Enough days have passed since a recent automobile accident that I can finally write about it. Up until three weeks ago all my near death experiences had involved horses. Now I can add a one-car roll over to that list.
It was a Thursday afternoon, and I was near home on my way from the office. The skies were clear, the air was warm, it was a perfect spring day. The stealthy all-electric Nissan Leaf I was driving was silently humming along. I put the car on cruise control at the posted speed limit, 50 mph. That was my last conscious memory until the car left the highway and started tumbling.
I first moved my hands that had sustained some broken glass scratches and nicks, then my arms and legs, then my neck. I tried to reach for my cell phone, but the pain in my back was excruciating and I couldn't get it out of my pocket. I knew I had broken ribs, but I also knew my spine was not involved. I would live. I didn't lose consciousness throughout the ordeal. A passing motorist called for help on his cell phone and alerted Patsy.
In due time the paramedics arrived with an ambulance and I was transported on a back board with a neck brace to the emergency room at the Intermountain Medical Center in Salt Lake. The trip was nearly unbearable as I felt every bump in the road and the pain registered in my back.
I will spare the readers all the medical details. Suffice it to say I had never stayed overnight in a hospital in my entire life as a patient. I was told pain management was the only thing medicine had to offer me with my broken ribs. The trauma team put me through a CT scan from head to toe, and discovering no other injuries other than the cracked ribs, offered surgery to mend the bones with titanium plates on the six ribs, but when they described the benefits their case was not compelling enough to me. I opted for no surgery. They loaded me up with eight different meds in varying cocktails until they found a combination and frequency that worked. I was there for three days. Oxygen was added to aid my breathing.
When I left to go home, I discovered everything had changed and I had to begin again with even rudimentary tasks like learning how to go to the bathroom again with regularity. Showering was painful, but efficacious and it felt wonderful. Tiny shards of glass kept appearing as I showered and I meticulously picked them out of my skin. Eating was a chore, and nothing tasted right. My head was spinning. I was light-headed and dizzy. For those who talk about the benefits of masking pain with narcotics, I found them to be the antithesis of a desired life. I was walking with a walker to keep my balance, and I was admonished to practice my deep breathing to avoid pneumonia. Sleeping in a bed was nearly impossible, and I finally gave that up in favor sitting up in an overstuffed couch with pillows bracing my back. I was awake most nights, slept most days, and I found it difficult to discern the difference between night and day. Patsy was setting an alarm every two hours during the night and day to administer my meds.
Then, finally, after a week of all that at home I decided I'd had enough. I told her no more meds. I wanted to discover what my baseline of pain was without the meds, so I quit everything one night to see what would happen. I awoke to discover that I had slept and the pain was tolerable. Soon thereafter I quit the oxygen. By the time I went in for a follow-up exam with my doctor about a week and a half after the accident, I was walking unaided without oxygen and my blood was sustaining normal oxygenation levels again. His comment: "Your speedy recovery is an indication that your underlying health profile is excellent."
Based upon what I had been told at the hospital, I had expected 6 to 8 weeks of agonizing pain in the recovery process. In fact, I had gone back to the office and was driving again after 2 1/2 weeks.
I still feel some pain, but it is manageable. I am sleeping on both sides in bed without pain. My energy and stamina are still lagging, but I feel so blessed. My bruised and broken body is healing rapidly.
The rest of the story is that on scene at the accident site, the tow truck driver who came, along with the paramedics and the local police and volunteer fire department were all members of my ward. Patsy insisted that they give me a blessing before I was transported to the hospital, which they did. Then at the emergency room my sons who were nearby gathered and gave me another priesthood blessing. I was not appointed unto death (see D&C 42:48), and I am still healing and living on in mortality for purposes yet unknown to me. I am so grateful for this merciful deliverance. But for an inch or two here or there in that event, the outcome might have been very different.
Fifteen years ago this week, my mother passed away after a courageous battle with ovarian cancer. I became aware of her presence seated next to me last week in the chapel of the Woodland Ward at our fast and testimony meeting. I felt a distinct impression from her, "The time for us to be reunited is not yet. You have a work yet to do." My father, who still lives and is 93, was less comforting. He reminded me that I had arbitrarily taken away his car keys and sold his car to prevent this very kind of thing from happening to him. And now it had happened to me. Touche, father.
"But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed." (Isaiah 53:5).
Elder Neal A. Maxwell offers this perspective:
". . . we are told that Jesus took upon Himself the infirmities of all of us in order 'that his bowels may be filled with mercy, according to the flesh, that he may know according to the flesh how to succor his people according to their infirmities.' (Alma 7:12. Italics added.) Being sinless Himself, Jesus could not have suffered for personal sin nor known what such agony is — unless He took upon Him our sins, not only to redeem us and to save us, but also in order that He might know how 'according to the flesh . . . to succor his people according to their infirmities.' A stunning insight!
"Thus the compassion of the divine Jesus for us is not the abstract compassion of a sinless individual who would never so suffer; rather, it is the compassion and empathy of One who has suffered exquisitely, though innocent, for all our sins, which were compounded in some way we do not understand. Though He was sinless, yet He suffered more than all of us. We cannot tell Him anything about suffering. This is one of the inner marvels of the atonement of Jesus Christ!" (Neal A. Maxwell, All These Things Shall Give Thee Experience, 35).
May we come to appreciate and understand what His liberating agony in Gethsemane and on Golgotha might mean to each of us, is my prayer.