Wrapped in a white cloth with only his blood-covered face visible, my older brother Rich lay unconscious in the hospital bed. Wires and tubes protruded from under the cloth, making it almost impossible to identify him. “Is this Rich?” asked the neurosurgeon, standing in the doorway behind us. “That’s him, alright,” said my Dad.
Looking down at my eighteen-year-old brother, I wondered how my Dad could be so sure. The blood and gashes marring his face made him look like someone else. “OK,” said the doctor, “we’re going to take him into surgery now that you’ve identified him. We’ll show you guys to the Family Surgery Waiting Room.” Several nurses came into the small, darkly lit room and rolled the gurney out.
Please, Lord, I begged. Don’t let this be the last time I see my brother alive. How could this have happened to us? Today had started like any other Wednesday morning. My Dad and I had been at a prayer meeting with several men in our church when an unexpected phone call had changed everything. Now here we were, wandering through the hospital, while the nurses prepared Rich for an emergency brain surgery.
Rich had been driving on one of the windy roads in our area when he suddenly lost control of his small, burgundy Saturn on a patch of black ice. As his car crashed into a tree, breaking glass and totaling the car, Rich banged the side of his head on the tree. The doctor said he would need to remove a piece of Rich’s skull to relieve the pressure in his brain. I had never known anyone who had been through brain surgery before and I earnestly hoped that Rich would be the same person he had been before he hit the tree.
Back in the waiting room, my mom arrived after Dad told her about Rich’s surgery. She ran in and hugged me quickly. “Your car,” she said, referring to the ancient, rusty, Toyota Camry I drove, “can go ninety miles an hour,” I laughed, despite the fear clutching at my heart. My mom hugged my dad and we all sat down to wait. Friends from our church also came as they heard the news about the accident. They came, they talked, they tried to cheer us up, but I didn’t hear them. I don’t even remember what they said. My brother, who had been my best friend all my life, might not see another day. And if he lived, what would the brain injury do to him?
As I sat, I remembered the long talks we had together, late at night, long after we should have been asleep. I remembered doing almost everything with him and following him wherever he led me, as younger siblings do. I remembered singing with him in a barbershop quartet, the games we used to play when we were younger, and the struggles we had both endured together, growing up as boys learning to be men. Would it end now, so suddenly? There was so much more I had to say, so much I never told him. Thank you, Rich! I thought, wishing he could hear me. Thank you for the support you’ve always given me. Thank you for being a good example all our lives and for helping me through my struggles. He couldn’t hear me though. He had to face his trial alone, while I sat outside biting my fingernails.
My heart raced in my chest while conversation buzzed around me. My attempts to join in the conversation fell flat. Thoughts of Rich lying helplessly on a table while a man I had never met operated on his brain, kept my mind too occupied to speak with anyone. At last the doctor came out and told us that the surgery had gone well. Rich would live, but only time would tell how he had been affected by the accident.
Time did tell. Only sixteen days later, Rich came home. After less than six months of rehab his recovery was nearly complete. But he isn’t exactly the same. He is happier, more cheerful, and always eager to make us smile. Today he is a husband, a father, and a role model to me. His faith was strengthened by the accident, even though he remembers none of the trauma, the worry, and the loneliness. I remember it though. I will always remember.