I first posted this on December 1, 2004, a week after my daughter Christy came out of her coma. Christy is coming up on her 6th anniversary on her return to life. Hope this helps each of you find your own gifts to be thankful for.
Thanksgiving in Atlanta
The good book says that God will not give us more than we can handle. Before I believed in Him, I would have said that was a lie. After the past few months, I’ve come to see the truth of that promise. I guess the truth of that promise is that God won’t give you more than you can handle with His help. This Thanksgiving was the best Thanksgiving in my life. Granted, I was nearly four hundred miles away from my wife, two youngest children and the rest of my family. This Thanksgiving was the best of my life because of a simple nod of the head.
On September 14th at 7PM I entered my mother’s room at the Baptist East hospital in Memphis. She is getting on in years. This was her second hospitalization in as many weeks. Like millions of other Baby Boomers, I'm trying to deal with a parent as they lose control of their mental faculties and their body fails them. As I entered her room, she told me to call my wife; that call changed my life. "Drive carefully and get to The Med. There's been an accident. They’re flying Christy in by helicopter." Two weeks earlier Christy had turned eighteen. Her two sets of parents bought her a car for the occasion. She promised not to drive until I got her insurance. It turned out that the accident did not happen in the car. Wish that it had.
Christy was living with her mother in a small country town forty-five minutes north of Memphis. I let Chris move in with her mom when she turned sixteen. I hated to let her go, but I realized that country life might help her with some of the problems that had popped up in the city. I also liked that fact that her step-dad was a Vietnam vet with a set of values I respected. Whenever I picked Chris up or dropped her off at her Mom’s house I would notice the kids next door riding their ATVs through the fields. "Chris, promise me you will stay off of those things. They are death traps." Like most kids, she made a promise she wouldn't keep.
The reality of a hurt child is so much worse than the fantasy. I lost my father and several grandparents. I had a close friend shot and killed in Las Vegas. The pain of those events pales in comparison to having a child that you planned, raised and love more than anyone else in the world lay near death's door. As I drove ninty miles per hour to The Med, I remember little else except crying and calling out to God. A thought entered my head. "There were mighty tears in Heaven when my Son was crucified." It was not a thought from my heart. Though the pain wasn’t eased, I knew that God was taking to me. He knew the pain of a father suffering over his child. Two or three weeks earlier, I had begun to feel the pull of God. He had convicted me of some continuing sins. I was trying to accept his grace and get my house in order. He was preparing me for the worst experience imaginable.
As a father, as a man, I was raised not to show a lot of emotion. I sit through the end of the credits in a movie so I can dry the tears if the film struck a chord in me heart. Standing in the hallway of The Med, waiting for the helicopter to bring my little one, not knowing if she was alive or dead, I sobbed uncontrollably. My son Blair wrapped his arms around me as he cried. He had never seen me this way. He knows that I would have been just as out of control had he been the one we were waiting for. My wife Teri stood strong. She cried, but she rallied her strength to support me. She and Chris had a rocky start. It’s not easy being either a stepparent or stepchild. One of the last things Christy had told Teri was "No matter what has happened between us, you have always been there for me."
The elevator doors opened and the medical team rushed across the hall working vigorously over my little one. Standing up, and going full steam, Christy seems much taller than her five foot three inch frame. She is a petite dynamo. Laid out on a stretcher, blood matted in her hair, an eye black and swollen, her chin crushed and bruised, she looked tinier than in her first moment of life. The waiting that is still going on began that night. Christy's mom Sandra, her husband Hector and Chris's boyfriend Ben arrived. The story is still sketchy. As best anyone can tell, Christy got on the back of an ATV driven by the thirteen-year-old girl next door. A car pulled in front of them and the girl swerved. Another ATV coming in the opposite direction hit them head on. Ben stated that Christy was having seizures at the scene. She would not regain consciousness for a very long time.
I cursed under my breath: "Why didn't she listen to me?" Again, God was there for me. He put his Word in writing for me to learn from. There are rules that are designed to give me a peaceful life on Earth. I’ve broken many of those rules. I've also paid the consequences for doing so. Even though I turn my back on God and do what I want, He still loves me, strives with me and forgives me. I realized that Christy was no different. I warned her about the dangers of ATVs for her own good. I forgave her and vowed never to hold it over her head. I just hoped that she would live.
The power of prayer cannot be denied. We called everyone we ever knew and asked them to get down on their knees. The outpouring of support for Christy was overwhelming. By phone, e-mail and snail mail came the notes of encouragement. Our small group from Hope church in Memphis brought meals and sat with us in the waiting room. People I only know from cyberspace and people I’ve never met all promised to pray or if they weren’t the praying kind promised to ask friends who did to pray. People Christy had met while accompanying me to film festivals and fan conventions also went to their knees. As Christy lay in the silent darkness, people from around the world prayed for her. I hoped that Christy was able to pray from her dark room.
I didn’t become a believer until Christy was five or six years old. At the time, it was just the two of us. I had to be both Dad and Mom. The first time I mention God to Christy occurred on vacation if Florida. She and I stood on the pier at Mexico Beach and watched a man battle some undersea giant. His fishing pole was bent in half. The old salt fought for two hours. Whatever it was, was huge. The man worked his way down the pier to beach the creature. Christy was excited to see the animal. As the fisherman got the creature to the shallows, Chris and I could see that it was a stingray with a four to six foot wingspan. Christy asked what the man was going to do with it. "He’s going to kill it and eat the wings." Chris began to cry. "I don’t want the fish to die. Do something daddy!" "Chris, I can’t do anything about it. He caught it. You can ask God to do something." It just popped out. I had never mentioned God to her. I told her about God, how He had made the world and everything in it. I told her that he loved her and that he answered prayers. Christy asked God to let the mighty stingray go. No sooner had she finished her prayer than the stingray lifted one huge wing out of the water and broke the line that was dragging it to its death. "God heard me!" Chris said as she jumped up and down. A few years later, Christy said a second prayer. Our cat Fred had disappeared. The old scoundrel was gone for two weeks and we were about to move away. Again, I asked Chris to pray. The next morning a neighbor found Fred hiding under their house. While Chris lay in a coma I reminded her of those prayers from her childhood and hoped she could hear me. "Talk to God until you can talk to us again." Christy had grown up. Like all kids, she had become rebellious. I'm not sure if God was as important to her as He once had been. I knew one thing for sure, she would need Him now like never before.
Christy’s injuries were immense. Her fractured jaw was the least of her problems. There were two hemorrhages that were inoperable due to their location. The swelling in her brain caused askemia that killed even more vital tissue. She suffered diffuse axonal injury. Later she would develop autonomic dysfunction syndrome. We watched for five weeks as her out-of-control autonomic functions ravaged her body. Spikes in her temperature, blood pressure, heart rate, intra-cranial pressure, sweating, posturing. Images more horrific than any horror film I've ever seen. He arms and legs would atrophy. She suffered contractures of her joints. She would come close to death several times. "Better bring the family to see her, we don’t expect her to make it through the night." "We’d like to talk to you about donating organs." "Do you really want to keep her alive in a vegetative state." So many unfeeling questions given to parents who would not give up hope. Weeks seemed like decades. God made it bearable. Without Him, I would have dropped dead. I'm overweight, I smoke, don’t sleep well and have a very stressful job. Everyday I wake up is a miracle of God. I thank Him for it every day.
It has been eleven weeks now. The Tuesday before Thanksgiving, Christy was loaded into an ambulance in front of The Med. Ten weeks to the day she arrived. We finally won our battle with the insurance company and were taking Chris to the Shepherd Spinal Center in Atlanta. Again, many prayers were answered. Christy's neurosurgeon at The Med was a remarkable woman. The previous Thursday, she drove to her own mother’s funeral. On that sad drive, she fought with our insurance company on her cell phone. Taking time out from her own grief, she fought for the living. God has worked for Christy’s well being through so many people. I took my six-year-old daughter Lauren to visit Chris at The Med. A nurse walked by. "Lauren, she has wings under her coat. All of these people are angels. They don’t show their wings until all the visitors are gone. They save the wings for the folks who are hurting." Sure it was a lie. It comforted a small child worried about her sister. It was no more harmful than telling her that Santa is real. In fact, it may very well have been true. God tells us to be kind to strangers because we may be entertaining angels unawares. In my book the folks who saved Christy's life are all angels.
The Shepherd Spinal Center in Atlanta is an amazing place. It was founded by the Shepherd family in the late 1970s. Their son James suffered a spinal injury while surfing in Rio. He recovered. The Shepherds vowed to build a spinal hospital in Atlanta. The Shepherd Center is one of the foremost hospitals in the country for the treatment of spinal injuries and acquired brain injuries. I also like the name. It reminds me of my favorite psalm. Weeks before, we were told by nurses and doctors and friends to try and get Christy to Atlanta. Prayers were answered. We weren’t sure if she was going to be flown or driven. I prayed that God would provide a hedge of protection around her for the trip. We needed it. The eight-hour drive included ten minutes of sunshine and seven hours and fifty minutes of torrential downpour. As we followed the Ambulance through the heart of downtown Atlanta, I began to cry. I looked to my right and spotted the hotels which host Dragon-Con. I took Christy and Blair with me to the 2003 convention. The flood of wonderful memories was overwhelming. Little did I know when we left 2003 Dragon-Con that the next time I would be with my daughter in Atlanta would be under these circumstances.
Thanksgiving started out to be very depressing. I was away from my family, stuck in a seedy motel north of Atlanta. I wanted to be in Memphis and I didn't want to leave Christy. Everyone I had talked to told me to forget about the pain of separation. If I could get my daughter into Shepherd, jump at the chance. My plan was to commute to Atlanta on weekends. I would be leaving Atlanta the day after Thanksgiving. I felt relief as Christy’s Mom left the hospital on Thanksgiving night. It would give me a few hours alone with my daughter. It may sound silly, but I hate having people in the room with me when I talk to Chris or pray with her. For most of her life, I raised her by myself. I’m most comfortable when I’m alone with her. Chris was propped up on her bed. For hours, she lifted her emaciated right leg and let it drop back to the bed. She stared at it intently. There was a look of confusion in her eyes that I hadn’t seen before. It was if she was waking up from a dream and wondered where the hell she was. I wondered if this leg movement was some new posturing brought on by the autonomic dysfunction syndrome. "Chris, do you want to watch TV?" She shook her head "No." It was a quick side-to-side motion. She had answered me for the first time in ten weeks and two days. I wasn’t sure if I had seen what I thought I’d seen. I asked her again and she gave me the same quick nod. All the time, Chris focused on her leg as she raised it up and let it drop. I’ve done my best not to cry in front of Chris. I don’t want her to get discouraged or afraid. I couldn’t help but cry. She was coming back from the dead. An hour later I turned the TV on and moved it in front of her face. She looked at me and shook her head again. I turned it off. My sense of relief left me to dumbfounded to ask her any other questions. We’ve got a long way to go, but on Thanksgiving night, my little girl started her long walk home.
This journey has been long and painful. There are many miles yet to travel. My family has stood strong beside me. What has been overwhelming is that my family and I have been blessed by the kindness of strangers. I have tried to answer all of the many e-mails I have received concerning Christy. I apologize if anyone has written and I did not respond. I want to thank the very special people at Voy Forums Celebrity Obit Board, those from the Google.alt.obituaries board and everyone from The Last Dance Community for their prayers and support and for helping me get Christy on prayer chains around the world. God be praised and to Him goes all the glory. Thanks for your many prayers for healing and strength.