faith, flotsam

Unforeseen medical drama

So about the time this post was going live — reminding myself that regardless of the nightly news or any other circumstance, God is always and always good — I found myself en route to a trauma center in Baltimore.

My friend and travel buddy S came down Tuesday night. It was just to be a quick visit — dinner together, then she’d leave for her Dad’s in the morning on Wednesday, while I went about my work day as usual.

Alas, not to be “as usual” in any way.

It started out as planned. Tuesday night we had a yummy dinner of my close-but-not-perfect version of my friend’s chicken casserole with rice, and some roasted vegetables.

We chatted and watched a movie, and then I headed up to bed (it was a work day, and I keep to regular work hours, while her schedule varies and thus her hours run pretty different), and I turned on the light in the spare room and left the hall light on, so she could make her way up at her leisure.

At about 12:50 I opened my eyes. It was dark upstairs. There was still a light on downstairs. I thought, oh S came up to bed and left a light on. I should go down and turn off that light.

But I didn’t, and that just haunts me. If only I had gotten up and turned on a light then

After a few minutes, the light went out, and the world went dark. Wait, S is up?

But I’m listening, expecting her footsteps on the stairs. But she doesn’t seem to be coming up directly. (In fact, she had never come upstairs. She had flipped off the hall light from downstairs, thinking it might disturb me. Neither of us knows how her bedroom light turned off.)

A couple of seconds after the light downstairs goes off, there’s a horrible sound from downstairs.


Now, in my living room, if you reach over and switch the table lamp off from your chair, and walk straight across the room to the stairs, that takes you upstairs.

Well, it turns out that S went to turn off the lamp at the wall, but that switch isn’t for that light. So she went around, from the back side of the chair, turned off the light, and then rather than flip on her phone light so she wouldn’t be in pitch dark – she’s been here, she knows the place – she turned around and started up.

Except the first staircase you come to from where she was, behind the chair, isn’t up. It’s down. Thinking she knew where she was, she stepped confidently up and out in the dark … into nothing.


She fell face-first and flailing to the landing. Mercifully both the stairs and landing are carpeted. Even so, it was a hard landing, the full height of the staircase and full weight of her body coming down in free fall. As she came down, she listened for (mercifully didn’t hear) the sound she expected and was most concerned in the moment for – the snapcrack of her neck breaking.

She hurt herself, badly, and spent a moment in the dark, not knowing where her phone had flown to (for light or to call me, assuming I was asleep and she might be lying there in the dark for a while if she didn’t find it), while hurting and trying to assess how badly she was injured and whether she could or should move at all.

Because the way she fell, she really could (she says by all rights should) have literally broken her neck.

Now, because I had woken up a few minutes before, I heard the sound of something crashing, called down (in case she had just dropped something) and when I couldn’t hear an answer, leapt out of bed, and ran down to find her “Ow“ing on the landing, trying to self-assess the damage.

“Ow”ing for pain, and to assess if she was still able to breathe.

Able to breathe (thank God).

No paralysis (thank God).

No broken bones jutting out of skin (thank God).

But it’s also… not a good thing to happen. She fell hard. She was hurt.

Her first instructions were just not to move her. She made sure she could move at all, got herself flat and straight on her back, and stayed there a minute to figure out if she could move beyond that, or even should be moved.


Gingerly we got her upstairs and to the couch. Very gingerly, because we didn’t want to injure her further. Advil against the pain and swelling to come. Likewise, ice packs. Blankets for the shivering from the shock and trauma (and ice). All her instincts – from her body and her training – told her she should not move more than she had to, so she did not want to go to the ER right away.

After a little while, the possibility of a small cerebral spinal fluid (CSF) leak arose. It hurt her to move her hands so I broke into her phone for her and she talked to the trauma surgeon she knows in NY, to confirm if he thought she should be transported immediately or if she should stay in a spine-neutral position and see if whatever it is resolved with time. Which, she suspected, is what they would do anyway if the injury is small – just watch her and see. Because if they aren’t going to do anything for it, not moving her around might be safer.

He asked a lot of questions about the specifics to confirm the details, then agreed with her that she might be better off staying put, but that if in 6 hours she still had that symptom, we should go.


We started googling Trauma care to see what down here is on her insurance plan. Nothing. Nothing whatsoever.

Ok. It is what it is. We’ll sort this in the morning when we know what we’re dealing with.

I got her settled there on the couch as best I could, and made a nest on the living room floor so I’d be close enough to jump up if she was in trouble.

And she slept for a bit. At one point, so quietly that I got up to check she’s breathing.

If I slept, it was fitfully. Minutes here and there. Mostly, I made with the prayers.

Heavenly Father, please watch over S. Please let her be okay. … I know You are so very good. I know You are mighty. You are our Healer, and You know and see S, know every cell in her body and her every need. … By Your Grace alone she isn’t dead or paralyzed; You have already shown so much mercy, so much care and protection for her. Thank You… I know You are immeasurably merciful – able to forgive our sins and heal our souls, so we can rest in knowing You are therefore infinitely more able to heal our bodies. … Please continue to bring healing grace and protection to her body and mind. … Thank you for all You have done. Thank you for all You will do. Thank you for Who You are in all circumstances…


At 5-something in the morning we are awake, comparing notes. Cleaning her face up again to see if there are still weird fluids appearing.

At 6-something, the unknown fluid still seems to be present, so we’re going to the Trauma center, which based on her injuries she feels is the best place to go. Plus her mom got care there once years ago; she knows their quality.

I get dressed, carefully help her do the same, we pack her a bag in case she needs to stay, and then by 7am are driving to the Trauma center in Baltimore.

Which is where we started this story.

By 7:30 we are there and she’s she’s going through triage.

By 8:00 the doctor has been in.

They want bloodwork, and CT scans.

By 10:00 they are doing all those things. By 10:30 she is back, and we’re waiting for results.

By 11:00 we still don’t have a definitive answer for her head (though miraculously she seems ok) but it looks like at least one wrist is broken.

11:15. Or both are? Different types of breaks. Ortho will need to evaluate and set them. This is going to take a while.

Shortly after that she shoos me out, taking most anything that could be valuable with me so it can’t walk away, to go to work for the meetings in the afternoon. This feels unimportant in the grand scheme, but she knows it’s just going to be hours of waiting for the next little while, and I’ll be stressed about it.

Besides, she tells me later, she knows I need all my days off for our next adventure later this year. And we are not missing that!

So I’m back at my desk by noon our time.

A little while later, back at the trauma center… ortho arrives. We’re out of touch while they put her arms in traction to set them in casts.

More xrays, more consults.

Finally they release S, who felt like she had attentive, excellent care all day, and is so thankful.

By that point, I’m wrapping up my last call, with the team in Asia, and my sister and her husband have already gone to pick up S.

I am blessed with such a wonderful family. I am so thankful.

S has two broken wrists. A broken nose. A broken bone in her face.

But she’s not dead, or paralyzed- both real possibilities after that fall.

The bones mostly stayed where they needed to be (other than the one the radiology tech twisted to read her wrist tags at the scanner).

She’s not in massive amounts of pain.

She’s her usual, bubbly self. Bruising and bandaging notwithstanding. She is thankful.

For all this, and for her, I am thankful.

The next few weeks may be quite challenging. But God is good.

16 thoughts on “Unforeseen medical drama”

  1. OMG. S is my friend and I am so thankful that she has you to care for and pray for her. I’m in shock and so grateful that she will heal.


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