It was a damp chilly morning, the day after my birthday, and I couldn’t help but think about what a nice birthday it had been.
I’d been afraid that my 30th would pass with little fanfare, since we’re still rather in Covid times. But it had been so lovely. Many people had reached out to wish me many happy returns. On Sunday I’d had friends over for an outdoor tea party. On Monday, the actual day of my birth, I’d arrived at work to find a light-up “Happy Birthday” sign in the combine. And this morning, my whole family had gathered for breakfast, both to celebrate my birthday and to have one last get-together before Matt and Phoebe left for Houston.
“What time are you going to work today?” I asked Jenny.
“1 pm. You?”
“I’m not sure yet. I’m waiting for a call from Darrell.”
Jenny and I both work as combine drivers, me for our neighbor, and Jenny for a farmer north of here. On these cloudier mornings, it takes a while for the grass to dry out enough to harvest. So after the rest of our siblings went to work, Jenny and I hung out in my room.
At 11:57 am I got the call, not from Darrell, but from his wife Simone. I thought it was strange that she was calling, but whatever. “Hello?” I said.
“Hi Emily. I just want to let you know that if you don’t want to come into work today because of your Dad’s accident, that’s fine.”
“Wait…what? Dad was in an accident?” I exchanged a horrified look with Jenny, who was close enough to also hear Simone’s words.
“Yes, he fell off a forklift at the warehouse. He has a gash in his head and his arm hurts. They’re about to take him away in an ambulance. Your Mom and Amy are here right now. So if you don’t want to come in to work today, that’s fine. We’ll figure something out.”
At that point I was too shocked and confused to make a decision about coming in to work.
It took a while for us to figure out exactly what happened to Dad, and even now there are a lot of things we don’t know. Only Dad was there when it happened. But here’s what we do know:
In one building of the warehouse, there was an auger high up on the wall. Dad had raised a pile of pallets on a forklift, set up a ladder, and climbed onto the pallets to fix the auger.
And then he fell.
He doesn’t remember falling. He remembers coming down the ladder with his hands full of tools, so for a while we were saying that he fell off the ladder. But the ladder itself never fell over, and his tools were still up on the forklift pallets. So did he actually fall off the forklift or the ladder?
We’re not sure.
There is a large pool of blood on the floor, where Amy later found his glasses and hearing aid. It seems he lay there unconscious for a while until his head wound clotted up. Then he got up, and called Mom at 11:15 am. How he called Mom when both his wrists were shattered and flopping unnaturally is beyond me. “It was hard,” he remembers.
Mom was taking a nap and didn’t hear her phone. Dad left a voicemail, but he didn’t manage to actually talk. So it’s a voicemail of eerie silence.
It was Chavon Baker, a 14 (I think?) year old boy who does odd jobs around the warehouse, who found him. And from what they say, Dad was a horrific sight, with blood all over his face, even in his teeth and eyeballs, and his bloodstained beard sticking out in all directions.
Chavon ran and got Kevin Birky, my cousin who runs the warehouse. Kevin called 911, and then called Mom. For some reason, Mom heard her phone this time, and she ran out the door without telling Jenny or I what was going on.
The warehouse is surrounded by the farm where I work, since it was all the same property back when my great-grandpa owned it. So Simone was driving through, saw what was going on, and ran to get Amy, who is also working for them this summer. Only Amy does housework, so she goes to work at a set, non-weather-dependent time.
In this way, both Amy and Mom were there to see Dad as he was splinted and bandaged and shuttled away in the ambulance. Then they came home, and we were all confused and agitated, trying to figure out what to do. Jenny had to leave for work, but I decided not to go to work, and to drive Mom to the hospital. Amy opted to stay home and make sure things ran smoothly on that end.
I’m not sure what I thought would happen. I did have a vague idea that I probably wouldn’t be able to go in and see Dad because of Covid, but I still wanted to be close by as moral support for Mom. So she went in, and I parked, and started wandering around the beautiful woods next to the hospital.
The next two hours were achingly lonely. Mom sent a couple meager updates to the family WhattsApp group telling us that they were doing a CAT scan. Then, there was no info for over an hour.
I’ve been spotty with responding to texts these last several days, but there at the hospital I eagerly and instantly responded to everything that came in. I was starving for connection.
The grounds were lovely, though.
Finally the CAT scan results came back.
“Talked to Dr,” Mom wrote. “Brace yourselves: Both wrists shattered. Skull fracture above left eye. A few bleeds on brain. Back broken in 3 places.”
Prior to this, all we knew was that there was a gash in his head and he had one sore arm. We had no idea it was this bad. Later, we learned that there were a few breaks in his neck as well, but nothing that was in danger of paralyzing him, thank God.
Finally, Mom had a chance to call me. Basically, Dad was going to be in there for a long time. He needed surgery. I might as well go home.
So I did, and there was something about sitting on the porch steps with Amy, talking about everything, that was so wonderful after being so alone. But it made me really worried for Mom, by herself at the hospital, with no support. I know we were lucky that there were no Covid patients at the hospital, and that Dad didn’t have to be there alone, but still, I knew that this must be so isolating and stressful for Mom.
Steven works an early shift so he came home in the afternoon, and Ben was unable to concentrate on his work so he came home too.
Oh yes, there was one added layer of weirdness to this whole day. The electricity was out! They were working on the power lines. So I was trying to make myself a late lunch on a propane camp stove, since I didn’t have anything to eat while I was at the hospital, and then just as I was finished it came back on. Ha.
Jenny called us frequently, and she was in a weird head space too. But when she told her boss what was going on, he told her to go home and be with her family. So she came home, and Matt and Phoebe came over, and all of us siblings were together.
Matt and Phoebe decided to delay their move to Houston. Matt is still able to work remotely, due to Covid. It’s so strange, how Covid is separating us in some ways yet bringing us together in others.
We all called Mom that evening, and she put us on speakerphone so we could talk to Dad. It was bizarre…he sounded completely normal and sane, but then the sentences that left his mouth didn’t quite logically connect to each other.
The hospital rule is, only one person per 24-hour period. So none of us could give Mom a 4-hour break to get some rest, and none of us could be in there with Mom. Dad hardly slept those first two nights because he was in such terrible pain. (Oddly, it’s mostly his wrists that hurt, not his head.)
Dad had surgery on his wrists on Wednesday. So far, the plan is to heal his back and neck by using a brace. We’ll see how that goes.
Thursday morning, Amy went in to take Mom’s place. Jenny and I went back to work, although I asked to get off early. And then it rained, so I got off extra early. That was nice…it meant I was home when Mom woke up, and was able to debrief with her.
Then, this morning I took Mom back to the hospital to switch with Amy again. It’s a little cloudy still, so I don’t need to go to work until 1:00 pm. So now I have time to write this blog post, I guess.
I guess the real question is, “how is Dad doing?”
This is a hard question to answer. In some ways, he’s very lucky he didn’t end up killed or paralyzed. He has a healthy body that should recover well, and he really is quite “with it” considering how hard he whacked his head open.
The two things, right now, that feel the most heartbreaking are his confusion and his pain.
He can’t seem to get on top of the pain in his wrists, and it’s making it really hard for him to sleep.
As for his confusion, he’s in that terrible place, almost normal brain function, but not quite. I sent a video clip to my friend Esta because I didn’t know how to explain what he was like, she she said, “it’s like he has a clear coherent thought, and then halfway through saying it he forgets it.”
Yes. That’s exactly what it’s like. And how awful that must feel! It seems like it might be more of a mercy if he were completely out of it.
Dad is a problem solver by nature, and he seems to be in constant state of wanting to fix things. The “things to fix” are mostly his pain, and warehouse problems. This is the beginning of harvest, and while Dad had trained Kevin to run the warehouse, there are still a lot of things Dad takes care of by himself. So he keeps remembering things he needs to do about the warehouse, but then not quite connecting all the dots, and not quite being able to communicate.
In his worst moments, right after surgery, he kept getting mixed up about the wedding as well. Once he said that if people want to know what’s going on with warehouse stuff, they should ask Phoebe.
Still, I think a lot of this confusion is due to the surgery anesthesia, not the head injury. Amy had a moment with Dad where he was back to his old self mentally, although it didn’t last. But hopefully these moments will happen with more frequency as the anesthesia wears off.
Anyway, that’s where we’re at now. It’s hard to keep people updated because we keep learning of new random problems. According to Mom, the nurse just told her, “This is what happens with trauma patients. New stuff shows up every day.”
I might write more when I know more, and I might not. Right now, we’re looking at a long and difficult recovery.