Sunday, February 26, 2012

Learning the hard way....

     Sometimes in life, we are the teacher, sometimes the student, and we don't get to pick and choose which role we get to play.  Some lessons are hard to understand; in fact, there are times when we never fully comprehend the lecture, but we put on a brave smile when the test arrives, act like we know what it's all about, and give it our best shot. Perhaps that is the only thing we are meant to learn: that life is dubious, complex, precarious, fluid, ethereal, and we have to keep going even when the going gets rough. This week's lesson has been painfully hard to apprehend, and it involves a reversal of rolls, where teacher becomes student, and student becomes teacher, and both have to quickly learn how to absorb new occupations.
     Almost two weeks ago, at 9:00 on a Thursday evening, the unthinkable happened.
     Mary Lapsley's French professor had once again worked late at the university, and after a long day and an even longer week, she finally pack her bags, left the library, and headed for her car parked across the street.  She crossed the main road on campus in a well-lit crosswalk and was half-way across the street when she heard the roar of an approaching engine. The impact occurred before she even had time to glance up, and her next memory is of lying on the gritty, cold pavement, staring up at a darkened sky.
      "Am I having a dream?" she wondered, as she gazed up into the black night. "Am I in my bedroom?" 
       And then, the dream became a nightmare as the pain hit.  The whirrr-whirrr of the ambulance could be heard in the distance, the blue flashing lights of the police cruiser lit the evening sky, and as the officer 's flashlight beamed into her eyes and he called out "Can you tell me what happened?",  the reality of her situation began to sink in. 
     When a human being comes into contact with a forward-moving, massively large, hemi-truck, the truck always wins.  Bones met metal and crumpled upon impact.  Pelvis, hip, femur, back, large bones, small bones. The only thing from her waist to her knees that didn't break was the rod in her spine which had been surgically implanted after breaking her back in a car wreck two years ago.
      On the ambulance ride to the hospital, her thoughts reeled with "Not again, not again" as the painful memory of that previous car crash flashed through her mind.
       But reality super-imposed itself over wishful thinking, and "Not Again" became "Yet Again" as she was transported from small regional hospital to major medical center.
        While her family in France made plans and arrangements to come to America,  we assumed the role of "Care Partner" until they could arrive in the states.  We received official "Care Partner" badges  with pictures that identified us to the ICU staff,   long-term parking passes for use in the complex maze of the parking deck,  and made the hour drive each day to Charlotte to anxiously sit by her side.
       On the third day in the Trauma ICU, as she began to regain consciousness, I gently tapped her on the shoulder and tried to waken her.
       "Nathalie, Nathalie," I asked. "Do you know where you are?"
         In a raspy whisper, with eyes still closed, she answered "Yes."
        "Do you know what happened?" I continued.
         She nodded.
         "Tell me, Nathalie, tell me what happened."
          I wanted to make sure she understood my questions and that she full comprehended where she was and why she was there.
          "I was hit by a truck," she softly answered.
          "How do you feel?" I asked her next.
           Her eyes shot wide open, she looked at me as if I were crazy, and in a much stronger voice she replied, "Like I Was Hit By A Truck!"
          I couldn't help but laugh. Her strong spirit was still there, her sense of humor was emmerging through the pain, and at that point,  I knew she was on the road to recovery.
          So now, as the professor lies in the hospital bed, facing months of recovery, rehabilitation, and therapy, her devoted student sits by her side and holds her hand. It is time for student to teach, and teacher to learn.
         It's funny sometimes how life falls into place.  When we question "why" things happen, like why a child is born with a life-long disability, or why someone is crushed for the second time in a wreck, it's hard to find an answer. But sometimes, it's not the "Why" that we need to understand. It's the "What" and the "How" that we need to learn.
       "What do we do now?" was a question we all needed to answer after the professor's accident.
        That one was easy.
        We went, we prayed, we waited, we stayed. She would not face this alone, she would have someone by her side until her family arrived and for as long as she needed.
        "How do we move forward?" was the next.
         Mary Lapsley already knew how to respond.
         "Dr. Davaut," Mary Lapsley told her, "I'm here for you, just like you were there for me.  Do you remember when I was struggling with french and you told me that you knew I could do it? You told me to be like the little engine that said 'I think I can, I think I can?' Well, that's what you're going to have to do now. I know you can do this, but  you're going to have to keep telling yourself  that you can do this. And I'm going to be right beside you all the way."
     "I'm going to show you how to get around in a wheelchair, how to use a walker, and how to keep trying. We can even have wheelchair races when you're ready! You can do this, I know you can, I know you can."
         Her words sounded so familiar. I could hear the voice of Dr. Davaut echoing through my daughter's speech as she encouraged her professor to keep on trying.
         And so, as the professor fights through the pain, the student becomes the teacher, and the teacher learns to heal.

No comments:

Post a Comment