This incident happened to my husband, but as you will read he was blissfully unaware during the whole event. This is the story of how it affected me as his wife, my fears and thoughts through the accident and waiting for the medical results.
I am a nurse. An RN with almost 20 years experience in many specialties including ER, I have seen many people brought in with serious illnesses, conditions and injuries, but those people were someone else’s son, daughter, parent, husband… it was so different when it was my own.
We were at a nephew’s wedding reception. My husband, Erik, like most of the guests was drinking heavily. Sometime around eleven o’clock I decided it was time for us to leave, Erik had obviously had enough alcohol and our two sons (over 21) that were there had also been drinking. Our fourteen year-old year old daughter was there and despite her age there were older boys there that had been drinking that were starting to swarm her. Erik was sitting at our table and his eyes were heavy, definitely time to take him home. I was helping him stand; he was pretty wobbly it was obvious that I needed help getting him to the car so I hollered at another one of his nephews, Mick, to help. Mick was only slightly less intoxicated than Erik so in retrospect asking him to help was not the best choice but he was the closest guy around at the time.
Mick helped Erik stand up then got the bright idea that it would be easier to get him to the car if he just gave him a piggyback ride. This time I consciously thought “this isn’t a good idea” but all he had to do was make a dash across the empty dance floor and we were parked right outside the door. For some reason instead of crossing the empty dance floor Mick decided to go through the tables and chairs and out the back door. As he moved Erik’s legs knocked chairs over putting space between me and them. I reached the open doorway just in time to see Erik fall backwards and land head first on the cement floor. I heard someone scream… it was me.
I reached Erik as Mick lowered his legs to the ground, “Erik” I shouted. He did not respond, his eyes rolled back and closed. “Erik” I shouted again, no response. Instinctively I put my hand on his chest but felt no movement. “Look, listen and feel” I thought lowering my cheek to his lips to feel and listen for air while looking at his chest to rise and fall. I felt nothing and the music was so loud that I could not hear. I lowered his jaw, careful not to move his neck, and felt again. By this time Mick was on the other side of Erik and asking me what I needed. “Call 9-1-1” I responded. Mick instructed someone in the group of on-lookers that had formed to make the call. Then he turned back to Erik, it was clear even in the dim light that his color was changing to dusky blue. I took a deep breath to begin rescue breathing just as Mick asked, “Is he breathing?”
Two breaths went in then out I saw no indication of him breathing on his own. I gave two more breaths and prayed. We had been married only fifteen months, he was my life. I begged God not to take him. He started breathing on his own! I had been careful not to move his neck or let anyone else touch him. I stabilized his neck and watched him breathe.
The crowd of spectators began offering the best medical advice their intoxicated minds could deliver. “I was a medic, you need to raise his head” one guy shouted, “Turn him on his side in case he throws up” another chimed in. One girl, who informed me she was in her first semester of nursing school told her boyfriend to “stand him up” saying he needed to “walk it off”. As her boyfriend reached to do just that Mick intervened, “Angela is his wife and has been a nurse for a long time and we are going to do whatever she says.”
I remember looking up at one point and seeing the kids, three of our five combined children were with us at the reception, they were standing about ten feet away but the worry on their faces was clear. I wanted to hug them and tell them their Dad was going to be okay, but I couldn’t… because I wasn’t sure he was.
A first responder soon arrived. The crowd began telling him what happened, “people,” he shouted, be calm and asked for one person to talk. I told him briefly what had happened and that he had needed rescue breathing. I did tell him that I was both his wife and an RN. The first responder basically ignored me but told a woman that was with him, “Mom, hold his head.” She bent down and I informed her that I was holding his neck and she was not to touch him. The First Responder snapped at me, “Are you willing to take responsibility for keeping his neck stable?” “Yes” I responded thinking, “what an idiot”.
It seemed like hours before the paramedics arrived, to my relief it was one I had worked with in the ER. I told him what had happened as he put oxygen on Erik, his pulse ox was 83%, and it should have been over 100% so I knew his breathing had been compromised. I watched as they put a cervical collar on him and strapped him to a backboard before placing him on a stretcher.
As they were loading Erik into the ambulance I had a few minutes to check on the kids. Even though they are technically “his and mine,” we claim all five of them as “ours”. I told our youngest son that we were taking Erik to the local hospital. He was so scared he kept saying, “He hit so hard, it was so loud”. That was when I realized that he had also witnessed the fall.
The ride to the hospital was so long, fifteen minutes that seemed like forever, and I cringed over every bump we hit in the road. I rode upfront with the driver and was praying the whole time, “God please let him be ok” I begged. I heard the paramedic in the back ask him if he could move his hand. Then I heard him say, “That’s good” then he hollered, “He moved his hand”. I was ecstatic; he had movement in his hand and was able to follow a command, this was the first positive sign I had seen and I was clinging to it.
When we arrived in the ER Erik was still following simple commands, moving both hands. When he was asked his birth date he just gave out random numbers, when asked his full name he just said “Erik”. He was not able to accurately answer any of the questions he was asked. I told the ER doc that he had been drinking a lot but the doctor told me that even intoxicated if he was able to arouse enough to answer questions he would know his birthday, full name and other information. “You don’t forget some of those things even if you are drunk” he explained.
One of Erik’s brothers and one of his sisters met us at the ER, along with tons of other people. I did not leave Erik’s side except when they took him for a CT scan, his siblings and the boys’ rotated coming in the ER room to see him also. Our oldest daughter had gotten off work and arrived amidst the panic and chaos in the waiting room.
The head CT came back first… it was clear, no bleeding in the brain, no skull fracture, just a concussion. I couldn’t believe how thankful I was for a bruised brain. While we were waiting for the results of the neck CT Erik started fighting the backboard he was still strapped to, he had been on it for over an hour at this point and it was uncomfortable. I tried to explain to him what was going on and to wait just a little longer but being drunk, uncomfortable and having a full bladder trumps logic any day and he continued to struggle. To try to distract him one of the nurses started asking him to wiggle his toes then to move his arms, he had managed to wiggle the lower half of his arms out of the straps. When she asked him to move his arms he said, “I can’t”. Instantly panic set in, I knew that if he had been able to move his arms earlier and now he couldn’t that could mean he had spinal cord damage and swelling. The nurse asked him again to move his arms and again he responded, “I can’t” The nurse checked to make sure nothing was holding his arms down and asked, “which arm can you not move.” Erik responded by raising his right arm as high as he could in the backboard strap, waving it and saying, “This one”. He then waved his left arm for us also and laughed hysterically.
At that point I did not know whether to laugh or cry, if it had been someone else it would have been funny but I was so worried that the humor of it missed me. Minutes later the ER doc came in with the news… the neck CT was “clear”, no broken neck, no swelling, and no cord compression!
Erik was kept the rest of the night in the hospital as a precaution so he could be watched and monitored. I stayed with him but we sent the kids, family and others home. The next morning when he fully woke up and realized where he was he was upset. He thought I had taken him to the hospital just because he was “drunk”. I explained what happened but he was skeptical. It was not until the doctor came in to discharge him and explained how lucky he had been to hit his head “just right” to not have a more serious injury that the realization of what had happened started to hit him.
I still have nightmares about that night; I don’t believe I have ever been so scared, until that night I had never given mouth-to-mouth. I had never been in such a serious trauma as the only medical person available to help. I still refuse to let Erik wear the shirt he wore that night, I just cannot handle the memory. Yet, I am thankful to the paramedics, nurses, and ER doctor for the care they gave him. To God for saving his life and keeping him free from paralysis, brain damage or other permanent injure I am also thankful. And to Mick who I have told can be my wing-man anytime there is an emergency that I have to be a nurse for, he got everything I asked for and kept the crowd from practicing their own witch craft medicine on Ray.
A couple months later we were at another family wedding reception, this time Erik and Mick, just to be on the safe side both wore helmets.