I got the call that no one wants to ever get. Ever. Here is my story of how one call turned our lives upside down and opened my eyes to see the beauty in the little things, to take a step back, slow down, worry less, appreciate life and appreciate the people in my life.
Spoiler Alert: I did not get hit by a car literally but sometimes metaphorically I feel like I did. My experience does not even come close to anything that Andy is going through. Nor am I nearly as eloquent and witty as Andy. He has tackled this obstacle which such grace and courage and has had the most incredible attitude throughout this whole ordeal. I’m not sure I can say the same about me, but we are a team and we are in this together. So here is the other half of the story......
Sailing was Canceled....Wait What????
To get a better understanding of my perspective, we also need to back up to the beginning of summer. Finally sailing season has arrived! I was so excited because this was going to be the first summer since having kids that I could sail more and race on Wednesday nights with Andy. I had an amazing babysitter lined up and was ready to go. But sailing was canceled, so instead of racing we were filling up sandbags hoping the yacht club wouldn't flood. Gah! I needed to find another hobby for the summer.
My Cycling Experience...
Andy had started riding, and he was loving it. I watched him get in amazing shape while I sat back and ate Reese’s cups stuffed with Reese pieces (best candy ever)... While those were good and all, I decided I wanted to see what this cycling thing was all about. Andy found a great deal on eBay and scored a nice road bike for me. He hooked me up with all the cycling gear I needed to enjoy riding my new bike. It even had a fancy light that I would always forget to shut off. If I had to place a bet on which one of us would have had a bike accident, I would have guessed it would have been me.
Let's start with the clip-in shoes (the shoes that are more expensive than the shoes I wear every day). I think there needs to be a panic button you can press when you can't get your shoe unhooked from the pedal... Several times I couldn't get unclipped before my bike stopped and I just slowly tumbled over. Oops. Finally I won the battle against the clip-in shoes and figured it out. Then there are the hand signals. Andy knew all the rules for riding, he used all of the proper hand signals. When we rode together he used all these signals to let me know when he was turning and if there was a hole in the road. He would tell me when a car was approaching. He followed the rules to a T. I on the other hand, tried to take one hand off my bike to signal I was turning and I almost ate it. I figured it was safer to keep both hands on the bike, for now.
He taught me about drafting. I liked this part of cycling. You mean I can ride while the person in front of you does all the hard work? Then yes sign me up for that. I figured out drafting quite quickly. When we went out for rides, I usually rode behind him and was always impressed with his ease at which he rode. He made it look easy... meanwhile after a few miles my legs and lungs were burning but as I found my rhythm and laid off the candy bars it got easier. I came to love it. It was relaxing and it was something fun Andy and I could do together.
That Friday morning was like any other. Andy said he was going to take a bike ride later that day and when I asked him how far he would go, he said "a long one". I had a weird feeling in my stomach but I ignored it. I figured it would be good for him to relax after a couple of very busy weeks at work. I got the call that afternoon. Up until about 3:15 it was a good day. It was a busy day and I didn't have a chance to check my phone. I had some messages from Andy telling me he hoped I was having a super day and that he loved me very much, which I didn't see until later. I often wonder now, what if I responded to those texts right away? What If I had talked to him for a bit...would things have turned out differently? I texted him around 3 o'clock asking if he was home. He didn't respond. I figured he was riding and I would hear from him soon and didn't think twice about it. My phone rang and a number I didn't recognize came up.
Every time I get a call from an unfamiliar number I debate whether or not I should answer it. Is it a scammer? But then my curiosity gets the best of me and I always end up answering. I'm glad I answered this call but also wish I never got that call. It was an investigator from Livingston County Sheriff’s office. He asked if I was Andrew's wife. He sounded so formal. He said my husband was involved in an accident and was on his way to the hospital. He was so calm, I figured it can't be that bad since he was so calm. So I asked if Andy was OK. He didn't give me a straight answer and responded with "well I wasn't the one on the scene, my partner was". My mind raced. I think my side of the conversation went something like this "oh my God, he was on his bike, did he get hit by a car? Does he have a brain injury? Can he talk? Can he move his legs?” The officer just said that he is being taken by ambulance to the hospital. He never answered any of my questions except to confirm that yes he was hit by a car.
Everything went silent. I heard him talking but I didn't understand what he was saying. From that point forward I felt myself going through the motions but it didn't feel real. It is hard to explain except that the next few days felt like a dream. Like it wasn't really happening. I tried calling my parents... no answer... Andy's parents... no answer... This is probably about the time I really started to panic... I just kept thinking "come on, someone answer". Thankfully Papa Ruest called me back by the time I got to my car and he immediately headed to Rochester... and I'm so glad he did because there is no way I would have been able to handle the next few hours by myself.
The ER is an interesting place. This particular Friday it was packed. Standing room only. I asked the lady at the podium if Andy was there. He was not. That was a long wait. At this point I still did not know if he was Ok or even alive. It was the longest wait of my life. Finally two sheriffs walked towards me and asked if I was Andrew’s wife. They asked me to follow them... they took me to Andy. There was a crowd of white coats around him. I felt like I was in a movie. I hear the doctor say "tell him you love him and then we need to get to work".
I see tears rolling down Andy's face and he says "I'm sorry I ruined the birthday party". First thing I think is I'm glad that he knows who I am and he remembers the party tomorrow. Phew. But I also realize at that moment that I need to be strong and can't let him see how scared I am. So I take a breath and tell him "this is no big deal, you got this and you will be fine".
The sheriff took me back to a different area and unlocks a tiny waiting room. He has to ask me questions. Questions about Andy's bike ride. I pull up my phone and show him the whole ride on the app that Andy uses when he goes for a ride. I see where it stopped. My heart broke a little. And I think, "why". Why did he have to go for such a long ride? Why did that car have to hit him? I go in a tiny room and wait... and wait. I asked the sheriff to stay with me because I couldn't bear to be alone at that moment. He was amazing. I asked him to see if Andy could wiggle his toes and he would go check it out and come back and tell me. He went above and beyond and I am sure he had a million things to do but he stayed with me. It meant a lot. I then randomly ask him if he likes his job. I proceed to tell him that it has to suck to have to make that call to families. His response was that this was a good call. The last few families he had in that room, their loved one didn't make it. It's all a matter of perspective I guess.
Then I snapped out of the dream and realize the kids are still at daycare....uh oh. It is getting close to 6 o'clock when the daycare closes. I call the daycare and tell them "Andy got hit by a car"... Now I was the one talking and it still didn't make sense. Luckily our daycare is incredible and the owners without even skipping a beat offer to take the boys to their house. Not only did they take them to their house. They took them to a parade. The boys never knew anything bad had happened. They were just excited to watch a parade and get candy. It's all a matter of perspective.
The doctor finally gave us the OK to go back to the critical care ER area. Andy was lying flat with a neck brace covered in blood. I can't erase that image. I want to but it won't go away. Usually I'm good with gross stuff. I worked in a hospital for 10 years. But, I almost lost my cookies several times. And yet here is Andy cracking jokes from the hospital bed. Telling the plastic surgeon to "pretty him up a little bit" and for the doctors to "at least take him to dinner first". Here Andy is... the one who got run over by a car literally and he is making light of such a horrible horrible situation. I think that is the only reason I held it together. It is so incredibly hard to see someone you love in pain. I was trying my best to hold it together. I couldn't let Andy see how terrified I was. At one point, I couldn’t bear to watch what they were doing. I think that was the part where the side of his neck swelled up to the size of a softball and the doctors had to make sure that his arteries were OK. I was stuck in the corner. I had nowhere to go but the supply closet behind me. So I ducked off in there to take a couple of deep breaths and ended up knocking a bunch of stuff off of one of the shelves. Oops.
Another time I had to step away and found myself in the ER ambulance entrance way surrounded by people on stretchers, one of them handcuffed to the stretcher with the EMT warning me to keep my distance "he spits". This is all just surreal. Maybe it's not happening. Another family gets rushed into the area next to us. I overhear that he is having a stroke and they are going to check his swallowing to see if he can take medicine. They do the 3 ounce water test. I have done this a million times as a speech pathologist at this same hospital. Maybe I'm at work. Maybe this is not happening but then I look down and I see Andy lying there. And I realize that it is in fact happening.
Time is a funny thing. How can it feel like things are in slow motion but also be moving so fast at the same time? I did a lot of waiting the first week. Waiting for him to arrive at the hospital. Waiting for him to get out of the spinal surgery. Waiting for them to fix the jaw. Waiting to see the doctor. Waiting for him to be out of the jaw surgery. Waiting to be discharged. Waiting in line at the pharmacy. Waiting for his jaw to be unwired. There was so much waiting, but yet so much to be done. And I have to imagine if the waiting was hard for me, it is a million times worse for Andy. And yet the days are flying by. Every day is running into each other. It is a whirlwind. It is relentless. One day runs into the next. It is moving too fast yet too slow at the same time. It’s odd to have to wait yet move forward at the same time.
Who knew they had hospital gowns that you could heat up or cool down...I definitely need one of these for when Andy turns the thermostat to 65°
Similar to Andy, I am also overwhelmed. I am overwhelmed with many different emotions from fear to frustration to exhaustion to gratefulness. But mostly I'm overwhelmed with gratitude and am so incredibly thankful Andy is still alive. I am overwhelmed by how much everyone has done for us and how incredibly lucky we are to have such amazing people in our lives. People I didn't even know cared about us or who even knew us reached out to us.
A random stranger at 711 who saw me juggling a two year old and a four year old, 2 gallons of milk and 4 gallons of ice cream and left two toy trucks on the roof of my car.
Families at our daycare who made us wonderful meals. Teachers at the daycare who have become friends and have been so encouraging and supportive.
My hockey sisters for their kindness. The cycling community, Andy's baseball and hockey teammates, the guys from the Brockport Yacht club and all of his friends who have encouraged him.
Our new friends who graciously transported and cared for our kids when they were juggling kids of their own. Friends old and new who reached out via facebook, calls, texts, emails, letters, cards.
The wonderful nurses, PTs, OTs, and doctors in the hospital who put up with my billion questions. The awesome worker at the hospital who I convinced to buzz Andy's hair because I chickened out. The chaplain who happened to be taking the hospital elevators at the same time as me who gave me a hug when she saw me crying waiting for the elevators.
My amazing coworkers who cooked meals for us and were so supportive. Andy's coworkers who rigged up a computer and TV for him and literally brought a suitcase of technology for him.
My best friend who drove 6 hours multiple times to come and help and let me vent and cry on her shoulder.
Our families who have been there by our side every step of the way.
I am so incredibly humbled by everyone's generosity and kindness. It leaves me speechless, which is a pretty rare thing.
This experience has taught me so many things so far. It has taught me that there are so many more good people than bad out there. To have faith that everything will be OK and that some things are out of your control. That life is in fact short and can be taken from you quickly so enjoy it. I have learned to appreciate the little things like the ability to read to your kids, to be able to pick up and hug your kids, or the ability to go for a walk. It's taught me that you need a team to stay afloat and it's OK to ask for help. This experience has showed me really how perceptive children are and if we stay positive and happy, they will be too.
I've learned that Andy is the strongest person I know and I am so incredibly lucky to have him. It's taught me to pay attention when driving. I've also learned that it is definitely worth it to get an expensive/good helmet.
And most of all this experience has taught me that life is perfectly imperfect and that’s the best life of all...
Just one week before the accident