Yesterday I began the story of the events that happened to Chris and I two years ago today . Here is the completion of the story
The police and ambulance arrived. I was put on a board, with a neck brace and into the back of the ambulance. At this time, Chris was still walking around, checking people on the bus were all right, paying the on the spot fine required by the police, handing over our passports, before getting in the ambulance next to me.
The ambulance finally set off on the long, bumpy, 50km ride back to Karlovac. My mind raced. My first thought was how would I tell my mum! What on earth would I say to her from so far away? The events seemed so unreal. Once settled in the ambulance Chris’s adrenaline wore off. He went ashen. Despite the ambulance driver’s insistence of calling for backup, he refused to leave me.
The next few hours were a strange dance of passing medical trolleys, as Chris and I followed each other through various X-rays, scans and checks. We called out to each other, or checked in on each other as we passed by on route to the next doctor. It was during one of these waiting sessions, that a doctor casually mentioned to me, that while I was all right, no internal injuries and nothing broken, Chris had broken a bone in his back, but that it was not serious.
At last late into the evening we were placed on a hospital ward. I was left battered and bruised. While the seat belt had prevented me from hurtling through the windscreen, it had left angry marks of restraint right across my stomach and torn one of my muscles. A faint dint remains to this day. I could barely move. My right side was breathtakingly painful. I am quite sure an expert will be able to explain what the moment of impact did to my legs and feet, but I still struggle to understand the marks and bruises that appeared. Over the next 24 hours my toes and feet would turn purple and walking was reduced to a slow shuffle.
During this whole time, many different people came to our aid. All strangers, who gained nothing for their trouble except to support a fellow human being. The first was a young man from Belgium. He was looking after his girlfriend, who had been involved in a quad bike accident. He introduced himself as Theo and for the next couple of hours Theo became our go between. He helped to pass messages to Chris, who was in a different room, brought us bottles of water and finally helped cancel our holiday accommodation. That was the only night we met. The next day Theo’s girlfriend was discharged and they headed home.
The second was a bright, happy, senior nurse, who spoke good English. She engaged in conversation and checked I had everything I needed. It was she who asked if I would like to be in the same room as Chris, a twinkle of knowing in her eye and a joy in enacting her plan. Under her direction our beds were placed in a small room together, which made the next part of the story easier to manage. That was the only time during my stay in the hospital that she was on duty and I never saw her again after that first night.
In the aftermath of such a violent full stop, two random strangers provided a semi colon. Yet the gentle semi-colons were quickly followed by many questions – many of them serious, while one led to a moment of sheer farce.
So that first night of our holiday, we led side by side in a hospital in Croatia. All our belongings were still in the car and our passports were with the police. We had the clothes we were wearing, and the vital things Chris had grabbed, money, phones, charger, adaptor, but nothing else.
“You have a serious back injury.” The doctor told Chris ” and we need to send you to a hospital in Zagreb.” It was Friday morning.
Stunned disbelief hit us. Serious questions. What do we do? I thought. We would be separated. How do we get home? Would we get home? Twelve weeks was mentioned in relation to the time Chris would be in hospital. How do we manage that? Will he ever recover? I was barely walking and Chris might never do again. I shuffled over to Chris’s bed held his hand and we prayed. It was a simple, desperate prayer. No bells and whistles, just a quiet request.
Chris made a few quick texts to his company in Vienna, explaining briefly what had happened and that he would be out of action for a while. Within minutes the CEO of the company was on the phone. “We are bringing you home.” On the Saturday morning Chris was helicoptered back to Vienna and on Sunday morning he had an operation to repair the damaged vertebra in his back – a miracle. The surgeon had found bone fragments in his spinal column. With Chris safe and on the first step to recovery, there was yet another question. I was still in the hospital room in Karlovac, Croatia. How would I get back?
The Sunday after the accident two, slick, crisply dressed paramedics arrived in my hospital room to efficiently return me to Vienna. The modern navy blue stretcher trolley caused a quiet moment of suppressed surprise, as it was lowered easily from waist to knee height. I climbed aboard. Once all our belongings had been collected, with not one item missing, and I was strapped onto a stretcher in the ambulance on route from Karlovac to Vienna, I asked the final question. “Em, may I go to the toilet?” The two efficient Austrian medics pulled over at the next service station. No problem the stretcher would fit into a disabled toilet!
At the services on the edge of Putij, the back of the ambulance was loudly opened and the stretcher pulled out. Then it was smoothly switched to its full travelling height, whereupon I was held aloft for all eyes to gaze. Small children, I discovered, have a particularly curious stare. Adults, on the other hand are a lot subtler. However a stare is still a stare. I was wheeled with great ceremony in through the packed main shop and cafe to the toilets at the back of the building full of even more curiously staring Europeans.
Outside the disabled toilets I was gracefully lowered to the ground, so that I could shuffle into the cubicle. A few minutes of private relief were acquired before I was returned to my carriage and gloriously paraded back through the main shop to the waiting ambulance. My brief moment of royal glory over, the journey back to Vienna continued. I asked no more questions.
On the 31st December 2014 Chris and I walked up through the woods to a place called Am Himmel, an opened space with a circle of trees overlooking Vienna. We chose to see in the New Year in this place. As we arrived many fireworks peppered the sky for miles. A million multi-coloured dots filling the sky. These fire created full stops came for a fraction of a second and quickly disappeared, celebrating the end of the old and the beginning of the new.