A Day of Mourning, A Day of Thanks

It’s been five years since my husband was run over by a truck and nearly died. Five long years. That day is seared into my memory, and no matter how hard I try, I can’t forget.

It was, by far, the worst day of my life. For several hours, I had no idea if he was alive or dead. All I knew was that he had been hit by a truck and transported to a hospital. I didn’t know which hospital or the extent of his injuries. I didn’t know what I’d find when I finally got to him.

I remember stumbling down the stairs and banging on my mother-in-law’s door. I remember screaming and collapsing. I remember not knowing how to breathe.
I remember hoping with everything I had that he was not dead. That he’d be returned to me whole and perfect and just as he was.

He wasn’t.

The five years since that day have not been easy. Bug’s brain injury and PTSD consumed our family to the point of nearly ripping us apart. He became an alcoholic. He had an affair. He disappeared from us.

Still, my husband is alive.

I say this so often, I suppose it’s become my mantra: My husband is alive. He’s alive, and I should be thankful.

He’s alive even though a truck struck him, dragged his body twenty feet, and pinned him beneath a back wheel. He stayed under the truck, growing colder in the pouring rain, until paramedics removed him.

The doctors told me it was a miracle his injuries weren’t more extensive or life-threatening. Many people aren’t as lucky.

His very existence should be enough.

Perhaps I’m selfish, wanting more than I’ve been given. But five years ago – two days before Thanksgiving – this accident robbed me of the gentle, laid-back man I married and replaced him with someone fragile and erratic. In addition to two dislocated shoulders, a broken wrist, street burns down to the skin on his knee and ankle, and a deep, long gash requiring numerous stitches, Bug suffered a mild front brain injury – similar to football players who have had multiple concussions – and post-traumatic stress disorder. In a few awful seconds his personality shifted.

We’ve fought hard the past few years to get his old personality back and our life in order, only to have road block after road block thrown at us.

Still, life gets better daily.

Immediately after the accident, Bug couldn’t tie his shoes or get dressed or shower without help. He could barely walk, let alone carry his work gear. Yet he insisted on going on a two-week business trip to Europe just days after the accident. He convinced me he needed to get away and working took his mind off the accident. So I left our boys at home with family and tagged along on Bug’s business trips for two months.

“Bug needs me,” I’d explain to anyone who asked. “He can’t be alone. He has nightmares & freaks out when he sees motorcycles. He’s not functioning normally.” When we were home, I’d turn down social invitations. “I can’t leave him with the boys. He’s too angry. I don’t know what he’ll say to them.”

And while there was truth in that, it wasn’t  the real reason.

His accident scarred me too. To this day, I’m left me with panic attacks, the inability to sleep and so, so much fear. Even five years later, the thought of being away from Bug sends my heart racing and leaves me gasping for breath. Sometimes, I just sit on my bed and cry when he’s gone. And he’s gone a lot.

The truth is, I barely function now. It’s like I gave him all my strength, and there is none left for me. I have social anxiety. I cry easily. I have a hard time being left alone. I work too much to keep myself from ruminating over the coulda, woulda, shouldas of the past five years.

We have, in so many ways, changed positions. Like I once hovered over him, he’s now my caretaker, always checking to make sure I’m okay. That I haven’t hurt myself. That I don’t let bipolar depression get the best of me.

We – he and I – we put on smiles in public and pretended the past five years haven’t happened. We’re good like that. A team. That’s the one thing that hasn’t changed.

Yes, I still mourn the loss of the husband I had. But I’m also thankful, because slowly, a new, better version has taken his place.  The sweet, loving husband and caring, doting father has come back.

That man is here, holding my hand. Telling me we’ll get through this. Somehow. The two of us.

Yes, my husband is alive. And for that, I am thankful.

xoxo ~dawn

Paris Day 57: Break Down

*disclaimer: this was written at 1am, after a long night. I didn’t proofread.*

The heat. Oh, God, the heat.

I now know why Parisians flee the city in August, sleep till 2pm, and stay up socializing until 3am.

To escape the heat yesterday, we took the boys to the amazing Arts et Métier museum – an undiscovered gem not far from our place. This museum has every kind of mechanical device you can imagine – radios, tvs, old computers, weaving looms, spy camera, printing presses, airplanes. It’s a “machine” kid’s heaven.

Oh yeah. It has a few Statue of Liberties, too.

;

Today, it hit over 100 degrees, and nearly no shops, cafes, or houses have air conditioning. Bug, the boys, and I plunked down in front of a fan and watched a movie. After it was over, our 8 year old asked if he could go over to the playground since it had cooled off. We said “yes” since it was nearly 7:30 and the park closes at 8:30. And by closes, I mean a woman comes around with a whistle, blows it, and everyone files out. It’s kind of awesome.

We told Pudge to go with him and we stayed home with the Colonel who had been vomiting all day. The park is two blocks from our place. No big deal.

About fifteen minutes after they left, someone began pounding on our door. It was Pudge saying the The Fox had fallen from “Way up on the structure. I think his arm is broken.” Bug took off running, in his PJs, to the park. He called me a few minutes later saying I needed to bring his wallet and passport – an ambulance was on its way.

My last experience with an ambulance was Bug’s accident when a man called to say my husband had been hit by a truck and was pinned beneath the wheel.

I am not a fan of ambulances.

I shoved the Colonel into his shoes and raced to the playground, arriving just when the ambulance did. The Fox was on his back, surrounded by adults, not crying, but not really doing anything either. He had fallen about eleven feet off the top of the open slide thing.

The sight of the ambulance triggered a mild flashback in Bug. As much as he wanted to help The Fox, he couldn’t because he was struggling with not losing it – especially when they began to stabilize his neck. That, combined with his inability to speak French, meant I was on ambulance and hospital duty.

We were fairly confident his arm was broken, and my sweet little guy was crying – not from pain – but because it’s his right hand and he was worried he wouldn’t be able to write. He begged the doctor to please “Save my fingers,” which she promised she would. And she did. His fingers are completely free and despite not being able to move his thumb before surgery, he woke up a little and wiggled it.

I’d like to take a moment to say that the staff of Necker-Enfants is wonderful. It was the most efficient, well-organized, and fast emergency room I’ve ever been in. The staff didn’t speak much English, but they took their time to explain everything to me and The Fox. They worked hard to make sure he was comfortable and happy. Basically, they put a very scared eight-year-old at ease, and within an hour-and-half of admittance, he was in surgery. No waiting for approvals or filling out forms. It was general exam, x-ray, and we’re off to surgery.

The Fox has to stay one, possibly two, nights for observation, but we hope he can come home tomorrow.

Here’s his nasty break:

A complete break.

;

And here he is post-surgery, resting.

;

New cast 😦

Paris: Making Progress

One of the things I adore about my boys is how they embrace everything with enthusiasm. Within minutes of arriving at the apartment – and despite having traveled for fifteen hours – Boy2, aka “The Fox,” asked if he could walk around the corner and buy macarons. By himself. In French.

This is what he changed into for the outing:

Where’s Waldo? Or as they say in French “Ou est Charlie?”

Bug and I are free-range parents so we tossed him a few bills, told him how to say “Framboise,” and sent him on his way. He returned victorious and very proud that he navigated the streets of Paris himself. And if you can’t tell, he’s in love with the red beret.

Having the boys with us has been good for Bug and me. We had both become so worn down by his illness and accident that sometimes I believed we’d never climb out of that miserable pit. But the past month and a half have been good. Bug has made huge improvements with his PTSD and most days he seems like his  pre-accident self. The boys have even commented that “Daddy’s brain seems better” because he’s smiling again and doing things with us. They love seeing us hold hands, and they giggle when Bug kisses me. In many ways, everything feels just like it should.

We spent yesterday touring the area around Notre Dame and the Luxembourg Gardens. Maybe because they have parents who love history, politics, and art, but the boys – even our 5-year old, The Colonel – stayed engaged for five hours while I rattled on about Rousseau, flying buttresses, and arches.

The Fox, The Colonel, and Pudge* in front of Notre Dame.

As a reward for putting up with all that, we let them loose in the Luxembourg Gardens. The playground charges an admittance fee, but it is a gem. Zip lines, climbing structures, tubes – basically everything that makes a kid happy. Oh, and then there are the pedal carts. For a euro, kids pick a cart, pedal it up a hill, and then fly down a slalom course.  After all that work, the boys were in need of crepes, so Bug and I took them to our favorite place – Creperie des Arts on Rue St. Andres des Arts.

The Colonel in Luxembourg Gardens
The Colonel and me in the Luxembourg Gardens. The amazing playground is behind my left shoulder.

Today, while I saw my therapist, Bug took the boys over to the Eiffel Tower. The Colonel is a bit obsessed with the monument and he later told me, “It was beautiful. I loved it.”

The boys at the Eiffel Tower

Not everything has been rosy. Like me, our boys have lived through nearly two years of Bug’s erratic behavior stemming from the accident, and unfortunately, they know about the affair. Bug and I have had to have some frank talks with them. For example, they wanted to know why I also have a therapist and if my “brain is broken like Daddy’s.” Our oldest, Pudge, wanted to know how much of Bug’s affair was PTSD and how much of it was him being a jerk (For the record, both of our therapists, our marriage therapist, and myself believe his affair is a result of his accident. However, the PTSD became worse during the affair partly because his mistress convinced him he didn’t need therapy – even after his breakdown in January). We’ve had to explain that Bug is on leave from work because his brain melted down and I was terrified he was about to commit suicide or suffer a breakdown he’d never recover from. We’ve had to answer these questions in a way that doesn’t frighten the boys, but still leaves them feeling they have an answer. It isn’t easy.

But even with all of that, having my family together after seven weeks apart is wonderful. Watching Bug interact with the boys, seeing the love between them, and knowing things are getting better every day, makes me tear up.

Our family has been through hell, but as long as we’re together, I know we can get through anything.

 

 

*John Green’s LOOKING FOR ALASKA is one of Bug’s and my favorite books. We poached our kids’ nicknames from it.