JFBelieve: Rehab Days

Rehab hospitals are filled with people who have lived through something they shouldn’t have.

I heard that statement 25 years ago by my friend, Claire, who was going into the field.  I remembered it because I thought it was poignant.   And that I hoped that didn’t happen to me.

Since the last time I posted, Julia’s stitches in her head have been removed, the trach in her throat has been removed, she has been taken off the 5x/day stomach feeds and been moved to soft foods, then to solid foods.  She’s been transferred to a wheel chair that she can manipulate herself.  She is talking more.  Her legs and arms are getting stronger.  Her voice is getting stronger.  The greatest sign of recovery is the  positivity and optimism that are coming through.  She’s making jokes.  And getting them.  She smiles a lot.

While Julia was beginning to wake from her coma at Jeff, we were told to prepare for a negative shift in personality.  Expect that, when they wake up, they are frustrated and resentful, we were told.  It’s natural… just wait.

We’re still waiting.

Tonight, at dinner, over mush, she said, “Can I cover this?”

“Cover what?” I asked.

“Like can i help pay for it?”

I can barely look at it and she wants to pay for it.

Julia is very concerned about all the hands that are caring for her and thanks them constantly.  The other day she looked the 2 aides who were changing her dead in the face and said, “Wow.  You guys really work hard.”  The aides just looked at each other and started laughing.  A rare moment in a thankless job…

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Julia’s first penned words after coma

 

Recently, we were told that “depression” is something they are actually looking for, as growth, because it indicates insight into their situation.  Think about that.

I know what they’re talking about.  I see the dead-eyed look in the people around her in the hallway… in the dining hall.  I think of Lt. Dan in Forrest Gump who wanted to have been left out on the field.  I imagine they think Julia’s positivity is an indication that she’s lacking insight into her situation.

Her Aunt Jen asked her recently, “How are you feeling about all this?”

Julia said, “I know it sounds strange, but I really don’t think about the accident much.  I think about when I’m better.”

That’s exactly right, Julia.  Positive visualization.  Believe and receive!

I think that’s pretty insightful…

 

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Watching the Sunday Game

 

A book Julia was raised on is Man’s Search For Meaning.  The author, Viktor Frankl, survived one of the most barbaric Nazi concentration camps, Auschwitz.  In his memoir, he writes of watching a man, malnourished and riddled with sores and lice, take his one ration of stale bread, and walk over to another man, more sickly, and give it to him.  In this moment, Viktor Frankl has the epiphany that the brutal soldiers can take nearly everything from a prisoner, even their life.  The one thing they cant take is their ability to choose how we they’re going to react to the situation.  I learned this lesson live, in person, watching my college friend, Dan, battle elegantly with his own fatal illness.  Thus, this quote from Frankl’s book graced the cover of our 1st fundraiser in his name:

“The last of human freedoms is the ability to choose one’s attitude in any given situation.”

I love how he calls it a freedom.  It really is a freedom if you think about it.  We always have a choice over our attitude, no matter what anyone else does.  It’s freeing!  I so see that in Julia now.  I don’t think it’s a lack of insight.  I think it’s a courageous act of freedom.

IT TAKES A VILLAGE

I recently faced the daunting task of moving.  This was a colossal effort.  Not just because it’s the first move I’ve made without a partner with strong shoulders.  Or because I’m a boarder line hoarder.  But because I had no energy for it.  Zero.  No motivation whatsoever.  I didn’t care what went where or if it got thrown out altogether.  It all seemed so inconsequential.  Like my will for it was missing.  And all I wanted to do was be at the hospital.  As I put it off, anxiety mounted.

Our lives are shaped by our fears, real or imagined.  Usually we overestimate the problem and underestimate the resources.  As blessings in my life don’t seem to stop raining, resources appeared in abundance.  My sister-in-law, Jen, hired movers for the big stuff.  My sister Susan and her sons Zach and Johnny spent a full day packing and hauling boxes.  As did friends Lauren, Kerry, Angela and Charlie.  Paul Padien donated his legal services to protect me from a vicious landlord and her heartless, aggressive lawyer Peter (whose last name my lower-self would love to publish).  That was while my other sister/sister-in-laws stood sentry at the hospital in my stead to make sure Julia got her mid-day rest.  I feel protected and grateful and relieved it’s over!  Thanks to all!

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Super Bowl Sunday 2018  *  Fly Eagles Fly

 

My mother used to say, “Some people run faster when they’re ahead, some people run faster when they’re behind.”  My daughter must be the latter because good Lord is she running!

She takes to every therapy session like it’s the first one of her daily grueling schedule.  She works tirelessly without complaint.  The other day she was on a machine in somewhat of an inverted position, doing leg presses upward with her 1 good leg.  After several sets of 15, I could see she was in pain.  Not just by her face but by her shaking leg.  “Are you okay”, I asked.  “I’m okay,” she said.  The therapist said, “Do you want to try a couple more Julia or do you want to stop?”  (Me: Shaking my head)  Julia: “I could do a couple more.”  Therapist: “Okay how many do you want to do?” (Me: Holding up a goose egg)  Julia: “10?”

Julia’s long-term memory is returning but her short-term memory has not.  She has to be re-oriented constantly as to where she is and why.  This would be scary to me, but she stays poised and present.  “I think it would be scary”, she said, “but because I know there’s a reason for it, it’s okay.”  (I think she means a medical one, but I wonder…)  To choose one’s attitude in any situation!

She tells me of her dreams at night that are fascinating, and often involve my deceased father.  We work with her confusion and disorientation during the day as “daydreams”.  We work on ways to help her separate her daydreams from reality.  I tell her, “Julia, in 30 years, roles will be reversed and you’ll be helping me figure what is real and what’s a daydream so let’s figure out a code word between us now so that if other people are around, and you get off on something you think is real but it’s not, I’ll just say it.  Then you can do the same for me, deal?”

“That’s a good idea,” she said.  “A code word… how about, ‘Oprah is coming to Pennsylvania’?”  Perfect.  (Philadelphia’s a great spot for a Presidential announcement. ; ))

Tonight I walked in after her brother’s basketball game, minutes after friends from SJU had left from a 3-hr Scrabble tournament.  They sent me pics and I was excited to hear about it, as these fellows are among her favs.

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George: “Despite everything Julia still kicks butt”

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I burst in, “Hi! I heard the guys were here!  How was it?”

“What guys?”

When I remind her of the games, she says, “I’m at the shore.  I’m in Gran’s basement.”

So that’s an example.  What I think is interesting is how often she thinks she’s at my mom’s house.  I guess that’s a safe place.  I tell her I imagine when I’m daydreaming I’ll go there too…

 

Our problems are only as big as the ones behind it.  That fender bender that made you miss an important meeting is only important until your kid gets into none of the colleges they apply to.  Which is only big until you lose your job.  Which is only big until that diagnosis.  Which is only big until 2 tons of steel mow down your daughter in the street.  Which is only big until someone takes your child, and you can’t see or touch or know how they are.  At least mine is sleeping in a hospital bed, under my watchful eye, as I write this.  That’s how I see it.  Thank God I have the freedom to do so.

Julia’s cousin Greg and his fiancé Biz considered changing their wedding date this summer so that Julia can dance at it.  Maybe they won’t have to…

Today’s miracle:  Julia takes her first steps.

 

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Julia stands up for the first time: February 6, 2018

 

JFBelieve – Leaving Hospital for Rehab

GRADUATION!

So much has happened in the last weeks, I can’t begin to tell you…!

Julia moved into a different room in the ICU – one with a window.  Julia is a nature freak so maybe I was seeing what I wanted to but it seemed she opened her eyes more.  It also helps regulate her sleep cycle.

She had her 2 major surgeries – 1 to set and repair her right leg, the second to repair her facial and skull fractures and her sinuses and to replace her skull cap.  She came through both with flying colors.  After both of which, she was very tired.  After the head surgery her eyes were swollen shut most of the weekend.  Following the surgery on Friday to replace her skull cap, her face and eyes were pretty much swollen shut for the rest of the weekend.  In the moments she was awake, despite her closed eyes, she attempted to sign.   Which generally consisted of the sign language equivalent to “yes” or “O.K.”  Despite the weight of the comatose exterior, it became clear, inside, she was awake!

On Saturday, her nurse case manager sat her dad and I down and said, “Julia is beating all the normal expectancies of progress – we need to start thinking about Rehab.”

Sphincter say what..?!

We visited Moss the next day (Sunday) and Magee on Monday.  I felt immediately at home at Magee.  A 15 foot Christmas tree greets you upon entrance with a million tiny gold ornaments with the same word: “Believe”.  As I glanced down at my #JFBelieve bracelet (Thank you Nina!) I thought, “Do I even need the tour?”

When we got back to Jeff, I was so ebullient from the visit to Magee, telling her about the “Believe” tree and the meditation room, etc and suddenly a Physical Therapist and Occupational Therapist burst in and say,  “We’d like to sit her on the edge of the bed if you don’t mind.”

Where?

“On the edge of the bed.  To look out the window.”

Sit?  As in… up?

Before her incredulous dad and I could blink, they were turning her, in concert, to sit on the bed’s edge.  She looked like a little lump of lead.  The PT kneeled on the bed behind her, bracing all her weight against Julia’s back.  Julia struggled to crane her neck to hold her heavy head barely upright.  The OT, facing her, held her mangled leg out straight, and asked, “Is she an athlete?”  To which we answered, very much so.

Julia holds a squezzy stress ball in her right hand to prevent her from picking at her head sutures.  The OT hands her leg to Pat and makes a hoop with her arms and stands back from Julia. “Julia can you make a basket?”  I glance at her like she’s crazy, while Julia cocks her hand back and makes a basket.  Pat and I cheered like the Eagles won the Playoffs.

Next, they asked, “Does she have a favorite song?  Our pre-party pump jam is “The Dog Days Are Over” by Florence and the Machine.  The therapists not only knew this song, they called up a Youtube version of it where the band is singing it to a sick girl in the hospital.  (HUH?!)

As it plays, Julia watches the singer, Florence, sit on the girl’s hospital bed, and sing.  Suddenly, Julia grabs my hand.  She threads her tiny fingers in between mine and starts moving our conjoined hands up and down against her good leg.  Awkwardly to the rhythm at first, but then gradually picking up pace.  Astonished, I ask her, “Are you dancing Jules?”  To this, she points to me… then back to herself.

“Are WE dancing?,”  I corrected.

To this, she nods her head, right on beat.

Pat and I FELL OUT.

Florence & the Machine is singing to a young woman in a hospital room, somewhere in the world (we’re all connected).  My daughter, who was run over by an SUV, exactly 4 weeks ago, is now watching all this.  Sitting up and watching.  And mouthing the words.  And dancing.  DANCING.  (And people think there isn’t a God.)  Pat and I are laughing so hard we’re about to get remarried.  (Kidding Chris)  Laughing and laughing and rejoicing, with gratitude, for the laughter.  My daughter is such the teacher.  This is quite the semester.  The tuition, so far, unbelievably, is worth it.

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The next day, when she woke, I told her how great it was to see her.  She made a sign that is bringing her fingers to her chin then pulling it forward.  It means ‘Thank you”.  Julia’s first word, as a baby, was Thank you.  It began as Ah-hee.  Then eventually became thank you.  She said it all the time… long before Mommy or Daddy. Watching her brain struggle for words, now, that her trach prevents her from forming, then recalling a signing gesture of “thank you” brought me back to teaching Julia to read when she was younger.  I would correct her frequently, (which I hated when I was learning something new as a child, remembering what a frustrating excercise it was.  But not for Julia she would say thank you everytime she was corrected.)  Just like now.  She’s being poked and prodded all day.  it takes forever for her to do the things that she possibly can do.  And all it is from her the same thing constantly… Thank you, thank you, thank you.

My daughter never met a learning curve she didn’t like.  The way she is embracing this blows my mind.  I said to her the other day, “Honey, the grace with which you are walking through this is in-credible.  You are teaching me so much, you have no idea.  It’s like I can not believe I got picked to be your mother.  I want you to know I’m not crying because I’m sad, I’m crying because you have re-sized my heart exponentially, and it has swelled past the point of capacity.  With sheer wonder, it’s like I’m walking around high on inspiration drugs.  You are truly my hero.  An can I tell you something else?  You’re Daddy’s hero, too”

i am?  She asked.

Yes, I said.

And her faint little voice she said, ” That’s pretty cool…  To say the least.”

When we put a pen in Julia’s hands for the first time and gave her a notebook, she wrote, “nice is nice.”  She probably meant “This is nice.”  Which is incredible enough.  Her graphic artist cousin, Patrick, added a tree and a butterfly and Aunt Jen and Uncle Matt had them made into T-shirts.  Bright yellow ones.

The goodness and compassion of others has been astounding.  People who don’t even know us!  I can’t keep up with thanking them!  Julia has re-colored the whole hue of humanity for me and it’s a shade as bright as Matt and Jen’s shirts!

 

 

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It hasn’t been all rosy.  She’s making so many cognitive connections, I can get ahead of myself.  Like when she sang the entire Eagles Fight Song, in her soft faint voice.  Or when she said about the noisy neighbor next door who grumbles vociferously, constantly, “Dont let it bother you Mommy, he’s probably just hallucinating.” (Ok Ghandi.)  But the other day when Pat told me she hadn’t remembered him after dinner was a tough one.  That kind of broke my heart in pieces.  I hadn’t realized her memory was so spotty.  That was a therapeutic cry on the way home from the hospital that day, for sure.

The next day I asked her, “Honey do you remember me?”

“You’re my mom.  Why do you ask?”

“I’m not sure… you hit your head pretty hard.  It would make sense if your memories are fuzzy.”

Julia takes my hand.  “You’ll always be my mom.  100%”

When she sees the smile spread across my face, she corrects herself, “101%’

Today the Hawk Paper on St. Joes campus is running an article on Julia for which I’ve been asked for a statement.  Of course, that can be tricky where legalese are concerned, but in Julia’s name I feel the need to be as honest as possible.

I hope public safety on SJU campus improves.  I also hope they know the gratitude the Furey-Bastian family feels for their outreach and support on Julia’s behalf.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

JFBelieve – Hard Images that Teach Us

  CAUTIONARY TALE

 

Emmett Till was a 14 year-old African-American boy who was accused of staring or whistling at a white woman in Mississippi in 1955.  For this, he was abducted by 2 white men, beaten, tortured, mutilated, shot and then thrown in the river.  When his boated body washed up the next day, his mother had the gumption and courage to hold an open-casket funeral service for her boy, that tens of thousands attended, to show the effects of racism.  The men who killed him went on to be acquitted of the crime, despite multiple witnesses and their own hubris in bragging about it.

That white woman involve later confessed, on her death bed, that Emmett had not done what she accused him of, and that she was pressured to lie.  An unspeakable tragedy that Emmett’s mother turned into an opportunity to not only expose the barbarism of American racism but also the corruption of the judicial system and limitations of American democracy at large.

When my clock radio went off this morning at 6 AM, the newscaster was saying that today is the night each year that has the most drinking and driving-related deaths.

I ask that if you are anywhere tonight where you see someone considering driving who shouldn’t be, please show them the pictures bellow.  We are a visual society and sometimes a picture has more impact that a well-reasoned argument.  This is the effects of impaired driving.  If it can save one life tonight it will have been worth it.

Have a safe New Year, Friends.

 

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JFBelieve – Thumbs Up

THUMBS UP

When Julia was in utero, and I went for my first ultra-sound, like all mothers, I was anxious to see her.  The effort of the nurse pressing the monitor over my belly was making me have to go to the bathroom.  After 5 minutes of not being able to see Julia – who was tucked so far down and out of site – we were about to give up.  Suddenly, into view came a little hand.  The nurse exclaimed, “Look – her thumb is sticking out!”  And there it was, before my very eyes, a fetal thumbs up.

My mother went on to write the nicest letter I’ve ever received, after that first week that she spent with us.  She wrote about Julia, her observations of us as parents, and all the love Julia had craddled herself into.  She ended it with, “That’s why it’s ‘Thumb’s up’!”

Though the medical coma Julia was placed in is over, she still remains largely comatose, except for moving her right arm spontaneously, and half-opening her good eye.  Up until Thursday night when the nurses were jostling her around from gurney to gurney for a CTscan, in addition to the bright lights, she woke enough to respond to the nurse who asked her, “Can you hear me?”  Julia gave a thumbs up.  She was then asked if she goes to St. Joes.  To this, she nodded her head yes!  Memory!

The next day she would not replicate that responsiveness for the docs and stayed sleeping or unconscious most of the day.  Last night around dinner, she woke briefly.  I took the opportunity to tell her that people have been responding to the blog that I have set up for HER to take over, and that her faculty adviser, Julie, is now shopping for a publisher for us to co-author a book.  To this she attempted a closed-mouthed smile (that looked like Chinese man, it was so cute) and gave me my very first Thumbs Up.  I almost had a heart attack.  I did that crying/laughing thing from the movies.  My girl is back!  Just like I absolutely knew she would be.

Yesterday morning she had the leg surgery to repair her broken bones and knee tendons.  She passed with flying colors.  The docs warned us she would be comatose the rest of the day, and tomorrow.  Au contraire!  Not only were both eyes open, when I asked her how she was, she said in sign-language, “O K.”!  I then asked if she could sign her name and she did!  J-U-L-I-A!  When I saw her dexterity in her right hand we gave her her Ukulele.  She picked for a bit and then actually strummed. (See video below.) When we asked if she was in pain she faintly shook her head no.  Today was an amazing, faith-re-enforcing day.

On Thursday, I had preliminary trial for the driver who hit her.  Pat wanted no part of it.  It ended up getting continued to 2/5 because the results of the blood test are not in.  I saw him though.  Next to his pregnant wife, who mouthed the words to me, “I’m sorry.”  I felt badly for them suddenly and gave them the peace sign.  More carnage and pain from this is not what I want.  A witness who was in the car closest to Julia, who stopped when the light turned yellow, was there.  He said he saw Julia’s face when the car next to him came at her.  With the headlights rushing at her, he said she “lit up like a Christmas tree.”  He’s been having nightmares about it since.  The reason he didn’t assist her on the scene was because he assumed, by the way she flew in the air after the impact and landed in the street, she was gone.  He said he watched her rib cage and she was not breathing.  The campus police who arrived were “freaked out and clueless” by his account, which I have less than compassionate feelings about, obviously.  He said, “The girl with the glasses (her friend Emily) controlled the situation.”  Again and a million times – thank You, God, for Emily.

The next step is the second and last operation she is scheduled for at Jeff, which is for her face, sinuses, eye and head.  On Friday, they will attempt to fix the multiple fractures in her face and around her eye.  If successful, they will replace the half of her skull cap that was removed last week and placed on ice.  Obstacle by obstacle, we are really and truly getting the Starting Line.  Just as I knew, thanks to God, and your prayers, we would be.

The beat of connectivity goes on.  We have a journal that visitors write in when they come into the ICU which, at Jeff, is on the 9th floor.  The other day, Pat was recalling a submission he read in it from one of her friends.  The friend was telling a story about asking Julia once, “How do you totally not care about what others think about you or what you do or say?”  Julia said, “I do care what people think.  But then I just say 3-2-1 and do it anyway.”  Then, my sharp sister, Maureen, says, “Pat look at the top of the door.”  Julia’s room number is 9321.

Happy New Year!

 

 

JFBelieve – Connectivity

CONNECTIVITY

December 26, 2017  9:00 AM

2 weeks ago, I was at the shore, right now, visiting my mother, grateful that she didn’t wake me for morning mass.  The clients I had to re-shuffle to make the 2x/mos commitment to visiting her, now that she’s 89, was my biggest problem.  Blissfully oblivious was I to the fact that my life, as I knew it, was about to be over.

My Christmas highlights were Julia opening her left eye a little, now that the heavy sedatives are flushing their residue out of her system, and moving her right arm up and down.  Julia and I have a silly, silent code between us of a shimmy.  Before either of us do something brave, we shimmy to each other for confidence.  Every day before I dropped her off at middle school and then high school – until she boarded at Westtown – she would get out of the car, turn to me and shimmy through the window.  I would shimmy back as if to say, You’ve got this.  When some family members were in the room on Christmas eve, she did this little shoulder wiggle.  My niece Alyssa wrote a text saying, Julia just shimmied for me… my Christmas is complete!

The big news yesterday were results of her MRI.  We had been waiting for this for prognosis.  She has damage to the right frontal lobe, and the left back part of the brain where the impact caused a whiplash effect, ricocheting the brain diagonally from corner to corner.  In between those 2 spots are pathways that are “inflamed”.  This is to say that they are metabolically effected (whatever that means) and, cellularly, can go in either direction, better or worse.  The take-away is that they are potentially “recoverable” through rehab.  There is no stroke or ischemia (lack of blood or oxygen) so regeneration and recovery can not be ruled out.  Thank God for that!!

The damage at the front and back points of impact are supposedly permanent.  The damage in the back effects her field of vision.  The damage in the front effects cognition, memory, and personality, but they don’t know how much.  Permanent brain damage.

Words have so much power, don’t they?  We throw them around like they’re invisible pieces of air.  Little nothings that evaporate when spoken, without leaving a trace.

But they are so much more than that.  I think someday we’re going to be able to measure the power of words.  They get into the carpet and the drapes…  They stay burnished on our souls much longer than a bruise on the skin.  The big word in this neurological consult was recoverable.  Recoverable is a big, fat, strong word full of hope and potential.  Permanent is a word used by medical people based on their experience only.  It does not take into consideration this particular patient and the strength of the network of love and support around her.  They do not know you and the strength of your prayers and positive energy.  And they do not know Julia and the strength of her hope and will.  For every “First Time” of anything there is impossibility before it.  I believe, wholeheartedly, that Julia’s role is to open doctor’s minds in a way that they’ll go on to tell the next TBI patient, “We’ve seen people go on to recover from even what appears to be unrecoverable now.”  Wouldn’t that be a legacy?  Julia will love that challenge and roundly embrace it.

The next big surgery, when Julia is stable enough, is for her right leg which is badly damaged.  Besides the fibula fracture and torn knee ligaments, severest risk is from an artery that is “dissected” which is to say it is shredded in a way that, every time she is moved, threatens a tear which would cause interior bleeding, which would not be good.  The vascular team has wanted to get their hands on her to prevent this since she was admitted.  The neuro team, and her brain, however, took precedence.

Watching someone struggle to move and respond to our commands can be heart-wrenching.  I can’t imagine what it’s like to be trapped in your body, paralyzed to get it to do what you want.  I watch her one eye, through the slit of her eyelid, dart back and forth as she struggles to connect her brain to her body.  Sometimes she moves her lips, open and close… no words come.  When they stick her over and over for endless IV’s, however, she is beginning to recoil from the pain.  This, ironically, is what we’ve been waiting for.  Because it means CONNECTIVITY between her mind and her muscles.  This is what we are looking for now more than anything.

A dear friend of mine and former BC classmate named Dan, whose battle with illness and death at 27 changed my life, has a sister who is a Psychic-of-sorts.  I am skeptical, as many of you are, about the garden variety psychic who panders fraudulently for money.  This woman, Mary Liz, is gifted.  Her connection to “the other side” is eerie and awe-inspiring.  As far as the future is concerned, she said Julia would go on to live a different life than we expected but a significantly meaningful one.  As for the purpose of this, she said it was for connectivity and healing.

As connectivity between people goes, Julia is a bridge-builder.  Just a month or so ago, Julia told me she found and old journal I had given her for her 10th birthday.  I hadn’t remembered it but she said we were going back and forth with the book, writing questions and answers to each other.  She said I had filled it with writing prompts like, “What’s it like to be 10?”  (Ha) She said there was a “Greatest Wish” prompt for her which she had written beneath: “For my parents to be friends.”  Not to get back together.  To be friends.  Every other scenario in all the books I read about how to love a kid through divorce never presented themselves.  Not one.  Julia, in fact, is oft heard saying, “I’d rather come from 2 happy homes than 1 unhappy one.”  The only times I was stumped and stymied was the first couple of years when both my kids would ask me to go to my in-law celebrations.  “But why can’t you come with us?”   As parents, a special kind of pain is when you can’t give your kids what they want.

After the raucous, uproarious Christmas Eve gathering at the hospital concluded with the last of the “Goodbye and I love you” hugs, with the last of some 25 of my in-laws, and it was just she and I alone, I smiled our secret smile to her.  “Did you like that… Maestro?”  And I swear her little fingers moved and wiggled, attempting to curl around my hand.  Just like when she was a baby.  She hears us.  She wants us to know that she hears us.  She is co-creating all this connectivity of which you and I are part.

I can’t tell you the groundswell of support that has erupted from corners far and wide.  The outpouring of love from the most obscure places has been nothing short of stunning.  If I knew the number of people actively praying for Julia I’d guess realistically it is in the thousands.  College campuses, whole parishes… and lots of them.  Unless you’ve been in my shoes, you can’t imagine what that feels like.  To be at the center of a vortex of such grace and abundance…  It’s like I’m looking at the human race in a whole different way.  And all I see is goodness.

Julia formed connections with people that were more than an inch deep.  Even if you knew her peripherally.  Her love for and genuine interest in people and their lives bonded her to them the way you are with that old friend who, no matter how much time has passed between you, you always pick up right where you left off.  Those are the kind of soul-connections that outlast distance and time.  Julia was always looking to learn from and about people so those connections came naturally.  As her Writing teach put it. “Julia was like an octopus… and the places where her tentacles touched were not small spaces.”

There’s a web that’s growing around her and you’re part of it.  Just by reading these words and empathizing with us.  That generates energy in you that you take out into your own life.  And who knows who you touch with it and how.  Not to mention the fact that reading the comments on this site is like pulling my car up to the gas pump.  It is literally part of the fuel I go on to high-step it through the day.  We’re all connected.  We are all connected.  In sleep, as in her wakefulness, Julia drew and draws the loveliest people to her.  If you were in her orbit, you were special too.  And through this experience I feel like we’re all getting more special!  Lol.  She is the rising tide that raises all our boats.

Mother Theresa was being interviewed by a radio DJ in Chicago many years ago.  The formerly jaded DJ was so impressed and moved by her, he asked her, after the show was over, what he could do to help her.  She declined saying dedicating the air time was enough.  He pressed on saying no, he really wanted to do something more to help her mission.  She said, “If you really want to help me, go out on the streets of Chicago tonight and convince someone they’re not alone.”

So… err on the side of connectivity.  People have a desire to be known soul to soul.  Get past the big, stupid, external questions that satisfy people who ask about our lives and take an interest in something deeper.  Maybe not what they do but why they do it.  What part of their work really engages them?  Would they do it if they didn’t get paid?  What makes them most proud about their kids?  And then remember what they said and ask about it the next time.  This is how we connect in the way Julia connected.  And remind each other that we’re not alone.

JFBelieve – Authenticity

Today is Sunday, a very different Christmas Eve.  I feel badly for Bo, who wants nothing less than to be felt badly for.  We don’t even have a tree.  Which is okay because we will be spending the night before Christmas in the hotel down the street.  When we’re not in the hospital.  Next year I am getting our Christmas tree on Halloween!  I feel rested, strong, loved and hopeful today.

I have received many texts and emails about the first “First 10 Days” blog I posted, which have been heartwarming and gratifying.  Some people were interested in, or touched by, the perspective Julia and I share of embracing pain, loss and tragedy as a teacher and holder of opportunity.  To that point, her boyfriend Colin reminded me of Julia’s reaction last year when she broke her hand and found out that she had to have surgery.  “Cool!  I’ve never had surgery before!”  That’s exactly what I was talking about in my last blog post.  That’s my daughter.

Julia is making small movements.  Mostly when they poke and prod her.  Yesterday she yawned.  It was so cute.  She looked like a cat.  Pat joked that she’s getting bored of hearing the same thing we are telling visitors over and over, as if to say, “Can you change the subject please?”  Lol.  I’m getting the feel for what she doesn’t like.  Getting her mouth suctioned is on the list.  Today when they tried to put the instrument in her mouth she clamped down hard.  I laughed at how feisty she is.  Even in a coma.

She had the valve in her head that monitors her brain pressure and swelling removed which means she has stabilized in that regard which is wonderful!  Now the next step, where brain functioning is concerned is the MRI.  That may be conducted tomorrow.  They removed some 30 stitches from her eye and her leg as well.  Ophthalmology just came in and is concerned about the cut on her right eye which is getting worse so they are taping it shut so she doesn’t worsen it trying to open it.

They are still stepping down her sedation, according to what she can tolerate, in preparation of waking her up.  Yesterday was challenging for me because, as they did, her heart rate and blood pressure would spike, telling us that she is, at the very least, uncomfortable.  But it’s a necessary process because we have to eventually “get her to the starting line” as my brother-in-law would put it.  God grant me the serenity to accept the things I can not change…  By the time you read this, she will be off all sedatives altogether.  From there, it’s 2-5 days of getting those heavy drugs out of her system til she wakes up and we see where we are.

The idea of being “strong” in the face of adversity has come up often.  I see people trying to keep a stiff upper lip for one another…  For me.  My niece who is all smiles all day goes home and cries by herself for an hour at night.  Personally, I think a normal reaction to a normal situation is normal.  An F’d up reaction to an F’d up situation is also normal.  Swallowing your feelings is never a good idea.  Swallowing your feelings is not strong.  Strong is feeling them, whatever they are.  Even when you’re afraid that, if you do, they will swallow you whole.  Even if you’re afraid that, if you do, you will upset others.  (When people cry, I feel more connected to them.)  Even if you’re afraid that, if you do, you will be perceived as “not strong”  Being authentic about your feelings takes the most strength of all.  Because we live in a society that encourages us to be anything but.

Facing pain means feeling it.  It’s work.  If you work with a personal trainer, he’ll say, if you’re not sweating, you’re not working.  When you’re trying to recover from any tragedy or loss or trauma, if you’re not crying, you’re not working.  Feeling and expressing how bad pain feels is the work of facing pain.  That’s how you do it.  Strength is any authentic reaction to your situation.  When your outsides match your insides, that’s  authenticity.  Being strong is being authentic.

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In terms of my authenticity, co-parenting with your formerly semi-estranged ex-husband while your daughter is in a coma is not for wimps.  Besides the 8 hrs we each take to sleep, we are both at the hospital the other 16.  Most of the work day from early morning on – we are together, in Julia’s room, by ourselves.  Sometimes our differing styles clash.  Growing up in a family of doctors, I have the greatest respect for doctors, but know, underneath, they are just people.  Pat has more of a reverence for doctors, I feel, and wants to stay out of the way and not “bother” them.  Both of us doing our level best, in our own individual ways, to get her better.  Sometimes I think Julia is not going to wake up until he and I are friends.  Real friends like we used to be.  When he used to jump on my back when I wasn’t looking.  God grant me the courage to change the things I can…

People are incredibly thoughtful.  I can’t believe the generosity this situation has brought out in others.  Yesterday, Julia’s 2nd grade teacher from Ursuline and her husband came to came to visit her.  I was moved by her emotion and clear memory of Julia… after 12 years!  Special thank to My brother-in-law Matt, who had the computer I’m writing on delivered to the hospital 30 minutes after my mere mention to someone else that I needed a laptop.  And to his wife Jen, who, for the last 10 years, has been less of a sister-in-law and more of a sister to me, and has come through in spades.  Matt said the hardest thing about this, beside watching his wife and daughter cry at night, is the guilt of not telling Julia he loved her more.  These reminders are so useful to us!  Opportunity!  So… tell all the people you love, who aren’t in a coma, that you love them!  Yea Julia!  Thanks for reminding us!  Make a list of all the people you could possibly say it to.  And say it.  For Julia.  Even if it’s been 12 years…

Merry Christmas Eve!

 

 

JFBelieve – The Accident

THE FIRST 10 DAYS

I am Julia Furey-Bastian’s (JFB to friends) mother, Dyan.  I’ve historically shied away from social media because of the breeding ground I see it can be for judgement, derision, division, even public shaming.  Even though it was designed to connect and bring us together.

I am thrust out of this shell by my desire to share the experience of a life-changing event that happened to my family: A life-threatening accident involving my 20 year old daughter, Julia, and her fight to live.

I endeavor for it to be factual, and to keep it current, as many are pouring in seeking round-the-clock updates.  I may not get all the medical nomenclature correct as we are deluged by teams of critical care specialists fighting for brain-space (mine) in the attempt to save and rebuild her.  I don’t have time to grammar and spell-check so please bare with me.

This is a blog from a mother’s perspective.  It is, also, I believe, a testament to how Julia herself would want to represented.  Julia and I shared a very unique and specific spiritual connection and uncommon view when it comes to suffering and its meaning that, on her behalf, I’d like to extend to any who might relate or, by it, be inspired.

If you have preconceived notions of how a mother “should” react to my situation you may be put off or skeptical about my observations and interpretations.  If that is so, I ask that you reserve judgmental comments.  I am just one woman sharing an experience that could have happened to anyone.

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IN A NEW YORK MINUTE

At 7 PM on Wednesday night, 10 days ago, I was driving home from my mother’s on the Jersey shore.  As I approached the Garden State Parkway, I got the call every parent dreads:  “Julia’s been in an accident.  She was hit by a car.”

“Was she driving?”

“Walking.”

“Is it serious?”

“Yes.”

Lankenau hospital was 90 minutes away.

I felt an immediate surge of purpose and focus.  Deep breath… Here we go.  The moment I knew was possible the moment I held her.  Whatever was to come next, my strong, spiritual daughter was built for it.  And so was I.  I learned to trust God a long time ago.  And so did she.  God grant me the serenity to accept what I can not change…

I tried to imagine what she was doing when she was hit.  If she was alone or not.  If she saw it coming or not.  I pictured her with her ear buds in and hoped she was listening to music.  When the phone rang an hour later, I realized my hand was balled into the fist I involuntarily make when I’m scared, ever since my mother taught me, as a child, to hold the Blessed Mother’s hand..

30 minutes to the hospital, my mother calls to see if I’m home safely.  “Are you home yet?  There’s going to be weather.”

“Yes, Mom, I’m almost home safe and sound”, I lied.  “Thank you for the awesome visit.”  It was an awesome visit.  My mom waits on the porch for me like a Labrador.  And pouts equally when I leave.  I suddenly remembered Bo and I were going to get our Christmas tree tonight.

By the time I got to Lankenau, the 1st Catscan had come back and the results were, “Not as bad as we thought.”  The 1st sense of relief I’d felt in 2 hours.  When I saw Julia’s dad, I remembered today was his birthday.

Julia’s injuries were extensive.  A gaping opening in her forehead above her skull fracture, broken nose, multiple facial fractures, multiple rib fractures, a broken fibula in her leg that somehow tore ligaments from her knee that impact an artery that’s now more pressing than the eye.  Fractures around the eye that are pressing upon her optic nerve, threatening her sight.  Ruptured sinuses which are apparently a bigger deal than I knew.  Her stomach was blackened and she needed stitches in multiple areas.  Her beautiful eyes were swollen shut.  She had a neck brace and tubes down her throat to keep her breathing and fed.  Multiple IV’s streamed from her arms.

The doctor’s said, “We are worried about the right eye; she must be airlifted to Jeff.”

The “weather” came and made airlifting prohibitive.  It would be 4 more hours till the ambulance came to pack her up and forge into the snow.  I talked to her non-stop the whole way, telling her what happened, what was happening to her now, and that she was safe and protected.

I sang to her in the ambulance.  Julia is very musical and has a beautiful voice.  One thing I missed early on in the divorce from her dad was listening to her and her dad sing together.  In church, in the car…  I couldn’t hold a tune if it had handles but sing through the house regularly we do.

In the early hours of Thursday morning, at Jeff, they took a 2nd Catscan.  Thank God by the time they read it at 9 AM, both my sister Maureen and brother (Dr.)Bill were there.  What I didn’t understand from the images I was seeing on the screen, I read on my brother’s face:  As opposed to the 1st scan that was better than expected, this one was worse.

The eye was secondary now.  The swelling in the brain was first.  “Severe, complex TBI.”  Traumatic Brain Injury.  I knew the term from a woman I worked with as an early social worker.  She was in a wheel chair and needed help to do everything,  She could not speak, feed or dress herself.  She was in a car accident coming home from her prom.  The driver who hit her, like the driver who hit Julia, was impaired.

What Happened:

Julia was standing at a corner on St. Joe’s University campus, on City Line Ave, waiting to cross the street to meet her cousin.  It is a 4-lane avenue, which has an overpass kids take unless the traffic is sparse.  When the light turned yellow, the car in the lane closest to her slowed to a stop.  She stepped out into the street.  The car in the further lane, by account, was farther back behind the closer driver.  Instead of slowing to a stop, he pressed the accelerator and sped up.  This explains why she was in the middle of the street.  It also explains why he was going so fast.  And hit her so hard.

When I saw the picture of the car, I assumed he crashed into something else as well.  Later I would learn that no, he only hit Julia.  She was struck on the right leg, sweeping her legs out from under her, projecting her head first into the windshield.  All 125 lbs of her.  The indented, shattered windshield was the impression of her beautiful head.

The driver, I was told by police, was driving an uninsured vehicle – an SUV – on a license that had been suspended for some time.  His eyes were glassy and he smelled of alcohol and marijuana.  He was arrested and given a blood test at the police station.  Results of which were yet unknown.

Strangely, when I first heard about the accident, I felt a pang of angst for the driver, whom I assumed, was a student.  As much as no one wants to get the call her dad and I got, no one wants to get the call those parents got.  That poor kid’s life, as he knew it, was over.  It crossed my mind which call I’d prefer, the call that Julia was hurt or that she hurt someone else.  Obviously, I know what Julia would choose.

When I found out that this man was 42, with assumed prior incidents, compassion disappeared.  I wished for it back.  Anger is so much worse.

A student who was Julia’s service-partner at Hopeworks in Camden last year, named Emily, usually takes the overpass.  For some reason, on this night, she took the crosswalk.  She was the first to come upon Julia.  She thought it was a bumper.  Cars were going around her.  When she saw it was a woman, she nudged her, “Ma’am, are you alright?”

No response.

Emily called 911 and was asked if the woman had a pulse.  Julia’s clothes were up above her head and she was faced down.  Emily put her head against Julia’s back, but all she could hear was her own heartbeat.  It was impossible to tell if she was breathing. A Septa driver pulled over who had an AED, which is a defibrillator that sends a shock to the heart if the person is not breathing.  In a CPR class Emily was not supposed to be in, she was trained to use one.  The Septa driver did not want to be involved so he put his lights on and directed traffic.

Julia needed to be turned.  A non-servicing female ambulance driver pulled over and together they turned her.  They pulled her clothing down because it was cold.  It was cold…  At this point, the driver of the car that hit her was pacing around asking Emily, “Is she breathing?”  It wasn’t till they cleared her face that Emily recognized it was Julia.

“Julia!  It’s Emily!”

And with that Julia gasped.  Breath!

Within minutes the EMT arrived and took Julia to Lankenau.

 

The First 72 Hours

Watching the trauma team at Jeff is like watching a symphonic orchestra.  The number of “teams” involved in “Polytrauma” is incredible, and they all work fluidly in concert.  Julia was hooked up to a gazillion machines.  Ones to keep her breathing and fed, streaming antibiotics, and sedatives to keep her in a coma.  Ones monitoring her temperature, her O2 levels, her blood pressure, brain activity, and most critically, the swelling in her brain.  Brain swelling is determined by a measure called ICP – Inner Cranial Pressure.  Ideally this number is under 15.  When Julia was admitted her number was 36.

We were told that over the next 72 hours, it would be touch and go.  Through medication, they were able to get her ICP under 20.  Once her brain stabilized, it was a “wait and see’ game.  Every hour they would pull back on her sedation to see if she would move.  The first time, she got agitated and tried to pull out the tubes down her throat.  Movement!  Her arms and legs work!  But she would not squeeze our fingers or respond in any way.  Every hour her response got less and less.  And each time it ripped something inside of me because I knew they were intentionally inflicting necessary pain.  After 24 hours, they stopped looking for a response and put her on machines that respond or don’t respond for her.

Members of both my family and in-law family began pouring in, along with friends.  I was stunned by the sheer generosity of people.  And the love they had for Julia. Relationships which had been strained were instantly healed.  It was like Julia’s “sickness” opened a rain cloud of salve to heal the rest of us and our own fractures.  We commandeered an entire waiting room with an “overflow” room down the hall.  Food poured in as well, along with flowers, cards, pictures, momentos…  Everyone with a different story about how Julia had touched their lives.

My siblings so much more than met the moment.  I can’t turn around without bumping into my sister Maureen.  The first 72hrs she got as much sleep as I, which was basically zero.  Susan has been my spiritual advisor and support and has every church in the parish where she sings storming the heavens.  Karen flew from Florida on a moments notice to pick up my mom at the shore and bring her here. That, along with all her healing momentos from her trip to Lourdes and to see the pope.  She also rubbed my back.  My niece, Alyssa, who’s been here almost daily, brought a box full of Eagles (wear she works) gear, and with her sister, Lauren, (who conveniently works here at Jeff), plenty of food.  Dr. Bill has been here to translate medical jargon into lay person’s terms and keep my siblings looped in.  Richard spent hours vetting 9 attorneys for our legal representation, and Rob, in St. Louis, was the one to pick up and alert us that the driver was on Saturday on 50K bail.  $5,000 and he may be in Canada by now.  I feel very protected by my siblings.

Thanks to my in-laws, there were laughs.  Plenty of them.  My sister-in-law Norine, reminding me how she got kicked off the Archmere cheerleading squad, my brother-in-law Rich’s imitation of Stormy the cow running down Broad St. (Google it), my nephew Sean, with autism, discouraged from coming to the hospital, staying home researching “Jokes to tell people in a coma”.  All this and more tested my bladder.  I forgot the comic genius of my in-law family.  Especially en masse.  Passerbys who saw me in the waiting room doubled over in hysterics surely thought, ‘That poor mother…  mad with grief.’  My sister-in-law Lisa, who has been keeping the waiting room that we overtook tidy and keeping everyone’s mood up in general, basically bought me a new wardrobe for the week and Target.  Nieces Jeannie and Reesie, who’ve been here every day, went to Julia’s dorm room and brought some essentials back to decorate her hospital room.

SJU faculty have been traipsing through as well, telling me countless stories of her intelligence, compassion and eagerness to learn in class and what a “beacon of light” she was on campus.  I laughed when I heard her Faculty Advisor, Julie, say, “Julia squeeze my finger about how much we hate Trump.”

On Friday, her 17 year old brother Bo came to see her for the first time.  We gave him the choice whether he wanted to play in his basketball game the night before.  He said he wanted to.  The team wore arm bands for Julia and wrote her initials, JFB, on their arms.  The coach said, the only word to describe his performance was, “inspired.”  Bo had 27 points, an all-time high.  In the 4th quarter, the other team wouldn’t let Bo have the ball.  Pat was told that if Bo got the ball, he was fouled.  That didn’t stop him from sinking two 3-pointers in the 4th and they won the game by 2.  He will absolutely have my head for writing any of that so hopefully he’s not reading.  Watching him see his sister for the first time that morning was difficult.  “When is she going to open her eyes?  When is she going to talk?”  Because I’m his mother, I know in his head he is thinking of his friend from St. Edmonds, Anthony, who recently died in an auto accident and who, if he lived, would have been paralyzed.

On the way to get Bo, Pat was worried he would see us tearful.  He told me, “I tell the kids, there are 2 reasons why I cry – when I’m joyful and when I’m scared.”  He didn’t want Bo to perceive me as scared.  “I’m not crying because I’m scared”, I said, “because I’m not scared.  I cry because her body is broken and there is so much pain for her to learn from.  And because I’m proud of the way I know she’s going to face it.”

That afternoon, her ICP shot up, out of nowhere, to 50.  That means her brain is swelling too much and too fast.  Despite efforts to stabilize her, her ICP kept climbing and in one fell swoop the Orchestra was whisking her up to the OR where they performed a craniectomy.  Which, effectively, is taking off half of the skull cap for the benefit of releasing the pressure caused by the swelling.  And that it did!  She came through with flying colors and her ICP dropped immediately.

I wasn’t worried about seeing her when we were allowed to, because when I see Julia I see right through to her spirit.  And also because of the absolute apathy she has regarding her image and appearance.  But I was worried about her dad.  This is his little girl, after all.  When Pat saw her there, with her shaved head covering half a skull, he smiled and said, “Sinead O’Connor!”  Just then I remembered why I married him.

When Shawn finally did come to see Julia, he went up to her and said, “Julia, I gotta tell you, you’re kinda freaking me out.”  Then he adds, “Don’t worry, by the time you’re better, I’ll have a whole new comedy routine for you.”  Sean’s dad: “Julia you might wanna stay asleep for that one.”

Now the clock was re-set.  “For the next 72 hours it will be touch and go.”  On Tuesday, the doctors began stepping back some of the trauma supports and slowly lightening up on her sedation in preparation of waking her up.

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THE NEXT DAYS

On Sunday, 30+ members of my family came for an early Christmas celebration at a restaurant down the street.  The most amusing surprise was my Duke all-star athlete niece, Sarah, who’d just had her own intricate foot surgery, wheel down the hall on her scooter, with a Santa hat covering her bare foot that a sock would not fit over.  “Julia”, I said, “this is the first time I really wish you could open your eyes.”

On Wednesday, the breathing and feeding tubes down her throat were removed.  In their stead, a Tracheotomy was performed so the respirator could be attached directly to her throat.  She was still dependent fully on the respirator.  A feeding tube called a PEG tube was inserted directly into the side of her stomach.  All of these procedures require consent where they scare you with a litany of risk factors.  She came through this procedure well except for the valve in her head which rates her ICP was dislodged and had to be reinserted.  More waiver forms.  One hurdle at a time…

My sisters, sister-in-laws, nieces and girlfriends have been taking turns with the graveyard shift at night so Pat and I can get some rest and keep as normal a schedule with her younger brother Bo as possible.  Rich’s fraternity brothers kicked in for a hotel room for Pat and I to shower or rest 4 blocks from the hospital.  When I’m not with Bo and Julia is covered, I’ve slept there and its been wonderful.  On Monday, Pat and I got the following text from Bo:

“I don’t want either of you guys to come to any of my basketball games for the next few weeks because I will feel much better if I know that you guys are with Julia at the hospital and spending as much time with her as possible.”

(Sorry Bo.)  (I’ll never get another text from him.)

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How Am I Doing?

When you grow up, as Julia did, with the understanding that pain is a necessary part of life and a necessary part of growth, you stop avoiding it.  Moreover, you learn to embrace it.  Soon, you learn to mine pain for the treasure it has to offer.  And find what it has to teach you.  Buddhists define “suffering” as “the avoidance of pain”.  Rehabs are filled with people who avoided pain by escaping through drinking, gambling, eating, working till it became a habit.  A habit of hurdling over pain.  But the only way over pain is to go through it.  Julia knew this.  It isn’t enough to endure pain, we must sift through it for the opportunities it offers.  She was always an eager student.

Glennon Doyle says, “Pain is a traveling Professor.  It knocks on everyone’s door.  The really smart ones say, “Come in and don’t leave until you’ve taught me what I need to know.”  My daughter puts out a full spread for the traveling professor.

That is why, for the most part, I am not scared.  That is why, for the most part, I am not sad.  That is why I keep my head up and my heart open for every nuanced moment of learning this experience has to render.  Just like Julia would.  If I told you I’ve experienced more joy, richness and hope this week than I have in several years you might think I’m crazy.  But it’s true.  The human capacity for love, connection and forgiveness is astounding.  It’s like she’s orchestrating all of this from deep down inside her where she is alert and not only absorbing it all energetically , but participating and co-creating it too.

Since she was little, I tried to inculcate an enthusiasm for learning in Julia.  She loved the word enthusiasm, by the way.  The Latin translation is En Theos which literally means in spirit or In God.  She had an enthusiasm for learning by any means and pain being the greatest teacher of all, she never shunned it.  She will make miracles of this I am certain.

All my life I’ve heard the expression, “Live every day because you never know, you could walk out in the middle of the street and get hit by a bus.”  No one really ever does get hit by a bus, it’s just a metaphor.  But my daughter did.  An SUV, but a desperately fast and reckless one.  There is a reason and a plan for this, of course.  Our job is not to understand it but to believe in and trust the loving Hand that’s behind it.  I know Julia does.

Today’s gift is she is breathing on her own.  Thank You, God.

Drive safely.