Our plane landed on a Friday afternoon in the midst of a hot summer day. Shawn and I were ecstatic to finally be on vacation, our work at home done and put away for the next two weeks. The girls behaved beautifully on the flight and we gave them high fives and big praise to thank them for making the trip so easy. We left the airport and headed straight to the first leg of our big Arizona adventure: a 3 day camping trip with Shawn's whole family.
Nestled deep inside the mountains was a beautiful piece of property owned by Shawn's uncle, our home for the next few days. Our first night was spent eating, catching up, and gazing at the thousands of stars in the desert night air. Laughter, smiles, and the peaceful easy feeling you get when surrounded by loved ones took over. We were free.
We awoke with the sunrise early the next morning, Shawn making tea while I nursed Brees on the floor of our cabin. Sweet morning kisses while we planned out our day. Grandpa made breakfast, we took turns holding new baby cousins, Isabelle and Brees set to work exploring. We spent the day relaxing, going on short ATV rides through the mountains, playing horse shoes and starting new books. It was a good day.
Late that afternoon, while the little ones splashed in the baby pool someone so thoughtfully set up, a large group of us decided to go on a longer ride, caravan style, around the mountain. We would be home before our BBQ dinner, we promised. We split up into pairs: Shawn and I together, giggling like children as the wind whipped through our hair, marveling over the beauty of this place so unlike our familiar terrain of Louisiana.
The trip was around 20 miles long, 4 pairs of riders on various styles of ATVs. Halfway through, we stopped for water and typical family style banter. As we were leaving for the second leg home, Shawn's cousin, Troy, invited me to ride with him instead. "Come on, Liv! Are you ready for this?", he joked menancingly. I kissed Shawn on the cheek, put my brave girl face on, and hopped in with Troy, the daredevil. "See you soon, babe!" Shawn and I called to each other. See you soon.
After lots of twists and turns and shrieking in the wind, Troy and I made it back to camp first. I took my radio head set off, the source of communication between our caravan. Troy kept his around his neck as he unfastened his seatbelt, both of us smiling from ear to ear with all the fun we had just had. I remember having the deepest feeling of contentment.
And then I saw a look cross over Troy's face, a darkness took over, fear in his eyes. He hurridely put his headset back on, listening intently. Pete, a family friend, was yelling for us to come back. Someone was hurt. It was bad.
Troy and I looked at each other, both of us scared, fear of the unknown. In seconds we had our seatbelts back on, the vehicle heading back onto the road, the campsite left behind. Should we call 911? No, let's just get there. I prayed and prayed and prayed as sweat poured down my face. I knew, in my heart I knew it was Shawn. Please, God, just get me to him.
Only three miles away from the campsite we found them. The ATV was on its side, Shawn pinned underneath it, his face lifeless. His cousin Craig's girlfriend, Z, his riding partner after I had switched vehicles and jumped in with Troy, was sitting next to him with her arms wrapped around her knees, rocking back and forth, crying hysterically. Troy raced to her side to move her away from the vehicle. Sandy, a family friend who was in the vehicle right behind Shawn, came running around the corner with a bottle of water and a level head on her shoulders. She told me that her husband, Pete,who used to work in search and rescue, was in the process of calling 911 and directing the rescue team in how to find us. She told me that she and Pete drove up to the scene of the accident and saw Z running up the hill, searching for help. She told me that she had been trying to hold Shawn's head steady, afraid he had broken his neck. I looked at this woman and knew that she was here for a reason, she was here to keep me calm.
I looked down at Shawn, gave him a quick slap on his cheek, and yelled for him to WAKE UP! And he did. I had Sandy hold my watch as I assessed his pulse and respirations, all of which were reasonably normal. But the blood, the blood was everywhere. It covered the ground, it covered Shawn, there was so much blood. I began a head to toe assessment, looking searching feeling. Sandy left us and sat next to Z, giving her water and calming her down. From what we could visibly tell, Z had a bruise on her eye but otherwise appeared unharmed. She would later say that she remembers waking up and being on top of Shawn. He broke her fall. Overall, she was in shock but appeared to be in stable condition. Thank God.
My attention was on the blood. Where was all of this blood coming from? I saw two large lacerations on Shawn's head and forehead. His right ear was hanging off the side of his head. But there was too much blood. I had to find the source. Both legs were fine, right arm good. His left arm was pinned underneath him. I gently pulled it out and nearly screamed at what I saw: on the front of his elbow, a hole. I could see the artery, severed, blood shooting from it like a geyser. On the back of his elbow, another hole. This one had a bone sticking out of it. Blood. Blood was everywhere. His arm felt unnatural. It was literally in pieces. This was bad, every fiber of my being knew that I had to take action. Now.
I started calling out orders. Everyone stay calm. Breath. Keep talking to me, Shawn. Don't close your eyes. Sandy handed me a handkerchief. I tied it firmly around his elbow. I then used Troy's t-shirt as a pressure dressing to cover the two holes in Shawn's arm, my left hand putting pressure on the front side, my right hand putting pressure on the back. Every time he moved, every time I adjusted my own body weight, I could feel his arm and how disfigured it was, I could hear the bones creaking, felt the blood gushing. The sights and sounds and smells would give me nightmares for weeks. But he had a palpable pulse, he could wiggle his fingers, they were warm, he could squeeze our hands. I crouched next to him, gravel rocks digging into my legs, holding pressure, the blood covering me. I positioned my foot next to his hand so that I could feel his fingers, made sure they stayed warm, made sure they were moving.
Troy led us in prayer, standing over us and calling out to God. Sandy and I continued speaking words of encouragement to both Shawn and Z, reassuring them that help was on the way, deep breathes, keep talking, keep your eyes open. Inside, I secretly wondered if help would actually come.
Throughout all of this, Shawn remained awake and alert. He was disoriented, begging us for something to drink, begging us for a pillow,screaming at me to let go of his arm, you are hurting me babe let go please let go this hurts so bad I love you why is this happening let go!
Keep talking, keep yelling, just please don't close your eyes.
Uncle Gary and cousin Craig arrived, shock on their faces as they assessed this nightmare. I instructed Craig to sit by Z's side, tell her you love her, hold her hand. They both started crying when the saw each other, their love is still so new. I watched them over my shoulder, a young couple facing their first crisis.
Troy needed a job, he paced anxiously back and forth, so I sent him back to camp to get my purse. We would need our IDs and insurance cards. Uncle Gary stood over us and prayed. I prayed. Shawn yelled. No crying. There was no time for tears. The bleeding had slowed thanks to my hands, my hands that were holding his arm together, my hands that were soaked in his blood. Keep breathing.
And then I saw the dust approaching, the first rescue vehicle arrived. Things started to move quickly. After roughly 45 minutes of screaming, bleeding, praying, waiting: help was finally coming. I started to feel a deep sense of hope and relief, help was finally here. First a sheriff, then paramedics, and then the helicopter. My eyes had been scanning the sky for what felt like an eternity, mistaking every movement for the helicopter. But, finally, it was here. They're here, babe, they're here! You're going to make it! Everything will be fine!
They tried to move me but I quickly informed them that I was a nurse, giving them a full report of his injuries. They listened. No one tried to move me again. I kept my hands wrapped around his arm until the stretcher was prepared and they were ready to take over. They very gently moved me to the side. I love you I love you I love you, we both called out.
As the paramedics got to work, I ran to the side of the sheriff's car and vomited. The sights and sounds and smells: I couldn't contain myself any longer. Sandy ran to me and hugged me close. Don't fall apart now, you've been so strong, you are amazing. She was an angel to me that day.
I ran back over to the scene, gave them a brief health history, contact information, allergies, blood type. Shawn would be transported to a hospital in Las Vegas, I was not allowed to accompany him in the helicopter. I helped them lift him onto the stretcher, helped them carry him onto the bird. I touched his hand until the minute they closed the doors, watched as they took flight and prayed that I would see him again soon. Please, God, let me see him again.
As I turned around and looked back at the scene, reality hit me like a ton of bricks. The ATV still on its side, the blood stained ground, the panic stricken faces. The last hour felt like a dream, the kind of dream you fear and hope will never come true. But there was no time to dwell, we had to move.
We drove back to camp, all of us armed with assignments. The family stood in a quiet circle, awaiting our return, unsure of the details surrounding the last hour. Isabelle stood solid, brave, looking at me anxiously and waiting for my cue on how to react. How do you even begin to explain to your children what just happened? How do you shield them from such trauma? What could I possibly say that could mend their worried hearts? I pulled her into my arms, don't cry, daddy will be fine. I took her into our cabin where Brees played quietly in her bed. I explained that there had been an accident, daddy was at the hospital, mama was going to meet him. Their sweet brown eyes never left mine, they didn't cry, they just listened. We packed a bag, I jumped into the shower to wash off the blood. My husband's blood on the bathroom tile. We hugged and prayed and I held them so close. The only thing I could do for my children in that moment was to be strong for them, to reassure them through my faith and love. It was the most difficult moment I have ever faced as a mother.
When the girls and I emerged from the cabin, the family stood ready and strong. The girls would head back to Shawn's grandparents' house for the night. Shawn's mom, Aunt Lisa, Troy and I would make the 2 hour drive to Las Vegas. Another group would head to the nearby hospital where Z had been transported for a routine assessment. Another group would search for Uncle Scott who, in the midst of this crisis, had gotten lost along the ride and was somewhere in the desert, alone. We were all scared, pretending to be brave, hoping for the best. I kissed my girls, turned around.
To be continued...