Sauk Valley Community College

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Honorable Mention - "In the Blink of an Eye"

2002 Anne Horton Writing Award

Honorable Mention

"In the Blink of an Eye"

by

Lonn Cunningham

 

I want to tell you how your life can change in the blink of an eye. In a split second, someone else's had choice can change, or end your life. There are no "take-backs," or "do-overs' in real life. I'd like to tell you about mine, my real life, that is. This is a fairy tale that started with two young kids falling in love. They were sure that they had their lives mapped out exactly. They have been married for nearly seventeen years now, but just a few short years ago, a nineteen-year-old drunk driver changed their entire life's plan.

 

On February 15, 1997, the day before our anniversary, my wife went out to start the car for me before I left for work. She stood on the back stoop and yelled at me to "Drive careful and I love you." I was on the road. I stopped at Casey's to get a diet coke for the drive into work. I left Casey's at 6:05 am. At 6:20 am I was hit head on by a drunk driver.

 

The point of impact was estimated at 145 miles per hour. The crash was so powerful that when the steering wheel came up and hit my chest, it broke off. I was going 55 and the person that hit me was going 90.

 

I sat in the car for an hour and forty minutes in the freezing cold. It was about 15 degrees that day with a wind chill of 10 above. Other than the cold temperature, the road conditions that day were beautiful.

 

I sat there with three broken limbs. My left arm and both of my legs had bones sticking through the skin. My entire body had crushing injuries but I never lost consciousness or went into shock. As I was sitting there I had a lot of time to think about everything. I knew I was in trouble.

 

When the fire department arrived I gave them an assessment of my situation. I told them: "I have a broken right arm, a broken right leg, and I think my left leg is broken but I'm not sure. I can move it but I can't see it."

 

The first fire department to arrive jacked the dash up. When their jaws of life broke, they dropped the dashboard back on my legs; this was as painful if not more painful than the wreck itself I could feel my legs being crushed as the dash came crashing back to rest on them. The searing pain flowed like waves through my body. The pain was so intense I tried to lift the dash off my legs with my two badly injured arms. Then they went over to get the other guy out of his pickup. I told the rescue worker who was still in the car with me, "I have a hydraulic jack in the trunk. Get it out jack up the dash, cut the roof off, and get me out of this car." He said to me, "We are not going to cut the roof off" When I asked him why not, he said, "We don't want to do any further damage to your car." I said "Get this f-ing car off of me." Not a single part on the car was salvageable; even the taillights were cracked. My daughters baby seat sat in the back seat covered with shards of glass.

 

After an hour they called for assistance from another department. It took the second department 36 minutes to get me out. They jacked up the dash, cut the roof off, and pulled me out.

 

Fortunately for me, a coworker and friend was in the car behind me that morning. Because he stayed at my side, I am alive today. I told him I wasn't going to make it, and I sat back and closed my eyes and gave up. He shook me and said, "you better think about your wife and children." While I was still sitting in the car I could see a picture of my three kids. I remember thinking if I could just see my wife one more time I'd be okay, and if I could just make it to the hospital they could fix me.

 

I started thinking about my wife and children. My children would grow up without a dad. In some ways they have because we can't do a lot of the things we sued to do. We used to camp, hike, fish, and play games together. Now, even card games are difficult.

 

I arrived at the first hospital and remember hearing the doctor say, "Just let him go on the table." A nurse went out and called React to fly me to Rockford Memorial.

The first surgery at Rockford was to remove my kidneys from my chest. I learned this from the doctors in April after theytook me off the morphine and paralytic drugs. The doctors also said all my internal organs were in my chest. I took 57 units of whole blood and 30 units of plasma. My lower right leg had one crushed bone and the other bone had a compound fracture. My right knee was peeled open and back like a grapefruit. My lower left leg was crushed so badly the doctors couldn't tell the bone from the muscle. My upper left thigh had a compound fracture. The ulna bone in my left arm had a compound fracture. The muscles in my right amen were crushed. My spleen and diaphragm were ruptured, my liver was lacerated, and the c6 disk in my neck was ruptured.

The doctor also told me that, during the time I was on morphine my right lung collapsed twice, my left lung collapsed once, my kidneys failed, and they had to restart my heart three times. I was in complete renal failure. I would have died if Rockford Memorial hadn't sent a flight to Loyola University Medical Center for an experimental machine called ajet ventilator. This machine was used primarily on infants. It increases your respirations to four hundred respirations per minute to keep your lungs inflated continually.

 

I wake up in intense pain most of the time. I spend almost all day, every day in pain- pain from my back, butt, legs, and anus. (Even though my legs and arm are gone I still feel them. They call this phantom pain.)

 

Every day starts the same; when I wake up my wife picks me up and sets me on a shower chair to give me a shower. Then she has to pick me up, put me back on the bed to dress me, and then lift me again to put me in my wheelchair. Someone has to help me eat, drink, brush my teeth, comb my hair, wipe my mouth, blow my nose, and even go to the restroom. It's hard to do even simple tasks like picking up a coin, pencil, or paper.

 

The hardest pain is in my mind, when I see what my family goes through, when they struggle to do something or can't do something that I would have been able to do with ease. The fact that I know how to do so much and can't is truly difficult.

 

I love it that both my boys are in football, but I hate the fact that I can't throw the ball with them. This past spring my daughter was in a dance recital. Part of the recital was a routine where the fathers carried the daughters out on stage. My oldest son carried my daughter out because I couldn't get on the stage. That really hurt.

 

Out of the clear blue all three of my children have at different times sat down and cried, "I wish things could be the way they used to be."

 

I spent two and a half months (away from my family and friends) in rehabilitation at Rehab Institute of Chicago this in itself was a hardship. I didn't get to see them every day.

 

The first thing the doctors told my wife was, "You better call in the family and make arrangements, he is probably not going to make it." They told her for the first month. "We will have to see if he survives tonight, before we can discuss whether we think he will make it or not."

 

I have had eighteen surgeries that I know about: removing my internal organs from my chest, fixing my spleen and diaphragm, performing a faciotomy on my right arm, fixing my knee on my right leg, setting my left arm, amputating my left leg (taken in three separate amputations), amputating my right arm, putting a fixator on my right leg and left arm, performing a bone graft on my left arm and right leg, performing a diskectomy which included putting a titanium plate in my neck, putting a plate in my left arm, putting a different fixator on my right leg, removing the plate in my right arm (it was causing an infection), and removing four inches of my left ulna bone.

 

I find it kind of funny but everyone thinks there is some kind of insurance "god" that when you are in a wreck flies in with a huge settlement. Not so. The kid who hit me had a $20,000 policy, which covered about the first four hours in the hospital. My insurance company paid out $2,500,000.

 

All I know about the kid who hit was what I was told. I was his third D.U.I. He was cited again after he hit me. He had the first run-in with the police when he was fourteen. He had lost his license on Thursday afternoon, not even a full two days before he hit me. He broke his arm, leg, ankle, nose, and his cheekbones, mostly because he wasn't wearing his seatbelt. He received a ten-year sentence, of which he did three and a half He got out of prison September 22, 2000. The last I heard of him he was working at Kroger's in Carbondale.

 

As for my wife and I, we are still the same two dreamers who fell in love a very long time ago. We are constantly finding new ways to do the things we thought we could never do again. We go fishing, we have camped, we have hiked, we go for walks, we wrestle, we swim (and yes, I can swim too) and we play games on the computer. We have traveled down a difficult road that we never planned to travel. We never knew that this road existed. Together we have found our way back to being dreamers, a little less innocent but nevertheless true dreamers.