Norfolk, City of Angels

Everyone’s excitement mounted as July’s two-week vacation at Virginia Beach drew closer. Grandparents, kids and cousins anxiously packed for this year’s annual journey to the beach. It has been a ritual for as long as I can remember; a high point of the year when our family gathers for sun baked fun. This year promised the same. We would soon be part of summer’s caravan to the shore, a pilgrimage filled with salty thoughts of surf, fresh crabs and family.

Our first week put us through the usual initiation, sunburn, buying forgotten sunglasses and enough sunscreen to push drug companies’ stock right off the charts. We were in heaven. There is something special about watching children at the beach. What could possibly go wrong in such a beautiful environment? Hopefully, nothing more serious than a renegade wave in search of our sandcastle. The weekend arrived and the start of our second week began, a week for which no one planned, a week we will never forget, a week that would change our lives, forever.

David, my ten-year-old son, and I have spent many years learning the game of golf. He loves the game and carries himself with good skill and excellent etiquette on the course. I have taught him the importance of fast play coupled with respect to other golfers. We have a few favorite courses at Virginia Beach, one of which David and his Uncle Rick decided to play. Their round began as usual with David playing as well as ever. At the seventh hole David hit his tee shot and stepped back into the golf cart. Rick said, “ready” and David replied that he was. What happened next is not completely clear. All we know is that nothing out of the ordinary or unsafe was done. They started off as usual and somehow David fell from the cart, striking his head on the concrete cart path, rendering him unconscious. In a state of horror, Rick jumped to his side, gathered him in his arms and rushed to the clubhouse. Within minutes, the Emergency Medical Team arrived and swept David to Norfolk Children’s Hospital where he was prepared for surgery. The injury was so severe that David had fractured his skull with a blood clot forming around his brain. About 1/5 of David’s skull had to be removed and the majority of the blood clot was relieved. Some of the blood had seeped into areas of the brain not accessible to the doctors and any further probing could damage parts of his brain. Hours later he was in the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit where he would spend the next five days on life support with a team of doctors and nurses by his side 24 hours a day. When out of danger, the hospital moved him into the Pediatric Care Unit and then finally to the Rehabilitation Unit for the rest of his two-week stay. He was then allowed to come home to Northern Virginia where he is now undergoing therapy for the rest of the summer.

The details of David’s accident and recovery, as serious and life threatening as they were, are not the point of this story. The theme is what happened to us as a family and what certain people did, is. Since the accident, I have been struggling over how to thank someone for saving a family member’s life. Words seem trivial after such an experience. There are many heroes within this story as there usually are when catastrophe strikes. David’s hero has been his best friend for ten years, his mom. She has always been there for him and now in his time of greatest peril she was once again by his side.

David’s mother, Claudia, is the strongest woman I have ever met. For those two weeks she never left his side and with his hand in her’s kept telling David she would not let anything further happen to him. She rarely wept, was always positive, never lost sight of her part in David’s recovery and would remain a pillar of strength until she and her son returned home. How do we as a family thank her for cradling David’s life in her arms while so far from home? She has not been to work for over a month. How do we thank those where she works for such compassion? How do we thank the rest of our family members for stopping their lives and being with David throughout the ordeal?

The Children’s Hospital of the King’s Daughters, in Norfolk, VA was David’s home for those two weeks. We became very familiar with the nurses and doctors at the hospital. As I sit here I can picture the face of each nurse and doctor that cared for David during that time. I apologize for forgetting names but your wonderful faces will be with me forever. I think about Dr. Richmond, David’s surgeon. How can I possibly thank her for saving David’s life? Do those words even exist? As for the medical rescue team at Virginia Beach and the Golf Course staff, how do I thank them for their professional urgency that got David into the hands of those he needed so desperately. How can I thank the thousands of people who prayed for David during those two weeks?

Everyone speaks of angels, those heavenly beings that keep us from harm and watch over us. I believe these angels come in different forms. Our family had a chance to meet some of those angels, David’s angels. You were all there when David needed you and you never left his side. There are angels in Norfolk.

It is said that a mother’s love for her children surpasses all other love. That just may be true. Claudia told me a story about leaving the hospital that sums up all these emotions. As she and David walked through the sliding glass hospital doors hand in hand, she looked up at the blue sky, then down at David and burst into tears, tears that had been replaced with strength for the past two weeks. Two weeks of incredible stress that would have driven so many of us to our knees. As she wept, she reached down through the balloons David received from his friends, hugged him and thanked the Lord for keeping our family together, even in the most impossible of times. David, his sister Lauren, mom and I are together again. We thank everyone but most of all, thank you mom. You’re the strongest person we know and we love you more than anything in the world. We just wanted everyone to know Claudia earned her wings at the beach this summer.

Copyright 2005 by Peter Deahl. All rights reserved.

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