Today is March 15th, 2017. Today is the one year anniversary since the day I left Virginia to come visit you. I knew your health had been failing ever since that awful disease, Alzheimer’s, inflicted you, but recently your health had been getting even more fragile. It was my intention to spend a good portion of spring break, my Junior year of college, with you as I wasn’t sure when I would have another opportunity. But unfortunately for both of us, life had other plans.
Around 4:00 pm on Tuesday, March 15th, I was involved in a head-on motor vehicle collision roughly three hours from your location. I had traveled the previous nine hours with little difficulty, so it came as a surprise to me when I woke up in the hospital. I received a traumatic brain injury (TBI) in the incident so I don’t remember much from the next few days, but I will do my best to relate them to you.
Initially, there was still a glimmer of hope in me that I would see you after my recovery, but it would not be so. I was in three different hospitals for a total of 38 days after my collision. That doesn’t seem all that long when put into the perspective of a lifetime, but when a lifetime only has 11 days left, then it is a very long time.
The rest of Tuesday (day 11) with you went by quick. I only remember waking up twice in the hospital and having no idea what happened. I can only fathom if that’s what it was like for you after Alzheimer’s attacked. In the following months, my brain recovery was under careful medical attention and treatment. I would take tests with speech therapists who told me they noticed my ability to focus was sub-par. I couldn’t notice anything wrong nor could I force my mind to focus harder on tasks given to me. I could only let the health of my brain unfold with time. It was scary not knowing whether I would fully recover from my TBI, but I having your genes helped. I was resilient just like you and I never gave up. Sometime before midnight I received open surgery for my left femur and manipulative surgery on both feet and my right hip. I don’t remember going into surgery, just waking up from it the next morning.
On Wednesday (day 10), when I woke up, one of my close friends appeared by my side to comfort me. Later, Philip drove from Tennessee and picked Mom up from the Columbus airport and they both came to the hospital to see me. At some point that day, a hip surgeon came by and said he would be performing surgery on me in the morning.
On Thursday (day 9), I went into surgery a few hours earlier than expected. The hip surgeon told me he was one of the top ten best in the country and that he would do his best with the severe and complicated hip injury I sustained. Philip recorded his conversation with us minutes before surgery and has since shared it with me. In the moment, there wasn’t much for me to worry about. I was bed ridden with multiple broken bones. I was going to let the doctors do whatever they wanted to fix me. I did remember one thing though: the doctor said part of my hip was at risk of avascular necrosis. I had thought it was just the piece of the femur head that was free floating in the socket, but in listening to the recording again, it appears to be the whole femur head is at risk of avascular necrosis. He said it’s because my hip was dislocated, which severely disrupted the blood supply to the head, that it would take time before I was clear of the risk; two years’ time… Another thing I didn’t remember is that I will be at risk of arthritis in my hip because the cartilage has been scuffed up from the dislocation. I think all of this went over my head, because the only time I grunted my disappointment was after the doctor said it would take two months for my hip to heal before I could think about walking again. Two months to heal meant I wouldn’t be able to see you before spring break was over. It also meant I wouldn’t be returning to school to finish the semester. I asked if it meant I would be bed ridden, but the good news was it didn’t. I would be able to use a slide board to transfer from bed to a wheelchair. That had it's own complications but I managed. I secured my third transfer in under 15 days after the collision and on March 27th, mom took me outside to enjoy some fresh air in the hospital garden. It was freezing, but I was happy to be outside.
Surgery on my hip was successful, but I had lost so much blood in the last two days that they had to give me a transfusion of about 4 pints of blood. In addition, my heart started to freak out as well because bone marrow leaked from my femur and got clogged in my lungs causing an obstruction (embolism) which resulted in the dilation of my right ventricle and the stretching of the electrical nodes that send signal to my heart to contract in a certain rhythm. Because of that I had to see a cardiologist and remain in ICU for a couple of days. The cardiologist prescribed me medication to control my blood pressure and pulse which I continued to take until I had a follow up echo-cardiogram (ultrasound) in Richmond, VA to determine if my heart had returned to normal size and rhythm. It did finally return to normal size, but not without leaving behind something for me to remember it by. I am left with electrical activity that indicates an incomplete right bundle branch block (RBBB) on an electrocardiogram.
At about 3:25 I received a call from a Liberty University pastor who wanted to pray for me and be an encouraging resource. He called because Melody had taken it upon herself to inform my professors and the school about my situation. I thought that was very thoughtful of them to have a campus pastor call me. Unfortunately, I was still too loopy to take his call and I didn’t discover the voice mail he left until 2 months later when I was trying to get some stuff with my school addressed. I called him back then to thank him and ask for his assistance with school, but he never returned my call…
For the life of me, I can’t remember anything from Friday (day 8). Well, this might be the day when Matt and Jason Bradner came to see me. Matt is one of my best friends and my EMS partner. His dad was my squad’s director, and they drove all the way from Altavista, VA to pay me a visit in the hospital. I wish you could meet them. They are two of the most selfless and generous people I know. And it’s not because they drove 9 hours in a moment’s notice to bring me their love and support, but it’s that they give of themselves every day as a lifestyle. Matt is on call 24 hours a day 3 days a week, willing to drop everything and race, lights and sirens, to the scene of an emergency, to help whoever is in need. You would love them, Grandma. To solidify the point I’m trying to make, they came back to Lima, OH on March 31st, in an ambulance to transport me from St. Rita’s hospital to VCU in Richmond, VA.
On Saturday (day 7), I remember taking a call from my best friend, Wiley. He was in an Easter production at church and he was backstage either between scenes or at practice before the first showing. He also let our mutual friend, Taylor, who was also in the Easter production, speak to me over the phone. For a short period of time, I completely forgot about this phone conversation occurring and I thought Wiley hadn’t tried to comfort me while I was in the hospital. But he did, so I apologized. It was the TBI, the vast amount of medication I was on, and the loss of blood that confused my mind and made it difficult for me to retain memories of my last few days with you.
At some point over the next three days I was transferred from ICU to an ICU step down unit. Dad also came up to see me. He, Mom and Philip were staying at the hospital in a section specifically designed for family of patients. One day when I was in ICU step down, Philip had left my room and was walking around the hospital and the cleaning lady saw him and thought he was me. She later told us she nearly freaked out thinking I was already up and walking. She was one of the sweetest and funniest ladies in the hospital. It wasn’t her job to chat with the patients or try to cheer them up, but she did. I discovered that joy became my medicine while I was in the hospital. Over the next few months I tried to focus on things that brought me joy and cut out the things that didn’t.
One day while I was still in ICU step down, a couple from my church came to visit me. I had been attending a small group at their house every week this semester, so we were becoming quite close. They had to go to Ohio to see family, but when they heard about my collision they made an extra effort to drop by and see me. They brought me a poster card signed by a bunch of students and friends from my church who were attending a week long spiritual awaking. Everyone back home had heard about my collision and they were praying for me. I believe theirs and the prayers of many other friends of my family was incredibly significant in my recovery. But another significant thing happened that contributed to my joy and health was this: The couple from my church brought me a Bluetooth speaker so I could have something to play music through. Then, sometime shortly after, my best friend’s mom texted me telling me that she felt like she heard from God that I was supposed to listen to worship music nonstop. I took her seriously and I connected my phone to the Bluetooth speaker and began to listen to music. I would leave it playing through the night and playing softly in the background when nurses would come to check on me. One of the nurse techs asked me what station I was listening to, and after forgetting made sure to come back the day I was being moved from ICU step down so she could write down the station and be sure to listen to it. I was blessed to be able to be a witness for God even from a hospital bed. It wasn’t my goal, but I’m glad God use me in that way. What’s interesting to me is that because I want to become a doctor, I’ve tried to consider how to be a witness for God to patients, but I never thought I’d be witnessing from the patient’s standpoint. I guess God really does work in mysterious ways.
There is so much that happened this week and while I don’t remember all of it, I will always remember you. You and Grandpa have been my greatest supporters for a long time. I remember spending summer of 2005 with you in Merritt Island, FL. I was attending a pre-teen missions camp and you and Grandpa let me stay at your house before and after the missions camp. I remember you came to the graduation day after I made it through boot camp. You brought me a box of goodies containing fruit, cookies, and candy. When the camp was over, you took me to the Kennedy Space Center and I got to see the Crawler and the where the Space Shuttle launch pads are. I remember that thanksgiving of 2007 when you and Grandpa came to visit and we had a friend who gave you a ride in a 2006 Corvette up to 100 mph. I wouldn’t endorse that today, but It was fun at the time. I remember your cute doodling skills. You were the greatest multitasker when it came to talking and drawing. You loved to just doodle and it inspired me. I don’t know how you did it, but you could always make something cool out of nothing all while keeping us company with conversation. I had to try and do that while I was an artist at Busch Gardens. It was hard. Most of the time I would just stare at my subjects while I quietly concentrated on conjuring up their portrait. There are so many other memories I could share, but the goal of this letter was to share the last few days of spring break I had last year with you, because I didn’t know if I’d have another chance to see you again. I’m sorry that I didn’t get to say goodbye in person, but I will see you again in Heaven. And thanks to Jon, I got to participate in your memorial service from the hospital bed via FaceTime. It was beautiful. You are truly remarkable! Thank you for being my Grandma and loving me and my siblings so well. I miss you.
I consider March 15th, the day I died and came back to life, because that’s what it felt like. I supposed it’s not true medically, but for me it was mentally. Besides, the Jordan Gayfield I was before March 15th will never be the Jordan Gayfield I am today. I am physically and mentally changed forever. But the old Jordan and the new Jordan miss you so much. I love you Mary Lu Gayfield. You are my hero. You suffered much more than me and you weren’t one to give up. You persevered for years. This letter is dedicated to your memory. Mary Lu Gayfield June 12, 1937—March 26th, 2016.