stand it and inject or give pain medications again as they went; repeating until done.
He said he was ready. He said he could stand on his own.
This massive, muscular young man that looked more like a linebacker of a football team than an electrical lineman’s apprentice, stood, grimacing with pain. They took him down the hall.
We sat and we waited. Thinking we heard something familiar, something unnerving, we bolted up out of our chairs.
We heard screams from down the hall.
I did not think this was him. It couldn’t be him. My brain would not accept the sound of my own son’s suffering. When I looked over at his fiancés face and that it looked ashen, I knew then that I was hearing Nathan in those distant screams. I could not believe what was happening and wished there was a way he didn’t have to go through this, that there was something, anything, to take the pain away from what they were doing. I felt sick; I wanted it to be me, not him. But I couldn’t, and it was. No matter how much Kim and I “wished” that he didn’t have to go through this pain and suffering, he had to, to get well. Our grief was so deep, we could barely speak. I couldn’t pray. I could barely think.
They did this until his wounds were cleaned out.
He came back into his room exhausted and heavily medicated. The thick white puffy bandages with stretchy mesh covered his body. There seemed to be a mental comfort in the softness of the bandages and mesh that seemed to “hold in” the cruel wounds underneath. He rested as much as the pain meds would allow him to. The special cocktail given for the delicate nerve pain in the multiple layers of his skin, worked only for so long.
Each painful movement in his sleep would birth a deep groan.
We spent days learning about the care of burns from his nurses. His fiancé was willing to learn the technique so that she could care for him. The dedication that she showed for him during those days and weeks was relentless and brave. Burn patients are not easy patients to work with and Nathan was no exception. Kim showed patience beyond anything I have seen in the face of such pain. She remained unmoved, no matter the outcry or expletives, knowing underneath this she was treating the man she loved and cared for. I grew to deeply love this amazing young woman in those days and felt a sense of peace knowing she was there.
Kim and I slept on the concrete floor of Nathan’s room on either side of his bed with a sheet and pillow. One of the nurses found out after a few nights and brought in a lounge chair. She had a soft heart and allowed both of us to stay, as this was against the rules. They bent the rules upon telling them the story. We were very grateful for the respite of a single lounge chair and the comfort it would give.
Each day in the Burn Unit would be important in his healing.
Kim took great care in his regimen. A special antibiotic salve would be spread on every inch of skin that was burned. following this, a layer of yellow thickly soaked gauze material would be carefully placed over the salve. On top of the yellow gauze, soft pillow-like white gauze would be soaked in sterile saline solution then wrapped over the yellow soaked gauze, covering every inch. A soft pillow-like white gauze rolled over top of this, then a stretchy white mesh was put in place to hold it together. She would then tie the ends together. It took hours. It was grueling for him. It was grueling for Kim. I felt helpless watching.
This process, regardless of how long it took gave him the protection he needed. His muscular mass and strength, the very specific nutrition and supplement regimen, on top of the near daily trips to the gym provided a base for healing in a manner that would amaze the doctors.
Days passed, the regimen became quicker, and the routine was in place for his healing.
His aversion to pain meds, the promise that his fiancé was well trained, along with his concern for the large hospital bill helped Nathan to convince the doctors to let him try going home. They warned him of letting the pain go too long; to stay on top of it and to be wary of doing too much too soon.
They released him.
With specific instructions for what to watch for regarding complications, we returned home with bags of gauze, sterile saline solution, mesh and other supplies.
He pushed himself to go home.
We were only home a few days when we noticed his hands swelling. We watched carefully. In the course of just thirty minutes his hands had increased by a fourth of their size. The swelling started going up into his wrist and forearms. There also seemed to be an odd color forming and with the swelling we knew something was terribly wrong.
We needed to act quickly.
We called directly up to the Burn Unit and spoke to one of the doctors. He was having one of the serious complications that they spoke of. He said to get back to the Trauma Center as quickly as we could. He explained to us the protocol was to go through the ER, but that they would be prepared for him when he arrived.
By the time we got to the hospital, his entire left arm was swollen. The grueling hours in the ER were torturous for him as they took off the precious protective mesh, gauze and soothing yellow “second skin” that would keep him out of pain. Every wisp of air that brushed over his open and raw skin felt like a thousand needles on his bare flesh. The hospital gown that did cover parts of his burned, raw skin was sticking and causing even more pain. He had to sit very still and try not to move.
Suddenly, the ER was in a whirlwind of activity.
An influx of seriously wounded people started to arrive. More staff arrived. Another burn patient came in. This patient’s skin looked as if it had melted from his waist up. No hair and barely a face. They forced all family members out, with the exception of me. I told any staff that questioned me that we had called ahead and the Burn Unit was waiting for Nathan, we just had to come through here first. I stood silently by him hoping no one would kick me out.
Nathan’s condition continued to deteriorate.
His left arm was continuing to swell, and now his feet. They could not give him any pain meds without a doctor’s order. There were so many patients and no one seemed to understand the gravity of the situation. They mistook his stillness and his quietness for a lack of need. This seemingly quiet, healthy looking and in control young man was in trouble. It was taking a very long time. Too long. He was in excruciating pain. Trying to sit as still as possible helped him to focus on remaining in control. His face was bright red. He couldn’t talk. He didn’t want me to talk.
Finally, we got a nurses attention and let her know that Nathan needed to get up to the Burn Unit. We told her he had just been released for a few days. I told her that they were waiting on him. As we were talking to the nurse, she started to take his blood pressure in his swollen arm. I told her to stop, and to take it somewhere else. She quickly stopped herself. She realized what she was doing, and proceeded to take it in his leg. His pressure was extremely high. I got mad, not at her, but the situation. I tried to calm myself and I told her the sooner she would call up to the Burn Unit, the sooner we would be one less patient for her. That seemed to make sense to her. I wanted him in the Burn Unit, now and told her I would even take him there myself if they would let me. She understood what was happening as she looked at his arm and his blood pressure.
It finally connected: a dangerous complication was happening.
They finally rushed him up to the Burn Unit. We had the same room, and some of the same staff. The doctor came in and looked at Nathans arm. He looked over the rest of his body and the areas that had become infected. He was very concerned how quickly it was happening. The doctor told Nathan they would start him on medication immediately, but if they could not get the swelling to stop they would have to take him in to surgery. They would have to do an incision down the length of the swelling on his left arm to release the pressure.
Nathan’s pain increased. This time, the pain was not just from the burns, but the swelling and infection. Staph was settling in. He was very sick. The pain intensified. He was now feverish.
He was relapsing into a discouraging situation after such progress.
It was a long night.
He warned us to watch him and to make sure he breathed.
It was an odd statement.
Not much happened that night as he slept nor changed the following day, which in one sense was good. The swelling did not increase further and we were so thankful that did not have to go into surgery. We have that wonderful answer to prayer, I thought. The swelling remained the same for most of the day which was very painful on top of the already sensitive areas of the burns. Staph is a very difficult and dangerous beast and could turn on a dime. They were doing what they could for him.
That evening, I asked Kim to try to get some rest and I would be on watch. She had been caring for him and trying to get some of her work responsibilities caught up in between. She had a lot on her shoulders and I felt helpless just watching her. I became very concerned for her lack of rest and the load she was carrying.
Nathan’s earlier comment lingered and bothered both of us.
What follows has been the single most difficult experience as a parent I have ever had.
Nathan was hurting so intensely that they had to give him large doses of the “cocktail” of pain medication he so despised. They did this to try to give him some relief so he could rest. Nathan did not like the pain meds, as they were a two edged sword, making him feel better in most ways, but far worse in others. Nathan had been in training for weight lifting competition for several years at the time of the accident. Being diligent with his diet and exercise, the affects of the pain meds was something he did not want to have to deal with after all of this. This, ultimately, proved to be part of his quick recovery, but this was not yet part of the story. The pain he was experiencing that night pushed his blood pressure up to 179/135. Even for this strong 27 year old, they had to encourage him to comply with the plan to reduce his pain; and this meant heavily medicating him. The pain eventually would win over that night and he would agree to do as the nurses suggested so that he could get the very important rest he needed.
Watching him during those hours, I could not take away the pain or suffering and no amount of wishing changed anything I was seeing. I know God never promised “easy”. He said He would make a way for us. But at that moment, I really wondered. I had to hold fast that He had purpose in those moments because it took me to the edge of my belief system. Nathan had already been through so much. I began to question; could I trust Him with my grown son’s suffering? It was a test of faith to the core.
Then a brief fleeting thought, would I trust Him to help Nathan take his next breath?
Pulling my chair up close to him along side his hospital bed, I was just inches away if he needed anything. I kept watched and occasionally heard my son’s deep guttural groans. Agony set in as his mother. In my mind I cried to God, knowing what I had to ask could not be granted, but the feeble thoughts were asked of God anyway… “I wish you could take this from him and somehow put it on me!”
When anger started to seep in I had to quickly lay it down.
It was a distraction I could not afford.
Every movement caused him pain.
Then he became oddly still.
His breathing was sporadic and I stood over him several times when it appeared that it had stopped. I would then settle back down in my chair and try to “shake it off”, thinking I was just tired.
I soon noticed something was very wrong. I could not hear him breathe nor did I see him breathe! I instantly stood up to check and bent down close to his face; I watched and listened. Knowing CPR I hoped I would not need to consider this since there were nurses right down the hall.
In my head I began pleading to God that this could not possibly be real, to not be so cruel as to allow my son to die right before my eyes; to please let him breathe! I dared not say it out loud for the fear of even whispering the words would give it power.
I quickly tried lifting his head and turned it from side to side then gently patting his cheeks to try to wake him. Nothing happened. I firmly patted his cheeks a few times. Again, nothing.
I could not wait any longer. I scrambled looking for the nurses call button and couldn’t find it hanging anywhere. I was trying to hold my panic in check because I knew this wouldn’t help anything. But my inner voice was screaming “Why can’t I find it, has it slipped underneath him? This cant be happening!”. I felt underneath him on both sides and found nothing and I knew time was critical. My inner voice was screaming louder, “Do I leave him and run down the hall? What am I thinking, I can’t run and leave him here!”
I tapped him firmly on his chest. He didn’t stir in any way. Then I pressed on the front of both of his shoulders in a sort of rocking motion a few times. Nothing. He was rigid and not moving.
Panic set in, deep.
I started hitting his chest with the palms of my hands and calling out his name,
“Nathan, Nathan, please, please breathe!“
I was thinking that this could not possibly be happening right before my eyes, not now, not after all this time. Nurses right down the hall, right in the middle of one of the best hospitals in Houston Texas….
…right in front of…
“GOD, PLEASE, PLEASE…GOD… HELP NATHAN TO BREATHE!
…Please God!!!” …I heard my own voice crying out.
A gasp came from deep in his throat and finally,
My knees went weak and I crumpled down into my chair next to his side, my entire body shaking uncontrollably. “Thank you God, thank you, thank you!”, is all I could say. I sat there, taking in the last few moments; the knowledge I was right next to him and could do nothing, but God could and God did! God was there. I felt a deeper sense of peace than I had felt in many years; God is in control and very much present.
As I sat next to him through the remainder of the night, his breathing became far less labored with each hour that passed.
Then morning came.
His beautiful, pale blue eyes opened.
When he looked around the room that morning;
Peace replaced those pained, furrowed brows.
Peace replaced the look of pain on his face.
I knew he had been held in the arms of God through those hours.
God sat right by us and never left.
Joy replaced fear.
Faith replaced doubt.
People from all over the country had been praying for him and there was no doubt that he had been spared.
Nathan was released to go home a few days later.
When he had been home about week and a half, his wounds were healing so quickly that the Burn Unit doctor released him to go back to work on light duty! We were amazed, once again, at the healing hand of God.
Those earlier promptings and nudges, they were, they are: a gift, precious and rare though they are. I was not the only one that received them, they had been given to his friends, his fiance’, to the staff and to Nathan himself. God was there all along, guiding and directing everyone’s steps to be at the places He wanted them to be. We are so thankful for His hand that held us up during those hours, days and weeks.
We were soberly reminded, within weeks after Nathan came home for the second time, that not every motorcycle accident has the same outcome. There are times when God has a different plan and not every family get’s to welcome their loved one home.
Nathan and Kim attended the funeral of a young co-worker who was not so fortunate. He also, was a young man, a husband and father leaving behind a wife and a three year old daughter. Although they were at a funeral, Nathan said there was joyful celebration within the walls of the church because this man knew the Lord. This husband and father had a deep relationship with God and everyone talked about it that day. Nathan worshiped while remembering.
Nathan raised his hands with a thankful heart for the gift that was granted to him.
What the enemy meant for harm, God determined for good.
When thinking back, asking to be broken and pruned was and is just as certain a gift. God heard me. It is having an impact on my life as He continues the work He started in me, even as I write. These words are not perfect, and neither am I and all the more reason for Him to show up. I find healing is taking root; deep and firm. In these broken places, these pruned areas are where God pours himself into; the fragmented, raw edges of our lives.
He is the balm.
He is the ointment.
I walk over to my back window and feel the rich deep warmth of the sun. As I look out over the grassy knoll beyond my back gate I see the sun’s rays glistening through the leaves on the tree and remember back many months ago to the short two word prayer I prayed. A miraculous thought rises up and meets me here;
is breathing life
into those pruned places
broken spaces in me.