A Sister’s Journey (written in August 2002)

Dear Alan,

When I moved to Atlanta in 1997 to marry Scott I never thought I’d be homesick.  I was.  It didn’t hit me at first, but it happened.  Fortunately, it didn’t last long.  If you can believe this I actually burst into tears one day in the grocery store parking lot because I missed Mom!  In about 6 months I got over it, and adjusted to life in the “big city,” settling into a routine.  Things were good. At that point in life, I thought it was the hardest thing I’d ever been through.

My next challenge in life was readjusting to things when, after only 2 years of marriage, Dad came to live with Scott and I.  At first I was very worried and Scott was majorly stressed out, but after hip replacement surgery and having a blood clot, Dad recovered well and started spending a lot of time with our family in SC.  This has been really great for Dad and our family.  At that point in my life, I thought it was the hardest thing I’d ever been through.

I’ve pretty much coasted since then, enjoying life, enjoying work, enjoying my marriage.  Not really even any speedbumps in the road.  Seems God has a way of making you sit up and take notice.

Our 5th anniversary on April 26th, 2002 was spent just enjoying each other doing our “usual” Friday night thing.  Good steaks and great homemade margaritas.  We overdid it a bit with the tequila and Scott went to bed early in the back bedroom…romantic, huh?  I stayed up and watched TV and then turned in myself around 11:30 p.m.  The phone rang at 2:15 a.m., and I woke up thinking, “Good grief.  Another wrong number in the middle of the night.”  I just expected to answer and hang up and go back to sleep, enjoying the fact that it was Saturday, and I could sleep late.  I answered the phone in my sleepy voice.  It was Mom.  Of course, I immediately knew something was not right.  Although she sounded worried, she didn’t sound horribly upset; more out of breath and hurried than anything else.  She said you had had an accident on your four-wheeler while you were camping in Murphy, NC and had been life flighted to UT Medical Center in Knoxville.  We really didn’t know anything else.  Your girlfriend, Vanessa, and her dad were about to pick Mom up and leave to go up there.  Sitting down here in Atlanta there wasn’t much I could do, so I told her to call me as soon as they got there to let me know what was happening.  She said she’d call Dad at Aunt Laura’s and tell him.  I woke Scott up, told him and went back to bed.  Typical Traynum behavior…we don’t panic or over react until we have more facts…especially in the middle of the night!  My first thought was, “Oh crap, I guess she knows he has a four-wheeler now!”  From what I’d known, you hadn’t told Mom about the bright yellow four-wheeler you’d bought.  I’d seen it earlier in the month when Jane and I had stopped by to see you when she was down for a conference in Charleston.  It was in the garage at your apartment.  I didn’t think twice about it…it was pretty, and I knew that you probably had a great time riding it.

I really had no trouble going back to sleep after Mom called.  Maybe it was the tequila, maybe it was the Traynum “no panic” reaction, maybe a combination of both.  Anyway, the phone rang again around 6:30 a.m.  This time it was Dad.  Again, no panic in the voice; just the facts.  You had a back injury and your brain was bruised in two places.  We did not know if you were paralyzed or the extent of the brain injury.  Not really thinking things through, but knowing that I wanted my family together, I told Dad to come on back to GA, and we’d head to Knoxville together.  I woke Scott up and told him the news.  He said Ok and rolled over.  Then it hit me for the first time.  You could be paralyzed.  You could have severe brain damage.  You could die.  I burst into tears.  Scott jumped out of bed and held me while I cried like a baby.  I told him I didn’t want to lose my brother.  I don’t see you much, but I know you’re always there.  I never realized that I counted on you to just be there.  I finally calmed down, and we decided to sleep awhile longer, and then get up and get ready.  Dad would be there in a couple of hours, and we’d need to get on the road.

I had the good sense to e-mail my friend Christy to come over and look after the cats.  She did and actually straightened up my house a bit.  The night before I had spilt a whole glass of margaritas on the dining room floor…ick!  I did a half-assed job of cleaning it up, intending to take care of it on Saturday, obviously not knowing what was in store.  She cleaned that up, fed the cats, swept and vacuumed and left me a beautiful potted azalea.  I have great friends!

After Dad got there around 9:30 a.m., Mom called again.  Seems you were not paralyzed; you were moving your legs and feet.  Thank God!  And you were a bit responsive to questions, holding up two fingers when asked and saying Mom’s name.  That was good.  You did call yourself Art, but 2 out of 3 wasn’t bad.  We’d take it.  Dad showed the first signs of emotion to me after that phone call; you know how he gets.  His voice cracked and his lip started quivering.  We hugged and I scurried upstairs, and we quickly got ready to go.  I spent about 20 minutes searching our front yards’ clover patches for a four-leaf good luck sign for you.  I couldn’t find one.

Although it took several days to gather all the facts, you had had a severe accident.  You and several friends had gone to Tellico Campground in Murphy for the weekend on Friday.  Evidently, that night three of you had gone to call girlfriends on higher ground because you couldn’t get out on the cell phones in the campground itself.   After talking to Vanessa around 10:30 p.m., the three of you headed back to the campground.  Nothing unusual.  On the way back down, you did nothing different than you usually did, but going around a curve, your wheel slipped.  You went down a 30-foot embankment, cut a tree in half with the four-wheeler and landed in a creek between two rocks.  The bright yellow four-wheeler came down on top of you, but by the grace of God, a tree stump caught it before it actually landed on you.  If not for that, my baby brother would probably not be here today, and I would have been getting ready for a funeral instead of a trip to Knoxville.

There were two friends with you.  Nick Driver and Art Garrison.  I’d never met Nick, but he called 911 while Art tried to find you in the dark.  I’ve known Art for several years.  We went to church together and knew each other from that.  It took him 15-20 minutes in the dark to find you.  When he first got to you, you were unconscious.  Your breathing was funny, but then got ok.  When you did start to respond, you were combative and agitated.  Art knew from his emergency training as a member of the First Response Team with the City of Greenville Fire Department that this most likely indicated a head injury.  So for 1 ½ to 2 hours, while he waited on the EMT’s to arrive to remote Tellico, he held you down while you fought him.  Can you already start to see the ways in which God was watching over you?  When the EMT’s did arrive, they had to cut a path down to Art and you, and they lifted you out via a human chain.  From what I can gather, LIFESTAR, UT Medical’s life-flight helicopter service, was waiting at Murphy Medical Center to take you to UT.

On the way to Tennessee, Scott and Dad kept our two vehicles close enough most of the time to communicate by walkie-talkie. Scott ran out and bought an extra one to replace our damaged one and if we were too far apart, we used the cell phone.  I think we made three stops on the four-hour ride to Knoxville: 2 bathroom stops and 1 stop outside of Chattanooga to eat at Sticky Fingers BBQ.  I could tell Dad was ready to get back on the road so we didn’t tarry too long.

We got to Knoxville about 1:30 or 2:00 p.m.  UT Medical Center is not difficult to find, but we did have a few moments of wandering around trying to find Neuro ICU.  We found Mom by herself.  Vanessa and her dad had already left to go back to SC.  Vanessa had a hard time seeing you in so much pain, so she headed back, I think with the intention of coming back Monday.  Jimmy was gathering things to head up to Knoxville from SC because at this point we knew you would be here for awhile.  We certainly had no idea how long.  Mom said you were in a lot of pain and that right now you were on pain medicine and sedated to a good extent.  We got to see you when we got there since NICU visiting hours are at 10:00, 2:00, 4:00 and 9:00.  You were hooked to several IV’s and monitors and were unconscious.  You were moving a bit and making faces of pain.  Every now and then you’d act like you wanted to get up by raising yourself a bit.  Your arms were restrained and you had on a neck brace.  Shortly after we got there we got to talk to the attending orthopedic surgeon, Dr. Jeffries.  He wanted to do surgery on your back in the next few days.  On the way down the embankment, your back hit something and 2 vertebrae, T11 and T12, were fractured.  Your back snapped forward, but did not snap back all the way.  If left alone, it would not heal properly since there was a lot of soft tissue damage and there was actually the chance that if you moved too much or the wrong way, that something could slip and pinch or cut your spinal cord and you’d be paralyzed.  Of course everyone agreed that the surgery must be done.

The NICU waiting room was small and only 2 people from each family were allowed at a time.  We were already up to 3.  When Jimmy arrived, we were 4.  Shortly thereafter, Art made his way there with his brother-in-law, Chad Campbell, who’d been on the camping trip also.  We decided to move to another waiting room downstairs before they kicked us out.  The lady over the NICU and ICU waiting room told us to go into the surgical waiting room down the hall, and she’d call us there if needed.  We quickly came to know this sweet lady, Bobbi.  We had a small room in the surgical waiting room that was a bit more secluded than the rest of the surgical waiting area.  Doctors used this room to talk to families privately, but since it was the weekend, it wasn’t busy.  We sat there for a couple more hours until we saw you at 4:00 p.m.  There was not much change.  Visiting is only for 20 minutes four times a day, so we all headed to La Quinta, where we had rooms.  Shelly, being an Assistant General Manager at La Quinta in SC, made the reservations for us.  Bobbi gave Mom a beeper in case the doctor needed to talk to us.  Not being very technological, Mom gave me the beeper for safekeeping.  I think she feared her reaction if it went off, so I became the beeper keeper.

If I’m not mistaken, Art and Chad stayed at the hospital for awhile.  We had 4 rooms at La Quinta, all together on the 2nd floor.  Poor Mom, when she started unpacking she came to our room with two shoes in her hand and said, “I think I packed in a hurry, don’t you?”  In one hand was a silver shoe, in the other a gold one!  There were times of laughter during all this.  The good Lord helped us from the first moments.

Jimmy, Mom, Scott and I went to eat at Denny’s.  We weren’t very hungry, but we did eat.  You must take care of yourself during something like this, so we did.  We went back to the hospital by 8:30 to wait and see you again.  This time we started really talking the nurses in the NICU.  I believe on duty that evening was Fran.  Fran was there the previous night when you arrived.  She was a very sweet, reserved lady.  She answered all our questions and tried to help us any way she could.  Back to the hotel we went afterwards.  No need to stick around since we couldn’t see you again ’til 10:00 a.m. the next morning.  We had the beeper in case we were needed.

If I’m not mistaken, the next day when we went in, we knew that there would be more people arriving out of concern for our family and you.  We told Bobbi we were moving downstairs to the big lobby, and she assured us that she would call us there if needed.  She had the numbers to both pay phones, and we gave them out to family and friends.  People started responding by sending us phone cards and money for expenses.  Mom and Jimmy put in for a room at UT.  UT Medical Center has a 16-room hotel for out-of-town families.  Thus started a ritual of sitting in the lobby, talking on the phone to family and friends, and waiting for 10:00, 2:00, 4:00 and 9:00 to roll around.

On Sunday, things changed.  Dr. Fromke, the neurologist in charge of your case, did not ok the back surgery.  He suspected that your brain injury was worse than we feared and that your ICP (intra-cranial pressure) was up.  They did a CAT scan and decided that an ICP monitor was needed.  This was inserted through a small incision in your scalp and skull.  Of course, we quickly learned that a normal ICP is 0-10.  Your ICP when they first inserted the monitor was 57.  If this pressure stays up too long, it can cause permanent brain damage or even brain death.  Hospital personnel quickly started administering manitol to help the swelling of your brain and other drugs to induce a coma and a paralytic drug to keep you from moving and aggravating either the brain and especially the back injury.  Your tongue and eyes were swollen and it was hard to look at you.  I’ve never seen Jimmy very upset, but when we heard this news, he couldn’t talk.  His sister called on the phone and he couldn’t even talk to her.

On Monday other friends and family started arriving.  Some stayed overnight; some stayed a few hours.  If they couldn’t come, they called.  At first Mom decided that no one but immediate family could go to your room, but this changed the first time people came up!  Nick Driver, his girlfriend Jessica, your friend Casey and her mom Joyce came up.  More rooms at La Quinta.

Vanessa’s parents brought her back on Monday.  At one point on that day, she and I stood by your bed, one on each side holding a hand, long after everyone else left.  Vanessa talked to you, telling you how much she loved you and that you would get better, and I rubbed your hand, praying.  Your ICP dropped to 11.  It didn’t stay there, but the nurse said, “Whatever you two are doing, keep doing it.”  I wish it had been that easy.  Dad usually only stayed for 5-10 minutes of the visitation time.  He didn’t deal with the machines and monitors too well; he’d check things out, but then be on his way so others could come in.  Which they did.  Those first few days people made the 3-hour drive from SC to visit for 5 minutes, see our family, and then go home.  Amazing.  The support that we had was awesome.  Your co-workers made the trip, your friends made the trip, our family members made the trip, family co-workers made the trip, our friends made the trip.  You name them, and they made the trip.

I would go up for each visitation and look at the reaction of these visitors.  Some cried.  Some were quiet.  Some didn’t stay in the room long.  I guess since it was my baby brother, I handled things differently.  I would have done anything they wanted me to if it would have helped you.  At one point I remember standing there looking at you and thinking, “If God would let me trade places with him, I’d do it in a heartbeat.  I don’t want him to have to go through this.”

It is at this point on Tuesday morning that you can insert the famous “Scott Orders Grits at Denny’s” story that you’re heard from Scott, Dad and I.  You can also ask Aunt Beth, Melanie Brothers, Mom, Jimmy, Vanessa and Art about this story.  It was one of the many times we had a good laugh during all this.  Fortunately, we kept our sense of humor!

I handled everything pretty well through Monday.  But for some reason, on Tuesday, things started hitting me hard.  I could not look at you without crying.  Scott and I had first come to Tennessee expecting to make sure you would be ok and go on our planned anniversary trip to N. GA that Sunday.  We had no idea or conception of the severity of your accident.  Our plans definitely changed.  On Monday I had planned to take the whole week off work.  Scott and I already had Monday through Wednesday off for our anniversary trip so two more days wasn’t a big deal.  Everyone at work was extremely supportive.  Now, I felt I just had to go home for a day or two.  Aunt Beth arrived Monday evening.  She walked up to me Monday night when she got there and said, “You can cry now,” and I lost it.  I refused to cry in front of Mom and Dad.  I talked to her Tuesday morning after seeing you, and told her I had to go home.  I had to have some normalcy.  Obviously this was going to be a long journey and to be able to function, I felt like I had to go home.  Scott agreed with me.  I was scared to tell Mom though; I didn’t want her to think I was abandoning them, but unlike she, Dad and Jimmy, I didn’t have the luxury of sitting there 24 hours a day.  Aunt Beth talked to Mom and so did I, and we decided I’d go home and come back for the weekend, Friday after work.  Since so many people were there, I felt better about leaving.  I really did not want to; I needed to.  I did know that our parents had plenty of support, and I would be back Friday.

We learned about brain injuries and back injuries and all the other things that happen in NICU quickly and more than we ever wanted or cared to.  We were given two books called “Waiting to Clear” that explained the consequences of brain injuries and things that might or might not happen later.  One thing we quickly did was start a log of visitors and start taking their pictures.  We wanted you to know how much people cared about you, not only during this time, but always.  It was one of the things the book said to do and it helped pass some time when we were sitting in the lobby downstairs.

Of course, we kept in constant contact with Jane in Alaska.  In fact, I made so many phone calls on my cell phone that we upped our service by Monday.  On Monday, I spent 30 minutes on the phone with Jane.  She asked me, “Lisa, I don’t know what to do.  Do I need to come down there?  Tell me what to do.”  I didn’t know what to tell her.  My gut told me she needed to come, but I found it very difficult to say that to her.  I didn’t want to be the one that told her to come 5,000 miles, but if she didn’t and something happened, I didn’t want to be the one that told her not to come either.  She told me to call the local Red Cross and gave me Mike’s SS and other information.  I called Tuesday morning at 10:00 a.m.  By the time Scott and I got home to GA that evening, Jane, Mike and Lauren had round trip tickets from Alaska to Knoxville with 15 day emergency leave for Mike.  They arrived in Knoxville Thursday around lunchtime.  It’s a good idea to support your local Red Cross.

As I said, Scott and I did go home Tuesday.  At the 2:00 visitation to NICU, I decided not to go in.  I really didn’t think I could handle more, but at the last minute, after talking to Aunt Beth, I decided that if I didn’t and something happened, I’d regret it forever.  So, I went in.  Then I didn’t want to leave.  A peace came over me.  I would have sat by your bed for the next 34 days if it would have helped you.

Since I had Wednesday off anyway, I stayed at home.  I had my nails done and my hair cut.  Trivial things in the grand scheme of things it seemed now, but things that were normal, and I didn’t know when I’d have time for them again.  I cleaned house and kept in touch with Knoxville.  Thursday and Friday at work were fine, really not hard at all.  They had flowers on my desk at work when I got back Thursday.  All my co-workers were very supportive, but we kept to business pretty much.  It helped me keep my mind off you, but never for long since I knew when visitation was and expected a phone call from someone soon thereafter.

Friday we left straight from work to go back to Knoxville.  Mike and Lauren had headed down to SC on Friday morning after arriving on Thursday.  Mike, who’s been in the Air Force for 15 years now, only saw you once.  He did not want to see you again, and took Lauren to visit his family in Anderson and Spartanburg.  Jane stayed where she was.  That was another reason I could go home on Tuesday and feel ok about it.

All other sorts of things happen when a person is stationary in bed like you had been now for 2 weeks.  One of these is pneumonia and you had developed it.  This was a great concern.  You did not react well to being moved around, and they had to do this every so often to keep you from getting bedsores and to keep your lungs moving.  Because your ICP didn’t react well when they moved you, they ordered a Triadyne II bed.  This bed, by use of automatic air pillows, slowly inflated and moved you from side to side to help your pulmonary function.  Since it was slow, constant movement, your body responded better to this than sudden movement from side to side. You were also put on a special Nellcor Puritan Bennett 840 ventilator.  There are only 5 in the state of Tennessee.  Its controls were ultra sensitive and could be modulated to help you by small degrees.  The doctors were doing everything possible to help you.  We knew it.  We never doubted it.

Your temperature was constantly monitored also.  It took a spike when your brain first started swelling, and you were put on a cooling blanket.  This was turned on when needed.  This became important again when you developed pneumonia.  Your temperature went up to 104 at one point.  During the second week of your stay, the doctors put in a central line to replace all the IV’s.  To help your ICP/CCP pressure, they gave you Dopamine to keep your blood pressure up.  This helps the ICP by compensating by forcing oxygenated blood to the brain, which can be a problem with high ICP levels.  This is the Cerebral Perfusion Pressure.  So many numbers, so many machines.  You were also on a feeding tube.

Much of these details are a blur.  I know that all this happened, but I can’t tell you at what point on which day it happened.  I just know that it did.  I just know that we dealt with it by praying and calling friends and family and sharing with them and they prayed and their friends and family prayed.  Strangers prayed.  The girl who does my hair here in Georgia had you on the prayer list at her church.  As you’ve found out yourself, people you’ve never met or seen were praying for you all the time.

When we got back to Knoxville Friday night it was in time for the 9:00 visitation.  By this time, Mom, Dad and Jimmy knew all the nurses and NICU personnel by name.  Dad had also moved to a room at the UT hospital hotel to keep from driving back and forth so much and to be able to rest.  Things were a little stressful for me though because Scott really did not understand sitting around the hospital.  He didn’t grow up with the amount of close family and friends that we did.  And on top of that, men tend to want to fix things.  He couldn’t fix this and he didn’t see how sitting around helped anything.  He didn’t get the fact that this wasn’t all for you.  This was family support.  This was our family holding each other up and doing anything we could to be together and be there for you.  Scott just didn’t get it.  I still don’t think he does completely.  My heart aches for him in that respect.  Maybe through our family and me he will understand unconditional love.  He has expressed to me that his parents never really showed affection and love by hugging and saying they loved him.  They do now, but you need that when you are young and a child.  I had plenty of it.  So did you and Jane.  There was enough for everyone, and it was overflowing now.

Anyway, we got through that weekend, but I was so glad to leave and get Scott back home that I couldn’t stand it!  I made it clear on the way home that this was NOT about him.  There had never been a time in our marriage up ’til that point that I had said such a thing.  This was the first.  I needed to be able to have his support while I gave my full attention to our family and you.  The next weekend I would go to Knoxville without him.  I would drive up the 4 hours alone to Knoxville if necessary, but I would go.  And he would stay home.  I did not want him to make the trip.  I had just spent the whole weekend worrying about him and his reaction to things and going to the hotel when he wanted, etc and I was not doing it again.  He agreed with me.

So, the next weekend on Friday after work, I drove to SC.  I got to Mom’s house at about 9:00 and spent the night there.  After I gathered some more clothes for her and Jimmy, and straightened up her house I got to bed about 1:00 a.m.  I had also brought some things up from GA for Dad.  I got up at 4:30 a.m. and at 5:30 a.m. Saturday morning I met Uncle Tony, we picked up our cousin, Ray, and drove to Knoxville in my car.  They had taken the ICP monitor out that morning, so I was looking forward to seeing you with that gone.  I was only there for Saturday night that weekend, but I got to spend time with Vanessa and get to know her a little better.  She had been there almost two weeks and had pretty much taken over the hotel room that she and Jane shared.  Jane had gone down to SC to visit that weekend, so I didn’t see her.  I stayed in Art’s hotel room that adjoined Vanessa’s.  She’s a mess! I really like her; she fits in well wherever she goes!  It was that weekend that Vanessa had bought you a CD player and radio for your room in the NICU, and we went through my CD’s to pick some out for you to listen to up there.  I didn’t have much that you wouldn’t listen to, but we pulled out a few so you wouldn’t have to listen to only The Bee Gees!

You also had a horrible yeast infection on your neck from the neck brace, but this was slowly getting better.  Your skin was horribly dry, because you couldn’t move around and slough off the dead skin cells like people normally do.  Your hair was growing longer from not being cut; the buzz cut was growing out.  Your beard and mustache were growing out.

Something else we never doubted during this whole time was that God was with us and more importantly, you.  Our whole family will agree that there was absolutely no luck involved at any time in your accident.  It was not luck that Art Garrison was with you.  It was not luck that kept the four-wheeler from landing on you by having it land on a tree stump. It was not luck that you have amazing insurance.  It was not luck that you were taken by Lifestar to UT Medical Center.  It was not luck that we had the family support and friendship that we all needed.  It was not luck that Scott and I’s car broke down the week before your accident, and that we had just bought a new one.  It was not luck that we were both off work that week of the accident. It was not luck that sat with you and watched over you 24 hours a day when your family wasn’t allowed that luxury.  There is no such thing as luck.

It was between the second and third weekends that Scott decided to start on your web site (www.headsouth.com/at).  Scott is very talented at this and thought it would be a good way of people keeping in touch with how you were doing without having to call someone.  And just as importantly, to me at least, it gave him a way to contribute and do something constructive.  By the time I went up on that Friday by myself, it was up and running.  There was a guestbook for people to sign, and they quickly started logging in.  The most important part of the web page, it seemed, was the Current Condition page.  This was updated several times a day when Dad would call me and give me any details of your condition or recovery.  Any little change or bit got put on that page.  I would email Scott the update and he’d add it in.  By the next weekend, Scott had the Current Condition page set where I could update it myself remotely as often as I wanted.  This meant that I could update it from work or go to the library at UT Medical and update it from there.

On Sunday May 12th, you opened your eyes for the first time when a nurse was changing your ventilator tape!  They had started weaning you off the sedatives and had taken you off the paralytic drug the previous Thursday.  The nurse told us that we should be aware that you could probably hear things around you so we were careful to be very positive in anything we said.  We had done that the whole time, but we made extra sure of it now.  You continued to fight pneumonia, but seemed a little better each day.  On Tuesday, May 14th, you blinked your eyes when Mom asked you if you heard her.  I felt like I had won the lottery!  I bawled at work; such relief!  On May 16th, the ventilator was on such a low level that doctors were considering either taking it out completely or doing a tracheotomy to get it out of your throat.

Scott and I left early on the morning of May 17th to go back to Knoxville.  My 4th weekend in a row.  Our parents 21st day in a row. This was also the weekend of my 20th high school reunion.  Everyone kept trying to get me to go.  Were they absolutely nuts?  To put it politely, there was no way in hell I was going to that and not go to Knoxville.  You were making too much progress for me not to come see you!  That Friday they removed the central line and put you back in a regular bed.  You seemed to be slowly coming around and responding by blinking.  When I got there on Friday, I expected more than I saw.  In fact, after the 10:00 a.m. visit, I wondered if our parents were not looking for and seeing more than was there.  Your eyes were not focused on anything and to me, it was hard to tell if you were actually blinking in response or blinking because it was a muscular reaction.  I was very disheartened and started thinking about the fact that possibly you would have some brain damage.  I didn’t get too down though; I just started thinking about it.  When we went up for the 10:00 a.m. visit on May 18th, things were much better.  They had cut your sedation down drastically and you could follow us with your eyes and were definitely responding by blinking and squeezing hands.  I went back downstairs and told Aunt Beth that I was going to kill someone for not telling me how much better you were doing!      That day lots of people showed up and were in your room.  You were very emotional; you had the ventilator still in and could not talk, but we could tell you recognized people and possibly knew that you were in the hospital.  Sunday, Art came to visit again; he’d been there every weekend and many times in between.  When he walked into the room, you reached up and grabbed his hand and cried.  What a wonderful day!  By that evening on our way home, Dad had called and Vanessa had you blowing kisses…good grief, could things get better?  Yes, they could!  By that night, you had been breathing on your own for several hours.  The ventilator was simply on assist if you needed it.  The next day, you decided you didn’t.  You pulled your ventilator tube out and were doing so well they left it out!  I could have danced I was so happy!  On May 21st, your neurologist, Dr. Fromke, was ready to release you neurologically for back surgery.  So much had happened in so few days!

It was a this point that I began to think that things might actually get back to normal at some point.  I never doubted that there was a reason for everything that had happened to you and our family.  I do not know that God will ever reveal that to me, our parents, our family or even to you.  What I do know is that I have not been the only one affected by this experience.  I will never be the same person I was.  I will never feel that our family doesn’t care or that they won’t be there for me.  I will never not appreciate them.  I will always be proud to be a Traynum and your sister.  I will have more compassion for those having trouble or in the hospital or sick.  But it has also greatly put things in perspective for me.  It really doesn’t matter if my house is not spic and span; it doesn’t matter if I have the right toothpaste or the right shampoo.  What does matter is family and relationships and most of all, love.

At no point did Scott tell me not to go to Knoxville for the weekend.  He supported me fully in my trips, whether he was with me or not.  On May 24th I drove to SC again and our good friend Ann Margaret and I drove to Knoxville together.  We didn’t get there until almost 9:00 p.m.  Just in time to visit you!  We got to your room and they were loading you up to go up to the 10th floor to a regular room!  No more NICU!  This was a great move forward, but we were sad that we wouldn’t be seeing these wonderful nurses and doctors anymore. We knew we’d go back to visit though!

That weekend Mom and Jimmy had gone home to SC for the first time since April 27th.  Mom had to have check-ups at the doctor for her recent thyroid surgery.  She did not want to go, but I made sure that those who seemed to influence her the most (Mary, June, Aunt Beth) were in agreement with us and encouraged her to go home.  So, the weekend you came out of NICU, it was just Dad, Vanessa, Ann Margaret and I.  Vanessa decided to stay with you that first night.  Well, let me tell you, it was quite a night!  When someone comes out of a coma and starts recovering from a brain injury, all sorts of things happen.  They say things they wouldn’t ordinarily say, and we knew this might happen.  We braced ourselves, but it was quite interesting!  I think you kept Vanessa up most of the night just watching TV, mostly “Speedworld” on ESPN.  You couldn’t talk above a whisper at first because the ventilator had been in so long.  We had to bend over the bed and make you repeat most things you said.  Some things made sense, some didn’t.  One time you told us to move the biscuits under your feet.  No need to argue, we just pretended we moved the biscuits and you were happy!  Dad went up around 5:00 a.m. and stayed with you awhile.  I got up there around 9:00 and Ann Margaret and I stayed until lunch time.

Ann Margaret took me to TGIFriday’s for lunch that day before she left to go home to SC.  I have to say thank you not only to Ann Margaret, but to all of our family friends who showed us support and understanding and lent a hand any way possible during all this turmoil.  Ann Margaret and I don’t get to actually see each other often, but she’s the best kind of friend.  One who will always be there even though the miles separate you.  When we do get together, it’s like we’ve always been together, even though we may not have seen or talked to each other in months.  Ann Margaret gave us some good advice because she’s been through quite a lot with her Dad and his lung transplant the past few years.  Good advice which we took to heart about staying with you, keeping track of the bills, etc.

After Ann Margaret left, Vanessa, Dad and I took shifts sitting with you.  Although “technically” you didn’t need anyone, we couldn’t stand the thought of you sitting in that hospital room by yourself, having just awakened from a coma.  We did let you stay alone a couple of hours that night while we ate supper.  We all went back up for a visit, and then I was going stay that night.  Dad and Vanessa left me around 11:00 or so.  I sat down by your bed and tried to rest.  You kept pulling at the restraints you had on.  You wanted them off, but we were afraid that you’d try to pull the feeding tube, oxygen and IV out.  You’d pulled your ventilator out…what were a few more tubes?  And small ones at that!  One time you were tugging at them and I asked you what he wanted.  Your voice had gotten stronger and I heard you the first time you answered me.  “I want a f***ing beer!” you said!  I told you that you couldn’t have a beer!  “Why not?” you asked.  I told you, “Because you’re in a hospital and they don’t serve beer.”  You just rolled your eyes at me.  Your eyes were probably the one thing that threw me during this time.  You’d had so many drugs pumped into you that they told us it would be 4-6 weeks before they were all out of your system and that you’d go through some withdrawals because of this.  Your eyes are light blue, like mine, and your pupils were so dilated all the time that you looked like you were high.  It was a bit freaky and really threw me.  I made it until about 1:30 a.m that night.  You kept wanting me to move the shoes under your feet and accused me of having your Oakley Timebomb watch and not giving it to you.  I knew you loved that watch so I finally convinced you that Vanessa had it and that she’d give it to you the next day.  You rolled your eyes at me again.  You wanted those restraints off really badly, but we could not do that and you’d get mad.  Dad came up and relieved me.  I felt awful calling him; what a wimp I was!

Vanessa and I played musical rooms that weekend.  I went down to Dad’s room and slept and then went over to Mom & Jimmy’s room, woke Vanessa up and got ready and dressed.  She and I went up and relieved Dad.  He went to his room and slept.

During all this time, you could not get out of bed even though you wanted to.  You’d say you needed to pee (actually you said something else, but I’ll be nice).  You thought he needed to get out of bed for that.  We told you just to go ahead, you had a catheter.  You’d go and then tell us not to step in it.  You’d want to get out of bed to go to the bathroom.  You seemed very sensitive to having to do this in bed, so I made sure I left when you had to be changed and cleaned up.  Vanessa was a real trooper though and stayed and helped every time she was there.  You were a bit paranoid during this time too.  You noticed every move we made so we quickly became diligent about not making any fast moves or repetitive moves that would agitate you.

On Sunday night we split up the night between the 3 of us and it was more manageable.  I stayed the middle section from about 2:00 – 5:00.  You slept most of the time and I just sat there watching you snore and beathe…it was wonderful!

Your room on the 10th floor was a prime one!  You had a beautiful view of the LIFESTAR helipad and the first day you were up there, I stood and watched a helicopter land and the paramedics unloaded someone.  I never knew a helicopter could make me cry.  This was a very emotional experience for everyone involved.
You also slowly started to eat again this weekend and started asking for specific foods.  You did not like the hospital food and whatever you wanted, we got!  You had lost approximately 35 – 40 lbs while you were in NICU.  Ann Margaret bought you a ton of Campbell’s Chicken Noodle Soup because you seemed to eat that ok.  Then you started eating not just the broth, but the noodles too, so they moved you to solids.  You ate so well that by that Sunday your feeding tube came out.  We had to coax you, but you did eat ok.

By the time for us to leave Monday, Memorial Day, rolled around, I was just beat.  But the one thing that I never complained about to Mom or Dad was being tired or not feeling like doing something.  They stayed by your side from the day you got to the hospital.  Alan, they had to be absolutely drained by the first week, yet they only left Knoxville once each.  Dad left the third weekend to take me back home on Sunday night and he came back on Monday.  Mom left Memorial Day weekend because we made her go to the doctors for her thyroid check-up.  We have pretty amazing parents.  They both have their faults and they may be divorced, but don’t let anyone ever tell you that they don’t love you.  They do and always will.

When I left on Memorial Day I planned not to go back the following weekend…the first weekend in 6 that I hadn’t been to Knoxville.  Scott and I lazed around the house and I kept up with the web site as I’d been doing since week 2.  I got bunches of emails from people I knew and didn’t know and people I hadn’t heard from in years during your hospital stay.  The next weekend we were going back to Knoxville, but that is the week you came to Atlanta.  As you know, I saw you every day but two while you were here.  It was so wonderful to sit with you in the evenings and watch TV and just talk and laugh.  So good to see you laugh and hear that Alan sense of humor again.  The Miller Lite sock puppet commercial will always make me laugh!  Eeeennnnnnnnnnnnnhhhhh!!!

The first time I saw you get up out of bed, use your walker and go into the bathroom, I had to walk out into the hallway and cry.  I don’t suppose you will ever know how I felt that day or any other, unless, God forbid, someone you love goes through this.  I pray that doesn’t happen, but if it does, make the most of it and learn from it.  Tragedy is not always a bad thing if you can learn something and take it from the experience.  

I just want you to know that this was not only your journey.  Lots of people took it with you and it taught us all one thing or another.  If you ever wonder why this happened to you, I think anyone you talk to will tell you that they learned or gained something from the experience.  I don’t know why it happened, but I do know that I treasure and value my family more than I ever have.  I hope I can keep this perspective as I get older, and I hope that you won’t forget that your big sister will always love you and be there for you.  You are a very special little brother.  You have been from the day you came into our lives 29 years ago.  Please take care to continue to be there for a long while more!

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