I was a the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) for my second heart operation in 1977. I had only been there for a day or so when two boys about my age (11) were brought into the ICU. These two young men had been riding a go-cart – one in the seat, the other sitting on the engine cover and hanging on – when they collided head on with the local mailman. The only reason they weren’t killed right then and there was that the mailman was driving a vehicle that was higher off the ground than most.
Daddy was in the elevator lobby using the pay phone when the families came boiling out of the elevator. Standing with the phone to his ear, he could see the group standing together as they waited for the doctor’s report. Although he didn’t know any of them, it wasn’t hard to identify the two mothers by the looks on their faces.
It isn’t hard to miss that look: I’ve seen Heart Moms wear it too. Their tears are gone; they have sobbed but now the shock has worn off. Now their jaw is straight and their eyes are focused. I’m OK, doc, they seem to be thinking. Now tell me what we’re up against. What do we have to do to to save my child?
One of the boys was stabilized and transferred out of Intensive Care, but he was still a mess. Lying in his bed with scars on his chest, his right arm and his left leg both still in slings. My parents and his folks became friends and we visited together a couple of times. I even took a turn sitting with him while his parents took an hour or so away one afternoon; he seemed to be a nice enough guy. My folks became friends with the other family also – a shared crisis will do that – but I never saw the other boy. Apparently he had gotten the worst of it and was in the ICU a lot longer. Both of them were still patients when I was discharged.
Both of them survived and were discharged later… two more yanked back from the brink of death. An ER doctor once told me that kids were tough, it seemed that we got wimpy as we grow older, and these two seemed to prove him right. My friend in the slings did well, but about ten years later he contracted Meningitis. Came home feeling terrible, went to bed, and never woke up.
The other young man is now a trooper with the Alabama Highway Patrol. The only souvenir he has of his go-cart days is a scar on his chin.