The Power of Together
Where we go one we go all, and we will be okay when we get there.
"They will let us all be together at the hospital, right?"
It was a question my sixteen year old son posed as I climbed in the front of the ambulance that he had just been loaded into.
"Son, there isn't enough staff to keep us apart."
My family and I often spend months at a time traveling the country, seeing new things and visiting old faces. There are five of us now. My husband (everyone just calls him Papa), my brother (David), myself and our boys, then sixteen-year old Camden and fourteen year old Talon. Two trucks, two trailers, five people and three animals have moved and functioned as a family unit for several years. Wemake decisions as a family, with every person's opinion being considered in most decisions. Obviously, there are times when the adults in our family unit are forced to make a decision simply because it is a decision that our children have no business being involved in or worrying about. They are always included in decisions about where we spend our time and with whom we spend it.
We had made a family decision to travel for the summer and it had been a total of two weeks since we had started our journey from our home on the coast of Oregon. It had been two weeks of non-stop hell, with the death of two of our dogs from natural causes, a broken axle on our trailer and six stitches for Papa. When I woke up that morning, I was over the traveling life and in a horrible mood. I wanted to unhook that godforsaken trailer and go shopping and take the kids to eat lunch without the constant pull of our RV on our truck. I wanted to park in a spot that didn't require over one hundred feet of space for us to park our vehicle and have fun somewhere. I wanted it right then, and as usual, my guys do everything they can to keep me happy, so they all got out of bed and prepared to leave for the day.
The plan was simple, drop the trailer and drive south to Everett for the day. In an instant, everything changed. I sat in the driver's seat of the truck and started it while Papa and Camden unhooked the trailer, which we planned to leave where it was. It was parked right next to David's trailer, he wasn't making the trip with us and we knew it would be safe. The sound of the motor of my truck and those of the tractor-trailers parked around us did nothing to mute the next sound I heard. It was the sound of the metal tongue of our trailer impacting the asphalt below it. My heart stopped and then I heard my son very calmly say, "Um, get the trailer off me. Never mind, I got it."
My brain instantly went into overdrive, and I saw or heard nothing in the few moments it took me to make it to the back of my truck. I looked into my son's eyes while he stood, eyes beginning to roll into the back of his head. I grabbed his shoulders, telling him to look at me and instructing him to focus on me and stay with me. I looked down and confirmed what I already knew, the trailer had landed on Camden's foot, leaving him with a ninety percent amputation of his right big toe. As I looked back into my son's eyes, he snapped back to reality and so did I. I knew that Papa had been back there with him, but until that moment, I wasn't aware of his presence. David and Talon were also there immediately, I don't know if they were already outside or if they heard it and hurried outside, but they were there.
The next thing that happened, I had never experienced in my life. I lost control. I couldn't function. I didn't know what to do. I didn't know what to say. I had to be reminded to call the ambulance. I couldn't remember anything about where we were, even what state we were in at the moment. I learned very early in life that I was to handle any situation that presented itself with the ultimate calm and control. Laser focus, despite any danger to myself. Get the task done and fall apart later. I hurried into the store and asked for the address, and then hurried back out to the truck and where Camden was. My heart lurched as I came around David's truck and Camden wasn't standing behind the truck. It took me seconds to realize that he was sitting on the ground behind the truck, calmly holding his nearly-severed toe to his foot and smiling, joking and outright laughing with the other three members of our family. Papa was a fire-fighter and medic for twenty years and was well trained in exactly what needed to be done. He had the situation completely under control medically and David and Talon remained calm and supportive the entire wait.
That was all I could get out of my mouth before Camden asked me to call his older brother, Jonny. I started to dial the phone number and asked Camden if he wanted to talk to Jonny or should I just tell him what happened.
"Just tell him I won."
In that moment, with the five of us huddled together and waiting for an ambulance to arrive, our Camden still holding his toe to his foot, we were all in hysterical laughter. My boys are roughnecks. They don't know how to play easy, and participation trophies between those boys would be destroyed when they were used as weaponry against the other. What competition were they engaged in, you may ask? Injury totals. Broken bones, stitches, staples, sprains and strains. Jonny conceded victory to Camden and once and again, that earned another round of laughter. I'm sure the medics were quite confused to arrive and find four men, calmly laughing and joking with the kid that was holding his toe to his foot, and me laughing and still non-stop tears streaming down my face.
The moment the medics got there and surrounded our son, Papa, David and Talon surrounded me, and I was calmed pretty quickly, at least enough to think, function, make decisions for my son and ride in the ambulance with him. While we rode to the hospital in Everett, the medic in the back with Camden calmly laughed and joked with my son. Camden was never panicked after the immediate shock, and he never cried. That scared me to death. I was panicked when I asked the medic if Camden was in shock. A shocked smile was on the face of the medic when he answered me.
"No ma'am. That's just a tough kid."
Sometime during the trip, I called my sister, Tyan, where she worked in Indiana, thousands of miles from where we were. She was thoroughly shook when she answered my call, as I had insisted her co-workers find her immediately. I can't recall a single thing I said to her, or why I called her instead of my mother, but I do remember Tyan telling me at a later time that she had no idea how to react the moment the phone connected and I had no control, and she called our mother, who in turn called me. The shakiness in her voice was all I remember of that phone call as well.
The next thing I remember is pulling into the hospital and all of a sudden, Papa, David and Talon were there as the gurney rolled into the emergency room doors. There, waiting for Camden, was a team of doctors and nurses that immediately sprung into action. When the doctor asked mom or dad to stay and the rest of the family to wait outside, we all spoke at once.
"No. We do everything together. We will not be separated."
I had promised my son that we would all be together at the hospital without asking the others, because I knew I spoke for them as well. I have no idea if the doctor, in that moment, knew that Camden needed us, or had no doubt we weren't leaving without one hell of a fight, taser deployment and handcuffs, but not another word was said. We stayed through the x-rays, the insertion of the intravenous line that would deliver the drugs needed during his upcoming surgery, the surgeon's explanation of how he would re-attach my son's toe and all the way down the hall to the doors of the surgery suite before we had no other choice but to leave him in the hands of a surgeon that we had never heard of before that moment. We were devastated and scared, but we four waited for news that our Camden was out of surgery and that his surgery was successful. When we got the news that he was coming out of anesthesia, the staff asked that I be there when he woke up, as they felt it would help him remain calm.
His toe had been re-attached and had a stainless steel pin protruding from the end of it, extending through the top of his foot to hold the toe in place while it healed. We would have to wait for two weeks to see if his toe would re-attach, but things looked okay for that to happen. His toe had been re-attached and a stainless steel pin protruded from the end of it, extending through the top of his foot to hold the toe in place while it healed.
We spent the night in his hospital room, the nursing staff taking extra care to ensure that the five of us had everything we needed. Through four shifts we were introduced to a new nurse, each handing us off to the new one with the same message. His toe was bandaged, and a large boot was wrapped around his foot, extended over his ankle and midway up his calf. The hospital, knowing we wouldn't stray too far from one another, prepared a room in case anyone wanted to stretch out and sleep.
"This is the coolest family! You will love your shift. Camden has to be the sweetest teenager we have ever had visit us. The family is so polite and so attentive to each other. It's cool to see."
Through the hospital stay, the motor finally giving out on our truck and a long, hard fight to get back to the beautiful coast of Oregon, we were never apart. We moved as one unit. We all took care of Camden, as much as he would let us, the adults took care of one another and we all took care of Talon. We somehow made it through those two weeks, and it was time for a check-up for Camden. We rolled our trucks and trailers into Astoria, Oregon, and immediately stopped at the hospital emergency room. I took Camden in, thinking it would be no big deal. They would unwrap the bandage from his toe, confirm it was re-attaching perfectly, and we would be on our way. As soon as the nurse began to unwrap the bandage, my heart sank. It was black, decaying and literally falling apart. The one vein that had remained attached wasn't enough to keep the toe viable. It was dead, and it had to come off.
I've not mentioned either hospital, but I would be remiss if I didn't mention the doctor our family was blessed with in that moment. Podiatrist, Dr. Michael Murdock, breezed into the room and told us in no uncertain terms that Camden's toe was going to have to come off. Camden lost it and I called the guys. Once again, we crowded around Camden's bed, doing our best to keep him, and each other, calm. Dr. Murdock explained to us what he was going to do and how he was going to do it. He read our family very clearly and knew the absolute best approach was to state fact and let us deal with it. He did so gently, but firmly. He assured Camden, and us, that he would be fine, his balance would not be effected. He also gave Camden a secret word and told him that when he came for his follow-up appointment, if he could remember the word, he would get a special gift. We, as a family unit, felt completely at peace with Camden being in the hands of Dr. Murdock. It was the same process again, we stayed with Camden all the way until the surgery suite doors, and then waited for news that he was out and awake.
We spent the next two hours watching Camden slip in and out of sleep, each time waking with the same question.
"Is it gone?"
Camden finally woke up and asked once again if he was without a toe. Then he asked to see it. I reached over and pulled the sheet that covered his foot back. Camden stared at it for a few minutes. Nobody said anything while he just took it in. All at once, the previous two weeks hit him. His toe was gone. It wasn't coming back, and none of us could do a thing to make this better for him. He reached out for Talon, who has spent every moment of his life next to his big brother, and just repeated to him that his toe was gone. Talon stepped to his brother's bedside, tears streaming from his eyes, and just held onto his brother. I glanced at Papa and then David, who were both softly crying. That was it for me. Four of the strongest people I have ever known in my life were in tears, all in pain for our Camden, and I could control it no more. For the next four hours, that's what we did. We cried. We supported one another. Then Talon decided enough was enough, it was time to do what we do best, come together and heal through togetherness and humor.
"I'm thinking nine toes, what do you think?"
In a moment of laughter, we went through possible combinations and settled on "Nueve" for his new nickname. The hospital staff had left strict instructions that we weren't to touch anything, just to allow the staff to handle everything that first night. When the nurse came in the morning to check on Camden, she took the new boot from his foot and Camden found a message from Dr. Murdock, telling him what a great job he did. The staff at the hospital knew that we wouldn't be separated, where we go one we go all, and they fed the five of us from the cafeteria, including any snacks or drinks, for free while we waited for Camden to be well enough to leave the hospital. Camden did very well and was discharged the next morning, leaving everyone that had the fortune to work with him with a smile on their face.
For the next week, we just hung out and waited for Camden to heal. After his check-up with Dr. Murdock, we turned our attention towards moving on to where we had decided to live on the southern Oregon coast. It would be three weeks before Camden was able to get his stitches out from his foot, and we learned a ton about our sons during that period. Camden was sent home with strong pain medication after both surgeries, but refused to take more than a few of them. He took an ibuprofen for the phantom pain, and he went on with his life. When he reached a depression that we all knew was going to come, we watched Talon refuse to allow that to happen, engage Camden and demand with his special brand of sarcastic humor that his big brother stand back up. When Talon made it clear that if Camden needed a shoulder to lean on until he was strong enough to stand on his own, that was perfect, but he WOULD stand back up on his own. David worried and fussed over Camden and Papa calmed us all with his medical experience throughout the whole thing.
As for me, I'm still unable to hear metal striking asphalt without my heart dropping. We are full-time Rvers and that requires moving the trailers, which immediately sends me into a panic attack, rendering me completely useless to my family. I worry about my guys all of the time. I am completely over-protective of all of them. I fuss over them constantly. I nag them to take care of themselves, I hover. Papa, David, Camden and Talon just hug me, remind me that we are all together, and we are all fine.
Our life and the way we live it isn't for everyone, but it works for us. We live with honesty, and that means there will be mistakes and pain and troubles. I've learned that though we don't have any idea what tomorrow is going to bring, none of us will take it on alone. We will laugh together. We will cry together. We will fight together. We will live and we will love together. Where we go one we go all, and we will be okay when we get there.