It's been three years this week since I drove from Bend to Spokane in a record number of hours, to walk into Sacred Heart Hospital and see a girl that I hardly recognized as my sister, her face a shade of green that I hardly recognized as human. I am an EMT you guys, I have seen hurt people and dead people and very, very, sick people, and I haven't ever lost composure. But seeing my sister, the one who has always been as much like me as she could manage (because I am AWESOME) look so radically different, and destroyed, was more than I could take. I almost threw up. I nearly passed out. I had to put my head down between my knees and wait for my eyes to recover from a cloud of black that shut out a sight that I just couldn't process. It only took a minute, and I don't think Em saw, but if she did, she doesn't remember, and then I was fine. ish. For two weeks the majority of our family bounced around the halls of that hospital and did whatever we could to piece those Creachers back together. Even if that was just buying lattes and watching Sponge Bob. Mushed into that Stecker, Allers, Creach, Etc, Conglomeration of Helping was a pseudo sister of ours (Em and I), who is married to a pseudo brother of ours, who have been as much sibling to us as our real siblings, even if we don't look anything alike.
Yesterday was three years to the day that we stood in the ICU of Sacred Heart and held baby Maddie - the one that got away. The ultimate loss of that horrible, horrible accident. It was her birthday, and the day she left us. I watched my sister grieve in a way I can still only imagine, but in a way that broke my heart. You learn how much you love some one when you see them suffer. When you realize that you honestly would do anything to take their pain on yourself, because it would be easier than watching helplessly. You understand what family is. And why it is so very important. And what makes life worth living. I stood there with Tam and my parents, and some siblings. And some nieces and nephews, and there wasn't a soul in the room that wasn't hurting. With Em and For Em and for our own inability to just Make It Better.
Yesterday, our pseudo brother Trent fell off of a ladder 14 feet in the air. He landed on his head. And in spite of the questionability of how much he uses that noggin - he was hurt badly. He was moved from the ER in Colville to the ICU in Spokane. And on the third anniversary of Maddie's tiny visit to the world, and my brave sister's many hurts, we walked into the same ICU, a few doors away from that room that is burned into my memory for all of time. And there was our brother, and our sister, and Em and Phil, but this time Em was strong and standing and recognizable. And Trent, tall, tough, big, goofy Trent, was broken and bruised and looked like hell - and I told him so. Trent is going to be OK, after a long time of healing. A compound clavicle fracture and broken ribs and a bruised brain, but no permanent loss or damage so far. And we were so grateful. Em said, as we sat in the dark and listened to Trent snore (which is typical and "healthy" for him), how different it seemed, and how good, almost, to be there, in that ICU, with no loss to grieve. Nothing taken from him, from us, that would never come back. His collarbone will heal, his ribs will heal. His brain will heal - he asked if this was gonna make him stupid forever, and Tam told him that she was hoping he'd be better than before. Miracles CAN happen. He was there. His sense of humor. He was recognizable, even with a swollen head and torn up shoulder... it was Trent. Tam asked if he remembered what she told him earlier when she was giving him water from a swab. He said yes, that she had said that he had perfectly shaped lips. She reminded him that she had actually told him that he "sucked", but it was good to know that Trent is still Trent. It will be a long and hard road for him. Mostly because he is stubborn and independent and won't sit still long enough to heal a bloody nose, let alone broken bones and brain injuries. But we're all here. His family and pseudo family. To yell at him and reprimand him and distract him. And we didn't lose.
Yeah. It SUCKS. It would be a bad thing for any family, but the Smiths - this was the Last Thing They Needed right now. Trent was already caught between a rock and a very hard place before the accident, and working his buns off to fix it. And then, in an instant, he CAN'T. It's out of his hands. It's kind of like a death sentence for an independent guy like Trent who does everything himself. He just CAN'T. Almost everybody I know has been here before. Where we just can't take One More Blow. We are at the end. And then it comes. That last hit. And the moment you realize that it's TOTALLY OUT OF YOUR HANDS. And the only thing that you can do is say, OK. Let go. Start Over. Regroup. Learn. Be humble. Be grateful. And live life One Step At A Time, because there is no other way. I've been there more times than I care to relate, because I am stubborn and I forget that I am not in control of the Entire Universe. Some of us have to be reminded more than others. Like me. And maybe Trent.
Tam is remarkably at peace. I think she knows that it's beyond her. The impossibility of this situation is in Hands bigger than hers, or Trent's, because that's the only way. All of the fighting, struggling, working - it's like Don Quixote and his Windmill Giants. You just need to know that YOU'RE DOING IT WRONG. Give up. Move on. Be humble. Be grateful... and learn.
We went out to dinner last night while the nurses were doing their shift change, and in addition to the restaurant being Absolutely Ridiculous, it was Ridiculously Expensive, but in a sneaky way. The hostess at the door assured us that ALL of their ingredients were directly from Italy, and, in her words: "I am not exaggerating like people that work at restaurants are supposed to." Well, hostess lady, I am fairly certain that our Pancetta and Pineapple pizza had Dole pineapple chunks on it, instead of exotic Italian pineapple rings. I am also certain that our "house red", four dollar bottle of Columbia Valley Merlot that cost $32 wasn't from Italy, unless there's a Kennewick in Italy that I haven't heard of... Anyway, it was pretty awesome, in a bad way, and Tam was disappointed that the story of a family member in ICU did nothing for the Chinese waitress to expedite our dining experience, let alone cut us any slack in the bill. This was especially hurtful after PF Changs had written off an entire dinner when Em was in there on crutches after her accident. Tam was dismayed that the clearly not-Italian server couldn't see that her heart was on crutches. It's good to know that we still have fully functional sense of humors around here.
It's one more thing that makes me entirely grateful for my family - real and pseudo, and friends, and that we are back here, where we can help by packing underwear and dropping of corn dogs and tater tots and buying lattes for people just so we feel like we are doing SOMETHING. I love this place, and these people, and sometimes, I hate the processes that we need to remind us of How Good We've Got It, but I know that we'll always be up for the challenge, and the truth of who we are to each other always wins. I love these people.
But seriously, God, maybe next time lets do June or January, and not Sacred Heart ICU. Because we still remember. I promise.