Thursday, October 23, 2008

Chapter 3, Part 4: Dispatch Scramble

Pete’s wife’s call came into the 911 office. It was a busy morning with many accident calls.

The dispatcher’s first task was to figure out who to call. The driver’s license said the boy was 18. He probably went to high school. Since he was headed north, it was likely Neosho High School. So the dispatcher handed the name over to a tech, Mary Jo, to look up Neosho High’s phone number.

Arif generally goes by his middle name. Of course, his license had his legal name: Joseph A. Marshall. Mary Jo looked at the name and it rang a bell. Suddenly she knew it:

“His family goes to my church. He doesn’t go to Neosho High. He goes to Crowder College. I see him there when I go to my classes. Contact the boy’s father. His mother does not drive and would have no way to get there. Joe works at Wal Mart as a programmer.”

The dispatcher’s wife worked at Wal Mart, too. The dispatcher called her to find Joe’s extension at Wal Mart. In short order, the contact was made.

By 8:15 Joe headed north to Goodman. It would take a good forty five minutes to get there.

The dispatcher also contacted Crowder College.

By 11:00 it seemed the whole campus was in deep heartfelt prayer. It amazed us all how many on campus knew Arif, and how deeply they felt the loss.

All this time, the dispatcher was set to the task of getting proper equipment to the accident site. Goodman police were already on the scene. The Jaws of Life were called into action. Forty five minutes after they arrived, the hole was large enough to remove the contents of the car.

Finding transport was another issue. They determined early on that a helicopter was needed, but none could be found. They were all busy.

Miraculously, just as the Jaws finished their job, St. John’s helicopter landed at the site.

God was gracious to send him to St. John's. It is one of the best hospitals in the state. He got the best of care. In addition, Joe and I had the comfort of its beautiful chapel and a daily – sometimes several times a day – the chance to sit in the Presence of Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament.

The boy was unconscious. The left side of his body was extensively damaged – it was probably crushed. There was doubt whether he would make it to the hospital. But the task was to transport him.

Soon after the helicopter took off, Joe arrived at the scene.

The left side of Arif’s car was crushed, plus the effects of the Jaws of Life. When Joe saw the car, he could not imagine how anything could have come out of it alive.

Steve wrapped a big hug around Joe and described what happened. Joe barely comprehended, but he appreciated Steve’s warmhearted zest.

The back axle of Steve’s trailer was seriously bent, requiring Steve to spend the day in Goodman waiting for the trucking company to send a tow truck. He holed up at Dari Twist, the only diner in town.

The diner, next to the gas station, was owned by the McCulleys. They were members of our home school group and also good friends. Arif bought the Oldsmobile Toronado Trofeo from them. If he had been in his S-10, the outcome would have been much different. We gave the S-10 to a woman who had no vehicle while he was in England the previous semester.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Chapter 3, Part 3: Last Box of Toothpicks

Apparently, Arif headed for school but forgot his last box of industrial strength toothpicks. You know, the ones that hold up the eyelids when they feel like they are made of lead. After he stopped for gas in Anderson, he struggled to keep his eyes open. The driver who followed him from Anderson to Goodman said that he had trouble keeping on track. It was obvious he was fighting falling asleep.

At 7:45, in Goodman entering the 60-mile-an-hour speed zone, Arif lost the battle and fell sound asleep. The truck driver, Steve, later related that he could see Arif's face as he approached heading the opposite way. There was no reaction. Steve knew that Arif was asleep at the wheel. It took a lot of prayer and all the concentration he could muster as Steve attempted to keep his load – 47000 pounds of steel pipe – in balance. With heroic effort, Steve kept an eye on Arif, the traffic behind Arif, and the traffic behind his own rig, earnestly praying that none of them would get hurt and that his load would not dump. Steve eased his truck onto the shoulder. Thank God there was more shoulder than often is the case in these parts. Steve’s prayers paid off, too – mostly. With all those eyes, the guardian angels on duty must have been cherubim because no one but Arif and the back of the truck were involved in the crash. Arif’s car hit the very back wheel of Steve’s trailer and bounced off. Joe later estimated that the impact was equivalent to traveling at 120 miles an hour.

Pete, a teacher residing in Goodman, spoke of hearing what sounded like an explosion. He ran from his house to see Arif's car spinning across the road, coming to rest on the right shoulder. Apparently, Arif's Toronado bounced off the back wheel of the trailer with enough force to bend the axle and pop the tire. Thank God he had just purchased the Toranado from some friends. He might have fared even worse had he been in the S10.

As his wife dashed back to the house to call 911, Pete walked to Arif's window to talk to him, and to keep anyone else away:

"What is your name?"

"Arif Marshall"

"How old are you?"


"What does your father do?"

"A ... tea ... cher....."

He could get no more response from Arif.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Chapter 3, Part 2: Our New Home

Arif was brought up to the third floor by the back way. We were instructed to go to the ICU waiting room until they got him settled in his room. It was time to settle into what would become our new home.

Visiting hours were posted at the entrance to the waiting room - 9 AM, 1, 5, and 8 PM for an hour each time. The doors to the ICU wing were closed and locked the rest of the day. Hospital personnel came and went, punching in a code on a keypad on the wall next to the waiting room door. A phone without buttons hung next to the keypad.

The ICU waiting room was bright, but stark. The floor looked to be a shiny oak laminate. Wooden chairs with blue padded seats lined the beige walls. A dozen chairs sat in three neat lines to the left as we entered. A small, dark table lay between the two rows which faced each other. People of all descriptions slumped sleepily, read magazines, or fidgeted nervously in the chairs. An empty table stood in front of the only window in the far right corner. The television hung in the upper left corner, droning the current soap opera. A pay phone adorned the center of the wall to the right. Next to the phone hung a sign and a white board. The sign asked people to respect others’ needs and limit calls to fifteen minutes. On the other side of the phone, the white board had blanks for names, and columns to mark whether they were ‘in’ or ‘out.’ On the table under that phone perched an off-white hospital phone with half a dozen buttons.

The three of us wandered into the room and found seats together near the window, with a lovely view of the parking lot.

We sat down, feeling dazed. No words came to express what each was thinking and feeling.

We waited outside of time. Was it a few minutes, or several hours? There was no counting of time as we were accustomed to its passing.

A man entered, inquiring for the Marshalls. Was he bringing news of Arif? He was not dressed like a doctor, but wore a dark suit.

“We are here.” Joe responded, standing up.

“I am Ed Hahn, hospital chaplain.” He extended his hand.

“Like Scott Hahn?” Joe responded. “He is one of our favorite speakers. Are you related?”

“No, not as far as I know. ... I was told you were here. I just wanted to introduce myself and let you know I am available if you want to talk to someone. My office is on the second floor if you need me. But I am not there very much. Here is my card. Call my office and someone can page me if you need to get in touch with me.”

Then he was gone.

The phone on the table rang. Someone picked it up.

“Is there anyone named Marshall here? ... It’s for you.” She handed the phone to Joe.

It was one of Arif’s friends from Crowder College. News had spread quickly about Arif’s accident. By eleven o’clock, it seemed everyone on campus knew about it and was praying for him. There was a somber air on campus. A blood drive was scheduled on Friday. People were planning to give blood on Arif’s behalf.

Joe told her: “We really don’t know much, yet. His leg is broken and he looks pretty beat up. They say he is critical and that there is no brain activity.”

We were assured of many prayers. Could they come up to see Arif?

Joe told them of visiting hours, but that we did not know, yet if people could see him. But they were welcome to come and visit, even if it was just with us.

A friend, another Mary, came in. She rushed over and threw big hugs around each of us.

“My daughter called and told me she was called for the home school group prayer chain. She said Arif was in an accident.”

“We really don’t know much, yet. His leg is broken and he looks pretty beat up. They say he is critical and that there is no brain activity.” Joe responded. He became our spokesman a good bit of the time.

Mary continued: “I go to eleven o’clock Mass here, so I thought I would bring you something to eat. I know you like to eat healthy, so I got these from Panera. They have a lovely chapel here. You should go on down there sometime.”

“Thank you. What a wonderful surprise. We had not even thought that we might be hungry. The chapel will be one of our next activities, once we find out what is up with Arif.” It was my turn to speak.

After she left, we munched on sandwiches. They were satisfying and we were touched by Mary’s thoughtfulness.

The phone rang again. Someone else from the home school group wanted to know what news there might be.

“We really don’t know much, yet. His leg is broken and he looks pretty beat up. They say he is critical and that there is no brain activity.” Joe found that he had a script. “We are waiting to talk with the doctor.”

As the day wore on, amidst the calls of concern, we slowly pieced together the story. What happened after Arif left home that Thursday morning.