A Long Overdue Update and Conclusion

I’ve been kind of radio-silent about things because I’ve been a little embarrassed by how hard the ‘recovery’ stuff has been for me, especially when compared to what Sister M has had to deal with, and I’ve had a hard time explaining it. As most people very kindly say, I “seem fine”, and really I mostly am, but I’m going to attempt to explain some of my behind-the-fine experience.

So about six months ago there was this car accident which, until recently, I didn’t really think was that big of a deal. I sort of thought the doctors had been overly paranoid and caused my parents and others a lot more worry than was warranted. Words like ‘life support’ and ‘coma’ seemed too dramatic when really it was just a little breathing tube and some much-needed sleep. It was (and still is) a little bit hard to believe anything terribly significant can have happened without the existence of even a vague or fuzzy imprint in my memory.

I can’t really explain what I’ve been doing all day for the past six months, I didn’t read, I didn’t write, I didn’t sleep, I even didn’t unpack… two of my Ohio suitcases still sit on my floor mostly full. ‘Recovery’ is the term for it I suppose. I did go to therapies of various kinds where they made me do things that seemed really dumb but were also harder than dumb things should be. Without my really realizing what exactly needed work, progress happened…I can walk at a normal pace again, I can listen to music and drive at the same time, I can teach Sunday School or go to the grocery store without feeling nauseous, I can remember most things before February 22nd and after March 2nd, if I’m given a minute. I sort of knew some things were different/a challenge but they didn’t really bother me much.

Then as I started to do more, more obvious ‘brain injury moments’ started to come up. I drove to California for a family vacation, something I’d done before without a problem, and I even stopped in St. George one night just because it made other people feel better, not because I really thought I needed a to break up the drive. And it went just fine, I made it to Newport Beach without incident and I could see the beach house, all I had to do was find a parking spot. My brain, however, just sort of stopped working. I couldn’t deal with trying to figure out where to park, I couldn’t figure out where I was going to put my suitcase when I got to the beach house, I didn’t know what I was going to wear to church the next day. I think the term for this brain phenomenon is ‘flooding’ and the result was that I ended up finding a grocery store parking lot and sweating in my car for 3.5 hours trying to figure out what to do.

That’s an obvious and dramatic example of course, most of the time it’s not that dramatic, specific, or even apparent. It’s not something I really understand all that well, and thus is fairly difficult to explain, but here’s an analogy that’s maybe a little more concrete:

Pretend you’ve been told you were in an accident and that you sustained some leg damage, but as you’re sitting in your bed nothing hurts and your legs look fine, you’re just sort of tired. Then, you start moving more. Your calf cramps up sometimes but that’s not a big deal. You can’t walk as much as you used to without a little soreness or fatigue but it’s fine. Then one day you go to walk upstairs and your leg gives out. But the next time you do stairs it doesn’t. It gives out sometimes and sometimes it doesn’t. And then you bend over one day, let’s say you used to do that a lot because you were into yoga. It was the way you used to decompress and it was one of your ‘things’ and now you just plain can’t. And then you go to give a kid a piggy back ride one day, something you were known for among the kids in your circle, but you can’t do it as well as you used to and the kids notice, though you don’t know exactly what’s different about the piggy-back to fix it. You just know it’s not the same and you’re disappointing those kids. And so it goes. Improvement happens over time, but after six months things don’t feel the same and you’re still discovering things you didn’t know you were missing but now just don’t work right. You can do some exercises to help with the things that come up, but no one can say what will or won’t be the same and no timelines are given.

It’s like that, except it’s your brain, which is involved in every single waking second of your life, even if you’re lying down watching TV or in total silence and stillness. With your legs, you start to learn that after more usage they become less reliable and things get trickier, whereas when they’re more well-rested, things are easier. The same is true with the brain, but it’s fairly unclear what is going to be tiring. Some days figuring out which clothes to wear is a little harder, as is figuring out what to eat, and then you encounter traffic in the car, or you’re around a lot of noise, and next thing you know you’re watching the Olympics and have to repeatedly ask your brother who just won that race we just watched ten seconds ago or which lane the Americans are in, and you almost wet your pants because you can’t decide when to use the bathroom for fear of missing something important.

All of this has been interesting and unpredictable, sometimes unpleasant, and occasionally amusing but thanks to the help of lots of people, my awesome speech therapist especially, things have gotten better and better and next month I’ll be starting work again (finally!).

I’ve been asked a few times how I feel about the fact that I went on a mission in the first place, if I regret that decision. Had I not been in Ohio maybe I wouldn’t have been in an accident and maybe I’d still have my own place and my job that I loved and my cats and really I think I’d be living what I thought of as (and was) a pretty great life. But I am grateful that my vision of how great my life could be didn’t get in the way.

As we gave tours in Kirtland we’d often talk about the idea of our own perspectives vs. a bigger one (God’s) as we talked about the building of the temple there. Initially the best the people thought they could do, understandably, given the very limited resources they had, was to build something like ‘a house of logs’. But then they were given a bigger, better vision of the sort of building that stands there today, which was and still is considered unique and impressive. Their original plan could have worked, it certainly would have been easier, but they would have missed out had they merely had a ‘house of logs’.

In my case I don’t think I could have predicted that living in my parents’ basement and not doing much of anything for six months would be part of anything resembling a better/improved life over what I had. It’s not the life-losing and life-finding I might have imagined having read that promise in Matthew (16:5). However if I’d known being in this position was part of what was going to happen in order to get those months I got to spend in Ohio, I would have signed up for this in a heartbeat. My life might not look a lot better than a ‘house of logs’ but I do feel vastly improved and I didn’t/couldn’t have seen how that would work out.

Overall, as I’ve said probably more than anyone wants to hear, I was unbelievably blessed and changed by my experience in Ohio. I don’t regret going at all, I’m really, really grateful I got to do that.

Writing continues to be a challenge for the new brain, but I am determined to keep trying at that, and should I have anything to say that feels worth sharing, I’ll be doing that on my regular blog (jenniferandwest.wordpress.com).

This one is over, with an even more unexpected end than it had a beginning.

More than I Deserve

Sorry the update this week is a few days late…given the circumstances this might be the last of these weekly emails and I was feeling pressure to make it a good one, but it’s still a little bit difficult for my brain to focus long enough to write. So this is a pretty inadequate summary of the latest happenings, how I’m feeling, and what’s ahead, but I wanted to make sure anyone who was concerned knew the latest, and I’ll just use the old standby ‘car accident’ excuse as the reason for the inadequacy J

Anyway, as most of you know, I think, I’ve been released as a missionary and am back at home to rest and take some time to get back to 100%. It’s not that there is really anything to worry about, it’s just fatigue and other pretty minor stuff (typical of things like this) which wouldn’t have allowed me to do the full-time missionary thing. I would have been slowing things down and not able to contribute the way that is needed, plus it’s apparently just good practice to take some ‘rest’ time after these things. The plan is to ‘rest’ and once I feel back to 100%, we will figure out what’s next. That could mean going back to Ohio, or it might mean staying here and having my four months as a missionary be it.

It’s been a weird couple weeks to say the least, but the theme for those few weeks (and really the four month of being a missionary, the last year, even beyond) has been that I’ve received more blessings of all sorts than I deserve.

Though I don’t remember the accident or much of what happened for the following two weeks (March 2nd is the first day I really remember), what I do know about that time is that I received more love and support (especially in the form of prayers) than I ever could have thought possible. The total volume of people who were aware of me and concerned, despite the fact that most hadn’t and probably wouldn’t ever meet me, frankly just blows me away. I started to list out specific people here and what they did for me but had to stop because my memory of that period of time is iffy enough that I’m sure I would forget too many. But the point is, I’m in awe and so grateful to all of you.

As far as how I feel about being released and what might be next…there’s a lot that I probably haven’t processed yet, and I imagine that it’s going to be pretty difficult when I do, but the very first thing I remember after the accident (no idea when this was or where I was) was just knowing that things were going to change, and that it was all going to be fine. I have no idea what that means exactly, but I believe it.

If it means not going back to Ohio I will be sad because there are people there that mean a lot to me. But really, despite the fact that missions are HARD, it was privilege to get to do that, even if it was just for four months. It was a privilege I didn’t deserve, being late to the game at 27 and for all kinds of other reasons, but I am really grateful to have been given the chance.

I don’t know how to define a missionary experience as ‘successful’ but I would think it ought to be related to how much a missionary helped people. In that sense I don’t know if my four months could be counted as ‘successful’. But no missionaries go and come back without being helped themselves, and while I wouldn’t call that ‘success’ per se because the purpose of a mission isn’t to help the missionary, I would call it an incredible blessing and if missions were evaluated based on how much they changed the lives of the missionary, I think the impact of mine on me would be too astronomical to measure on any kind of scale.

It was a privilege to be a missionary, to meet the people I met, and learn and grow and change as a result, and while the last couple weeks aren’t exactly what I would have planned, it’s been a privilege to be on the receiving end of so much love. I don’t know what’s next but I know it’s all going to work out fine because ‘I know in whom I have trusted’ (2 Ne. 4).

#Blessed

Well…I think I say this every week but this week it’s really, really, really true…..I don’t know what to say.

I guess to start out, for anyone who hasn’t been getting whatever updates my parents have been providing, I’m doing fine and Sister M is doing well too.

For anyone who doesn’t know – I was in a serious accident two weeks ago now, though what little I know about that I’ve been told by others. Since my last regular p-day (which feels like it was only three days ago) what I remember is having a lovely dinner with the Green family, then waking up after feeling like I’d definitely slept longer than I should have and finding that I was living in an apartment in Kirtland with my mom…weird (now my dad has switched her places). I have some pretty vague memories of a few people coming to see me when I was stuck in this bed (must have been at the hospital) and being quizzed repeatedly about the month and year, as well as being asked who the president was and what the name of the hospital was (which I found really frustrating because I’m not from here, so how was I supposed to know hospital names?!). That’s about the extent of what I remember until a few days ago. And a few days ago I realized I’d suddenly become incredibly popular!

Well it’s not quite true. What I have discovered, or rather re-discovered, is that I am extremely blessed to know a lot of incredible people. The support and love (specifically what sounds like a LOT of prayer and fasting) that has been shown to me and my family has been amazing. I am so grateful for it all, though I feel a little bad that people have gone to so much trouble and I was sleeping through everything without a care in the world. Friends and family from home praying makes sense to me, they didn’t know exactly how I was doing and their lives might actually have been worse off had something happened to me (well maybe at least a little bit….they would have had the inconvenience of attending a funeral). But others….people here in Ohio who I’ve not known for long and frankly who I haven’t really gotten to know all that well and definitely haven’t helped as much as I should….their support, especially the members of the Perry Ward here, has been so incredible and meant so much. I’ve heard about the man in the Ward who, for some reason, was called first after the accident and had to come identify us, he is one of the sweetest men I’ve ever met, then various members of the Ward along with some other leaders around who came to the hospital and stayed all night till my dad was able to come. And the Ward even put together an entire book of letters from people in the Ward, apparently they passed out papers that had "Favorite thing about Sister West" written at the top and a LOT more people filled them out than I think probably should have. But it was such a treat to receive the book. The people here are incredible and I really do feel like it’s a privilege to have had the opportunity to be assigned here, not just to Ohio, but to Madison and Geneva, and the Perry Ward specifically. Then there are the other people who I’ve never even met, and who know nothing about me beyond the fact that I’m a missionary, who have sent notes and fasted and prayed for us. It’s been a humbling and amazing experience to say the least.

Frankly I don’t know why Sis. M and I survived. Everyone keeps talking about it being a miracle, and it sounds like the crash was bad enough that that might be the best term to use. But there are plenty of people who don’t have miracles in situations like this, and plenty of people who have problems far worse than this who need the support far more than we did, so I’m not sure why we got what we did. I’m sure it’s not because we’re missionaries, bad things happen to missionaries all the time, bad things happen to good people, better people than us I’m sure, all the time. So I don’t know why we have been blessed the way we have been. It doesn’t really make that much sense to me. I don’t know why things go the way they do, with stuff like this I always go back to my old favorite verse – 1 Nephi 11:17 – "I don’t understand a lot but I know God loves (ALL) his children."

Interestingly we were joking a few weeks ago that dying on your mission is probably a guaranteed ticket straight to the Celestial Kingdom. Well, the more we talked about it the more we agreed that it was a little more complicated than that. But we also agreed that if something did happen to us, the way our lives had gone thus far and specifically what we had learned on our missions, would make it pretty much fine if something happened to us. We agreed that if we could just help some people, even just one person (and we talked about a few specific people we really, really care about and were really, really wanting to help) it would totally be worth it. And then we threw in some comments about how our friends and families probably wouldn’t appreciate our deaths but they’d get over it.

Well…thankfully that’s not something anyone will have to deal with. Sis. M is making great progress and is out of the ICU. I’m feeling good, I just get tired for no apparent reason and still don’t quite feel mentally back to my normal self. Also, I’m unexplainably chatty, can’t seem to get myself to stop talking – my dad keeps telling me it’s hard to get a word in, even when I ask him a question, so that’s not good. Really hoping that isn’t a permanent issue. I also have a walker for walking….yes, like a 90 year-old. I try not to use it too much because I think walker design is kind of defective (those tennis balls you see on some really are necessary, which I think is completely ridiculous. How could people sell something that requires such a weird fix?). But I’ve been trying not to use it much, draws attention which there is already FAR too much of. Plus I feel pretty stable walking these days, but I guess I still make people nervous when I walk without it. On Wednesday I went down to the VIsitors’ Center to see the sisters who were going home (it was transfer day) and just to see some I hadn’t seen in awhile, and it seemed like every ten minutes someone came up to me and asked me if I was going to fall over and if I needed to sit down. I didn’t, but apparently I looked very unstable. Yesterday at church I refused to bring my walker in, and I thought I was doing a lot better, but after I bore my testimony (had no choice) several of the primary kids came up to me and asked me if it was safe for me to be walking because when I walked to the stand I looked like I was going to fall.

My back also will start to hurt when I’m laying down for too long, which makes sleeping at night a little tricky, so I had a brilliant idea….I bought myself a recliner! My mom thought it was a dumb decision and that my brain injury was making me do it, but I secretly have wanted one for awhile to stick in my bedroom at home (not on public display). Anyway, I bought one and have been sleeping in it so I can sleep more upright to help my back. No idea if my parents have posted a picture of it (posting pictures of people after they’ve been in an accident should be against the law – I’m guessing there are some terrible ones out there that I will ask you all to ignore or hide from your Instagram/Facebook feeds somehow). But I’ll post one of the recliner here – it’s red and it’s awesome! Just need to come up with a name for it.

Anyway, beyond that I have some random bruises which keep appearing and my arms are always sore if I do anything, especially attempt to dry my hair. None of these symptoms make any sense to me. I know I was in an accident, but I just can’t connect any of these things with being in a car accident, but luckily they’re all pretty minor. I’m very blessed and grateful to be in good health.

As for what’s next….I have a follow-up appointment with the brain doctor this week, after which President Brown and the missionary department will listen to the medical folks’ recommendation and hopefully make a decision about what’s next. Whether I will continue to be a missionary here or be released to restart a regular life, I don’t know. But I am confident that whatever is decided will be good. I am as confident as ever that God knows and loves me, and that whatever is next, I’ll be able to rely on Him for help with the difficulties that are inevitable with either. It will just be nice to be out of this limbo-state. Kind of still a missionary but without an assigned area or people to see, and with one’s parents….there is no definition of ‘normal’ which applies to this, not even the skewed sense of normal missionaries consider ‘normal’.

This is rambling, I know and I’m sorry – excuse is that I had a brain injury not too long ago (kind of nice to have an excuse for anything that no one can argue with).

I have so appreciated all the emails and letters from people these last two weeks (especially those who I hadn’t heard from in awhile!). Thank you all for the messages and the support! I feel like I’m falling pretty far into debt to a lot of you for the wonderful letters and the prayers and the fasting and I’m worried I won’t ever be able to repay it, but I will try!

29 February, 2016 23:00

All –

Anything that has been written prior to this note was not actually authored by me, but very kindly done by my parents with the best of intentions. It has apparently been about a week now since the big accident even though it feels to me as though I just barely sent my last weekly email and then had a lovely dinner with the Green family here in Ohio before leaving for an evening of full other appointments (the original plan for last Monday before the accident).

Since then…well I’m guessing my parents have provided some detail on that, more than I am aware of most likely -I remember very little. I am lucky to feel as good as I do I think, having seen pictures of the car and hearing about some of what Sis. M is dealing with health-wise. I feel pretty tired, a little bruised, but mostly just kind of diconnected from what is real and what isn’t. I can’t decide if my missionary experience is the dream, or if the last week and having parents and being touch (sort of) with more people from outside Oohio is the dream, or how on earth all of this makes any sense with what I remember from where I was at this time last year. But mostly I’m really, really grateful for all tha incredible people I have ghe pirveileGe of knowing, many of whom are invaulable additions through my time in Ohio (residents here, and other missionaries). I’m told I’m not quite keeping up with the happenings as well as I should be yet, and my energy isn’t very high, but all-in-all I feel good, grateful for every minute of everything I’ve experienced and, as far as I am aware, no long-term negative isssues are expected. Rest and reconnecting is all I have on my immediate docket, the next steps in life will be determined as time goes by. Looking forward to staying in touch with everyone though! (Sorry if I’m even harder to follow in these emails than normal- feel free to email my parents too if i’m not answering well enough- wmbwest and lisa.thewests).

Update from the horse’s mouth (if that’s not an actual phrase I blame the accident and the supposed ‘brain injury’)

All –

Anything that has been written prior to this note was not actually authored by me, but very kindly done by my parents with the best of intentions. It has apparently been about a week now since the big accident even though it feels to me as though I just barely sent my last weekly email and then had a lovely dinner with the Green family here in Ohio before leaving for an evening of full other appointments (the original plan for last Monday before the accident).

Since then…well I’m guessing my parents have provided some detail on that, more than I am aware of most likely -I remember very little. I am lucky to feel as good as I do I think, having seen pictures of the car and hearing about some of what Sis. M is dealing with health-wise. I feel pretty tired, a little bruised, but mostly just kind of diconnected from what is real and what isn’t. I can’t decide if my missionary experience is the dream, or if the last week and having parents and being touch (sort of) with more people from outside Oohio is the dream, or how on earth all of this makes any sense with what I remember from where I was at this time last year. But mostly I’m really, really grateful for all tha incredible people Ihave ghe pirveilee of knowing, many of whom are invaulable additions through my time in Ohio (residents here, and other missionaries). I’m told I’m not quite keeping up with the happenings as well as I should be yet, and my energy isn’t very high, but all-in-all I feel good, grateful for every minute of everything I’ve experienced and, as far as I am aware, no long-term negative isssues are expected. Rest and reconnecting is all I have on my immediate docket, the next steps in life will be determined as time goes by. Looking forward to staying in touch with everyone though! (Sorry if I’m even harder to follow in these emails than normal- feel free to email my parents too if i’m not answering ).

The Short Story – from Jennifer

The follow is a message that Jennifer asked me to write:

I am grateful for your love and prayers.  I want you to know that I am alive and well, but not yet up to writing letters.  I apologize for not being very communicative, but would love to hear from you.  While we are uncertain about what is next in life for me, I’m most grateful for the relationships both at home and in Ohio which I will continue to cherish and nurture no matter what.

An Unexpected Blog Post (By My Dad)

The following blog post entry (or more accurately described as a journal of the last week) was written by Will West, Jennifer’s Father.  Jennifer expressly disavows any authorship:

Warning: very long.  Sorry.  Jennifer hasn’t had the chance to edit it down yet.

Monday February 22nd will be a day I will always remember.  It started out normally enough.  After a morning of shadowing one of our company’s sales people in Chicago, I spent the latter part of the day meeting with venture capitalists who were interested in SilverVue.  All-in-all a pretty run-of-the-mill day.

Well, there was one small exception.  That morning Jennifer sent a very unusual note.  In a message that was extraordinarily uncharacteristic for her, she said:

Is there something going on that you’re not telling me? I have this feeling which, when I’ve had it before, has meant that something was going on that you were keeping from me. It’s possible I’m being paranoid, but hopefully you don’t think that just because I’m on a mission it is acceptable to keep things from me or that you think you’re ‘sparing’ me being upset or something. So – is there something?

It was clear that Jennifer had some awful sense of foreboding.  She felt like something was happening or was about to happen and she wanted to know what it was, enough to send an unusual email to her family about her feeling.  Jennifer isn’t the type to say “the Spirit is telling me something is wrong”, but that is what she was saying, and it was strong enough to reach out and ask about it in spite of her normal desire to not seem overly “spiritual”.  We replied back assuring her that we didn’t know what she was referring to and that things were good at home.

In another short message to me on Monday, Jennifer encouraged me to make time to meet with the Senior Couples from the Kirtland Visitor Center.  Some weeks ago Jennifer had encouraged me to consider hiring someone that lives in her area.  I never get to Cleveland, but said that if any business trip brought me close, I would make time to meet with the gentleman in question.  She thought very highly of him and his family, and felt certain that I would like him.  A couple of weeks ago I saw the opportunity to get to Cleveland.  I had to be in Chicago for a few days, and then in Boston.  The week of February 22nd was when I could make this trip work.  I could get to Cleveland in between the two other cities.

Jennifer’s note about the Senior Couples on Monday when I was in Chicago made me want to adjust my trip to get to Cleveland a little early.  That is, I was now going to try to get there on Tuesday the 23rd, instead of Wednesday the 24th.  To be clear about our intentions, Jennifer and I were both committed to not seeing each other because we didn’t want to violate mission rules, but if she felt like it was worthwhile for me to meet certain people, then I was confident it was worth making the time to meet them.  I have a lot of faith in her judgment about many things including business matters.

In addition to the short notes, Jennifer had posted her weekly blog describing her mission experiences of the past week.  I had not had a chance to read the blog during the day because 1) they are generally long and I knew I’d need more than a few seconds to read it, and 2) I try to wait until I have enough time to really savor her outstanding letters/blog posts.

At about 7:30pm I returned to my hotel room in downtown Chicago.  I was triaging email when the phone rang at about 8pm.  It was President Brown.  The President of the Ohio, Cleveland mission.  He asked if I was in town.  He had understood from one of the senior couples that I was there.  I told him that I was still in Chicago, but that it was my intent to leave for Cleveland the next morning.  I assured him that neither Jennifer nor I had any intention or desire to see each other and break mission rules.  He assured me that he knew we weren’t planning to see each other.

This is when he broke the news.  He told me that my daughter and her companion, Sister Morrison, were in a serious car accident and that they had been Life-Flighted to an area hospital.  Both Sisters were knocked unconscious at the scene of the accident, and had remained unconscious until they were flown to the hospital.   Unfortunately, that was all he knew.  President Brown didn’t know anything about their injuries or the accident.  While it seemed like they must be alive since he was at the hospital trying to see them when he called me, we didn’t know if they were on the verge of death, or if they were just about to be released with minor injuries … although the whole Life Flight thing wasn’t a good sign.

President Brown explained that he would not have tried calling me at this point with such little information if he had realized that I wasn’t yet in town.  He apologized, and promised that he would get back in touch with me as soon as he knew more.

The next couple of hours were horrible.  I couldn’t do email, I couldn’t watch TV.  Nothing seemed right except prayer and watching my phone for more news.  I had decided not to call Lisa because I didn’t want her to suffer the way I was suffering waiting for more information.  My hope was that any minute now I would know more, and then I could call and give Lisa real news rather than just frighten her to death.  This is when I received a text from Lisa saying she missed me and wanted to know if I was feeling better (I had been sick on Sunday).  That broke my will, and I called home.

I told Lisa everything I knew, which wasn’t much, and promised I would call her as soon as I heard more.  We also discussed plans for getting us both to Cleveland as fast as possible. This is about when I received a text from President Hunt saying “Praying for the Wests”.  What did that mean???  Had he learned about what was happening?  Was it horrible news?  I called him immediately to find out what he knew.  He explained that he also didn’t know much.  I told him that I was planning to get to Cleveland immediately, and that Lisa was looking into how to get there fast via flights.  President Hunt wholeheartedly agreed that this was the right next step.

By 9:30pm, there were no more flights to catch from Chicago to Cleveland and no more trains I could take.  With all the downtown rental car agencies closed for the evening, I headed out to the Chicago O’hare airport to get a car as I knew Hertz at the airport would be open late.  By about midnight I was on the road.  Jennifer and her companion had initially been taken to a hospital in Madison Ohio near the scene of the accident.  Madison is a suburb that is about 45 minutes East of Cleveland.  Unfortunately, the hospital there was not equipped to handle the injuries and trauma that either young woman had suffered, so both were Life-Flighted from Madison to the Metro Health Hospital on the West side of Cleveland.  Actually, Jennifer was sent in a helicopter about an hour ahead of Sister Morrison because Sister Morrison was not even stable enough for the flight yet.  Metro specializes in trauma and was apparently an even better place to go than the Cleveland Clinic for car accident victims.

As I drove from Chicago to Cleveland I contacted the hospital to find out what was happening with my daughter.  The first time I called no one would tell me anything because “the tests and reports” weren’t back yet.  They promised to call back as soon as they had more information.  Two hours later they still hadn’t called.  In the mean time I was able to speak with President Brown.  He informed me that he and President Haymond, the local Stake President, had given both girls blessings of healing.  I had also begun to feel the tangible effects of many many people praying for Jennifer and her companion all over the country.  It was incredible how fast word had spread and people were beginning to pray and fast for these girls.  I had a very definite feeling that Jennifer was going to be ok.

By roughly 5am I arrived at the hospital.  Jennifer had been moved from the Emergency Department to the Trauma Intensive Care Unit.  When I got to Jennifer’s room she was not conscious.  In fact, she had not been conscious since the accident.  Both girls were knocked out in the crash, and did not regain consciousness for days.

We have since learned that the Sisters had stopped at the intersection of Lockwood Road and McMackin Road in Madison Ohio.  It is an intersection with a 2-way stop, with the stops applying to the traffic on Lockwood.  McMackin is a rural highway with a 40mph speed limit.  After the Sisters stopped, Sister Morrison who was driving, pulled into the intersection.  She clearly did not see the minivan coming down McMackin at 45mph (the speed reported by the driver of the SUV to police).  The SUV did not see the Sister Missionaries’ car pull out, so he did not slow down.  He hit the Sisters car at full speed right in the center of the left or driver’s side of the car.  When you send 4,000 lbs of metal into the side of a small car at 45mph it has a tremendous impact.  The girls’ car was thrown sideways far down the road.  Every airbag was deployed, and when both cars came to rest and the dust settled, the 24 year old male driver of the SUV was able to get out and walk away from the scene.  The two Sister Missionaries weren’t so lucky.  Both were unconscious and slumped forward.  Jennifer had apparently thrown up in her unconscious state before the ambulance arrived which seems pretty scary, but she was alive.  Sister Morrison was the most badly injured.  She had a crushed pelvis, two collapsed lungs, many broken ribs, and a cracked skull among other terrible but less serious injuries.  Jennifer had a non-threatening break in her L2 vertebrae and a partially collapsed lung that eventually self-corrected.  Both girls had mild bleeding inside the brain (as opposed to around the brain), and generally banged up.

No matter how you look at, the fact that these two sister missionaries were not killed instantly is nothing short of a miracle.  What was more amazing is that as they laid there in their hospital beds when I arrived early Tuesday morning, you couldn’t even tell that they had been in an accident … aside from the fact that they were being kept alive by breathing machines.  Their faces look perfect.  Beautiful.  Angelic.  Like they had just finished getting ready for church.  They certainly didn’t look like they had come from a car where the jaws of life had been necessary to extract one of them (Sister Morrison had been pinned in pretty badly).  I guess there was one sign on their faces of having been in an accident.  Both girls had big fat lower lips that we believe must have been caused by the airbags.  I LOVE AIRBAGS!!!!  The girls would not be alive without them!

I’ll admit that it was difficult for me to see Jennifer laying there with tubes coming out everywhere, but I was just glad that she was alive and in good hands.  Speaking of being in good hands, there had been many people including the Mission President and his wife, the Stake President, the Wynders who run the Kirtland Visitor Center, and members of the Perry Ward who were there most of the night that first night … some were there the entire night and the next day so that Sister West and Sister Morrison would never be alone until their parents’ arrived.  Sister Morrison’s parents weren’t able to get there from Edmonton Canada until Wednesday, so the sacrifice of being at the hospital was no small one on the part of these loving people.

During the day on Tuesday both Sister Missionaries were still out cold.  The doctors and nurses would come in periodically to poke and prod them to test their condition.  It would usually take loud/harsh talking and kind of mean poking or pinching to get them to respond at all.  I was with Jennifer all day so it was Jennifer that I saw being subjected to this treatment.  Although I was grateful and knew the medical professionals were doing what was necessary, it still hurt to see.  After the right “stimulation”, Jennifer would usually respond somehow.  Her eyes would open just slightly, or she might even lift her right thumb or move her right toe.  The left side was not responding at all to commands, but we knew there was some function because the limbs did move involuntarily some times.  After any response, she would return to a deep comatose state.  It was as if lifting one thumb, even with her eyes still closed, took every ounce of energy she could muster, and that she was completely spent when it was done.

While I had been driving, Lisa had been on a red eye flight to Atlanta.  She arrived at the hospital by around 11am.  The Mission President, who had all of 2 hours of sleep, picked Lisa up from the airport and brought her straight to the hospital.  Any service we needed was being offered before we could even ask for it.

Even though there was a mountain of service being provided on our behalf, it was just the tip of the iceberg.  There was an absolute torrent of emails and text messages from people expressing their love for Jennifer and our family, and promising that they would be praying for us and putting Jennifer’s and Sister Morrrison’s name in the Temple.  By Tuesday night their names were in Temples from Madrid Spain, to California.  One woman who had been reactivated along with her husband by Jennifer and her companion visited us in the hospital and told us that she had called to put Jennifer’s name on the rolls of 15 temples … and this woman didn’t even have her Temple Recommend yet.  We also had multiple wards starting ward fasts within 24 hours of the accident including the Perry Ward where Jennifer and Sister Morrison were serving, the Lone Hollow Ward, and the home ward of the Morrisons in Edmonton Canada.  I had business associates, former business associates, and friends of all faiths expressing messages of love, faith, and prayers.  It was overwhelming.  I knew that no matter what Sister West’s and Sister Morrison’s ailments were (and we didn’t yet really know) that they would be no match for the powers of heaven that were being called upon by so many wonderful caring people.  I bear witness to the fact that the power of prayer is real and tangible, and that it has played a role in the recovery process for Jennifer and her dear companion.

Tuesday evening we even received a call from Dallin Oaks, one of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.  He talked to Lisa and assured her that the Brethren were staying very close to the situation and that Sister West and Sister Morrison were on the prayer roll for the Quorum of the Twelve and First Presidency for their meeting that upcoming Thursday.  He also said that they were being remembered in the personal prayers of every member of the Twelve.  Wow.  Talk about firepower.  No wonder I had the feeling Jennifer was going to be ok.

When she was told about the Twelve and First Presidency praying for them, Jennifer later commented in true Jennifer fashion “Gee, that sounds like overkill for a little accident”.  She still didn’t understand how serious the crash had been, but we all found it to be pretty funny.

If all the prayers, Temple Rolls, and Church leadership attention wasn’t enough, we were already seeing some of the small miracles of missionary work taking place in this process.  The Community of Christ held a special meeting in the Kirtland Temple (which they own) on Tuesday to pray for Sister West and Sister Morrison.  Wow.  How often does that happen?  To have the Community of Christ gather in the Temple to pray for Mormon Missionaries???  That has got to be a first.  And if that wasn’t enough, there is a Muslim Mosque in Germany that is praying for the girls this week.  Truly incredible.

Even with all the prayers, this was a serious accident with serious challenges.  The worst part of the ordeal, at least for me, came on Tuesday morning when the doctors thought they might be able to remove Jennifer’s breathing tube.  Actually, it wasn’t just a breathing tube.  There was also a tube going into Jennifer’s stomach to suck out the fluids that collect there.  The whole thing was gruesome, and I was excited at the prospect of getting as many tubes disconnected from Jennifer as possible.  However, to make this possible, Jennifer had to be able to breath on her own, which meant she had to demonstrate the ability to breath, which meant she had to be conscious enough to demonstrate that she could breath.  To make this happen, they stopped giving her sedatives and pain killers.

While turning off the various medicines had the desired effect of creating pain that would wake her up, it also made her aware of the tubes going down her throat into her stomach and lungs, and she DID NOT like it.  Jennifer was constantly pulling at the restraints, choking, and tearing up.  She was pleading with her eyes to have the tubes removed, and trying to get at them herself.  The restraints were just part of what looked like nothing short of torture, but if she had pulled the tubes out herself she would likely have done damage to her throat and airway.  They couldn’t let that happen, so the restraints were necessary.

Finally on their second pass by the room on Tuesday morning the doctors came in and tested Jennifer to see if she had enough control of her body to breath on her own.  While she was thrashing and pleading, they told her very firmly that the tubes would come out if she would raise her right thumb, then if she would wiggle her right foot, then she had to move her left thumb and wiggle her left toes.  There really wasn’t much movement on the left side still, but they could tell she was trying and that was enough.  The tubes were pulled out.  It was truly a horrible process.  Hard to even think about again, but as horrible as it was, it was just that wonderful to see her laying back with only oxygen being delivered to her under her nose through a very small and simple tube that wrapped around her ears.  No more tubes going deep insider her.

Once again, Jennifer was out like a light.  She was breathing, but the extubation process took all the strength she had and she was out for the day.  By that evening she was starting to open her eyes and even started moving her left hand and foot on command … sometimes.  Progress was happening.  She was getting better, and it was just 24 hours after the accident.  The prayers were working.

At the same time, Sister Morrison was getting good and bad news that was confusing the process about when and which surgery she would have.  The worst part of all this indecision was that it was delaying when they could consider removing her breathing tubes, which everyone knew would only make recovery harder for each day they were left in.  The good news for Sister Morrison was that her family was finally able to make it to Cleveland Wednesday morning to be by their daughter’s side.  I should add that we spent part of a morning in Jennifer’s hospital room with the Morrisons reading some of Jennifer’s blog posts.  We shared laughs and tears as we read a small portion of the stories that entertained and inspired.  Jennifer is a gifted writer, and I suspect that she will be able to simply put her letters together in a binding (if she is able to complete her mission), and she’ll have one of the best missionary books ever written.  Through this and other experiences this week, we have come to love the Morrisons.  Judith, Jeff, and Isabella (Sister Morrisons 14 year old sister) are all special people.

The final happy event for Tuesday was the arrival of my sister Kate and her husband Tony Strike.  They live in Cincinnati and knew that we could use some moral support, so they got in the car and drove up.  They were with us for two days, and their help and company was priceless.  Sweet President and Sister Brown made room for both the Wests and the Strikes at the mission home.  They did this not only without complaint, but with welcoming arms.  We had actually received offers to stay in many homes in the Perry Ward, and in the apartments at “The Sites” (referring to the Kirtland Visitor’s Center related sites), but staying with President and Sister Brown seemed like the right thing.  Their beautiful home was there to house missionaries as they came and left, but they wouldn’t need rooms for missionaries for another week or more.  Nevertheless, it was still a sacrifice for them to house us, and we were extremely grateful.

It was Wednesday morning when it was clear that Jennifer could move her extremities on command, and use her right thumb to respond to commands/questions.  For example, she could say what her pain level was by the nurse counting down from 10 and stopping when Jennifer put her thumb up.  The eyes were still shut, but she was communicating.  Actually, Jennifer’s eyes would sometimes open just a little, and just for a few seconds.  Usually when the medical staff was sort of yelling at her, and then sometimes when one of the senior couples from the Kirtland Visitor Center would come into the room to visit her and she would recognize the voices … Jennifer obviously has a wonderful connection with these fantastic senior couples.

In one of the many small miracles, Jennifer was out of the ICU by Wednesday night.  For someone who had survived a violent car crash and was mostly comatose for the better part of two days, it was remarkable that she was recovering as fast as she was.  By Wednesday night we were communicating regularly with Jennifer and she was using words to tell us what she wanted.  She even stunned us by being capable of taking a short walk outside her hospital room.  Ok, she was being heavily supported by two physical therapists, but anything other than laying on her back with her eyes shut was a marked improvement, so a short walk was outstanding.  She was still not fully coherent, and when they put her back in bed she was out cold, but the progress was still amazing.

Thursday morning the miraculous recovery continued.  Jennifer didn’t do well with her physical therapy evaluation (at that point we were being told she would have to be released to an acute rehab center).  The good news was that she was communicating with short sentences, and her eyes were opening for longer periods of time.  By Thursday afternoon, Jennifer actually had a long conversation with President and Sister Brown.   That again took all her energy and she was out afterwards for many hours, but later in the evening she was talking again.  In fact, she couldn’t stop talking about all the people she and Sister Morrison had to get in touch with.  People that were counting on them.  People that needed them to show up for appointments when they had promised, or that were going to be there for the Book of Mormon Club, or just needed a visit.  Jennifer was all business.  I had to start sending some messages to members to reassure her that the work would continue and that people would not get dropped or ignored.  Caring for the people that she and Sister Morrison had been working with was all Jennifer could think about.

The final thing I’ll mention about Thursday is that Sister Morrison was able to have the major reconstructive surgery done on her shattered hip.  The surgery went perfectly.  What that means is that Sister Morrison will likely be able to walk … after 6 months of rehab in Edmonton … after waiting three months before putting any weight on her hip … after waiting three weeks in the hospital in Cleveland before being medivac’d to Edmonton.  And this all means that Sister Morrison’s missionary journey is through.  She will be released very soon, but she is already done as a missionary.  She served for one year, and she served very very well.  She worked hard, and she was happy.  The Lord is happy with her service, and the people of Ohio that knew her are grateful for her and love her very much.

Thursday night Lisa decided to take a turn sleeping overnight at the hospital, and I went to sleep at the Mission Home.  It was great to sleep in a bed for the first time since Sunday.  Friday morning we were all in pretty good shape, including Lisa who had managed to sleep pretty well in the chair in the hospital room.  Jennifer was awake for a number of hours on Friday, with a small nap in the morning, and a big nap from about 1pm to 6pm.  Apparently one of the important aspects of healing from brain trauma is sleep, and Jennifer’s body knows it.

Friday morning the physical therapist took Jennifer on a little walk, and helped her to the bathroom.  She passed the evaluation and the therapist said that for her part, she was ok releasing Jennifer to go “home” rather than to an in-patient facility.  Friday afternoon the “Cog Eval” doctor came by to do the Cognitive Analysis.  I’m embarrassed to say that Jennifer not only passed, but she did a better job than Lisa and I did as we took the exam in our minds while it was being administered to Jennifer.  Things like remembering the words “Tulip, Square, and Healthy” in that order while another word puzzle was being administered.  Be being able to repeat the words in the right order was one of the things we would have both failed, but Jennifer did not.  Jennifer was asked very difficult things like remembering what happened just prior to the accident, and her first memory after the accident.  If you asked me about my evening a week ago, I’d be hard pressed to give you details, but Jennifer did a great job.  The evaluation was thorough, and in the end the doctor declared that she was definitely ready to be released as long as the medical people were ok with her release.  Pending the appropriate functioning of her intestines, we received the medical ok that she could go.  Since that final checkbox didn’t get taken care of on Friday by the 7pm shift change, we knew we would be leaving on Saturday.  All clearances were given with the caveat that she still needed 24 hour care by me and/or Lisa.

Now all of a sudden, and certainly more quickly than any of us expected, we needed to figure out what we were going to be doing once Jennifer was released.  Were we going home?  Were we going to Jennifer’s Madison apartment?  Were we going to one of the apartments at the Kirtland Visitor’s Center.  I pinged President Brown (copying President Truman Hunt, our home Stake President) asking if we could meet to determine the next steps.  The final disposition of things has yet to be determined, but for the next two weeks it looks as though Jennifer will be staying on-site at one of the small homes on the Church’s property next to the Visitor’s Center.

Yesterday (Saturday) was a comedy of errors.  After something of a long drawn out process in getting released from the Hospital, we determined that we would meet Sister Morrison’s family at the Sisters’ apartment in Madison.  When we got out there, we discovered that the key chain which had been recovered from the crash site had no keys on it.  We had no way to get in to the apartment.  A long chain of phone calls led to us to going to the Towing Facility to see if we could look through the wreckage of the car to find keys.  No one was there, so as we looked around we found the car that had crashed into the Sisters’ car.  It was mess.  It was a new Chevy mid-sized SUV or “crossover” vehicle.  From the driver’s seat and back, it was in perfect condition.  In front of the windshield, everything was compressed to just a foot or two.   The Sisters’ car was in a locked area, and when someone arrived he told us the police wouldn’t allow anyone in.  He couldn’t even tell us if there were other keys attached to the ignition key.

So, we went back to the girls apartment and called a locksmith.  About the time the locksmith had given up (he was no Sherlock Holmes), we got a call from the sergeant at the police station that had been working this case.  He apologized profusely for our having been turned away at the tow yard, and assured us that if we returned, we would have full access to the vehicle.  So, back we went.  It was amazing to see the car up close and personal.  The driver’s seat was, well, not a seat.  It was shrunken and angled up so that you really couldn’t sit in it.  There was no room at all for the driver’s legs.  The cupholders between the two front seats was big enough to put a straw in, but certainly not a cup.  It is a miracle that Sister Morrison wasn’t torn to shreds, and I do not understand how either girl survived.  You can call it whatever you’d like, but to my way of thinking, the only logical explanation was that there were angels watching over these young women.

Well, we found the key to the apartment and again drove back to Madison to where the Sisters lived.  The Morrisons set to work packing Juliana’s things, and Lisa and I packed up Jennifer’s things while Jennifer slept in her apartment bed.  We didn’t get everything, but we got almost everything.  Certainly as much as our car would hold given that it already had Lisa’s luggage, my luggage, and a bunch of flowers.  Lisa will go back during the next couple of days to get the apartment cleaned up for the next pair of sisters who will live there starting this coming Wednesday.

This morning, as a wonderful conclusion to the week’s events, Lisa and I were able to attend a special YSA sacrament service held in the Kirtland Temple.  The Mission President, the Stake Patriarch, and the Stake President spoke.  The truly special part of the meeting was during the testimony session.  The Young Adults that spoke ranged from returned missionaries to a young man that bore the final testimony that wasn’t yet a member.  One young sister talked about giving her baby up for adoption.  She happened to be African American, so I was doubly impressed with her testimony because of the Church’s history.  The next sister talked about her mission, and how her mission president used to always say “What a blessing!” whenever anything bad would happen to one of his missionaries.  She said the he would seriously say that for all bad things.  Even when she had diarrhea.  What a blessing! He later made the point that hard things are the things that get us on our knees talking to God, and are therefore great gifts.

I’ll never forget this young man who talked about how all his friends are either dead or nearly in the gutter because of drugs and other issues.  As he looked across the group, he said “I didn’t think people like you still existed”.  He closed by saying that he believed the Church was true and that not only had he quit smoking, but that his mother has as well.

It was an incredible experience to be in that building where so much of the Gospel was revealed.  Where so much of Church history was created.  Where the Savior stood.  It was indeed one of the many tender mercies of this difficult and wonderful week that we could be in this great building and partake of the Sacrament.  Once again, we felt blessed.

Jennifer isn’t yet ready to be on her feet or do anything resembling a missionary schedule.  However, she is recovering at a speed that is amazing everyone.  Many minor concussion patients respond less well than Jennifer has, and Jennifer is not a minor concussion patient.  She was hit broadside by a car going 45 mph.  Nothing minor about that.  When I now see pictures of the accident scene, I truly can’t believe that either girl survived.  Their little car was thrown 30-40 feet sideways down the road.  Almost 4,000 lbs smashed into them at high speed, and yet they are going to be ok.  It seems very likely that in a couple of weeks when they do the follow up brain test, they will determine Jennifer is largely recovered.  But, brain injuries are tricky things and it may be some time before Jennifer will be able to resume a full work load.  Regardless of the timing and direction of her missionary work going forward, it is a nothing short of a miracle that Jennifer is alive and doing as well as she is right now.  We feel blessed beyond measure.

Right now we are in an apartment in a little house Kirtland right next to the Kirtland Visitor Center.  It has been wonderful to meet so many of the special people who are associated with the Ohio, Cleveland Mission, and the Kirtland Visitors Center in particular.  To live for just a couple of days in historic Kirtland right next to the Whitney Store where the School of the Prophets was held, and where the early Saints made their home is be a very special experience.

In our meeting in the Kirtland Temple this morning, the Stake President referenced a scripture in Section 88 of the Doctrine in Covenants.  In verse 3 we read “Wherefore, I now send upon you another Comforter, even upon you my friends, that it may abide in your hearts, even the Holy Spirit of promise; which other Comforter is the same that I promised unto my disciples …”.  Lisa and I have felt this Comforter this week.  We know that we have a Father in Heaven that loves us.  We know that it is indeed his work and his glory to attend to our eternal happiness.  For Jennifer’s well-being, and for the great love of our Eternal Father, we are more grateful than words can express.