Before and After
I have told countless people the phrase, “My parents were killed in a car accident when I was seven years old.” It has become a cadence, but in the last few years, my mind inserted myself, as well, and I have to catch myself to keep from saying I was killed, too. But perhaps, it is just as accurate. It’s the before-and-after effect. That life and its future are gone, and another takes their place. I was there, and I am here, but I would never again be the person who woke up on June 30, 1984 and walked out of the house with my parents for the last time.
Joel and I talk about before-and-after events. These are events in our lives that cause fundamental changes to who we are, what we do, and how we live. Sometimes, they don’t even have to occur. Simply the recognition of the depth of what could have been stops us in our tracks.
For example, Joel nearly cut his finger off with a butcher knife one time. He sliced it very deeply at an angle, all the way down to the bone. He wouldn’t even look at it at first because he was afraid of the severity, but the worst-case scenario did not occur, thankfully. The flap of skin healed up nicely without stitches, and he was none the worse for wear. We talked about it though – how quickly normal life (the before-time) could have ended in seconds with the loss of a finger – his left index finger, if I recall correctly.
This post is about a before-and-after event that did occur. It’s about traveling happily down life’s highway and being whipped around a 90-degree fork in the road, never to see that old highway again. I have never written all of this out. For one thing, I didn’t believe I needed to, and for another, I didn’t know some important details about it until I was in my 30’s. In fact, the title of this post comes from the knowledge I gained in the last decade about what really happened and how much was actually lost.
My father worked as a store clerk for 7-11 in Waco, Texas, when he was young. He joined Southland Corporation and rose to district manager of 7-11 before he died at age 37. He was quite successful, and we were living well in a beautiful, 4-bedroom house in Grand Prairie, Texas, near his office in Dallas. As I recall, he wanted to find a piece of land – maybe a small farm or ranch that we could go to on weekends. (He spent some years in Nebraska as a child, and our family had some land at the Lake of the Ozarks in Missouri).
On Saturday, June 30, 1984, a week after my seventh birthday, my parents and I were driving around north central Texas, casually looking at land and just enjoying the day together. Toward evening, we were traveling on what we locally call “Corsicana Highway” – Texas State Highway 31. I’ve no idea where on the road we were, just that we were close to Corsicana.
Memories of Our Death
This was before mandatory seat belt laws, and not one of us was wearing one. My father was driving, my mother was in the passenger seat, and I was playing in the back seat of my father’s new, light blue Lincoln Town Car. I remember seeing the van that passed us in a no-passing zone, seeing the red pickup truck that swerved out of the oncoming lane to avoid it, and hearing the collective yell rising in our throats that was cut short when we made contact with the pickup truck.
I remember waking up bent over the front seat and feeling pressure on top of me. I remember turning my head to the left to see my father slumped over the steering wheel, the thin trickle of blood pouring out of his mouth, and the sound of it hitting his jeans. I remember calling out to him louder and louder and getting no response. I remember sensing that my mother was not beside me on the right, where she should have been. I remember hearing her voice from outside the car, calling my name. I answered, and she said in a voice not her own that it would be okay, that “they” would get me out, but I didn’t even recognize that it was her. She had been thrown through the windshield and would not survive long.
I remember no physical pain at all. My right thigh was mangled such that my femur was broken in half, and shafts of it were sticking out the front and back of my leg. My left femur was broken just above the growth plate, and my right tibia was also broken, but thankfully, these were not compound fractures.
I had hit the dashboard, having flown from the backseat over the front seat, but the damage was minor. I have a scar about an inch long under the right side of my chin. It could have been much worse. My hair was full of broken glass, but there was no brain damage. Some years later, I found the little blue Jordache bag I had with me that day in a closet and opened it to find shards of broken glass still inside.
I don’t remember being pulled out of the car, but I do remember something heavy being lifted off me and people talking to me. I remember the handsome paramedic who put me in the ambulance and stayed with me on the ride to the hospital. I couldn’t stop looking at him, but he told me to close my eyes and rest as we rode.
I remember being in the emergency room at the Corsicana hospital and having to turn my head and vomit while the nurse tried to put something in my nose. I remember my grandparents, Lucile and Walter, walking into the room to see me lying there, damaged but alive, after just having lost their daughter and son-in-law.
I remember waking up in the hospital room, watching Lucile speak to a nurse, and asking where my parents were. I remember Lucile leaving the room as the nurse told me they were dead. At age seven, I couldn’t quite comprehend it, and my response was simply, “Oh…”
I was in traction. Both legs hanging up in the air like plastered sausages. Cards, flowers, and stuffed animals flowed in from everywhere. Then came the move to Waco, where my grandparents lived. My parents had written and completed their will not three months prior. It gave custody directly to my grandparents, so that simplified where I was to go. Preparing for the move from Corsicana to Waco was the worst pain I recall from the entire ordeal. I was screaming as they let my tractioned legs down for transport. I remember nothing of the journey to Hillcrest Baptist Medical Center in Waco.
Hillcrest Hospital – Waco, TX
At that time, Hillcrest was still on Pine Street, where the police department and a rehab center is now. The children’s ward was on the first floor, so I didn’t get to enjoy the top floor pediatric unit that they built some years later. Now it’s all been moved to Baylor-Scott & White Hospital out on Highway 6 and I-35, but back then, I was right there on the ground floor, surrounded by folks wanting to do anything for this poor, sweet little girl who had just lost everything. I was, obviously, unable to attend my parents’ funeral, and I was much older when I found pictures, letters, and a whole scrapbook full of cards and well-wishes from my Dad’s office.
Kids, as a rule, are resilient, partly because they don’t understand what’s happening – they have no choice but to just go with life as it comes because all of it is out of their control. A strong foundation is crucial, and that was something I did have. I was smart, generally happy, and compliant, and that made the hospital days easier. Little crafts, reading books, and tv kept me occupied. I had many visitors of all kinds – friends, family, doctors, residents doing research, Uncle Miltie the clown, clergy – you name it, they came to see me. My room was full of toys, plants, and balloons.
My grandparents enrolled me at St. Alban’s (Episcopal) Elementary School, and I spent most of 2nd grade in the hospital or at home with my grandparents. When I was released from the hospital the first time, I was in a body cast from my armpits down to my toes. Those were difficult weeks. I couldn’t reach anything to scratch it. After the body cast, my other injuries had healed, so I ended up with a single cast on my right leg. This was around Christmas, and we moved to a bigger house near the Heart of Texas Coliseum (now known as the Extraco Events Center). On January 4th, 1985, that cast was removed.
January 14th was a cold and icy day. We had someone at the house working on the heater, I believe, and he was on the roof when I fell. I was hopping around on my crutches and slipped on some ice. Down I went, and just like that, my right femur was broken again. Strangely, it didn’t hurt, but I could see the bulge in my thigh, and instantly, I knew it was broken again. I started yelling, and Lucile came out of the house, thinking I had been stung by a bee or something. She yelled “Oh no!” in a voice not her own and ran back into the house. The man on the roof came quickly to my aid. Bless his heart, he was a former paramedic!
I was back in the hospital for another six weeks or so, continuing my 2nd grade classwork from the hospital, again. My teacher, Mrs. Dupree, and Father Mark and Father Paul from St. Alban’s came to see me often, and we got through the school year just fine. Again, that solid foundation supported me, and despite my hardship, it was determined that there was no need to hold me back a year. I went on to the third grade upright and as normal a kid as I could be under the circumstances, and I made all A’s until my eyesight caused me some temporary problems in 4th grade.
The Car Accident
For many years, all I ever heard from Lucile was that the accident had been caused by the man in the red pickup truck, whose name I do not know. He was drunk, had five DWI’s, and had thrown his wife through a plate glass window the week before. I can’t tell you how many times I heard that story.
But that wasn’t the whole story.
I mentioned another driver who passed us in a no-passing zone. That started it. The guy in the pickup truck who was allegedly drunk may not have caused anybody a problem that day if not for the other driver, though I’m sure if he was drunk, it didn’t help matters. Pickup truck man swerved to miss No-passing-zone man and was forced into our lane. In addition, a construction company had left material piled up along the road so close that there was no escape possible for us or for Pickup truck man. No-passing-zone man was not involved in the accident, but he caused the death of Pickup truck man and my parents, and he orphaned a kid. I have no doubt that No-passing-zone man died that day in his own way, as well.
What I Experienced vs. What I Was Told
Lucile and I had issues with what happened after the accident. I had my story, and she had hers, based on what she was told: a wrecker service man was the first person on the scene. Per Lucile, I was in the back seat, I never lost consciousness, and the wrecker service man found me choking on vomit and saved my life. She never believed the story I told her, and I don’t remember the story she told me, so that part is a mystery to me. I let it go after a time, however, because something else changed that made me believe it was best to just leave well enough alone.
Lucile told this whole story to everyone – drove me kind of crazy because I was paraded in front of people as this poor little orphan girl, and here now, listen to this horrible story that isn’t quite accurate as she cries while she tells it again, and again, and again. I’m not trying to be mean to her – she lost more than anyone should have to endure, but I did, too, and I didn’t want to live through it over and over again with what seemed like every person we came in contact with!
Anyway, as I said, my mother survived for a time after the accident. She was thrown through the windshield and was calling to me from outside the car when I came up from unconsciousness. Lucile accepted that for a while, but at some point, the story changed – suddenly, Mom had “died instantly”. It didn’t take me long to realize that Lucile could no longer deal with what had actually happened to her daughter. For my part, I cared more about truth. The truth was bad enough, but at least it represented reality. I could not change the facts to suit me, but I had compassion enough for Lucile and what she believed she needed to not try to correct her. Who could blame her?
Effects of Hypothyroidism on Recovery Time and Other Complications
See, there actually is something related to hypothyroidism here! Thyroid medication is measured in micrograms – these are exceedingly tiny units of hormone that control every cell in your body. When the accident occurred, I was on a mixed dose of Synthroid – I took 25 mcg every other day and 50 mcg on the alternate days to average 37.5 mcg per day.
One caveat: What follows involves some of my own theories, but they are based on a lifetime of personal observation. (EDIT: I did find a study on rats from 1999 that supports the idea that hypothyroidism slows the healing of wounds.)
When trauma, illness, or stress occurs, the body changes. It reacts to adjust hormones to a level needed to deal with the problem. Without a thyroid, the body cannot adjust like it should. Periods of stress, just within normal life may cause increased symptoms of hypothyroidism, even if testing indicates your thyroid hormones are in the correct range. Medication is at a fixed level, so there is no natural adjustment possible. Can’t just adjust the medication in the moment either because it takes a couple of weeks for the new amount to normalize in your system.
The car accident caused me severe physical and mental trauma despite my resilience. It was believed by my doctors that when I slipped and broke my leg the second time, hypothyroidism played a role – I was not healing as quickly as I ought to have.
In fact, a couple of memories just occurred to me. At one point, I was either unable to have my cast removed or they were going to have to re-cast it because of a lack of proper healing. I believe also that after I had been in the hospital for six weeks the second time, they were unable to release me because my healing was progressing too slowly, and they did not want a repeat performance. Lucile blamed it on the bone doctor – the late Dr. “Red” Covington, and insisted that somebody else set my leg, but it may very well have had nothing to do with Dr. Covington (who always used to call me “Squirt”).
I have noticed that when I get a cold or the flu, it takes about twice as long for me to get over it than the people around me – especially Joel. On the rare occasions he gets sick, he is better within a few days, whereas the same condition may keep me down for three weeks or more. I attribute this to his time in the Navy – he’s been inoculated against everything, and he seems to have a healthier immune system overall.
I have had multiple immune system issues: lactose-intolerance, asthma, mono and Lyme disease and lichen planus. Lichen planus affects the mucous membranes and causes inflammatory blisters that can occur anywhere on the body. They even mirror each other on both sides of the body like the wrists, feet, and back. I have always been prone to developing bronchitis and sinus infections. Inflammation at every turn, it seems, and I think this is inextricably related to my lack of a thyroid and inability to adjust to body stress.
So that brings up COVID-19. I worked for Dealers Electrical Supply Corporate Office as an accounts payable clerk for nearly four years. When the coronavirus became a thing here in Central Texas, our business was deemed an essential business because we are part of the electrical infrastructure. The way our system worked, it was not going to be possible for me to work from home, so I had a choice to make, and it was a difficult one. I was good at my job, I enjoyed it, and I worked with wonderful people. I also recognized that my asthma, at the very least, put me a greater risk for serious complications from coronavirus if I should contract it. Joel was very concerned, and as the number of infected people in our county rose, I made the decision to leave Dealers and try to find work from home.
I don’t know exactly what effects my hypothyroidism would have on my prognosis if I were to get the virus, but I gotta say, I don’t want to find out. What I understand about coronavirus and the lungs is that the lungs get overwhelmed with fluid and the mucous membranes get inflamed. Between my asthma and lichen planus (which also affects mucous membranes), and the slow progression of illnesses that I postulate is related to my hypothyroidism, I am extremely concerned that coronavirus could kill me and kill me quickly.
This has been the motivation behind leaving my job, staying home, and beginning to write. I have always wanted to find a job involving writing – I prefer it so much to speaking, so maybe this is my chance to do what I have always thought I would be best at. In the past, I couldn’t find a topic I felt interested enough in or knowledgeable enough about to get serious. I hope that finally I will succeed in this and ideally, find a way to support myself with it.
A Final Word
Thank you for taking the time to read this story. It is my life, and despite my tragedy, I love my life. I have a wonderful husband, two fantastically entertaining dogs, a good family, and friends who think too much of me. Most importantly, I have God Almighty as my Father, and Jesus as my Hope for the next world.
God bless. Take care of each other. Stay healthy.
In my next post, I will tell you how my hypothyroidism was affected by a lack of proper medical knowledge for five years after the car accident.