“I just hit A.V.’s (dog) trolley with the tractor roll bar and the carabiner sling shotted back and knocked me out. I have a buckle in my forehead,” read my husband’s text message.
“And you’re texting me instead of calling?! Jesus Christ.”
“Trying to stop the bleeding. I’ll be fine.”
Famous last words.
“You’re so pretty. So very, very pretty,” was my typed response.
Knowing I couldn’t convince my stubborn husband to go to the emergency room, I didn’t even try. Instead, I shrugged my shoulders, set the phone aside, and listened to the peaceful quiet in our Fargo home. Then, with a smile, I thought, Hot damn! I’m getting a nap in today! Hell to the yeah! I could do this because our (then) seven-year-old was with her dad at our lake home and that allowed me another twenty-four glorious hours without hearing “Mom. Mom. Mom? MOM. MOM! MOM?!” fifty-five times in eight seconds.
When I awoke, I saw I had missed a call from hubby and that he had sent a text. “Come get me,” read the message.
Hope he’s come to his senses and is ready to go to the E.R., I thought. With a smirk blooming on my face, I dialed his number only to have it wiped away when our little girl answered.
“Mommy!” she sobbed, and then uttered a string of unintelligible words.
“Honey, I can’t understand you,” I said calmly. “Slow down and tell me again, please.”
I heard her inhale and when she spoke again, this time in a slightly less garbled voice, all vestiges of sleep were immediately erased. “Come get me. Now! I think Dad’s dead.”
“What?!” came my shocked response, then, “Honey! Tell me what happened.”
Her wailing returned and her voice rose to a pitch making it impossible for me to understand her. I tried again, “Honey, let’s take a couple of deep breaths together, okay? Ready . . . inhale and exhale. Good. And let’s do one more . . . Okay, do you feel like you can tell me what happened now?”
Without delay, she said, “Mommy! Daddy is bleeding all over the place and he’s jerking and making scary noises. He won’t open his eyes and he just keeps rolling around on the floor.”
Oh, Jesus Christ.
“Okay, honey. Can you wake him?”
“No. I don’t want to be near him. I’m so scared, Mom! I took all of my blankets and hid in the closet for a while. COME GET ME!”
“Okay honey. Okay. I’m here. I’ve got you. I need to call the police for a wellness check and then I’ll call you right back. Are you okay with that?”
“Yes, but hurry!”
She didn’t need to say it twice.
“Stubborn, stubborn German!” I muttered while Googling the number for the sheriff. After explaining the situation and letting him know I was seventy-five miles away, the sheriff said he’d get back to me and then did what I should have done – called 911.
I called Ceta and told her help, in the form of the sheriff, was on the way and that I was coming to get her. Then I asked, “Will you sit by Daddy, honey? Can you put your hand on his arm or rub his leg? Let him know you’re there and he’s not alone?”
“No! He’s scaring me! He keeps moaning and making weird noises and he’s twitching all over the place. I’m not going near him!”
“Okay, honey. You’ve done wonderfully. I’m so proud of you for knowing to call me and having the courage to do so. I’ve got help coming. Would you like to stay on the phone with me until they arrive? I’m gonna grab a few things and I’ll be there to get you in no ti—”
As I was finishing my sentence, call waiting beeped and I told Ceta I needed to call her right back. The incoming call was an officer from the Highway Patrol.
“Ms. Schaff?” he asked, mispronouncing my name. Out of habit, I corrected him and then rolled my eyes. What does it matter?!
“This is Officer Dogooder.” (Not really, but I can’t remember his name.) “We have your husband en route to the Perham Hospital. We have procured arrangements for your daughter to be . . .” He continued in his professional police talk voice until I cut him off.
“Look. Officer. I’m coming from Fargo as soon as I can figure out this fucking Bluetooth hands-free-technology-shit in my car. I’m gonna ask you for an assist. Can you do that?”
“Ma’am, that’s really not warranted. Your husband’s injury isn’t critical.”
“Okay, then you should know I’m gonna be comin’ in hot and I mean, I’m gonna be speeding my ass off.” I honestly don’t know what got into me. I was raised to respect authority figures and by that I mean if I even see a uniformed police officer, I’m kegeling and thinking Oh my GOD, did I do something wrong!? To further my point, since age sixteen, I’ve received exactly two speeding tickets and they’ve both left me in tears; not from the ticket itself, oh no, but from the presence of Big Blue – Officer John Law.
Growing older, finding my voice and extreme stress changes people, at least it has me.
A mere sixty-five minutes later (I guess I’m not that much of a pedal-to-the-metal rebel; the trip normally takes eighty minutes) I pulled into the hospital’s parking lot and saw that the helicopter’s rotors were starting to turn. Walking quickly into the emergency entrance, I heard her sweet voice before I saw her and when I saw her, she was in the waiting room talking with a member of the First Responders staff.
“Hey Mom,” she said casually, as if this was an ordinary Saturday where we often hung out in hospital waiting rooms.
“Hey honey,” I replied with equal calm and stooped to give her a hug. I wanted to give her a real beaut, but she wanted nothing to do with me, keeping her body turned away, so I hugged her shoulders and asked, “Are you okay?”
She nodded and the lady said Ceta had kept her entertained with stories and pictures. That’s so my girl, I thought.
A nurse came forward and asked who I was there to see. I told her and she said the doctor wanted to visit with me but that my husband was fine and would be fine, and if I wanted to see him before the chopper took off, I needed to go outside now.
Her words, while reassuring, sparked the first flames of anger.
Oh, you bet your sweet ass I wanna see him. Yes, I do. Very much.
Taking Ceta’s hand, we walked to where his gurney was parked several yards away from the increasingly noisy copter. My eyes scanned his body and returned to the white gauze bandage wrapped around his head. I bent and peered a little closer at his face, noticing dried blood in his ear, eyebrows and by the corner of his mouth. My hawk-like eyes missed nothing and when I was satisfied, I raised my eyes to his and when they met, he said, a bit sheepishly, “I’m fine.”
Internally snorting, I thought, You’re about to be life flighted to Fargo. You’re not fine, you stubborn ass! But instead of voicing this, flames of anger fully replaced worry and as I shook my head, I mouthed not “I love you” or “You’re gonna be fine,” but “You stupid fucker,” and then briefly kissed his lips.
Bet that was a first for the EMT’s.
Ceta and I reentered the hospital where the doctor was waiting. He explained Trinity had received a concussion, whiplash and a skull fracture. I had a brief thought that “someone” was trying to get his attention, and that “someone” may have saved his life. Before I could explore that, the doctor continued, validating my thoughts. He told me my husband was lucky; if the projectile had been an inch lower, he (Trinity) would be dead. He also said the puncture wound was small and no bone fragments had entered his brain; a positive, for sure.
“Why Life Flight, then?” I asked.
“Because you don’t fool around with head injuries and you certainly don’t want a small hospital like ours treating this. Right now, he’s stable but his brain could bleed at any moment and he needs to be at a hospital where they are experts at this kind of stuff. We are sending him to Sanford.”
“Oh no you’re not!” I protested. “He’s a veteran and needs to go to the VA.”
“Nope. Sanford. The VA is not equipped for this. Sanford is the only option.”
After a quick stop at the lake home to get the dog (and the I-pad, can’t forget that modern-day babysitter at a time like this), I saw a portion of what Ceta had witnessed. In addition to the bloody floors, rugs, towels, counter tops and furniture, Trinity’s t-shirt had been scissored off by the EMT’s and lay discarded among the carnage.
I walked to Ceta’s bedroom, looked inside her closet and saw the blankets and I-pad stuffed into a corner. I understood what she was trying to do because I had employed this technique as a child too. My shoulders sank, my head fell forward, and my hands went to my eyes, covering them in an attempt to blot all of this out. It didn’t work.
In addition, the adrenaline was starting to wear off and tremors began, real teeth-clackers. I thought my knees were going to give out and if that happened, I knew I was an emotional goner. Silently, I prayed, Not yet God, I gotta get us home first. With that, my game-face returned, and after giving Ceta another sideways hug, I shoo’d her and A.V. out of the house and into the car and then drove to Fargo at a much more leisurely pace.
Ceta and I talked about how, just two weeks before, the Fire Department had come to her class and talked about what to do in case of an emergency. She and I roll played some scenarios before I tucked her into bed. I had no idea her “training” would be put to use – or so soon.
After dropping our goldie off at home, Ceta and I headed for the hospital. It was there I thought to contact a neighbor, and after explaining the situation, I asked if Ceta could spend the night. Without hesitation, she agreed, and not only that, but she offered to pick Ceta up at the hospital.
Trinity awoke in the E.R. after several hours of fitful sleep. He didn’t have a clear memory of the last eight hours. His pain was manageable, he said, but when tests showed his kidneys were shutting down, something common with severe head trauma, that guaranteed him an extended stay at Hotel Sanford.
During this time, I received a text from the Fire Chief who had attended my husband. “Wanted to let you both know how amazing your daughter was yesterday. Not only did she have the presence of mind to call you when she knew there was something wrong with her dad, but she was the calmest, coolest kid I’ve ever seen on a call. . . .Hats off to her for being such a trooper.”
Unable to sleep in the hospital’s hide-away bed, my mind again turned to Ceta. I wondered how this would affect her. I tried to make this less scary for her by turning it into a positive; I had also opened the lines of communication, so much so that she would eventually say, “Can we just quit talking about this? Please!” I decided I would ask her if she’d like to speak with her school counselor and when I did, she said yes.
The next night, alone, and in the confines of my own bedroom, I cried hard, letting out all the fear, worry, and anger over not only this event, but also for what I had experienced as a child. As the sobbing let up, I thought it was crazy that Trinity’s accident had triggered a still painful memory from my youth and that by facing it as an adult, I was now able to heal it.
A few weeks after Trinity left the hospital in mid-October, everything was settling back to normal when I received a text from one of the First Responders. She said that the entire staff was so impressed with our little girl that they’d like to do something for her. I replied I wasn’t sure if Ceta wanted any more attention; she was trying to put the event behind her after sharing her story at school and getting a badge at Girl Scouts. After speaking to Ceta about it, she reluctantly agreed that they could do something for her as long as it didn’t involve her being on a stage or having a spotlight on her. I relayed her wishes.
Six weeks later, Ceta and I were sitting on the couch talking about Christmas when she announced, “You know how I know I won’t get coal from Santa?”
“How?” I asked, raising an eyebrow and thinking this oughta be good.
“Because I saved my dad’s life, that’s why.”
That knocked the wind out of me. Both Trinity and I had been careful not to put that weight on her shoulders, but somehow, she knew. After what felt like several seconds, I responded, “Yes, you did, honey. How do you feel about that?”
“It’s okay, Mom. I did. I did save Dad’s life but I just wanna put it behind me.”
Spoken like a true sage.
On New Year’s Eve, an envelope arrived addressed to Ceta. I suspected it was the “something” the First Responder had spoken about. Ceta, with a smile on her face, ripped open the envelope (what child doesn’t love getting mail?), removed the card and out floated her very own life-sized Fire and Rescue patch.
The perfectly timed item was the best “something” she could have received. Not only did the simple patch honor her heroism but it reminded her that she made a positive difference, not just for her dad, but for others as well.
Out of something bad, good will come.
Melissa’s Note: Trinity is doing well – he’s still having concussion issues, which frustrate him, but he is also loosely following doctor’s orders. Does that surprise you? Not me. He is also very aware that his life was spared and humbled by it. Apparently, he has more to do on this earth – something which both Ceta and I are grateful.