I Had Seen the Face of Death


And it was mine.

“So stupid,” I kept saying to myself. “So stupid.” I couldn’t believe it.

………

My poor kids had been dragged across this planet. Make no mistake, when you’re five, the only thing that matters is play-time. You couldn’t pay me to live in North Dakota, but if there is a park there with a slide, a swing, maybe a merry-go-round… my kids would be happy.

It was with that mind-set that I brought Jude down to the pool. “He deserves this,” I said to myself more than once. And I was right. He did need this. Something as simple as a container of water to splash around in is more than enough to make a five-year-old boy feel fulfilled. Amidst Vanessa and my exploration of different lands, cultures and living attitudes, our kids had amiably allowed themselves to be dragged along. Disinterested for the most part, but can you blame them? Their mindset is so beautifully simple: Eat, sleep, play, rejoice. We should be so lucky. After the previous day’s stress of navigating the bus system, and getting through Guayaquil (the hottest, muggiest, nastiest weather I’ve ever felt) and it’s immense crowds, Jude deserved to blow some steam in the pool. Both literally, and figuratively. So, late Sunday morning that’s what we did. I brought him down to the pool. I watched at first. It’s amazing how despite no training, Jude has learned to be at home in the water.

In any case, it didn’t take long for him to ask me to get in with him. I had been taking my time, but eventually, I gave in. I doffed my hoodie and tip-toed to the pool’s edge. It’s not a big pool mind you, so I obviously wasn’t going to dive in. I figured there’d be no harm in falling in, though.

Start the countdown towards destruction.

I kneel down, crouched in a fetal position at the pool’s edge.

I look at Jude.

“Jude, say 3-2-1-go!”

Ok Daddy,” he exclaims.

“Three, two, one, GO!”

From a crouched position, I let myself as gently as possible fall headfirst into the pool.

Thud. A horrifying, deafening thud.

The moment it happened, I knew it was bad. I came up from the water, slightly dazed, and crawled out. I was hurting, and trying to get my thoughts together. Moments later, the blood began spattering on the tile poolside.

“Jude!” I yelled. “Jude, go get mommy. Go get mommy Jude.”

I look over at him as I pull myself up to my feet. He sees the blood dripping down my face, and gets a distressed look on his face.

“Ohhh,” he groans. “I’ll yell for mommy.” And that’s exactly what he does. Smart kid. Vanessa heard up on the third story.

I make my way into a bathroom nearby where there was a mirror. My heart. Sank.

I had seen the face of death. And it was mine. My blood covered face was complimented by eyes with tired, purple rings under them. As my gaze tracked upward, I saw a gash in my head that looked, to my glance, like my skull had been impacted. It looked like a dent.

I’m no medical professional. I have had enough training in my life, however, to know the worst possible scenarios of what I was seeing. Paralysis. Slow brain bleeds. Surgeries to relieve swelling and pressure within the skull. It all went through my brain in an instant. It was my worst nightmare. I couldn’t believe it. Not to mention I had no idea of what medical practices in Ecuador were like (though I was about to find out). And what about my life-insurance policy? How does Vanessa go about getting a death certificate in Ecuador? How do I explain to her what just happened? “I can’t believe this just happened,” I tell myself. “I can’t believe it.”

I lean forward as I step away from the bathroom to try to get help. I peek my head down the tile-laden hallway leading to the front desk. I see a woman sitting in the lobby.

“Help!! Hospital!! Help!!,” I cry.

No reply.

“Help!! Please!! Hospital!! Ambulance!! Please!!”

No response. It was as if I wasn’t there. I reluctantly start making my way down the hallway leading to the front desk. All of a sudden, about ten feet away from her, the woman who’s attention I had been clamoring for suddenly awoke from whatever daydream she was in. Her  eyes widened and she began waving and pointing at me. The front desk ladies turned around to see something I’m sure they were hoping not to see. I repeated the words “hospital,” and “ambulance” as I walked back to the pool. I grabbed a towel, and started to fold it up to absorb the bleeding. “Don’t lay down,” I reminded myself. “Keep the wound above the heart.” As I folded the towel, a crowd suddenly grew by the pool. Mouths agape are covered by protective hands. Widened eyes couldn’t seem to avert their gaze off of what they were seeing. I tried desperately to tell people to get my Vanessa.

“Mi esposa!,” I yelled. “Please! Room 16! Dies-y-seis! Please!!” I noticed a couple people frantically take off to get her. My towel folded, I place it on top of my head and sit down. I palpate my cervical spine to see if I feel any pain. Nothing right now.  I see a firefighter appear. He looks at me. His eyes widen. He tries to ask me what happened. Neither of us can understand each other. He gestures towards my towel; he wants to see the wound. I remove the towel. I kid you not, he gasps and recoils in horror. He doesn’t touch me, not once. Now mind you, I still remember my medical training. If I were the EMT attending that call, the first thing I do is smile at my patient to put him at ease and then grab him by the back of his head to stabilize c-spine. I mean, I wouldn’t ask. I take c-spine, and as I do, I talk to my patient. I keep their mind occupied through assessment questions. Here? Nothing.

Vanessa now shows up.

“I’m sorry babe. I’m so sorry. This was so stupid. I can’t believe it. It was so stupid,” I say to Vanessa.

My poor wife. Her expression as she suddenly grappled with what was happening made my conscience tighten. Her face when she realized that the puddles of  blood on the ground and the cries she had heard from her son were because I had gashed my head open… Made me lower my head in shame. I tell her that I have nothing on me; I need her to run back upstairs and get my identification. Which was good; when the hotel staff came up to tell her “emergencia!!” both our daughters were asleep. She took Isla and had to leave Everly in the room to figure out what was going on. The hotel staff ask me if I want to go to the public hospital, or a private one.

“I don’t know,” I reply. “Let’s just do the public one.”

The firefighter gestures toward the front door of the hotel, toward the ambulance. He doesn’t touch me. He does open the door into the back of the ambulance for me, though. There was a stretcher, a backboard, and some spider straps sitting there. No time for that, apparently. He had me sit on the bench in the back.

The ambulance goes lights-and-sirens to the hospital. We drive into the back of the hospital, and the firefighter lets me out the back and leads me to the doors.

My heart. Sank.

What do you envision when you think of a hospital? Do you think of dirt on the floors? Smudged, dirty walls? A stray dog sitting outside the front door? Me neither. But that’s what I was dealing with. I get led into what I can only assume is some kind of trauma room, still holding my towel on my head. The firefighter seems to be pleading my case, explaining to the nurse what he saw and his version of what happened. The nurse shook her head and gestured toward another room. I get lead back outside through another dirty hallway into an old room. I’m getting checked in. I get my blood pressure and pulse-ox taken. I could care less at this point; I want out. I want out of this hospital, I want out of Ecuador, I want out. I call my wife.

“Vanessa,” I say. “Is there any way I can get to a different hospital?”

Vanessa, trying to wrangle three kids by herself into a taxi to come see me, is flabbergasted.

“What do you mean? You want to go to a different hospital??”

“Um, nevermind,” I say, growing despondent. “I’ll just see you here.”

I had carelessly set my bloody towel down on a desk. No one bothered to grab it. No one cared. The firefighter offered to take it, and that’s the last I saw of the towel. I get led back into the trauma room, and I’m asked to take a seat, where I wait. A few minutes later, I am told to lay down.

This is where the fun really begins.

The gasps and giggles from whoever was behind didn’t stop for the next 30+ minutes as I was cleaned and sutured.

You know what did stop? The antisthetic.  Because I never got any. I remember them saying the word “antisthetic,” but I promise you, I felt every bit of everything they did. Twenty-two sutures. The tugs. And the pokes. And every time they inspected the wound to check their work, they scrubbed me off. That was probably the worst part. They nurses kept using the word “tranquil” to tell me to keep calm. I tried. I exhaled deeply while they poked me with needle and thread trying to keep my muscles and body relaxed. Towards the end, as they scrubbed my wound with what felt like a paper towel, I started to lose it. Yup. I started to cry. The giggles from behind me continued. During all this I could hear Everly, and at times Isla crying outside. I imagined Vanessa dealing with it alone. I was despondent.

Finally, they finished. I was finished mentally. I completely broke down. A nurse tells me I have to go take a shower. All I can think to myself is that I know I’m not supposed to drink the water in this region, so is it safe to rinse a open wound with this same water? Through my sobs, I try to say in my incredibly broken Spanish what I mean. Thankfully, the nurse speaking with me does speak some English, and reassures me that it will be fine. They bring a wheelchair to me. I sit myself down. No one has touched my neck at this point. No one has checked my pupils. I get wheeled to a bathroom with a shower. I get up from the wheelchair, turned on the shower, and rinsed my head off. I sit back down in the wheelchair and am returned to the trauma room.

The bed I was sitting on was a typical hospital stretcher. Imagine a blue gymnastics mat as my mattress with a paper sheet over it. When I come back, the mattress is deeply stained with my blood. Not knowing what to do when I return, a nurse flips it over and has me sit on the other side.

Now calmed down, I wait. I can see Vanessa trying to figure what is happening. I ask a nurse where I can go for x-rays. They start having a discussion. I find out later I have to be transported to different hospital to have x-rays done to see if I fractured anything. Great. This just won’t end.

At this point Vanessa takes the kids back to the hotel room. I wait for my next ambulance ride.

At this point the worst was over. So let me summarize. I get taken to the hospital, get wheeled into an x-ray room, get three pictures taken, get told nothing, driven back to the Salinas hospital, and the ambulance personnel who drove me and dropped me off disappear. I wait, and wait, and continue to blindly wait until I see a random face look at me.

“Testigo de Jehova?”

“Si,” I reply.

I had just met Pedro Paulo, an elder from one of the Salinas congregations. Somehow, he had been informed of my plight.

He pats my arm. “Uno momento hermano.”

I exhaled, and allowed myself a little smile. Vanessa and I were no longer alone.

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2 thoughts on “I Had Seen the Face of Death”

  1. My! This was a rivoting tale. Felt like I was reading a novel. Very well written. I enjoyed the detail. I had no idea you posted about this. Extraordinary. This terrible situation made for a good read. Glad you’re ok hermano. 💚

    Like

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