It was an ordinary day as most days are. Blue skies, a few clouds floating wistfully along their path, in no hurry on their journey. A busy weekday in a small, idealic Wyoming community. The house sits on the edge of the street on the outskirts of town. The newest sub-division of neat homes, edging ever closer against corn fields.
A little girl yells in frustration, trying to give chase to the boys in her home, but her big brother pushes her aside. He is too big to play with his “baby sister.” She sits down, grabs her doll and pouts. A young mother, peering through the kitchen cabinets, realizes that the ingredients she needs for dinner are not there. She sighs, knowing she will have to run to the store if she is going to feed these boys soon. She glances towards the ceiling, wondering yet again why she thought she could be Scout Leader to six young boys. Then she remembered. It was because of the look in her son’s eyes when he pleaded with her. There would be no Boy Scouts without a Leader. The mother, already frazzled, added one more responsibility to her long list of daily chores. Den Mother to six high energy nine-year old boys.
She walks into the living room, trying to organize the troop. Asking each child to sit with legs crossed, she explains that she will have to leave, but if they are good, she will be sure to make a yummy dessert to go with her famous fried chicken. Glancing at the clock, her anxiety is heightened as she knows she is running out of time.
Her step-son, Mitch, a teenager hiding in his room will have to be the make-shift baby sitter while she runs to the grocery store. Yelling that she will be right back, she turns the knob on the television, and says a silent prayer that she can return quickly enough to get the dinner done and the boys working on their next badge assignment before her husband gets home to a mess. Grabbing her purse, she motions for her baby girl to follow her.
A small girl, four years old, her blonde hair bobbing with each skip she takes, follows her mother out the front door. The slam of the screen door makes the little girl jump a little and she looks behind her. Through the screen door, she sees her brother and his friends, all in their crisp blue shirts and yellow ties, laughing and running through the house. She wants to stay and play with them, but she knows her brother doesn’t want her around.
She turns back towards her mother and jumps down the concrete step onto the pathway along the house. She pauses, and looks down at the edge of the driveway, noticing the beautiful yellow blooms that she hadn’t noticed the day before. She bends down, quickly grasping at each flower. Her doll Raggedy Ann, a trusted companion, tucked safely in her arm, as her mother scolds her for not loading up into the car quickly enough.
“Hurry up Theresa, I am already late!”
She glances up, wondering why her mother was frowning at her. The small child thinks it is perfectly normal to be picking the dandelions to present to her mother as a beautiful bouquet of flowers. Normally her mother always smiles and smells the flowers she picks for her. This time, her face looks upset. She looks down at her hand and notices she has bunched all the weeds into her small hand. Her bouquet doesn’t seem as pretty as the last time she picked flowers. Still grasping tightly to the dandelions, she quickly plucks more grass than yellow blossom.
Glancing up, the little girl see that her mother still has that frown, as she swings the door to the car open, arm outstretched and motioning for her daughter to get in the car. The young girl jumps up, a trail of grass, leaves and weeds behind her as she runs towards the open door. She holds onto the steering wheel as she kneels along the seat. Her little legs are moving as quickly as possible, knees scooting as fast as they will go. She knows better than to put her shoes on the seat. She doesn’t want to make her mama more cross at her than she already is. She finally gets to the passenger seat and smacks the silver knob down with her palm, locking her door.
Her mother gets in, turning the key in the ignition. The little girl tucks her doll into her left arm as her right hand grabs the door handle. The car still has that brand-new smell, and her little feet swing up and down, too short to reach the floorboard and too short to reach the glovebox. Her mother moves the stick by the steering wheel down, her body pivoting to glance behind her, her face still scrunched up in worry. Her foot pushes down on the gas pedal and the car is jerked quickly in reverse.
It happens so suddenly, both mother and daughter are unaware of what is about to happen and there is no time to plan or even anticipate what can only be described as a “freak accident.”. As the car is moving quickly backwards, the passenger door swings open, and the little girl, whose hand is still holding tightly to the handle, is yanked out. The car continues, the mother not having enough time to react to what has happened in that split second, is still pressing her foot into the gas pedal.
As the little girl is falling out of the car, the front passenger tire is continuing its path, and she has been yanked out head first by the car door. The little girl is pitched uncontrollably out and down, as the front tire continues its backward momentum. Her legs are split, one still dangling upwards, as the tire runs over the other, and sucks the little girl up, her body unable to prepare for what happens next. Like the ragdoll that had been in her arm only seconds before, her body is thrown carelessly up and over and then under the tire.
The mother slams on the brakes, puts the car in park and jumps out of the car, quickly looking under the car. She screams as she sees her little girl’s body contorted around the front tire, and the weight of the car on her little body. The mother foolishly tries lifting the car at first, but it doesn’t move. On all fours, she peers under the car again, feeling helpless. She can see her daughters head, and there is no movement. She hears the smallest of whispers.
“I can’t breathe.”
As fast as she jumps out of the car, she quickly jumps back in, shoving the stick into drive and moves forward, hoping she made the right decision in going forward instead of backward. She swings the door open, running around the front of the car. Her son is standing at the edge of the house, his eyes huge, watching what is happening.
The boy turns to run into the house, his legs pumping almost as fast as his heart. The mother comes around the front of the car, she sees blood smeared along the driveway, and sprawled out is her baby girl. Her body freezes, glancing around not knowing what to do. She wills her legs to move closer towards her daughter’s body, scared of what she will see. Her sobs caught in her throat, as she sees her little girl’s body isn’t moving, but she gasps when she sees her daughter’s face. One half of her face is gushing blood, her ear hanging down by her neck, as the blood is soaking the ground beneath her.
The little girl’s eyes are open, and she is gasping in shock. There are no cries or whimpers, just blue eyes gazing at her mother. Suddenly, her mother is inches from her face, tears dropping onto her. Time has slowed down, and the little girl can’t understand what is happening to her. It is as if everything is in slow motion, and people are all around her, motioning their hands wildly in the air, or yelling.
She can see that her mother is screaming and crying.
“Why is mommy so upset?” the little girl wonders.
Then her friend, Police Officer Fred is there. He looks worried too. Then her grandmother is there.
“Why is everyone crying?” the little girl wonders.
She hears her grandmother yelling at her mother. Grandma never yells. Fred is holding onto her mother, and then even more people are gathering around her. An ambulance crew begins carefully lifting the little girl onto the gurney. The boys are on the front door step, not moving and the son is sitting on the stairs, his arms wrapped around his body, as he rocks back and forth. He is chewing his bottom lip, trying not to cry in front of his friends. His little sister looked like she was going to die. His grandpa walked over to him, and ushered him inside, along with the other boys, all staring and not knowing what to do.
“The helicopter is ready. Don’t worry, she is in good hands.” The EMT turned to leave.
“Wait, I am going too.” Panic in her voice, she notices that they are taking her daughter away from her.
“No, ma’am. I am sorry, but you can’t. We need to leave right now, and there isn’t enough room in the helicopter for you too. You will have to drive and meet us there.”
The mother glances around her, confused. She doesn’t know what to do. Her eyes look down. Raggedy Ann is laying on the driveway. A bouquet of dandelions that appears to have been bunched into a ball lays next to the doll. The ambulance drives away.
The young mother crumbles to the ground.
Billings, Montana –
The young mother doesn’t remember much of the drive. What normally takes an hour to drive to the small city, took much less than that, but it still felt like a lifetime for her. Her husband was driving, and the cars following them were family, all needing to lend support and help in any way they could. She glances at her husband. He showed no emotion except the ticking of his jaw. He doesn’t speak to her, and she says nothing to him. She just kept staring, willing the car to go faster. Looking into her hands, she held the little doll. It was her only lifeline to her daughter. Tears continue to stream down her face as images of her daughter laying there on the ground continue to haunt her.
Her baby was all alone.
Before the car can even come to a complete stop, the young mother opens the door. Running inside the ER, she frantically looks for anyone for help.
A nurse at the desk softly assures her that the little girl is sedated and stable. The x-rays were still being done, so all they could do was wait. The young mother takes a seat. Her husband chooses to stand and refuses to look at her. His brothers arrive, their wives comfort the young mother, and the brothers take vigil. Soft voices are spoken in assurance. Of course the little girl would be alright. The little girl had been life flighted to one of the best hospitals. The doctors are some of the best in the area.
The waiting room was filled with smoke and foot tapping. Nerves stretched taut, and about to break. At last, the doctor walks in, eyes searching for the parents.
“Mr. and Mrs. Whitlock?”
Quietly, the parents approach the doctor, as family step back respectively.
His eyes hold sadness. This is one of the hardest parts of practicing medicine. Telling family there is no hope.
“I am sorry, but your daughter is very badly injured.” He looks towards the father, knowing that if he looks into the mother’s eyes, he will be unable to finish the diagnosis. “The x-rays show that her spine was crushed at the base of her neck. Several of her vertebrae are crushed. We will have to clean out the gravel from her cheekbone and reattach her ear. I don’t foresee her having any hearing problems at this time, as the damage to her face is cosmetic.” The doctor took a deep breathe, needing to pause before he continued.
“Doctor, what about her spine? What happens now?” The father asked, his eyes looking willing at the doctor, silently pleading for him to fix his little girl.
“I am sorry, but your daughter will be a paraplegic. She will not be able to move from her shoulders down, ever again.”
The young mother screams.
An accident, by the very definition of the word, implies that it is unintentional. An event that happens that is unexpected, unforeseen, unplanned for, and otherwise surprising. This moment, this accident is forever engrained in a young girl’s memory. The images have grown hazy, and time has softened the edges.
The little girl remembers laying in the hospital bed, trying to move her legs, her arms, but her brain won’t make her legs work. She remembers her mother crying, her father looking angry. She feels sad for making him angry again. Her uncles try to make her laugh, but her face hurts and she is sleepy. She can’t seem to keep her eyes open.
Days go by. She can’t remember how many, but her brain always feels fuzzy. She thinks she dreams a lot. She remembers one dream. The doctor coming into the room, and his face looks excited. He is holding a file.
“You have to see this!” His face is full of excitement. “I don’t understand how or why… The x-rays! They are different!” He opens the file folder and pulls out two sets of x-rays.
“Look here. This is the first x-ray. You can clearly see the spine at the thoracic region, # 1,2 and 3 are clearly crushed.”
The doctor sets it down and pulls another x-ray from the folder. Holding up the black and white film, he raises it, hands shaking.
“This is the x-ray from this morning.” He pauses, glancing at the parents as they try to make sense of what they are seeing.
“Don’t you see? Her spine is perfectly normal.”
They can only stare, grabbing each one, comparing.
“I don’t know how, or why. But your daughter is healed.”