It was a typical August afternoon for Florida. Temperatures simmered in the eighties and the humidity was so thick you could cut it with a knife. My mother was outside gardening and I stuck my head out the front door to ask her how she could endure the heat. She replied, “I won’t be long, I just want to get these ferns planted.”
My mother has never demonstrated a talent for gardening, nor a desire. She was covered from head to feet with potting soil and surrounded by her miniature gardening tools. I laughed at the ludicrous sight of her peering up at me from her unprecedented perch. Her sweat-soaked hair stuck wetly to cheeks blackened by stray potting soil and her bare toes peeked from beneath a flowered sundress too pretty for such arduous work.
“What’s your sister doing?” she asked on a sigh, wiping her brow with the back of her gloved hand.
Mom nodded her consent.
Katie’s head disappeared back to where it sprang from.
“We don’t have any ice left, Mom.”
Just then my grandmother, 77 years old, pulled up in the driveway sporting her new black 1998 Buick Regal. I sprang across the lawn and greeted her with a hug, calculating that within a month and a half I would be able to drive the sleek machine. My grandmother, who everyone affectionately calls “B,” had come to invite us to go shopping with her at Beall’s department store. None of us could go. Mom needed to go grocery shopping, my sister was expecting her friend over and I had already planned on seeing a movie with my friend, Carla. After a few more minutes of generous hugs, kisses and regrets, she was off again. Her car disappeared around the bend that marked the end of our street.
Less than an hour had passed since my grandmother’s visit. I was busy getting ready for the movies when the phone rang. Katie answered on the second ring and yelled out that it was our cousin, Jim Jr., calling for Mom. I could tell by Katie’s face that something was wrong. Taking the portable phone from the kitchen, Katie ran out to give it to Mother. Within seconds total hysteria enveloped the household. My mother ran into the house screaming, “get in the car now” with no further explanations.
I was frightened yet equally angry with her for screaming at us. My mother, suddenly white beneath her garden grub, snatched at the car keys. Still barefooted, she screamed out, “Oh my God, this can’t be true, get in the car now.”
“Mom, please tell us what’s wrong!” Katie and I pleaded. “You’re scaring us!”
Mom was practically speechless but she managed to utter out a few words, “I will tell you in the car.”
I had never witnessed my mother lose her control before. It made me feel frightened and confused to the point of feeling sick to my stomach. I looked at Katie as she fumbled with the car door. She was speechless, wide-eyed and suspended in a bewildered state of consciousness. Tears fell down her cheeks. I wanted to cry too but the situation seemed so devastating that my real emotions froze. I just kept thinking that it was a bad dream. Any moment I would be awakened and soothed by my mother. She would tell me, in her familiar gentle voice, that I was just having a nightmare.
My mother sped down the road, explaining half-hysterically the contents of that awful phone call. Jim had just returned to town from his vacation and spotted a horrific automobile accident on Highway 301 at the intersection of Morning Side Drive. He had slowed down because of the crush of emergency vehicles at the sight. But one car was unmistakably familiar to him. It was our grandmother’s black Buick Regal.
The drive to the accident sight terrified me because my mother drove too fast and carelessly. As we approached the accident scene, we were blocked by traffic slowing down by onlookers of the catastrophe. My mother leaned frantically on the horn for people to get out of the way. Katie noticed Mom’s friend, Claudia, in the lane next to us. My mother yelled for Katie to tell Claudia that the accident ahead was “B” and that we needed her help in reaching the accident sight. Claudia had a large vehicle and immediately proceeded to cross the lane and clear a path. My mother dashed up on the median where in plain view was the worst sight I could ever have imagined.
My grandmother’s brand-new car was crushed. Still worse, we couldn’t see her because of all of the emergency personnel and she was on the opposite side from us. A truck hit her on her driver’s side, but our only view was from the passenger’s side. My mother frantically attempted to reach the car to comfort my grandmother but a policeman blocked her path saying, “Ma’am, you can’t go over there. The Rescue Squad is trying to cut her out of the car. Are you a relative?” She couldn’t articulate a response but it was obvious by her hysterical nods that, indeed, she was. His face broke into deep concern. “She’s to be flown by helicopter to St. Joseph’s Hospital Trauma Center.” He promised to keep her updated on my grandmother’s condition. My mother begged the policeman, “please tell her that her family is here and that we love her.”
I looked around in disbelief, struggling to comprehend the disastrous situation unfolding around me. This couldn’t be happening to my family and me. I was confused as to why people were gathered on the streets as if watching a parade. I felt myself drifting in and out of a strange state of consciousness; the sounds around me were echoing, the visions a blurred daze and then the reality would impose upon me for seconds at a time. The sight of a photographer made me angry. But then I was comforted by the policemen’s words that broke into my surreal world, “she said to tell you she is all right and not to worry about her.” His words were comforting for a moment, but the confusion was still too strong. How could she be all right when her vehicle was crushed and they had to use the “jaws of life” to cut her out of the car? If she was all right, why is a helicopter rushing her to a hospital? These questions and hundreds more raced through my mind.
I began to shake as the sounds of my surroundings engulfed me. I saw the vision of the smashed vehicle in the center of the road and could only hear my mother’s hysterical crying while Claudia and my cousin comforted her. Was it fear? Was it shock, or was it those emotions that deluged me, still yet to come out? Reality settled in for a while when a policeman and Claudia ordered me to drive my mother, Katie and me home because my mother was too emotional to drive. As we departed, Claudia instructed me to pack my mother a bag. I wondered why, but dutifully put my mother in the car as she insisted that I drove as close to the helicopter landing sight as possible so she could see that my grandmother was safely on board. My mother managed to calm when we reached home, but her tears didn’t stop. Katie and I made a couple of telephone calls upon my mother’s instructions, but I felt that she was in a daze and moving through the motions like a robot.
The ride to the hospital seemed like hours and yet no one seemed to be able to voice their fears. My mind was full of confusing thoughts. I wondered who was at fault for the accident and how it happened. ‘B’ was just at my house. Should one of us have gone to Beall’s with her? Maybe this horrible nightmare wouldn’t have happened at all if any one of us had accepted her invitation to go to shopping with her! Or what if all four of us had gone and were crushed in grandmother’s car together?
We arrived at St. Joseph’s hospital and Sister Pat, the hospital’s Patient’s Advocate who was awaiting our arrival, escorted us into a family waiting room. As more family members appeared and telephone calls came in from family members all over the country, I began to feel my emotions release and tears streamed down my cheeks. The trauma doctor made appearances to announce the seriousness of my grandmother’s injuries, which were extensive. He reappeared often and when he was too busy Sister Pat would relay the doctor’s message. The outlook for my grandmother’s survival was not good. Sister Pat said that the next 24 hours were crucial. The facts of her condition were provided and each time Sister Pat or the doctor entered the family room I saw fear in everyone’s eyes.
My grandmother was bleeding to death from internal injuries they could not locate.
Seventeen pints of blood were administered as she lay unconscious from her injuries of nine broken ribs, a collapsed lung, double pelvis fracture, a fractured mandible…
I screamed inside my frantic brain. No! This can’t be! She was just at my house only hours ago!
One moment I was filled with grief as it felt as though my heart had fallen to my knees. The next moment I was laden with fear and anger. Oh my God, please don’t let her die, and the next moment my thoughts diverted to God, how could you let this awful thing happen to my grandmother, why not someone else?
After hours of waiting to hear something, anything positive, we were told that we could see her. My mother and I were escorted by Sister Pat and, with my Aunt Elise, we entered the trauma room. Sister Pat warned us that my grandmother was very swollen and barely recognizable but no soothing words prepared me for that moment. The smell of medicine was overwhelming. The temperature felt as if I stepped into a freezer. The sounds of doctor’s and nurse’s voices lurked at me intrusively. This can’t be my grandmother, only the hair looks like hers. Her face and earlobes were so swollen that for a moment I was sure they had brought us to the wrong room. But then a glance at her auburn-colored hair brought me back to the realities that were almost impossible to face. This was “B” and she is going to die! My mother’s legs gave way as we departed the room but Aunt Elise and Sister Pat braced her until we were back with our other family members.
At midnight, we were informed that they were taking “B” to the Intensive Care Unit. There would be a waiting room for us there. Most of us went home at 2 a.m. but my mother stayed the night on a couch along with my Uncle Richard. I felt guilty leaving my mother there and I was afraid to leave the hospital. I felt that by leaving I was sure to lose ‘B’ forever. During the long ride home I would jump with fear each time my mother’s cellular telephone rang, fearful of more heartbreaking news.
Those 24 hours of waiting to hear that “B” would survive, turned into days, weeks and months of good and bad reports. One day she suffered kidney failure while the next they couldn’t get her off the respirator. This was followed by liver scares and too high of a heart rate. My sister and I went to the hospital almost daily to see our grandmother while she lay in her unconscious state, and through two months of ICU all the way through her rehabilitation stage at the second hospital she was in. I missed my mother while she abandoned her job and everything else to become my grandmother’s “patient advocate” for three months. I understood why she stayed, even though I missed her at home. I had many thoughts of what I would have done if the accident had happened to my mother, and I know that I would not have left her side either.
Throughout the many months of my grandmother’s slow and painful recovery I observed the horrific tragedy and the effects of trauma on my family. The love that so many family members and friends extended to us made me focus on how precious life is. I spent many hours in the ICU waiting room where I observed other grief-stricken families of victims of automobile accidents. I watched with pride as my mother diverted her grief to helping others deal with their grief. It seemed that tragedy made all of us stronger. She told me, “when they first walk through that door, they have the look of a scared lost child, and they desperately need someone to help them find their way, just like we did the first day.”
It occurs to me now that she was right. Life should be about the important things. Family, love and caring about other people’s feelings are more precious than society’s whims and economic fantasies. I will always allow time for assisting other people and I know that the impact of my family’s traumatic experience will always be with me. It changed my life forever, and ironically, good did come out of bad.
No bibliography required, requirement was to develop
character, create dialog, and show irony.