This is the letter I wrote home on my laptop from Billings, Montana the day after I arrived there. The beginning of a long journey home.
The first letter from Billings, 9/14/2006
As I write this, Terry is in critical but stable condition in the ICU in the Billings Clinic Hospital in Billings, Montana. I cannot say enough about the staff here. The nurses, the care staff, and the doctors are amazing and kind and talented and wonderful. I don’t think Terry could get better care anywhere in the country. This is a Trauma Level 2 facility and I am feeling very blessed about now that this is where he ended up.
We got here at 2:30 in the morning and drove right to the hospital. I have had about two hours sleep and I am getting rummy. I know I’ll be here for at least two weeks so I drove because it was as fast as flying by the time I factored in trip to the airport time, check in time and the flight schedule into this small town on the edge of nowhere. I am exhausted, worried but relieved, and still up in the air not exactly knowing what comes next.
The back story–which I just got today from his riding partner, Don: The guys had been on their annual road trip for a week and were headed home the 13th. They stopped in Livingston, Montana the evening of the 12th to get a room and because of all the forest fires there were no rooms for over 100 miles around–all the way to Billings. They talked to a nice hotel clerk who called ahead and got them a room in Billings. It was dark when they headed out to that guaranteed reservation. The speed limit is 75 and they were doing about 70 mph. Both had on helmets and full leathers, pants, jackets, gloves and glasses.
They have both ridden for over 35 years and this was a completely freaky accident. The deer have come down out of the hills because of all the forest fires in Montana and I have found out they are causing accidents all over this area. On our drive in Faye and I counted SEVEN deer on the roadsides and TWO were on the highway in our lane. We didn’t hit them but could understand how this could have happened to Terry.
A very large 4 point buck stepped off the center median into the fast lane in front of Terry about 8 p.m. Don said it came out of nowhere and Terry didn’t even have time to brake but hit it at full speed. When his bike dropped, we think his luggage, which was a T bag strapped on the back of his Harley, fell in front of Don. Don hit it and then his bike went down too. He slid down the road about 200 feet on his shoulder and incurred some bad road rash right through his leathers. He was able to get to his feet and started back to look for Terry. Both were wearing black and Don’s concern was that Terry would be hit by oncoming traffic on interstate 90. This is where the angels stepped in.
The guy they had just passed pulling a huge new boat stopped instantly and pulled the boat and his car across all lanes of traffic stopping it completely. Several cars also stopped and the people in them ran to Terry. One person had a flashlight and had found him before Don did. Don is a paramedic and he got to Terry, stabilized his head and turned him on his side and cleared his airway so he was not without oxygen at any time. He cut Terry’s helmet off and by then–less that ten minutes after the accident two full wagons of paramedics rolled up, along with an off duty medic who had heard the call that two bikes were down– AND in the line behind the boat there was a nurse from the trauma center in Livingston who had just gotten off duty. The state police closed the east bound lanes when the 911 call came in so the medics came in the wrong way down the closed freeway. They had Terry in the van and an iv started in less than ten more minutes.
He was taken to Livingston, not a large town at all, where it turns out the guy in charge of the ER was a trauma specialist. He and his head nurse had just relocated from a big L.A. trauma center to Livingston. They knew exactly what they were doing and had scanned him, stabilized and on a life flight helicopter to Billings in under 45 minutes. Because of all of these people being in the right place at the right time he is in much better shape than I ever expected, in a coma, but he has a chance. Angels, every one of them.
Basically he hit the deer and killed it with his head, which means he has blunt force trauma to his head and chest including breaking almost all of his ribs on both sides, collapsing both lungs, breaking his wrist and incurring a hematoma to the left side of his skull. He has breaks to three vertebrae in his neck but it turns out this is minor because it is just the little flanges on the sides. He has good motor response at this time. Surgery was performed as soon as they got him off the helicopter and into an OR ,the hematoma was drained and the bleeding was stopped.
In brain injury the biggest danger is swelling of the brain from 48-72 hours from the injury. Terry has a pressure gauge in his head which measures for that and so far all looks pretty good. Of course they had to shave his head…which I have not yet seen because he is plastered up in a big blue-green cast/turban for lack of a better word. His eyes are black and blue and swollen shut. He is intubated, which means he has a tube down his throat. He is breathing on his own with an assist from the ventilator due to the broken ribs. He fractured the orbit on his right eye and has some nasty road rash on his face. He broke his nose and his right wrist. The prognosis is guardedly good and he looks better today than he did last night.
He is heavily sedated at this time and cannot respond to me because they want him out cold so his body won’t be stressed with pain and just the mental trauma of the event. He would also be in incredible pain due to his injuries and so he is heavily medicated for that. The doctor thinks the chest tubes and the ventilator will be removed in two days or so. If all goes well, in a week or so he may be able to see family and he will be coming out of sedation. I will be here for at least two weeks. I don’t know what comes next. Its all a waiting game at this point. The only thing we need is prayers and a few more angels.