On a Sunday afternoon in June, while riding through the hills of South Dakota, my sister-in-law, Chireen, was involved in a near fatal motorcycle accident. She and my brother, Jon, were 350 miles from home and, for the next 3.5 weeks would endure numerous complications and setbacks from her extensive injuries.
It was a scary time for them, as it was for all of us who love and care for them.
It began as an overnight trip riding motorcycles through the hills of South Dakota. The weather was beautiful and the scenery magnificent. However, it all changed in that proverbial ‘blink of an eye’ when they came upon a sharp curve that was not clearly marked. Jon – about 1/4 of a mile ahead of Chireen – went through the curve first. Realizing she would need to slow down he immediately pulled his bike over to warn her. But it was too late. Time slowed to a crawl as he turned around and saw her and the bike tumble through the air, hit a guardrail and crumple to the ground. The bike landed on top of her and by the time he reached her side she was making gurgling noises and bubbling was coming from her mouth.
The accident occurred in a secluded area with no cell service and it was 20 minutes before anyone drove by. The first car to pull over then turned around and drove back to a spot with a cell signal to call 911. A few minutes later a family of three came by on their bikes and stopped to render aid. Stephanie – a nurse – was the calm in a raging storm as she took charge of first aid until paramedics arrived.
The extent of her injuries were bad and, the area pretty remote, and it was decided she needed to be air lifted to the hospital. As they loaded her in the helicopter Chireen was semi-conscious, and as Jon told her goodbye, all he could think was, “this may be the last time I see my wife alive….”
When he finally caught up with her at the hospital she was – for that moment – in stable condition and the good news was she had no head or neck trauma. (Thank God they are a safety-conscious couple and each were dressed head to toe in protective gear. Without a doubt these items saved her life.) However, the other injuries she sustained – a broken collar bone, a fractured wrist, multiple fractures in each rib on her right side, a punctured lung and a shattered ankle – caused a myriad of complications that ended up prolonging her stay way longer than the originally anticipated few days.
The complexity of things that went awry were, at times, baffling to everyone involved in her recovery, and there were several low points as she battled to overcome the seriousness of subsequent infections. As the length of her stay went from days to weeks the news would be good and it would be bad. It felt like she would take one step forward and then two steps back. We would be encouraged by her progress and then discouraged as she encountered one complication after another.
It was an extraordinarily stressful time for my brother. Not wanting to leave her bedside – especially that first week – he dealt with every single thing on his own. Phone calls, texts and emails to family, friends, employers, insurance, tow companies, police and the bike shop. Bombarded with new medical terms and procedures he was forced to learn and absorb on the go. Sleeping was in bits and spurts as he watched over her and her care. The hospital food was not appealing to him and as a result he was not eating.
For Chireen, bad days that brought unbearable pain and little to no progress were discouraging and, when the effort became too much to cooperate with the treatments Chireen was tempted to give up. And, while those moments frightened all of us they were short-lived. Her determined will and desire to live would resurface each time and ended up being stronger than the infections.
Bob Marley has a quote attributed to him that says, “You never know how strong you are until being strong is your only choice.”
They had no choice. The reserves of strength, courage and patience each of them discovered were beyond their imaginations.
At the beginning of the third week in the hospital the doctor came in with the grim news that, in essence, the infection was winning. As they digested this latest setback Jon and Chireen took the opportunity to say all the things they each wanted the other to know. After signing a DNR (do not resuscitate) and a Durable Power of Attorney they discussed her final wishes.
I spoke to my brother that afternoon and he was peaceful. He realized he had been given the gift of time with his wife. Time they wouldn’t have had if she had died the afternoon of the accident.
But, as we talked he also recounted another God-incidence which had occurred that morning. A mysterious picture showed up on Chireen’s phone which had been lying on the windowsill of her room. A picture in which the whole frame is some kind of bright light. He didn’t understand it but, it filled him with the knowledge that everything – no matter what happened – would be okay.
As I said before, Chireen is a fighter and that last setback was just that…a setback. She battled and ten days later was finally released from the hospital to make the six hour journey home. Home (and two year-old grandson, Jace) proved to be the tonic no antibiotic could cure and, her recovery has been moving forward and on track.
The experience was life changing for Jon and Chireen. Their faith was tested but they never underestimated the power of our Lord. The picture was just one of many ways God revealed his love and mercy during this time.
Proverbs 3:5-6 Trust in the Lord with all your heart, on your own intelligence do not rely. In all your ways be mindful of him, and he will make straight your paths.
For all of us the number of God-incidences and the multitude of angels he sent to watch out for both of them were numerous. Our faith is also stronger for the experience.
Philippians 4:13 I have the strength for everything through him who empowers me.
There was Stephanie, the nurse who first arrived on the scene. She stayed with them both and, then, realizing Jon was alone and far from home traded phone numbers with him so she could stay in touch. And she did. She was an invaluable source of help and support.
There were the numerous hospital nurses, techs, doctors and specialists who consulted and provided unparalleled counsel and care.
Chireen’s mom, Haide, who arrived and provided support for not only her daughter but, also respite care for Jon so he was able to leave the hospital for brief periods of time. Jon’s daughter, Kelli, took care of everything at their home; feeding the dogs, checking the mail, making sure all was well. Their employers, who were gracious beyond reason, offered love and support. They were told to take all the time they needed – and the beautiful part was, they meant it. Friends picked up the bike trailer. Family provided meals so he didn’t have to leave the hospital.
And, the prayers. So very many prayers for healing were offered up to God. Prayer chains, prayers of the faithful (offered during Mass) prayer warriors, individuals, big groups, small groups, prayers out loud, written prayers put into prayer boxes and prayers held silently in our hearts. We offered God praise when things looked good and we thanked Him for his love and strength when things felt desperate. And in those moments when we despaired and railed against the injustice of the situation he gently reminded us He is always in control.
This storm came to pass with the answered prayer we were hoping for – healing. But, if the gift of Chireen’s life had been shortened we would have continued to offer praise. Why? Because no matter what God is good…all the time. All the time….God is good.
James 1: 2-4
Consider it all joy, my brothers, when you encounter various trials, for you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. And let perseverance be perfect, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.