If it weren’t for second chances
we’d all be alone.
–Gregory Alan Isakov
I lay awake on the hard bed in my daughter’s dark hospital room, watching the wave of her pulse rate rise and fall on the bright monitor. After several rounds of morphine and nausea medication, she had finally fallen asleep. In the blackness and silence, the events of the day began to replay through my mind with persistence.
We had come off the beach that morning around 11am. I rinsed the salt and sand off our bodies in the outdoor shower, telling my daughter, Lucy, and my son, Ren, that they could play outside while I changed out of my wet bathing suit and made us lunch. Stay in the yard, I said. Don’t leave the yard. I walked upstairs and changed clothes. I had just come back downstairs when I heard the screams from the street.
Guttural. That was the Merriam-Webster word of the day, delivered to my email inbox on August 26th, the day after the accident. It literally means “from the throat.” An utterance which is “strange, unpleasant, or disagreeable”–though in my mind, I ascribe this word to the gut–just like it sounds–an utterance that rises up from a place much deeper and visceral than the throat–a groan from the core. As in, “Her screams were guttural.” As in, “The mother experienced guttural panic.”
When I heard the screams, I looked through the front window of the house, saw little legs on the ground and a bike half-wedged under an SUV right in front of our driveway. I sprinted down the yard in my flimsy summer house dress. I didn’t know which child had been hit until I saw my son sitting across the street in the neighbor’s driveway, motionless and wide-eyed, and then Lucy at the edge of the asphalt about ten feet in front of the SUV, knees bent up, blood covering her face, teeth in the street.
I have been a registered nurse for thirteen years. I have been trained by the military in how to care for combat troops and trauma patients. Yet in that moment, all nursing knowledge left my mind. I was just a mother, standing over her child, horrified that my worst anguish was becoming a real thing.
Two ambulance rides and dozens of medical staff later, we were here, alone in the dark room at the children’s hospital in Norfolk, VA. It must be human nature for the mind to take a traumatic event and attempt to form it into a concrete shape, something that can be held and weighed and turned on every possible side, exposing each surface, shadow, and edge, every question, every what if I had just…?
The more questions I asked, however, the more I didn’t know. What I did know was that the hood of the SUV was dented. I know that Lucy was trying to brake at the end of the driveway, but her brakes didn’t catch. I know the guilt and shame I felt because I hadn’t been there. I know that Lucy’s CT scan was completely clear of internal injuries, and based on the physics of the impact, I know that didn’t make any sense.
On the first ambulance ride to the local ER, Lucy started to go out. Her eyes closed and she stopped responding. I remember in that moment thinking, this is it, and all I could see was a massive dark hole which I could feel myself falling into, fearing I would never come out if I lost her.
I buried my head into her stretcher, and with deep, guttural breaths, said Jesus, Jesus, Jesus, over and over again, until I felt sure that He had heard me, that He was seeing this, that He was there with us, with her.
When I’m at work as a nurse, I often feel that the veil between life and death grows disturbingly thin. In the cardiac operating room, we do the same thing the same way every time. We work with precision and control because in open heart surgery there is little margin for error. We have witnessed how things can turn from good to bad with the flip of a switch. Why some patients do well and others do not remains a mystery to all of us.
On the day of Lucy’s accident, I felt this same way–that the veil between the seen and unseen world had been pulled back, exposing the absolute fragility and resilience of the human body, the ultimate lack of control I have over time and space, life and death. The realm where prayers operate and miracles occur felt palpable to the touch. When the trauma surgeon looked at Lucy’s films and her banged up body, heard the story of her accident, he said, “You were given a gift.”
His words made me want to curl up in a pathetic ball on the hospital floor. They also made me want to raise my hands as high as I could and sing God’s praises. I suppose this is what grace feels like–a baffling blend of humility and relief–knowing we can never repay what we’ve received, yet knowing we would sink without it. As I lay in the hospital bed that night, watching Lucy’s chest rise and fall, I knew we had received a priceless second chance from Jesus, the Author of Second Chances. It is a gift, I am finding, that does not end with the recipient, but flows out like water into the rest of my life, washing myself and the people around me with a tangible thirst for more grace, forgiveness, and fresh starts.
The morning after the accident, I cozied up next to Lucy in her hospital bed. I read her books while she dozed off on narcotics. I was just so happy to be next to her, for our bodies to be touching and breathing, to smell her skin, like the last time we had been in a hospital bed together on the day she was born–Christmas Eve–almost seven years ago.
I will close with a poem I wrote for Lucy a couple of years ago. From the beginning, she has been my star, a little light burning in seasons of dark skies, a living and breathing embodiment of second chances.
Conceived on Easter,
due on Christmas,
you arrive to this cold
earth after two babies
your bright core
fused from clouds
of dust and pain.
The nurses wash
the womb from
place you beneath
the heat lamp,
your limbs sprawled
out in space,
your face tilted
resting on its side
like a planet
receiving the sun.
We name you Lucy,
child of warmth,
you have traveled
to reach our eyes
so much darkness,
by the weight of
Elizabeth (Libby) Kurz holds a BS in Nursing and an MFA in Creative Writing. Her work has been published in The Poet’s Billow and Relief Journal. After years of moving cross-country with the US Air Force, she now resides on the coast of Virginia with her family. When she’s not reading, writing, and keeping tabs on her three kids, she works as a registered nurse in the cardiac operating room. She is a self-proclaimed coffee snob, wino, and beach bum, who appreciates finding meaning in the ordinary moments of life. She occasionally writes at www.libbykurz.com.