Thursday, August 30, 2012

Trust Your Instincts

Since we moved to Idaho last year, my husband's been spending a lot of time working on timber management of our acreage. We don't have a lot of forest on our land, about six acres or so, but it was in pretty rough shape. Dead and fallen trees needed to be removed, and areas that were overgrown needed to be thinned to help stronger trees get more sunlight. Forest fires are dangerous, and good timber management helps keep them from spreading. It's hard work, but my husband really enjoys it.

Normally I normally keep an ear out for him...if I don't hear the tractor or the chainsaw in a little while, I go out to check to make sure he's okay. He thinks I'm paranoid, always expecting the worst, but my biggest fear was that he'd get injured and I wouldn't know it.

Well, my biggest fear came to pass.

Hubby went out in the woods on Monday, just like he does a few days every week during warm weather. He has about three cords of wood split and stacked for winter, but has been working to get a couple more. I'd just gone downstairs to sew for a while (finally...some free time!) and had been concentrating on my project for about a half hour.

I heard him making some noise coming up the stairs to the deck, but didn't look out the window to see what he was doing. I wish I had. A few minutes later he started banging on the door that leads to the deck, and I dropped what I was doing to go upstairs and let him in. Wondering why he didn't come in through the unlocked garage like he normally does, I pulled the door open and irritably said, "What?!"

He was leaning on the door frame, soaking wet with sweat, with a pained and blank look on his face. I asked if he was okay, and he said, "I just woke up. I was somewhere in the woods and I don't know what happened."

My heart in my throat, I grabbed my husband and dragged him to sit down at our dining room table. He was dazed and complaining that his head, neck, and jaw hurt. He kept telling me that he would be okay; that he just needed a minute.

So concerned about what actually happened, my husband kept asking me if a tree hit him, and how. To satisfy him, I ran outside and crashed through the woods to where he'd been working, to see if I could piece together what had happened. It looked like he had hooked a chain to a tree about 6 or 7 inches in diameter, and had pulled it down. The tree had fallen straight toward the tractor, and was lying parallel to it, touching the right wheel.

I turned around and ran back towards the house, trying to quickly pick my way through the bushes to get back to the house. Stupid me missed a tree lying underneath the brush, and hooked my toe under it. I went face down hard into a patch of raspberry bushes, and I'm still picking spines out of my hands. Not fun.

When I got back to the kitchen a few minutes later to check on my husband, he wasn't any better. He seemed really confused, asking the same questions over and over, and didn't seem like himself. Worried that he might have a concussion, I put on my shoes, grabbed my purse, and tried to get him into the truck to take him to the Emergency Room. Not a you have any idea how hard it is to get a confused grown man to do something he doesn't want to do?

After twenty minutes of cajoling, begging, and finally yelling, I gave up and called one of our neighbors, Hugh, to come and help. Thank God he was home! When Hugh arrived, he started asking my husband questions, and within ten minutes he was able to convince Hubby to get into the truck and go to the ER. I think our neighbor was as scared as I was when he noticed the same pattern of questions repeating every two minutes:

   "What happened?"
   "Did something hit me?"
   "Did a tree fall on me?"
   "Was I using the chainsaw?"
   "Did I pull the tree down on me?"
   "Give me a minute! I need to clear my head!"


   "What happened?"
   "Did something hit me?"
   "Did a tree fall on me?"

And so on.

The nightmare wasn't over once I got him into the truck. I hadn't gone a quarter of a mile before he screamed at me to stop, that the bumping was too painful. The endless loop of questions kept on, with the new question tagged onto the end: "Was Hugh at the house?" I'd stop for a moment, then keep going, desperate to get him to the hospital. I had to stop five or six times when he'd scream at me, but when I got to the highway I refused to stop any more because of traffic behind me.

I took him to the local emergency room, about a half hour from our house. They checked him over and immediately sent him for a CT scan. He was still confused, the short term memory loop still in force, and by this point I'd answered the same questions forty or fifty times. I was terrified.

When the doctor came in a little while later to let us know the results of the scan, the news wasn't at all what I expected. Hubby's head was fine...but he'd broken his neck. Thank God I was sitting down when I got that news; I think my heart stopped when I heard.

To be specific, he had an acute fracture of the right side of his C6 vertebra. The local hospital wasn't equipped to handle anything of that magnitude, so they made arrangements to transport my husband to the larger hospital forty-five minutes away so he could be seen by a neurosurgeon.

Fast forward several hours. Hubby's been admitted to the orthopedics ward of Kootenai Medical Center in Coeur D'Alene. The pain was excruciating, so he'd been heavily medicated. I was a wreck as we waited for the neurosurgeon to take a look at the CT scan and let us know the prognosis.

Hubby's memory was not any better at this point. The memory loop continued. Every five minutes he realized anew that he was in the hospital and he'd been badly hurt. It was like the movies 50 First Dates, but it wasn't funny. It was real, and it was heartbreaking. His biggest concern was that we had no insurance, and that we couldn't afford the treatment. I had to keep telling him not to worry, that we'd figure it out later.

When the neurosurgeon came by that evening, he had good news. Yes, the fracture was bad, but there didn't appear to be any nerve damage. The location of the fracture made it inoperable so the only option was to immobilize the neck and let it heal on its own. Lucky for us, he didn't feel the need to put Hubby in a halo; he felt that six weeks in a cervical collar would be our best bet.

To say I was elated would be an understatement. I'd been so worried about the possibility of surgery, both from a recuperation standpoint as well as financial. With the injuries that my husband had sustained, this was definitely a best-case scenario.

We stayed in the hospital overnight for observation and were released about noon the next day, Tuesday. Hubby's memory was doing a little better, but he was still pretty out of it. We picked up his prescriptions and went home, with me driving like a 90-year-old lady. Every little bump was painful for him, and he'd already had one bout of nausea right before we left the hospital. It wasn't pretty.

Since then, Hubby's gotten two good night's sleep and lots of rest. He spent yesterday in the recliner, watching TV and micromanaging my taking over his household duties. His memory's finally completely back and the pain's getting better. He's not steady on his feet yet, the room spins when he stands, but it's getting better.

I'm now looking at six weeks with an Energizer Bunny husband who's basically on house arrest. He's not able to drive, so I'll be doing the grocery shopping and errands that he normally runs, plus the other things he normally does around the house. He's been such an active participant in the household management that I'm really missing his help, so it's going to be a long six weeks.

He's pretty disappointed that I've told him that he's not allowed to do any more timber work this season. Too bad. It's dangerous work and I've already nearly lost him once. When he goes back to taking down trees next year, I've given him orders that he's going to wear a hard hat, reinstall the roll bar on his tractor, carry his cell phone, and no more wearing headphones and listening to music while he's working outside. Those things might have made a huge difference.

What lesson did I take away from this? Trust your instincts! I'm so glad that I didn't let my husband convince me to let him stay home after the accident. He was sure that he'd be fine if I'd just leave him alone and let him clear his head. If I had, he might be paralyzed right now.

Lucky for him I'm more stubborn than he is.

Trust your instincts.



  1. Wow, what a scary ordeal! So glad it wasn't worse and no surgery needed. Hope he recovers well and doesn't drive you too nuts being unable to do things himself.

  2. Oh My Heck - What a terrifying ordeal you've both been through! I hope you'll both recover from this event and be able to resume your normal routine - good luck during the healing process - I'll be thinking of you!

  3. Pam our husbands sound like a carbon copy of one another! We don't have acreage of timber but he's been cutting firewood for 36 years, either for us or for a friend and not close to where I can hear him either. I know exactly how you feel when he goes out to cut wood. How very fortunate for him he was not so far away and I certainly know what you were feeling as I was reading this post. It will be hard on both of you during his recovery. Having the same kind of husband being busy, busy all the time isn't easy.
    If you happened to read my post from July 9th you know I'm going through pretty much the same kind of fears. Mine is recovering from a ruptured brain aneurysm and after a two week stay in SLC I brought him home and have been his wife and care giver with not much rest. Things are progressing but dealing with confusion, logic and memory issues. Over a week ago, I woke at 4:30 am to him having showered, dressed for work and made himself tea and toast. He was at his dresser looking for his work truck keys!!!! I asked what he was doing and he said "I'm going to work but I can't find my keys." My heart stopped, I know it did. He walked to the kitchen and out the back door, he'd gotten the wheel barrow out of the shed and wanted me to help him load it in the truck. I kept calmly talking to him telling he couldn't go to work, begged him to come inside and finally he did. I started crying and told him the job had been completed while he was in the hospital. He was silent. Sat down and I explained again. I finally convinced him to undress and lie down, all this before 5 am. He said to me "I just thought today was the day I could go back to work" and then slept for 3 hours. I kept thinking what if I hadn't woken up? What if I hadn't thought of hiding the keys to the vehicles? He'd have been gone and I still get ill thinking of what may have happened.
    You will know doubt get extremely tired doing everything by yourself so take care and rest when you can. I will pray he makes a full recovery and you both continue to stay strong.
    Bless you,

  4. The angels were watching over your husband that day! So glad it wasn't much worse. Hoping he heals quickly without driving you crazy!! :) --Jan

  5. Wow! What a week you guys have had... Thank God that didn't turn out how it could have! Whew!

    Hope YOU make it through the next 6 weeks okay-LOL!

  6. OMG Pam!! I'm just reading this now and holy cow girl!!! What a scary scary experience!! Glad he's on the mend but yikes!! Big ole Missouri hugs to you my friend!!!!


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