I’d like to “fill in the gaps” of that day as well as my prognosis to help answer questions and keep this as a bit of journal of the day’s events.
Before making any other remarks I want to express my gratitude to all the camp staff, paramedics and other medical personnel that tended to me in the hours following my collision with a fairly large tree. I also want to share my thanksgiving and appreciation for the many prayers, thoughts, emails, texts, calls, tweets and Facebook messages I have received from our church community at St. Michael’s, as well as family members, friends and colleagues throughout the church and around the world. In the hours that felt the scariest that ministry of presence and care meant the world to me. Thanks to you all.
Thursday – around 9:00
I led devotions with Judy Smith in the Conference Center at Camp Calumet during school break family camp. Playing, laughing, enjoying the winter weather, and discovering God at work all around us were hallmarks of our time together. I learned to Geocache with Debbie and Phil Evensen, a couple of from St. Michael’s, where I serve as pastor. What I came to discover in the following days, was the amazing love of others – sharing the warmth and comfort of God’s unyielding presence in times of trial.
The first morning activities included sledding at the toboggan run or a hike off-site. The kids wanted to sled and play broom ball afterwards so I stuck around and got the kids and I ready to play. Tammie got herself ready to go with the hiking group. By 9:45 we were outside in the Sled Shed picking out our tubes to take us down the hill after him.
We walked up to the top of the toboggan run. It had been running fast so we started down the run about ¼ of the way from the top. Joe went down the hill in front of me. Mia didn’t want to go. After Joe cleared the bottom of the run, I hopped on my tube and headed down the hill.
I spun around going head-first down the hill. Feeling out-of-control and moving very fast I went over the embankment shielding the toboggan run from the tree line. I attempted to ditch out of the tube but was moving too fast to do so. I spun halfway around to see the tree I was about to hit. I put my arms around my head bracing for impact as close as I could to the fetal position. Knowing impact was imminent I gritted my teeth and hit the tree sideways, the right side of my head hitting the tree with full force as I heard a crack.
My immediate reaction was to believe I had shattered my jaw, but quickly assessed that I could open my mouth, wiggle my toes and move my arms. I sat next to the tree. I did not lose consciousness, but knew something was not right with either my head or neck so I decided not to move. Joe was at the bottom of the hill and came running to me. He first pointed out to me that my right ear was bleeding. I quickly freed my phone from my pocket and had Joe call Tammie – to both inform her of the accident and give him something to do until the adults came down the hill. She arrived. John Junkins on Calumet’s staff, and one of parents of the families at camp, Natalie Judd, tended to me immediately. It was quickly assessed that an ambulance should be called and the children at the toboggan run (including both of mine) were taken elsewhere. Thanks guys.
Once the paramedics came they did an evaluation and put me on the backboard that would be my home for the next several hours. By that time Tammie arrived on the scene. I was loaded onto a trailer pulled by a snowmobile to get me off the hill and to the ambulance. I am grateful to Caitlin and Kurt the two paramedics who kept me calm and got me to the hospital safely.
I arrived at the hospital. Tammie did my paperwork as I entered the Emergency Room and soon joined me. A CT scan was ordered and I was evaluated by the doctor. The pain behind my head was beginning to intensify, and felt like a burning sensation. The doctor read the CT scan results and told me that I had a fracture in my skull, but treatment was beyond that hospital’s expertise and he would like to consult with Mass General Hospital’s (MGH) Neurology Department in Boston. MGH wanted me to come right away. An ambulance was called for the two-hour transport. As the paramedics arrived, Tammie left to go pack up at camp and make arrangements for the kids. I asked the doctor if he was a praying person and he said that he would pray for me as the paramedics loaded me for the journey ahead. I told him I was already praying giving thanks for him and his team’s care.
Tom the paramedic kept me company in the back of the ambulance. As he was a Roman Catholic and I a Lutheran Pastor we had plenty to talk about – the pope’s recent announcement that he would retire, what it was like to be a paramedic, what it was like to be a pastor, family, kids, helping people, medical science and a variety of other topics. I’ve thought a lot about him the last few days.
I arrived at MGH and was quickly processed and evaluated. In a few minutes my cousin Cole and her husband Eric (they live in Dedham, MA) arrived in my room. They had taken off work and gotten to MGH to wait for me when they heard I was coming. They kept me company in my room as the medical team read my CT scan and we waited for Tammie. I was very thankful that they were there. At some point I was finally taken off the backboard and a different neck brace was put around me. Nick the nurse who tended to me was awesome.
In the next few hours Tammie arrived, another CT scan was ordered to check the blood vessels leading through my skull to the brain. I also had x-rays to check my ribs, neck and back. A neurosurgeon visited me to assess my status. Word had spread around the New England Synod that I was injured through Calumet and Tammie had called St. Michael’s and the Synod office to let people know what had happened. When Barbara the hospital chaplain came to visit me she said she wanted to “see who all the Lutherans kept calling her about.” Barbara’s visit gave me a smile on a day with very few of them. At some point behind the scenes and miles away the St. Michael’s council made arrangements for a substitute pastor for Sunday. I was well cared for, but I was scared. When Bishop Jim Hazelwood saw my thumbs up picture on Facebook he responded, “Somehow I knew you’d be wearing that hat.”
About twelve hours after the accident I was in my overnight room at MGH. My cousins left shortly afterward. As I attempted to rest and the enormity of the day began to sink in with a variety of emotions – Tammie read to me the responses to the numerous Facebook status updates she had posted throughout the day. I wept as I dozed off for what would be a long night. Tammie stayed in the chair next to me keeping watch.
ELCA Pastor John Polk, Director of Chaplain Services as MGH came to visit after breakfast. At the end of our time the team of people who came to fit me for my long-term neck brace arrived. With my new brace that I’ll wear for the next two months, the physical therapist taught me how to get in and out of bed, and after a short nap another session got me out of bed and walking in the hallway. After lunch I was released.
The Weekend and Beyond
We spent the night at my cousins’ house in Dedham, MA Friday evening. We drove home Saturday. Tammie and the kids went to church on Sunday. It was weird staying home. I didn’t like it. Tammie thought she might have to retrain me from going, but we had already got rid of the backboard. Instead, she reasoned with me that I was not healthy enough to walk over to church, sit and stand for that long; so I stayed home.
After worship, I had a nice visit with the executive team of the congregation council which put together a plan that included coverage by supply pastors for the next two Sundays, coverage for Lenten midweek worship by people within the St. Michael’s community, finding pastoral care coverage from within the Southern CT Conference of which I am Dean, and inviting people to ‘step-up’ as I made my gradual return back into action. Some other St. Michael’s members came to see me, and my Aunt Gayle from Milford hung out with me on the couch that afternoon. Pastor Ted Asta from the Synod office called to check in on me, as have many colleagues, family members and friends from around the country.
I am extremely lucky. The medical personnel kept reviewing my charts and were dumbfounded as to how well I was doing given the injury I sustained. It will take some time to recover but feel very supported form numerous directions. As the bone mends I’ll be in a neck brace for 6-8 weeks, followed by physical therapy. All long-term possibilities appear positive. I could have been killed or suffered brain damage, stroke, paralysis or a combination of any of those possibilities. I remain intact: healing slowly and learning to let go.
In these last days I’ve discovered just how much people care and have witnessed firsthand God’s incredible touch of peace through those many people. I also have a pretty neat scar going on my ear that looks cross-shaped which should heal in time for Easter. The neck brace is a nuisance, especially for sleeping, but I gladly wear it considering what else could have happened on Thursday. The condition I’m left with most of all – is gratitude, even if it left me with a splitting headache.
Be gracious to me, O Lord, for I am languishing; O Lord, heal me, for my bones are shaking with terror. My soul also is struck with terror, while you, O Lord—how long? Turn, O Lord, save my life; deliver me for the sake of your steadfast love. For in death there is no remembrance of you; in Sheol who can give you praise? I am weary with my moaning; every night I flood my bed with tears; I drench my couch with my weeping. My eyes waste away because of grief; they grow weak because of all my foes. Depart from me, all you workers of evil, for the Lord has heard the sound of my weeping. The Lord has heard my supplication; the Lord accepts my prayer. (Psalm 6:2-9)
PS – Blue MGH hat provided by my friends – Pastor Matt and Lori Toso.
Thx guys, it fits great!