The Power of Love and Positivity: A Fourth of July Trauma, One Year Later
2018 was starting to become a difficult year. I was 40 years old and preparing to be a single mother of four children. I had been divorced for 5 years from the father of my oldest three children - Corbin, Grace, and Cohen - and my relationship with Steve, the father of my youngest child, Grayson, was ending. The 4th of July had snuck up on me that year with everything going on and falling on a Wednesday in the middle of the week. Normally I would have a party at home with friends and family but with the stress of paying bills on my own I agreed to a double shift instead. Rather than everyone being together, the children all made plans with friends. My oldest child, Corbin, wanted to float down the river on tubes with some friends. Even though he was already 16, I was still a little hesitant about letting him go. Corbin was a good kid. He worked as many hours as he could so he had a truck to drive, did well in school, was never in trouble and really had taken on the man of the house role helping me with everything he was asked. He was a mature and responsible child but teenage boys will be teenage boys regardless. I feel like I’ve always been a little over protective and as a parent you struggle with the balance between not wanting to keep them in a bubble and not giving too much freedom. Reluctantly, I agreed.
Before I left for work I wanted to verify the plans with Corbin one last time. Corbin was in the bathroom when I came downstairs. He had just gotten out of the shower so he was speaking to me through the door. I wanted to see him, and of course I wanted to give him a hug goodbye, but he argued a little and told me he would call me with his plans. I was running late, so we said goodbye through the door.
That day at work, my first and only customer was a man I hadn't seen in years. His son and Corbin used to go to school together. We started talking about how scary it is when kids grow up, get their licenses, and go out on their own – celebrating holidays with friends rather than family. He started telling me a story about how his son had just gotten into a car accident on the highway. Luckily no one involved, including his son, was injured. Before he could finish the story, I got a text message from Steve, Grayson’s father, “It’s an emergency!” it said. He was out of town with my two-year-old son that day and all I could think was that something must have happened with my child. I interrupted my customer and excused myself to make a phone call.
It wasn't my son, it was my nephew. An emergency location-tracking app sent a notification to my sister-in-law that my nephew, Tanna, had been in an accident and was trapped in the vehicle. My sister-in-law couldn't get a hold of me so they called Steve to find me. They knew I was the closest person to the accident. I immediately asked where and if he was okay before realizing that Corbin was supposed to be with him. But Corbin hadn't called me yet to tell me he was leaving so Corbin couldn't be with him, I tried to tell myself.
The short drive down that road felt like it took an hour. It was like watching a horror movie when you hear the terrifying music and you just know something awful is about to happen. I didn't know what I was going to see. I came around the corner to see several flashing lights. What was once a tar road was now covered in so much dirt it felt like a different road. There were branches and large pieces of wood everywhere. I drove as close as I could, then got out of my car and started sprinting towards the wreck until a police officer stopped me. I was blank, - none of this felt real, like this isn't my life, this can't be happening. I could barely speak while looking at a white convertible, with a dark interior, on its side up against a tree. But I only saw one car and none of Corbin’s friends had a white convertible. I was confused. I looked at the officer and said, “I think my nephew was in this accident.” He asked his name and verified that he was. It took all I had in me to ask him if Corbin was also in the car. Yes, he confirmed.
There had been 4 boys in the car and Corbin’s injuries were the most severe, he told me. “What do you mean most severe, what kind of injuries?” I asked. “He was alive when he left in the ambulance,” is all he told me. Not comforting words to a mother seeking answers. I ran back to my car and raced to the hospital. I think I made 100 frantic phone calls on the way. I called my daughter Grace to tell her Corbin was in the accident and ask who drove a white convertible with red stickers. She said it was his friend, Tyler. They weren’t driving a convertible – the roof had been removed to get the boys out. The car had a light interior, not dark, but the seats were now covered in blood.
When I arrived at the hospital my mom and sister in law were standing in the ER trying to get information, and more and more friends and family kept showing up. After what felt like an hour, a nurse walked in and asked which one of us was Corbin’s mother and I stood up. She said, “Come with me.” As we started to walk down the hallway she wrapped her arms around me and braced me like I was going to fall. She said nothing. She just held me up. Then, all of a sudden, there he was. Corbin was on a stretcher - naked and lifeless - with 20 people around him rushing in and out of the large room. He was covered in blood and hooked up to all kind of machines. The nurse pulled up a chair and told me to sit. My brother had come with us and was standing behind me rubbing my shoulders trying to reassure me that Corbin was going to be ok, he was going to pull through this. It felt like standing still in the middle of a freeway while everything flies past you. No one told me what was going on, no one explained his injuries or what they were doing to him. I had no idea why they had brought me down to see this and before I knew it, the same nurse grabbed me and walked me back to the waiting room. I had no information to report except the horror I had seen. I felt helpless.
Eventually a doctor rushed into the room and told us Corbin had suffered a severe head injury and that they might need to remove part of his skull to let his brain swell. He had internal bleeding and punctured lungs among many other injuries, and they were rushing him into surgery. I signed the consent and asked what his chances were. She wouldn't give a straight answer. She just reiterated how severe his injuries were and ran out the door.
I just kept telling myself “not Corbin, not my child.” I felt like I was trying to will him out of this, and I wasn't going to stop.
A few hours had gone by at this point and about 30 friends and family had shown up, including Corbin’s cousin Paul. Paul had worked in the medical field for years. He had been a 911 operator as well as a member of a medical transport team in Boston for 9 years. He asked me what I knew and if I felt like I had all of the information I needed. Of course I didn't. I felt lost. He brought me back down to the ER and asked the doctor, who had worked on Corbin, if we could speak to him. He agreed and the three of us sat down. Paul asked all kinds of medical questions and I just remember being blank. I just wanted to know if my son was going to live. At the end of the conversation Paul asked “if Corbin survives surgery do you think he should be transported to a level one trauma center?” The doctor said no, he believed their team could handle it. We thanked him and went back upstairs. Paul explained the difference in hospitals to me on the way upstairs and how a level one trauma center deals with these kinds of severe traumas every day. Paul believed that’s where Corbin should go, should he make it through surgery. I trusted him and agreed.
He survived the surgery—a huge victory but then the surgeon and a neurologist came to talk to us. Corbin had no brain activity, the neurologist said, and he wasn't going to survive. We needed to prepare to say good bye. “WAIT WHAT???!!!” Everyone started sobbing or screaming. I was just thinking “NO! NO! He’s alive, I’ll take him anyway I can get him.” I felt like they were giving up. I refused to start grieving. Two of my other children, Grace and Cohen, came over and were on my lap crying. I was trying to console them by hugging them but I couldn't speak. There were no words. I felt very robotic. My mother was loudly sobbing but growing increasingly more concerned with my lack of reaction. I heard her tell the Doctor she needed to give me something because I was in shock. Corbin’s dad Jeff, who had just arrived, ran through the hall screaming “not my boy!” Aunts, uncles, cousins, and friends were all in groups hugging each other and crying, but they all keep looking over at me. The surgeon came over and knelt beside me, she started rubbing my arm and explaining how bad his head injury was. I just looked at her and said “but he’s alive?” She said “yes but….” I interrupted, “then I want him transferred to Boston Children’s Hospital and I want to see him.” She said “well I don't know if they'll take him, he might not be stable enough.” I insisted. She agreed to try and walked away. I knew she took me seriously. I have a laid-back personality for the most part until we’re dealing with my children - then a whole other protective, ‘don't stand in my way,’ side comes out.
They let Corbin’s dad and I in to see him. Corbin was so broken, barely recognizable, but I felt comfort being by his side, feeling his warm hand and watching his chest slowly move up and down, even if a machine was making it happen. He had multiple facial and spinal fractures, several skull fractures with one even pinching off a main artery to his brain, two punctured lungs, torn bowels, two broken shoulder blades, a collar bone broken in two different spots, internal bleeding, brain bleeds, and many more injuries. Within an hour, Corbin was on a helicopter to Boston. Steve and I stood in the ER as we watched them take off with Corbin. Another helpless feeling. Protecting him felt out of my control when I couldn't be near him.
Corbin went through a lot in that first 24 hours. Concord Hospital had removed his spleen, repaired a torn bowel, placed a monitor in his skull and left an open incision in his abdomen from his pelvis to his ribs. Once in Boston he was rushed into a second surgery and had a second monitor with a drain placed in his skull, internal bleeding repaired and more than half of his blood transfused.
We spent the next 50 nights, with the majority of them in the ICU, at Boston Children’s Hospital. At first our goal was for him to survive the next 24 hours… and then the next 48 hours… and then the next 72 hours… and even when they finally believed he would survive, they told me they didn't believe he would regain much brain function. “Not Corbin, Not my child,” I kept saying. I was given so many negative predictions that eventually I just stopped listening. I couldn't help but believe that Corbin was still in that body. Corbin’s sister and I spent every night in that room with him. We played his favorite music, we read him sports news, we told him stories, we brought familiar things from home like is pillowcase and favorite blanket so that he might recognize the smell.
The first day he opened his eye and looked at me, I finally saw Corbin. I didn't see a blank stare. He was in there. Still, the doctors told me he would most likely need to spend the rest of his life in a long-term care facility, but I never gave up. I told the doctors I knew he was capable of more - he just needed more time.
Corbin was awake but not for long periods. He had just started to respond yes and no through thumbs up or down, sometimes. He had a tracheostomy tube for his airway and a feeding tube for his nutrition. He was still on monitors and many medications, but slowly, he got better.
50 days after his accident Spaulding Rehab hospital finally agreed to take him. I felt like we had won the lottery. It had all paid off. All the sleepless nights, all the persistence, all the never giving up even when you have the most intelligent doctors in the world giving you negative information. I knew we were going to do this, I knew everything was going to be alright.
When he first got to Spaulding, he wasn’t talking or walking. He had a feeding tube and a tracheostomy. But he spent 41 days pushing his body and his mind to do things we were told he would never do again. On November 1st, he walked out of Spaulding, talking and eating regular food.
91 days after I was told to say goodbye to Corbin, he was back home with his family and so close to his old self. He graduated from High School last month. But our lives are forever changed. Our days are still filled with tutoring and therapy, but I wouldn't change any of it for a second. We cherish the time we have now - the times we have nothing to do but sit around the kitchen counter and just talk and laugh - that we would have taken for granted before. When you are faced with never seeing a loved one again, never being able to hug them or kiss them, you realize how much every moment counts. I had a nurse at Spaulding tell me that the support Corbin had is why he made this kind of recovery. She said she had been doing the job for years, and yes of course the medical part of it plays a huge role. But beyond just being alive, Corbin thrived. Having his family by his side, showing him the love and support, is what gives people the will to fight and keep pushing. I believe in the power of love and positivity.
So many people have told me they wouldn't have been able to do the things I’ve done, but I don't believe that. I believe we all have an inner strength we know nothing about until we’re put to this kind of test. We have to keep positivity even when there seems to be nothing to be positive about. Find the smallest thing and hold onto it. For me, it was the fact Corbin was alive. As long as he was still alive, I wasn't giving up.