Each year at this time we celebrate Daddy’s Alive Day at our house. It is our way of remembering just how much God has done for us. Many of you don’t know the story so I felt like this year I would give a summary. The whole story would be a chapter in book, or maybe its own book.
Twenty-four years ago today my husband Bill was in a terrible car accident. The phone rang while I was home tutoring a child. I was trying to start a tutoring business while I went to graduate school and I had my first and last client that day. I was also waiting tables and had just started a new job at a tearoom in Roswell. When I answered the phone, a lady at the other end asked if this was the home of Ray Gunnin. Somehow, even though I would have normally referred them on to Bill’s dad, I said yes. She asked if I was Ray’s wife and I said yes. I just knew she was talking about Bill. She proceeded to tell me he had been in an accident. Foolish woman that I was I asked what his condition was. For future reference, if someone has an accident and cannot phone you themselves it is probably not a good idea to ask this question until you get to the hospital. She said, “Non-responsive. A neurosurgeon is on the way.” I don’t know how I got to the floor exactly but the next thing I know she is waiting for me to catch my breath asking me if I have anyone who can drive me. No I said, I will drive myself. And so my life had changed. In a split second, nothing about our newlywed life was the same. The world was spinning.
At the hospital in the ER, I could not go in right away. I sat and waited for my family and friends to show up, not really knowing much except that he had a brain injury and that it was a life or death situation. However, I could hear him screaming and that was the hardest thing I had ever done. I didn’t quite understand that non-responsive meant he was still semi-awake. In a higher stage of coma they told me, but able to talk without any making any sense. He said random things, and yelled a lot. Before they took me back, they told me how to get out of the room if I felt I was going to throw up or pass out, and not to worry because he was restrained. They also told me not to loosen the straps tying him to the bed, no matter what he said. Real comforting. They weren’t lying. His face was crushed, head had a star split to the skull on his forehead. There was a lot of blood and he was pulling against the restraints. I figured out that was the cause of his screams, trying to get loose. He was in fight or flight mode and he was all fight. It took 7 people to get him in the ambulance what he came to at the scene. He had to be handcuffed to the bed. His life they told me was in danger. The brain swells when it is traumatized and that is a very bad thing. The first few days are watch and wait with the uncertainty that emergency surgery might have to happen at any time to relieve the pressure on the brain.
They moved him to ICU and the long nights began. I could only see him every other hour for 10 minutes. Lots of love from family and friends as well as prayers and sleeping pills got me through those first few days. One day they said he was out of the woods and we all rejoiced. Little did I know that the hard part was only beginning. He was moved to a surgery unit so they could rebuild his nose. His mom and I took turns spending the night with him since he was still not really with us mentally. Many of you came to see him then when his eyes were black and swollen closed. Several of you fainted. It kind of got to be a joke with the nurses. In appearance, he looked terrible but his behavior was even more scary. He counted backwards from 100 faster than you can believe. He fixated on counting and would not stop no matter what. When people wanted to turn on the TV, we would all jump up in unison and say NO! Whenever he saw a number, like a TV channel he would start counting and we couldn’t stop him for hours. When the doctor asked him who won the super bowl, he smiled, pointed to himself and said, “I did.” His emotions were on a rollercoaster. He would say, “don’t leave me”…then in the same breath tell me to “get out.” One day when I went in he had pulled all his packing out of his nose, and his IV’s out. He said the packing was “Kleenex.” He threw a wheelchair at his nurse and pinned his doctor against the wall. He threw his food at me and called me terrible names, which I will not repeat. I was done. His mom was done.
The next day he was moved to a rehab unit for brain injured patients and stroke victims. Once there, he had a 24 hour sitter with him so he would not hurt himself or others. Only he didn’t know that they were there to help him. He was in the paranoid stage and thought they were going to get him. He would call me at all hours of the night telling me they were trying to kill him. One sitter in particular was a kind of effeminate man. Bill thought the guy was making a pass at him. “He follows me every where and he won’t let me alone.” He told me at 3:00 am one morning. I told him the guy was paid to follow him, to no avail. The next day he picked up one of the tables in the dining room and threw it at the man.
They asked him the same questions each morning at breakfast and he changed his answer every time. He thought he was at Ga. Baptist hospital. (That is where he was born.) He thought that Jimmy Carter was president. (It was Ronald Regan.) He didn’t think knowing what day it was was important. He would look at his calendar before going down there and still not know when they asked him. They would give him a list of items and he would have to recount as many as he could remember. He would get very frustrated because he said I always have to have a list and I have to ask the lady at the register what day it is when I write my check, everyone has to do that. There is nothing wrong with me. And he really believed that.
He also did what they call confabulation. If he didn’t remember something he just made stuff up…basically lying. He would tell me he had been to the store. His dad got a necklace for Bill to give me for Valentine’s Day and Bill told me he had shopped all day for it. Of course, he never left the hospital, but it was still so sweet when he gave it to me. He looked like a 5 year old he was so proud of that gift.
I was not allowed in the rehab unit except for visiting hours from 4 to 8 each night. I went back to work at the tearoom during the days and then straight to the hospital. One day the nurse came and said for him to tell me what he had done that day. He got this shamed look on his face and hung his head. “I tried to run away.” The nurse said, “No not that. The good thing.” He puffs his chest out and says, “I got dressed all by myself.” It turns out that he tried to leave the hospital and got all the way to the parking lot before someone figured out he was a lost patient. But it was the first day he had been able to dress himself.
One of the most alarming things was that he wouldn’t listen to music. I had all of his favorites and he would just throw the tape player across the room. I had recorded scriptures and he would throw them too. We went through several tape players. I took one of his keyboards to the hospital at the request of the therapists. He wouldn’t even play. So when I see him now in worship it is a constant reminder of the resurrection power of God.
So my brief summary has gone much longer than intended. Bill was in the hospital for 2 months. He was in rehab for 6 months after that, but it was probably 2 years before he was anything like himself. They told me he may never fully recover, and though we jokingly say he has brain damage, the recovery he has made is nothing short miraculous. During the time he was recovering I was told by a couple of people that God would surely understand if I didn’t stay with Bill. After all, he wasn’t the guy I married. But my vows said,. “till death do us part.” I made that vow to Bill, but also to God and so I committed to stay and to walk through it. I have never regretted that decision. There is a bond and a depth between us that could not have been formed any other way.
I will not pretend that I did not have words with God during this time. But I also found a deeper relationship with him. I could be honest in my pain, and on the nights when I cried myself to sleep the Holy Spirit came in and was more real to me than life. That intimacy can never be taken from me…in fact it is the foundation that has carried me through every hardship since. So on this day of remembrance I am grateful to God that my husband is alive. Without him, I would have lost my best friend. The bond of love we share would not be as deep. Our family would not exist. There are so many ways my life would be different if things had not gone the way they did. I cannot help but look back and replay those dark days, in the hindsight of God’s grace. As much as I would not have chosen the hurt of this kind of trauma, I am beyond thankful to God for the fruit of such pain. Worship is sweet. Prayer is powerful. Relationships are real. Weakness is strength.
Happy Bill’s Alive Day!