Monday, April 5, 2010
A kernel of popcorn can alter your life in an instant.
The afternoon and evening of Thursday, February 25th, 2010 were uneventful. My dad and stepmom munched popcorn for an afternoon snack. My dad read. My step-mom worked a crossword puzzle before making dinner. When it was ready, she called for him to come eat.
He stood and noticed a kernel of popcorn under a coffee table. The 94 year old bent over and picked it up. When he stood up straight with the popcorn in hand, the events were in motion leading to a major life change for him, for my stepmom, 90, and for his whole family.
He lost his balance and fell backward, striking his neck on a side table and his head on something else. The force of the fall fractured a vertebra and crushed another in his neck. The blow to his head created a blood clot.
The good news is that he was in perfect health up to that moment, and he suffered no paralysis.
I learned of the accident at 6 a.m. the next morning when my stepmom called, and I was at the hospital in Tyler by 1 p.m. that afternoon. She had been up all night waiting to call me.
Life has been a blur since then—driving to Tyler, driving to their home, driving to the motel, driving to the hospital, driving home. My sister and brother-in-law drove from Denver arriving the next day. They have stayed there for weeks, allowing me to return to Austin for a while before rushing back when decisions had to be made.
Rather than surgery, we—including my dad—opted for a “halo” to hold his head and neck in place so that it can fuse. It was the best choice considering his age. Even the neurosurgeon said that he was ambivalent about surgery. He’ll have this halo for four to six months or more.
Nurses noticed that he seemed to be losing cognition, and doctors ordered up another CAT scan of his skull. Sure enough, the blood clot was expanding rather than dissipating as they had hoped. We all agreed brain surgery to drain the fluid was the only solution. The results were almost immediate. Within a day, he was himself again.
My dad is now in the rehabilitation part of the hospital. When the therapists aren’t pushing him, he has time on his hands, time to sort through all that has happened and what may happen next. So, I think that it is he, not the rest of us, who is planning the future, just like he always has. “I never in my wildest dreams thought this would happen to me,” he told my stepmom.
What has this to do with news?
First, it diminished my interest in posting anything to the newsmcnabb blog for the past six weeks or so.
More, however, almost every news story written pivots on a crucial moment when everything changes. It may be the passage of a health care reform bill or it may be a homicide. There is an unexpected kernel of popcorn. When writing these stories, journalists more often than not write about these sea-changes in a matter-of-fact manner. There is nothing matter-of-fact about them ever.
Call it the “back story”. Call it putting a human face on the story, but telling the story that way is far more compelling than the “Dragnet” mantra, “Just the facts, man.”
(I’ve gotten email from readers asking why I haven’t written anything lately. Thank you for asking. Now, I ask you to pray in your own way for my dad or hold a positive thought. Further, when you see a kernel of popcorn, pause and think about the moments in your life. It goes by so fast.)
© Jim McNabb, 2010
Posted by NewsMcNabb at 11:35 PM