A Thanksgiving Day to remember

Bernie Coveney and Andrea Marshall play and sing at the hospital.
Bernie Coveney and Andrea Marshall play and sing for Amy and I at the hospital in 2012.

Thanksgiving Day 2012 was one I do not consciously remember.  I was in and out of consciousness following a motorcycle accident on U.S. 221 in Roanoke County two weeks earlier.

My memory remains hazy from the instant I laid my Harley-Davidson Super Glide down to try and avoid hitting a black steer at the intersection of the highway and Pogue Valley Road near Cave Spring.  I was returning from shooting photos of a state playoff football game at Riverheads High School outside of Staunton on Nov. 9.

When my helmet struck the pavement, a closed-head brain injury knocked me out.  I didn’t feel my right leg bones breaking or the right side of my face being ripped off after the first contact with the pavement knocked off my helmet’s face shield.

I don’t remember Mark Hirsch, among the first at the scene of the crash.  He saw me and the bike surrounded by three cows. I have no recollection of him, with his experienced emergency room wife on his wireless phone talking him through what he had to do to clear my airway and restore my breathing after it stopped.

Mark saved my life that night because he ignored his fear of blood and did what was needed.  So did Lee Ann Keenan Gregory, who kept me from being run over by approaching vehicles.  They kept me alive until the Back Creed Rescue Squad arrived and transported me to Carilion Roanoke Memorial Hospital as a trauma victim not expected to survive.

Amy arrived at the emergency room, escorted by two Floyd County Deputies and was told that I probably would not live out the night.  My TBI (traumatic brain injury), multiple broken bones, including at least three in my right leg and nearly all in the right side of my face, a dislocated eye and extensive internal injuries were catastrophic.

I made it though the night.  When trauma surgeon Franco Coniglione went to work on my badly broken leg, they wanted Amy’s permission to amputate if, during the surgery, they felt it would be necessary.  She said no. My left leg emerged mostly intact with plates, rods and braces holding the shattered bones in place with screws and bolts.

Reconstructive plastic surgeon Dr. Barton Thomas set about to rebuild and restore my face.  He had to work with fractured pieces of bone and found it necessary to build a new socket for my right eye.  Doctors didn’t think I would be able to see out of that eye again.

In the critical care unit, I lapsed in and out of consciousness.  I ripped out my IVs and a catheter more than once to try and escape.  They tied me down.  I kept breaking free.  When I was conscious, I seemed to be in different time periods of my life or did not know who I was.  I coded in a seizure brought on by an allergy to one of the medications.

Amy stayed with me, day and night, refusing even to leave, I was told later, to even eat because I went went into arrest when she went to a vending machine early on and didn’t want to risk that again.  Friends and hospital staff brought her food and a supply of Yoohoo chocolate drinks.

On Thanksgiving Day  — Nov. 22, 2012 — she was in my trauma room keeping watch on my unconscious form, wired up to monitors, IV sticking in my arms.  In the early afternoon, she told me later, I woke up, looked at her, said her name and talked briefly before going under again.

“It was the best Thanksgiving Day of my life,” she said.  “I knew then you would be coming back to me.”

Try as I might, I cannot remember that day.  It would be the morning of Dec. 5 — four days shy of one month from the night of the accident — when I woke up, saw a nurse standing over me and asked: “Where am I?”  She told me I was in the rehab unit of Carilion Community Hospital.  She asked my name.  I knew it.  She asked how old I was.  I knew that too.  She asked if I was married.  I said yes and told her Amy’s name.

Many friends came to visit during my hospital stay.  Pastor Jeff Dalton scrapped a planned trip South to be at my bedside the morning after the crash.  The Floyd County High School football team that I photographed earlier that night gave wishes for a recovery.  Musicians Bernie Coveney, Andrea Marshall and Mike Kovick played in my hospital room to help.  We received cards, calls and best wishes from Floyd County, the surrounding area and around the country. Dan Casey kept readers of The Roanoke Times up to date with my progress as did Wanda Combs, editor of The Floyd Press.

Nineteen days later, on Christmas Eve and after extensive physical therapy, I walked out of Community Rehab with help, and into our Jeep Liberty, for the ride home.  Rehab and physical therapy would continue throughout 2013 and still continues today.   I found many best wishes from Facebook, Twitter and other social media sites that took a long time to read and answer.

Today, Thanksgiving 2016, we stop and give thanks for the support of friends and Amy remembers so well that Thanksgiving Day in 2012 when I woke up briefly in that hospital bed and called her by name.  That was a very special day for both of us and we would not be here celebrating today without you.

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