I feel so strange and disconnected as I sit here in my bedroom in MS. It seems eerily quiet here, without the heart monitors and blood pressure readings and nurses' murmurs just outside the door. The last 13 days have felt like an endless nightmare. Most of you know that my dad was in a horrific car accident on Tuesday, March 11. I'm sorry for those who I haven't contacted and are learning about it here.
Dad was traveling to work that morning and hit black ice which sent his car across the median and head-on into another car. He wasn't wearing a seatbelt and was thrown into either the dashboard or the upper passenger-side ceiling (still unsure). He broke or crushed nearly all the bones in his face as they disconnected from his skull. The roof of his mouth was also broken in two. He had a broken nose and lacerations all over his hands and face.
He was rushed to University of Louisville Hospital because it is the best place for trauma patients. A stranger had called my mom from the accident scene. When she arrived at the ER, she wasn't prepared for how bad it was. Dad was in unspeakable pain and she said you couldn't even see his face from all the blood. Surprisingly, he was conscious and could speak in very slow sentences. Meanwhile, I was here in MS and Brian was flying over AL somewhere, taking an executive to a meeting there. When we heard about the accident, Brian flew over to Meridian to pick me up (only a 30 min flight from where he was) and we headed home to KY. Mom hadn't really told either of us how bad it was. But we saw for ourselves when we arrived.
Dad was taken to a room that night and scheduled for two surgeries in the following days. One included a tracheotomy (where a tube is inserted into the trachea to redirect breathing out of a hole in the throat) and having a feeding tube inserted. The second was extensive reconstructive facial surgery.
Watching my dad lay there in so much pain was unbearable. He did not want the trachea tube put in, but left it up to the doctors. Given the extent of damage to the bones in his face and mouth, it turned out to be absolutely necessary. Later, we would find that it would be the most difficult part of recovery. His tracheotomy surgeries went fine, but coming out of anesthesia was a long process. It took him more than five hours to wake up. When he finally returned to his room, he looked so defeated and miserable. I could hardly stand it.
His plastic surgery was scheduled for the next day. The doctors told us it could take anywhere from 4-10 hours. It ended up taking 5 and a 1/2. When he woke up from the anesthesia a few hours later, he was still on the ventilator. They tried to take him off, but his oxygen levels "were not impressive" as the doctors would say. When they finally let us back to see him, I just wanted to drop to my knees and cry. He was unrecognizable. Swollen beyond anything I'd ever seen. It was hard to believe that was Dad laying there. The swelling and stitches on his face didn't disturb me nearly as much as seeing that ventilator pump his chest out and in. Knowing he couldn't breath on his own tied my stomach in knots and I felt like I'd pass out right there.
Even though his mouth was going to be wired shut for eight weeks and he would have a feeding tube for six weeks, we kept telling Dad that the worst was over now that the surgeries were over. Now all he had to do was heal. He shook his head no as if he knew what was to come. They ended up leaving him on the ventilator in ICU for the rest of that night and into the next day. He went to a lesser ventilator after that and then finally back to where he was breathing on his own (still through the trachea tube) but with oxygen and humidified air pumped into a T-shaped tube intersecting his trachea tube.
He spent a couple of days going back and forth with the ventilator until he was well enough to be moved out of the ICU. We took this as a good sign. He spent a couple nights in a regular room where his nights were worse that his days, but we felt he was getting better. He had a lot of pain and was coughing a lot. The nurses had to come in and suction his lungs quite often. This is a very painful and uncomfortable process that left Dad gasping for air. So hard to watch.
Lots of family and friends were coming by which Dad appreciated, but he was so tired and miserable that he preferred quiet more than anything. We got him a private room so he could rest a little better and I stayed with him the first night. He did pretty well that night. I only got up a few times to cool him down with a fan or wet cloth or ask the nurse to give him pain medicine. The next day went great, too. They came in and downsized his trachea tube. Another step forward. He got up and walked around the nurses station with the help of the physical therapist. His spirits even seemed a little better. He was sort of able to speak around the smaller trachea tube, even though his mouth was wired shut.
That night, Mom stayed with him. His oxygen levels started to plummet that evening and into the night. The nurses thought it was a faulty monitor and largely ignored it. They switched out the monitor after awhile and saw that it remained very low. So they took a blood test and realized that it was in fact an emergency. They asked my mom to leave the room and seven nurses and doctors worked on my dad to get his oxygen back up. After stabilizing him, they wheeled him straight back to the ICU and told my mom that the doctor had inserted the new, smaller trachea tube in wrong and it had gotten twisted and was blocking off his airflow. This was a huge setback.
In the ICU, Dad was put back on the ventilator. Once his levels were better, he was put back on the oxygen tube and remains in the ICU even as I type this today. Dad is a diabetic and his blood sugar levels got up to 500+. They put him on an insulin drip and were also giving him blood pressure medicine. We thought it couldn't get any worse until he had another incident with his oxygen levels in the next couple of nights. Again, they pushed my mom out of the room. She called me crying. I had just returned home to MS after thinking Dad was getting better. My family couldn't take it anymore. The doctors needed to get themselves in gear and figure out what the heck was going on with my dad.
Since then, they have determined Dad has some sort of infection, possibly pneumonia. They are giving him antibiotics and did a procedure to clear out his lungs. All we can do is continue to hope and pray that he gets better. This has been the toughest most heart-wrenching experience for my family. To watch someone you've loved your whole life - someone who has been your main source of strength and protection and unwavering support - endure that much pain and fear is unimaginable. Looking in my dad's eyes and hearing him try to huff out the words "I... love.. you..." through wired jaws while struggling to breath just before I left on a plane back to MS... I can't think of it without crying.
Dad is constantly on my mind and I sit in wonder of his progress every second. I call my mom all day, everyday to get updates. In fact, I just got off the phone with her. Dad was taken down for a cat scan of his face to determine if he has an infection in his sinuses. It feels good to know the doctors are taking measures to determine the next steps instead of all the waiting around they were doing last week. I pray that this is at last the upturn that stays up.
Thanks to all of you for all the cards, e-mails, phone calls, text messages, hugs, tears, kind words, prayers and support you've given my family over the past two weeks. We are so thankful to have you to lean on and will continue to reach out to you for prayers and support as Dad recovers.
Updates will certainly come... Love, Casey