9:30pm, Tuesday, June 20
How is Caleb still not here?
It took us an hour to get to the hospital. It has been almost six hours since Caleb came crashing into the rock face. I can only imagine what he must be feeling.
It occurs to me I haven't told Caleb's parents what's going on. Should I call them?
"Rylee, Caleb's ambulance just pulled up. You can meet him back here." A nurse grabs my attention and leads me to where Caleb is getting settled on a hospital bed. I don't know how he isn't having a meltdown. I feel five seconds away from breaking into an incontrollable sob. or throwing up. or passing out...
This is a feeling that stays with me for days.
I'm truly unsure where to start. There are so many medical details, care-giving details, life-changing details... you get it.
And yet you don't. So how do I share? What can I say that will let you in without breaking me down?
Because the worst thing anyone has said to me in the last few months has been, "I know exactly how you feel."
But most people truly don't. And minimizing our life-altering, catastrophic trauma to compare it to delayed shipping, broken appliances, and small fractures does nothing to encourage me. Insisting you "get it" when you haven't even asked me how I feel yet? It leaves me feeling more aggravated than I know how to put into words. How can you know "exactly how I feel" when I haven't even told you how I feel yet?
I don't mean to be so aggressive. There's just so much to unpack. Let me start again.
10pm, St. Thomas More Hospital, Cañon City, Colorado
"Dude, when people say they shattered their ankle... you shattered it."
We stare at the ER doctor, unsure the gravity of a shattered ankle versus one that is broken.
Then we see the x-rays. There are bones segments at angles bones should not be. There are open spaces where bones should be. There are fractures. This is not a happy-looking leg.
And it's the leg, not just the ankle. The ankle is essentially missing, the tibia is broken a few inches up the leg, and the fibula is fractured in at least one place.
It's obvious now that this journey will be an extended one.
"I talked to our orthopedic surgeon," he continues. "He will be in tomorrow. He told me that he'll likely need to put in an external fixator to hold things in place so you can get back home to Grand Junction."
We hear what he's saying, but we still don't get it. Caleb is sweaty, dusty, smelly, hungry, thirsty, and exhausted. I am, as I said, fighting to simply stay conscious and not puke. We are both ready to get Caleb medicated and settled in a room for the night.
"We'll go ahead and admit you for tonight. The only room we have open is in the OB unit."
Caleb's hand immediately rubs his belly. "I don't think I'm pregnant. I hope my baby's okay."
The medic who had taken care of Caleb all night laughs with me and starts to roll him down the hall. We stop for a CT on the way, but we're soon getting settled in the room. The overnight OB nurse has already set pillows and blankets on the foldout bed usually reserved for husbands.
She clasps her hands and looks at Caleb. "I don't take care of men. You're gonna have to just tell me what you need."
She is wonderful. We are the only patients on the OB wing, and she faithfully comes every time Caleb hits his call light. Though I am comforted to know we are in a facility filled with people who can help Caleb, I feel the helplessness pressing down on me. I have no control here.
I squeeze Caleb's hand as he writhes in pain and asks for more ice, more medicine, more anything.
The night is short and mostly sleepless for both of us. Morning light filters in through the window, and I sit up and grab my phone and computer. It's time to play communicator for an hour or two.
Responding to texts and updating our families takes much of the morning. Finally, it is time to send an email I dread. The parents who have entrusted their students to us need to know what's going on.
My phone rings, and I step into the hall to answer my friend.
"Why are you at a hospital in Cañon City?" she asks.
I laugh out loud. Clearly she has stalked my location. Thank God for friends who are willing to make the call.
After sharing the story of the day before one more time, I hang up. The day nurse hands me a meal voucher and a room service coupon. "You need to eat," she says.
The warmness and kindness of every staff member at this hospital melts me. In situations where you feel most helpless, most vulnerable, the gentleness of strangers balms the soul.
10am, Wednesday, June 21, St. Thomas More Hospital, Cañon City, Colorado
"I don't mean to discourage you," the orthopedic surgeon says, "but this is a terrible injury. I just don't want to sugarcoat it only for you to find out later that it's worse than you thought."
We take deep breaths as our eyebrows pinch together.
"I would expect recovery on this injury to take a year after your reconstructive surgery. Today I am going to put an ex-fix in it to stabilize it because there's too much damage to try to fix the ankle right now. I'll be sending you to Dr. Cota in Grand Junction, and he'll probably do his surgery in 7-10 days."
We nod along, unsure what to say.
"I've got one more surgery this morning, and then I'll meet you in the OR."
Dr. Mark Porter leaves the room. We are silent. I shift my gaze to Caleb in time to see his face crumple. A few hot tears streak his cheeks.
"I guess we're not going to Phoenix next month. What if I can't ever snowboard again?" More questions like these spill from his lips. We take a few moments to sit in silence as grief of waves over us for the first time. Earlier tears had been fueled by fear, pain, and relief. These tears flowed from a place of loss.
We grip each other's hands as our relationship becomes the only stable thing in our lives.
I sit in the cafeteria at a table alone, force-feeding myself the strawberry and granola parfait that feels like vomit in my mouth. I'm crying silently, tilted toward the wall but knowing that anyone who walks by will see me sitting alone crying.
Caleb is in surgery. I know multiple people who have had loved ones pass away following surgery due to complications from anesthesia. I am more helpless in this moment than I ever have been in my life. I'm begging God to bring Caleb back to me with no complications.
The pastor who has made the four and a half hour drive from Grand Junction to meet us at the hospital and drive us home texts me that he has arrived. I throw away my remaining parfait, dry my eyes, and walk to the parking lot, hoping he won't notice my red eyes or will feel bad enough for me not to mention it.
This is the first of many times I plaster on a smile my heart doesn't feel.
They are discharging Caleb. They have monitored him for the required hours following surgery, and they are willing to let us drive him home if we don't want to make arrangements to stay in town another night.
Caleb's hospital room has been buzzing with people all afternoon. The anesthesiologist came to give Caleb a mild nerve block for the drive home. The PT and PT Assistant came to ensure Caleb was lucid enough to use a walker. The nurses come every 15 minutes to check his vitals, give him medicine, or whatever the moment requires. The PA comes to debrief us and to tell us she sent Caleb's prescriptions to the pharmacy for us to pick up before we leave town. The surgeon comes by to check in one final time.
He gives me his cell number and talks me through what the next few days will look like until we see Dr. Cota. The tension in my face and body betray the calm front I try to put on, but Dr. Porter speaks kindly and gently as everyone else has as well.
One of the staff members from the adventure company we had been traveling with brought us a few pillows to use as a cushion for Caleb's foot... which now had four pins and a carbon-fiber rod sticking out of it.
We finally load my now part-robot husband into the back of the truck. I am holding my breath and tensing all my muscles in worry as we pull out of the parking lot. Will every bump in the road cause Caleb pain? Does he need to eat something? What if he has to pee on the way home? This is going to be a long drive.
After five hours of winding roads with Caleb and I both fighting nausea, occasional breaks for fresh air, and enough conversation to keep us awake, we pull up to our home in Grand Junction. It is just after midnight. We ease Caleb out of the car and into the home.
Do I put him in bed or set him up on the couch? He needs a hospital pad in case his bandages bleed. Should I set an alarm for every four hours to make sure he takes his medicine on time? My throat hurts so bad. What if I have strep throat?
I thought coming home would help me ease up, regain a sense of stability, and set off some of the crushing helplessness.
I was wrong.