“Life turns on a dime.” The thing with old adages is they tend to hold water. And with this one, I’ve recently learned just how true it is. Life really does turn on a dime, and often when you least expect it.
On April 13, my husband’s older brother Dawson was on vacation in the Bahamas, the first vacation for Dawson in a really long time. He doesn’t get to travel as much as he and his family would like these days because he is at the forefront of the medical marijuana industry in Maine, creating life-changing organic medicines while also leading the charge to fight for small business owner rights in the face of big, out-of-state industry. He’s one of the good guys. And he’s also one of the most energized, passionate and generous people you’ll ever meet. On the second day of his trip, he and his wife Kellie rented mopeds. They were happily exploring the island, driving about 25 mph (and both wearing helmets) when Dawson hit the road shoulder, was catapulted over the handlebars and thrown through the air. He skidded along jagged, broken concrete until he came to a stop, covered head to toe in awful cuts and road rash, bleeding profusely and unconscious. At the local med center, Kellie was told he would die. He was flown for life to Nassau, where Kellie was once again told he would die, and the priest was brought in for good measure. Dawson defied those predictions and survived that first night, but then spent the next three days lying on a gurney in a hallway of the Nassau hospital, where no one was allowed to see him. By the time he finally got a flight to the U.S., Dawson was on death’s door. He had a sepsis infection, failing kidneys, and within two hours of arriving in Miami, he went into cardiac arrest. Kellie and Dawson’s father watched as Dawson flatlined. A team of 12 ICU staff members frantically tried to revive him. They succeeded, but Dawson was still fighting for his life and remained in a coma.
At this point, I started trying to imagine how my husband and I would tell our two children that they had lost their uncle. I imagined how my sister-in-law would tell our niece. I didn’t want to, but I began to imagine what our lives would be like without Dawson, the larger-than-life, fast-talking, life-loving goofball. It seemed impossible that this was happening, like it was a movie I was watching about someone else. I felt numb, helpless and sad. I just couldn’t bring myself to picture a world without Dawson in it.
The next few weeks are a blur in my memory as Dawson continued to hold on, still in a coma. We lived for the twice-a-day updates we received, “He opened one eye today!” “Today he moved his hand!” We clung to every shred of progress, or what we perceived as progress, and we prayed with every scrap of positive vibration we could muster. COVID-19 restrictions in his hospital only allowed one person in his room at a time, and because his wife, daughter and parents were already there, we couldn’t go to be with them at first. On May 5, we said screw it and flew to Miami.
I’ll never forget our first long walk down the hallway of the ICU towards Dawson’s room. I could see his brown hair and slender frame from a distance, and this time I felt like it was my heart that was stopping. Seeing him for the first time made tears jump into my eyes — the resemblance between the two brothers is keen, and at first it was like seeing my husband in that hospital bed. Travis held his brother’s hand and talked to him like it was just another day, like they could have been standing around the kitchen counter having a beer. Trav told Daws that he was doing great, that he was proud of him and that everything would be OK. He kissed his brother’s forehead.
Watching our sister-in-law Kellie and our niece Kyli care for Dawson and cheer him on was like learning strength and positivity from some kind of Zen masters. I marveled at their calm, their resolve, their stubborn refusal to believe anything other than that Dawson would fully heal. Their strength made us stronger. Sometimes, standing around that hospital bed and looking into Dawson’s familiar but unfocused eyes, I felt that all of us had the power to will him to be OK.
A few days later, a phenomenal change occurred. Dawson opened his eyes and there was a difference. He would turn towards a voice. He stuck out his tongue when his dad asked him to. Best of all, he smiled. It was a real smile, a Dawson smile, broad and full of heart. He was there. We cried, our hearts overwhelmed with gratitude, amazement and awe. We snuck our 14-year-old son in to see him (we broke the ICU rules but it was worth it) and Dawson smiled and gave him a thumbs up. Since then, his progress has been substantial. Two days ago, they put a cap on his trach, and for the first time since his accident, Dawson spoke. “What is your name?” the nurse asked. “Dawson Julia.” “Who is that?” “My wife, Kellie Julia.” “And who is she?” “My daughter, Kyli Julia.” It was a miracle. Dawson still has a long way to go, but we believe in him. We are standing by for more miracles.