I Pleaded For Him to Stay
I PLEADED FOR HIM TO STAY
By Melissa Ashton
It had been a busy day. I’d only been home for a short time from my 11-year-old Travis’ baseball practice, and my mind was still thinking about it. His athletic ability was emerging more and more. Wow, he may really go somewhere with baseball, I thought, the sport he loves more than anything. My five-year-old, Cade, yelled through the slightly open door while simultaneously disappearing, “I’m going to ride my bike a little longer,” he said. Maybe I’ll order pizza. As I looked down at the phone to make the call, it rang. Maybe it’s Jed, he could pick it up on his way home.
On the other end I heard a familiar but strained voice, “The kids have been in an accident. You need to get to the hospital as soon as you can.” It was our good friend, Darin. Our son’s were best friends and had ridden in the car with my college age cousin to the roller rink together after leaving baseball practice. I could sense something more underneath the calmness in Derrek’s dads voice—I sensed it was fear.
Dinner was forgotten, I made quick arrangements with my neighbor and was able to head to the hospital within minutes. That same fear in his voice began to spread throughout my body. I could feel my heart beating hard and fast. Hot adrenaline was coursing through my body with a deep heavy rhythm. I sped to the hospital that was only a few minutes away but seemed like hours. I parked, took a deep breath and prayed as I walked through the emergency room doors of the hospital.
As I entered, I could hear loud, high-pitched shrieks. It sounded like it might be my son. Before I found where the screams were coming from my eyes saw Derrek, sitting in a bed covered with more blood than I thought was possible for someone to lose and still be living. Derrek looked as though he’d been scalped with a knife, and was in a horror movie. My head turned and I saw Travis in another room, laying on a table with Doctors and nurses rushing around frantically. I saw pain in their eyes when they saw me, they knew I was his mother.
I walked to him. With his clothes cut off and his tan skin exposed, I put my hands on him and said, “Travis, it’s me. It’s mom. Can you hear me? I’m here now. Can you squeeze my hand? Can you look at me?” Only the shrieks continued—no other response. His eyes were rolled back in his head showing only the whites of them. I couldn’t find the blue that had winked at me just a short time before and they couldn’t find me.
A doctor came up to me and asked me to follow him. He informed me that Travis had been in a car accident, “Your son has suffered a trauma to his head. We are concerned there’s bleeding on his brain. We’ll likely be transporting him by Life Flight to Primary Children’s Hospital.” He walked me into a room, and said, “Ma’am, please call your family and let them know.” He closed the door and walked away.
I was alone in the eerie, dimly lit room with no windows. The air I was breathing was thick and heavy—I felt like someone’s hands were around my neck squeezing. I didn’t pick up the phone, but instead got on my knees.
At that moment my beautiful, strong, funny, athletic, silly, son was teetering between life and death. No one had to tell me—I knew.
I began to speak to my Father in Heaven. I told Him I wanted Travis to live and that I wanted to continue to be his mom, on Earth. I wanted to raise him from a boy, not reunite with him later in Heaven. I pleaded for him to stay. Then the words, “I pray that thy will be done,” came out of my mouth. I didn’t want to say them, let alone hear them. Yet, almost immediately as those words filled the room, a warm, calm, feeling came over me. I heard a quiet but strong voice say in my mind, “Travis will live. He will be made whole.”
I picked up the phone and called my husband. Nausea seemed to return as I relayed all of the information to him. I could feel warm tears on my face as I asked him to please hurry.
The Doctors walked up at the same time as my husband, Jed and Andrew, his business partner and good friend. “The Life Flight team is here to take your son. He has a brain bleed and there is swelling.” He walked, and we followed. In my line of vision I saw the gurney Travis was strapped to. By this time we were outside, the deafening sound of the helicopter blades were swirling above us, blowing strong winds. The pilot stopped me and said, “Ma’am, we need our whole team on this flight to keep your son alive. There won’t be room for you.”
He walked away and the only female on the team, grabbed my shoulders, looked me square in the eyes and yelled, “I promise I will do everything I can to save your son.” She gave a squeeze and then hopped onto the aircraft. The doors closed, and it began to lift off and fly into the dark sky. I stood there and watched my son float up towards the peaks of the mountains. Time stopped. Everything stopped. I couldn’t move. Jed and Andrew put their arms around me and walked me to the car, they helped me in and buckled me up as if I was a small child.
Andrew drove us to the Children’s hospital. I wanted to tell them to hurry. I wanted to scream GO FASTER, but the words wouldn’t come out of my mouth. I started to remind myself how to breath. In and out. Focus Missy. Count. Lamaze. How did it work? I wanted to scream HELP! Jed and Andrew were focused on getting us to the hospital. I felt like I was being squeezed to death and just when I thought I couldn’t get another breath I felt a familiar hand on my knee. It almost startled me. There was no one there I could see, a calmness and warmth came over me. I heard in my mind my Grandmother Sally’s voice say to me, I’m here with you honey. It’s going to be o.k. She said. She and I were always very close, she had passed away several years earlier. I had a sense that she could understand what I was thinking without me saying anything. In my mind I could see her stroking my ear, just like she did when I was little and would curl up in her lap. In mind I could see her red hair and her fair, freckled arms wrapped around me. I could feel air in my lungs again. I don’t remember any other words being said. I had a distinct feeling that she was sitting next to me in the back seat of that car until we arrived at Primary Children’s Medical Center. I was calm the rest of the way.
We arrived and were directed to go to the 5th floor where Travis had already been taken to the operating room to be prepped for brain surgery. The large elevators opened and I noticed hair was spread all over the white floor of the hallway. A tall, slender man, with kind blue eyes, let us know he would be performing the surgery that day. As he walked away from us I asked, “Why is their hair all over the floor?” “It’s Travis’ hair, they shaved it on the way,” He said as he turned and the doors closed behind him.
We were taken to a room to wait. I didn’t know it at the time, this was the room they take people to when their loved ones aren’t likely to make it. This is the room you go to when you have to make horrible phone calls—the kind of phone calls that nightmares are made of.
We stayed in the room for what seemed like hours while Andrew and Jed made phone calls to let family know what was going on. At one point they went to get me water. A few moments after they left, Dr. Brockmeyer walked in the small room—still wearing surgical scrubs. I remember wishing I wasn’t alone when he came in.
He gave me the facts as if he was giving me directions on how to get somewhere in town. Matter of factly—without emotion behind it. “We did a left bone-flap on your son. His brain has quite a bit of inflammation and needed room to swell. He is in a coma. He is on a ventilator. He has a 50/50 chance to live through the night. If he does live, and if he does come out of a coma, he will likely be in a permanent vegetative state.”
I am looking at him but I don’t have any words. He says “Mrs. Ashton, do you understand what I am saying? Do you have any questions for me?” I know I have questions, I can’t articulate what they are. I can’t manage to say anything. He tells me something about taking it hour by hour. He says he will make arrangements for me to stay in a room close to the pediatric intensive care unit. He asked if I had anyone here with me. I continued to stare and he put his hand on my shoulder, and said, “Mrs. Ashton?”
I could feel the familiar warmth that had come to me several times in the past hours, my heartbeat steadied, and I heard the same words as before, the quiet, calm words, not from my Grandmother, it was a gentle male voice in my mind. “Travis will live. He will be made whole.”
“Yes, Doctor. I understand. Yes, my husband is here. Thank you. Thank you for saving our son.” He shook my hand with both of his hands and walked away.
In that moment, I knew my life would never be the same.
Travis did live through the night. His brain continued to swell. After one week he contracted a virus called C-diff. The next week he contracted spinal meningitis while still in a coma. He had a fever that was staying steady around 105 degrees. Dr. Brockmeyer was correct. He was like a vegetable. He couldn’t move any part of his body. He was like a wet noodle lying in a bed.
I began to question these “words” I was hearing in my mind. I wondered if the feelings of peace and assurance I had multiple times were my own mind and heart playing tricks on me. It was obvious to everyone including me that Travis was getting worse, surely not moving toward being made whole. In fact, he was moving in the direction of dying, not living.
I went to the place the Doctor had arranged for me to sleep. It was more like a closet than a room, but I was grateful for it. It was a quiet place and I could cry if I needed, or pray—usually both. It had a small bed for sleeping. I knelt on the floor and began to question the Heavens. That room became somewhat of a temple to me. I didn’t sleep much in it, I had many conversations with my Father in Heaven inside that tiny place.
“If Travis is supposed to get better, why is he getting worse? Why does it seem like I am getting clear answers and guidance from above, but it’s not actually happening? Am I imagining it all? Is the shock and adrenaline causing me to hear and feel things that aren’t real?” I pleaded to know for sure if the thoughts and impressions I had been having were just my own wants. I needed to know for sure if God was speaking to me, or if my brain and my heart were conspiring together to make me believe what I WANTED to be true was the truth.
I heard a gentle but firm voice in my mind say very clearly, “Be still and know that I am God.” A familiar warm feeling coursed through my veins and settled into my chest. Chills began to dance across my skin. My heartbeat steadied once again. I knew it was Him speaking to me, and I listened. I believed Him.
I remember one particular day when his symptoms were at their very worst. His brain pressures had skyrocketed. His fever was high. His blood pressure was spiking up and down like a roller coaster. I had a pit in my stomach, knowing that his body couldn’t take much more of what was going on. I wasn’t sure how much more I could take, watching your child suffer and being powerless about it is a kind of torture that no one should experience. I began to pray and really plead in my mind asking Heavenly Father for some relief for both of us.
Suddenly a thought came to me- Maybe Travis is upset about something. I started to quietly speak to him in his ear. The hospital staff had asked us to be quiet and to have the lights dimmed. so his brain could rest. I asked him if there was something that was bothering him. I told him he had been in a car accident and let him know where he was. I told him I know he couldn’t ask me any questions, but he could ask Heavenly Father in his mind, and Heavenly Father could tell me. “Pray in your mind Travis. Ask whatever you want to know” The nurse said to me “Mrs. Ashton, he cannot hear you. His eardrums are paralyzed from the medication. He is in an induced coma. He won’t be able to hear or know what you’re saying” I continued to speak quietly to him. I continued to tell him about what all had gone with him in the past weeks. A single tear rolled down his face and onto the bed next to the ear I was speaking in. His heart rate began to go up, not in a good way. I thought maybe this was a bad idea. Then I had the thought “Tell him about Derrek!” I told him about how Derrek had been almost completely scalped. I told him he had whiplash, but was going to be ok. The Doctors expect him to completely heal. He would be able to return to school soon. I told him Derrek had said he was going to have a really cool scar to show the girls. I let him know that he would be released from the hospital that very day. Travis’ heart rate came down to a normal level. Within the hour his fever broke and steadied at a more tolerable level. That evening Derrek did leave the hospital he was in, and upon his request his family brought him straight to see Travis in ICU. While he was visiting that evening, I noticed something after he had been there for about 45 minutes. Travis brain pressure steadily went down to the lowest it had been up to this point. It never went high again. Travis’ fever dissipated, and returned to completely normal. From that evening on, Travis began to improve instead of get worse.
After several weeks, Travis did breathe on his own. The following week he opened his eyes. The week after that during therapy Jed said something completely inappropriate in the hospital room about one of the therapists and Travis laughed. It was the best sound ever—his laughter. I knew he was there. I knew his mind and his spirit were there inside of his broken body. I realized that healing really had begun. I didn’t know then, but I do now, it had begun for both of us.
I came to realize that for my family there was life before this day, and there would be life after this day. I knew there was a long road ahead for Travis and our family. Learning to sit up, learning to walk, learning to eat, feeding tubes, shunts, learning to use the bathroom, learning what words meant again. What I didn’t know was how long and how hard it would be. I didn’t know the toll it would take on my other kids. I didn’t know how much our faith and marriage and finances would be stretched and tested-more than anyone’s should be. I didn’t know that as I worked to help my son rehabilitate his body and life over the next decade, I would lose myself in the process. I didn’t know I would still have post-traumatic stress symptoms for years to come. I didn’t know then that it was actually the beginning of my own transformation.
I began to know for sure that angels still visit—sometimes you can’t see them, and sometimes they are regular people standing right in front of you. Sometimes they are strangers, often they are people you know. He sends them when we are in trouble, whether we know or not they are with us.
From that day forward I began to see life through the lens of a different kind of perspective. I understand now that some things matter, but most things really don’t. To be able to live life knowing the difference is a gift that has changed everything for me. The list of the things that DO matter to me is my relationship with GOD, my relationship with my FAMILY and those I love. That’s it. If it doesn’t serve that list, it is not worth a minute’s worry for me. There are still times things that don’t really matter creep in and cause me anxiety or stress. All I have to do is remember Travis slumped over in his wheelchair, not able to hold his head up. Or the days when I seemed to be a permanent resident at a children’s hospital and the heartache I had from not being able to have my family all under one roof at the same time. The years of fasting, prayers, and hours of therapy Travis and all of us went through for him to be able to function without being tube fed. Any of the memories I have of those days and years brings my lens into focus of what really matters.
I now know that the still small voice that I sang songs about in Sunday school as a child, and later read about in the scriptures as The Holy Spirit, is real. It comforts, it calms, it guides, it reassures. He does speak to us and He taught me I have to be still to hear Him.
It has been 18 years since that day. Travis has learned to walk, to eat, to bathe and dress himself. He has some vision loss. He does not have the use of his right arm or hand. He limps, He has poor oral motor control. He no longer has a feeding tube, a wheelchair or a cane. He has not spoken any words since the day of the car crash. He loves to dance. He’s funny. He plays golf with one hand. The sound of his laugh is still the best sound ever. It’s the kind of laughter that fills your soul. I hope you get to hear it someday.