Mafe Maria: Personal stories by autism parent mentor, Maria Stultz

One Second

It only takes a second or less to have your life dramatically changed, doesn’t it?

Monday night, at about 8 pm the phone rang… English being my second language, I still have a hard time with the beginning words of strangers on the phone, so I didn’t really understand who this person was, but he was telling me that my husband had suffered an accident on the biking trail, and that he was now at the hospital.

Oh my God!… the hospital???

The person on the phone said they were checking on Joey, and he thought he had only broken an arm. He mentioned some abrasions on Joey’s face, but assured me that he has awake and alive. I hung up thankful that Joey was ok, imagining that I would probably find him on a wheelchair, moaning like a little child, with a cast around his arm, and looking similar to what he did the last time he had an accident while mountain biking. So I grabbed my digital camera and left for the hospital’s ER.

At the ER, they told me to go to the last room on the hallway, on the left side. This was the very first time I’ve ever been to an Emergency Room. I walked silently looking at the people around. Nobody seemed too bad… not a lot of blood or screaming like you see on TV shows… But at the left, in the very last room on the hallway, lying on a rolling bed, immobilized from the neck down, hooked to a respirator, and with his face completely covered in dry and fresh blood, I found my husband. The gravity of the accident suddenly sunk in.

He told me he loved me. He said I was a wonderful wife. He pouted, and we both cried a little bit. I asked him what happened but he couldn’t remember anything; not even the second when it all started to happen. He remembered being at the end of the trail, quickly taking a glance to a path he could follow, then nothing… strange dreams, sort of like snapshots of his whole life, and suddenly waking up with a crowd around him and an ambulance on its way.

Some minutes after I got there, a doctor came to see him. He said they would take some X-Rays and a CAT scan to check things inside. Joey couldn’t be cleaned or move until they knew that his back and neck were alright. At some point the doctor lifted the blankets covering Joey. I saw a shivering swollen body and understood that my little bear was cold and scared. He was terrified to imagine that the accident might have paralyzed him. That possibility hadn’t even occurred to me, but seeing the way he was strapped to a board, with a plastic thing around his neck, and the way how they cut open his shirt, I silently prayed that he was REALLY ok.

Then they took him for X-Rays. The nurse said it would take 10 minutes. I was left alone in the room, and started collecting Joey’s stuff from the dusty camelbak. I found his glasses. They were completely covered in dust with both lenses scratched. I imagined the kind of fall he went through to end up the way he did. As I waited for them to bring my husband back, time went by… A lot more than 10 minutes. The chatter of awful thoughts tried to come by. I heard what sounded like the beep of a flat line. My mind quickly envisioned Joey bleeding inside and dying. I thought I couldn’t live without him and quickly shut down all thoughts of tragedy… And prayed for Joey to be ok as I contemplated his gafitas and cleaned them with my shirt.

It seems that this time we were spared. The X-Rays and CAT scan showed that Joey was ok. We spent a little over six hours at the ER while they ran the tests, cleaned and put dressings on his wounds, and sutured his pinky finger and lip. His left hand was in fact broken, and it will need surgery to pin some bones back together. Around 2 am, a top-naked Joey wearing biking shorts was finally able to walk out of the ER. He went to sleep holding my hand that night.

Joey’s face got several cuts and scratches and it should not see the sun unprotected for six months. He often asks me if the war scars will go away. After four days of sleep and recovery, we even joke a little bit about it… He caught a few looks of pity and child horror at the doctor’s office today, though he looks a lot better by now. I help him take baths, and – as usual – he splashes a lot (!). Appetite for fattening delights is quickly returning, and he doesn’t hold my hand at night any more… We are truly blessed, and the warning has been heard: He ain’t getting on that bike ever again.


  1. On , mandarine wrote:

    How I would dread to have such a thing happen to me or my family !

    I have had the same kind of agony and relief recently when I trapped my boy’s fingers in the front door (hinge side). It was much shorter than your ordeal (half an hour later, we could not tell which fingers had been hurt), but it allows me to imagine the tension.

    I ride a bike six hours a week, mostly on cycle lanes, but I sometimes thread my way through the traffic. Although I am a very prudent driver, I confess I can be a fairly reckless rider at times. I guess I will think twice next time.

    Best wishes of recovery.

  2. On , Petie wrote:

    Chris has given me two chances to only slightly relate. Being carried down the mountain in a ski cart and his latest trip to the ER for a kidney stone (at the time we didn’t know what was going on!)

    I can’t, however, imagine seeing him strapped to one of those horrific body boards with a neck brace. In neither of these circumstances with Chris did I imagine a life altering change such as paralysis. That’s just so horrific. I’m so sorry I couldn’t be there, too.

    Poor, poor Joey and poor Maria to have to be brave. Your story made me cry, too.

  3. On , Petie wrote:

    From Joan Didion: “Life changes fast. Life changes in the instant. You sit down to dinner and life as you know it ends.” (Taken from the Year of Magical Thinking, I think I’ll write a separate blog about this, but it’s a very moving book about her husband’s death.)

    Your opening line above reminded me of Joan Didion’s quotation.

  4. On , Maria wrote:

    Thank you. And yes: be careful when venturing through traffic only protected by your skin. It only takes a second, and a random mistake by any of the drivers, or even you.

    Losing Joey used to be the biggest fear of my life. Not that I’m cool with it now, and I’m pretty sure it’s still the thing I would want the least in my life; I got dibs on dying first, he! he!

    However, I don’t think of it as much as I used to. Maybe just for fear of giving power to the thought. I may sound like a witch, but visualization has often “worked” in my life for the good things I’ve wanted. Just in case it really works, I try to stop my thoughts and mental images when they start picturing tragedies with color and detail. At the ER, I was very conscious of this… For all I know, as long as nobody has told me positively that something has happened, it hasn’t happened in my world. If I can will it to be what I want by just visualizing it, I’ll try. That’s why when I say “think positive” (for instance, to Pete) I really mean it.

    About Joey
    He’s really doing great. Lately he’s practicing his joke “You should’ve seen the other guy” to tell friends at school when they see him. That bollo!!!

  5. On , Kim Rodriguez wrote:

    so glad to hear he’s on the mend… does have the capacity to change very quickly….having been to the ER MANY times with one child or the other…and having been eerily close to paralysis myself without even knowing it (I walked around for months with a broken only clue being the numbing of my leg….no accident, no fall…nothing happened, just my neck broke)…..I can definitely attest to the power of positive thought and visualization……one can always deal with the BAD NEWS realities when they are just that —REAL……no need to allow oneself to rehearse the worst case scenarios…..but these little events serve as good reminders of how fragile our security is, how resilient we can be in the face of adversity and how important it is to value the moment….and how important the simple things are….

  6. On , Maria wrote:

    Didn’t know that story about your neck, Kim. Sounds awful!

  7. On , The pins are out! « Eat at Joe’s wrote:

    […] I spent the next 3 hours in the emergency room with Maria. Taking x-rays, cat-scans, getting stitched and getting cleaned. The ultimate damage was a lot of cuts and scrapes, especially on my face, a 5th metacarpal that had moved to the other side of my hand, and a badly jammed pinky. I lay in bed for a week, clearing the cobwebs out of my head, and had surgery on my hand on Sept 11. My doc put three pins in my hand to hold that metacarpal in place so that it wouldn’t drift back towards my thumb. […]