Friday, October 15, 2010

Recapturing memories & Building new memories/ Rebuilding Faith, Trust & Pixie Dust during the midst of disaster

My husband and I had always loved Disneyland. We had both gone there all our lives at least once a year. We both loved to watch Disney Movies and enjoyed the whimsy of Cartoons. But at the time Disney was not as big a part of our life as it is now. Memories of Disneyland and the joy we found there helped rebuild a lifetime of memories that were stolen in one tragic moment.

Saturday, January 31, 1997 my husband went to visit his brother at his job site. His brother is a contractor and was remodeling an office. Ross, Scott’s brother told him that he needed to get certain things done before they could go out to get something to eat. Scott offered to help by taking out a lit exit sign that was no longer needed at its location. They followed the wires back to the circuit breaker and disconnected them and the light went out. They felt sure the power to the sign was cut and it was safe to cut the wires and remove it. Scott climbed the latter and followed all the safety procedures. He was on a fiberglass ladder, had rubber soled shoes and a new insolated pair of wire cutters.

Scott cut the wire and sparks flew! The dykes were shattered by the force of the electricity and pieces imbedded themselves in the cement ceiling above his head by ½ an inch. Scott climbed down the ladder and sat down at the bottom. He told everyone around that he had just been electrocuted and that his wife, little ol me would kill him for touching electricity! He has had 3 open heart surgeries and a shock is not a good thing for him. He also asked 911 be called right away. Within 30 seconds of him coming down the ladder he collapsed and went into full arrest. 911 had already been called.

There two of the construction workers knew CPR and they jumped in and started CPR within seconds of his heart stopping. The paramedic station was right around the corner and they showed up within 5 minutes of him going into arrest. They tried for a couple of minutes to get his heart going as they loaded him into the ambulance. The hospital was just 4 blocks away from the worksite. He was in the emergency room under a doctor’s care less than 15 minutes after going into full arrest. The doctors, nurses and respiratory therapists worked for another 30 minutes to get Scott’s heart going. Combined time from the start of CPR until his heart was beating steadily on its own was 45 minutes. Nobody survives CPR being done for that long without major brain damage.

My brother-in-law contacted me at home about 20 minutes after the accident. He told me Scott had been electrocuted and the doctors were doing CPR but he would most likely not survive. He told me to get there as fast as I could. Scott had our one and only vehicle and it was parked over an hour away from home just 4 blocks from the hospital! I called my parents by my dad had just blown a disk in his back and my mother was in the emergency room with him! For over an hour I called friends and family but few were answering their phones. Those who did were unable to help for various reasons. Finally I got hold of my mother in law. Mum came and picked me up and we drove to the hospital in the pouring rain. It was the worst winter storms the Los Angeles area had seen in decades! Freeways and side streets were flooded. Rock slides had filled some freeway interchanges. I tried to find somebody to watch our daughter who was 3 at the time. She is/was so hyperactive nobody could or would watch her so she came with me. Mum and I took turns chasing her around the ICU waiting room.

Before I left to see him I called Scott’s work and told them what had happened. Word spread quickly throughout the hospital he works at. He has worked at that same hospital for 27 years now. So he knows many of the 4,000 employees. By the time I got to the hospital where he was an emergency room doctor from the hospital Scott works at had gotten there. He was with me when I first saw Scott 4 hours after the accident. Scott was on full life-support and in a coma. He looked like he was having seizures but it was strange to me. First he would “posture” turning his hands out away from his body and stretching his head back. Then he would quickly go the other way with his hands turned toward his body and his chin coming down to his chest. Our doctor friend told me that one direction showed minor and possibly reversible brain damage. The other direction showed permanent irreversible damage to the brain stem and brain death. The fact Scott was bouncing between the two directions showed rather “conclusive” proof that he had at the minimum major brain damage or was brain dead. I was asked what mortuary I wanted called. I was also warned that in the slim chance he survived he would be a vegetable for the rest of his life and have no quality of life at all. I was told no decision should be made until at least 24 hours after the accident. This was to give the swelling of his brain time to go down.

At the end of 24 hours I was told that the tests they had run showed Scott had irreversible brain damage and was brain dead. They said his body “might” survive but there was no chance of any quality of life. I was asked if they could take him off life support the next morning because he was fighting the ventilator and hurting himself and the nurses. They could not give him any more sedation because that would stop his heart again. They were sure that taking him off the ventilator would allow him to die in peace. I told the doctors that he was in God’s hands not theirs and God would do the right thing. I gave permission to remove the life-support the next morning. I took my daughter home for the night and cried the night away praying that God’s will be done. I told God I needed my husband but if it was His will to take him then do it quickly and peacefully.

Monday morning came even wetter than the day before. More freeways were flooded causing closures. I was not there when Scott was taken off of life-support. 36 hours after the accident I walked into ICU. There was an excited hush in the unit. The tension was thick but not with fear or sadness! A nurse quickly came to me when I entered and escorted me to Scott’s room not telling me what I would find when I entered. What I found was not what I expected. I expected to find my husband lying lifeless or dying on the bed. What I found was him sitting up in a chair talking calmly and reasonably with the nurses!! He was telling him about the three open heart surgeries he had as a child, the first one was experimental when he was only 3 years old. He was telling him his medical history using complex medical terms! His voice was not his normal voice. He sounded like a four year old child but the words were adult. It was totally surreal!

Scott kept asking questions. “Was I electrocuted?” I answered, “Yes.” Did they have to do CPR?” Again I told him, “Yes.” “Did they have to shock me?” Once more it was, “Yes.”  He kept asking these and other questions over and over and over . . . . I quickly realized his memory was affected by the accident. I knew it was up to me to help him rebuild his memories. The first thing I did was write down all the questions he kept asking about his accident. I numbered each question and had the answer written under it. Once he had the note when he would ask, “Was I electrocuted?” I’d answer, “Number 1 dear.” This gave him the tools to answer the questions he had himself even if I had to leave to take care of our daughter or myself.

After dealing with the initial questions of what happened and what is happing now I started reaching back and talking to him about friends, family and events of our lives. I brought in pictures and showed them too him and talked about vacations we had taken. We spent a long time talking about our early friendship and our honeymoon. I kept finding a lot of the conversations kept going back to Disneyland. I found we had lots of precious memories there. The Wednesday after the accident Scott was moved from ICU to a regular room. None of the medical staff had ever thought he would leave ICU let alone so soon! On Friday, just 6 days after the accident Scott was sent home! Before we left the hospital Scott demanded to be allowed to over to ICU to say thank you to the nurses there. All of them cried when they saw him. One nurse fell off her chair in shock of seeing him walking and leaving the hospital after them seeing him in such bad shape. 30 days after the accident Scott went back to work! He needed to go back to work. Physically he should have taken longer but he needed to return to rebuild and reconnect to his memories of the little parts of life and work.

Scott said it was like his memories were there but the paths/roads to his memories had been destroyed. He needed to find a way to his memories. He needed to rebuild the paths to him precious memories. Doing things for himself, visiting places he had been, talking about family and friends helped. We also spent hours looking at pictures and talking about vacations and places we had been too. Once again Disneyland was a major part of the conversation as we are homebodies and done really travel much. We decided that when Scott was ready we would go.

When Scott was strong enough we went back to Disneyland. We waited almost a year so he could endure the stress of the crowds and being so physically active. We knew we had to consider crowds and stress because the electrocution left him nervous and quick to anger. Most people never saw the anger but it chews at him still. This is how he describes it. Have you ever walked across a carpeted floor and then touched a door knob and gotten a shock? The first words out of your mouth are not ones you would wish your children or mother to hear. You feel so angry right? That is a normal physiological reaction. The stronger the shock the more angry you feel and the longer that lasts. When you take the level of shock Scott you never lose that angry feeling. We needed to consider his emotions when we went into any situation.

When we went to Disneyland the first time after the accident Scott started to cry as walked into the park. It was tears of joy and release he cried. He was like a little child coming to the park for the first time except it was also bringing back memories.  All throughout the day we stopped and looked at the little things. Things we might have just walked past before. We made sure we got on all the rides we loved the most and enjoyed sharing the fun with our daughter. It was a healing time for all of us. It was the first time since the accident we just laughed and played for an extended time with no problems. When time came to leave Scott did not want to go. Neither did I. As we drove home that night with our daughter asleep in her car seat in the back we decided we had to get Annual Passes and keep this joy. It took another year for us to get our first Annual Pass but the wait was truly with it and we have had a pass ever since.

Disneyland helped us recapture old memories and make new ones. It allowed us to rebuild Faith in God, Trust in each other and to find the Pixie Dust of God’s gifts of joy and whimsy.

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